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THE GLASS BOTTOM BOAT by Laura Thomas
Chapter 1 / Chapter 2 / Chapter 3 / Chapter 4 / Chapter 5 / Chapter 6 / Chapter 7 / Chapter 8 / Chapter 9/ Chapter 10 / Chapter 11 / Chapter 12 / Chapter 13 / Chapter 14 / Chapter 15 / Chapter 16 / Chapter 17
MADISON’S EYES FLEW OPEN. WAS it a sound from outside? Had God woken her? She took in her surroundings and forced herself to breathe. The hut. She was still in the wretched hut. She raised herself up onto one elbow on the scratchy blanket and rubbed her sore head. It was early evening, judging by the light. How long had she been asleep? Her heart plummeted with the harsh reality of her predicament.
Everything was eerily quiet as she lay alone in her little prison, but at least the intense afternoon heat was less stifling now. Thanks to her aching head and frazzled nerves, exhaustion had claimed the past couple of hours. Now her stomach grumbled.
“What I wouldn’t do for a glass of water and a chocolate bar.” She usually ate breakfast after her morning run, so the last morsel of food she remembered was the divine chocolate cake last night. Not that her stomach could handle much at the moment. Her insides churned, but food would help clear her mind and keep her strong. Right now, however, water was a priority. Perhaps there would be a little swig left in the bottle from earlier.
She stretched out the kinks in her body, then pulled herself up and plodded over to the table. Yes, a mouthful of water beckoned her from the bottle. She drained the last drop and then inched toward the window, half expecting to see Blue Eyes’s leer. The sun was starting its descent, casting a dreamy pink glow over the stretch of beach outside. If her situation weren’t so dire, the moment would be breathtaking.
The truth hit her afresh—strangers kidnapped her, held her hostage in an unknown location, and the outcome was anyone’s guess. Goose bumps rose in spite of the sticky heat, and she rubbed her arms. Her life could be over in a matter of hours, for all she knew. Her faith might be solid and her eternal destination secured, but that didn’t make the present any less petrifying. I’m not ready to die, not when it feels like I’ve started to live again. Baby steps in fighting her fear of water—and opening her heart to Luke.
She squeezed the empty water bottle to her chest. What would life be like with someone like Luke? It was a harmless daydream with his intentions to stay single, right? She closed her eyes and allowed herself the indulgence.
“Luke and I would have a whirlwind romance, marry, and travel around the world to experience different cultures. He would show me all the places he worked as a missionary, and I would take him to Spain. We would settle down in Mexico and serve together at the orphanage before starting a family of our own. Nathan and Chloe would visit, and life would be perfect. He would love me unconditionally, I would trust him always, and every day would be a blessing.” Except he wants to stay single.
Madison crushed the water bottle and dropped it to the floor. In my dreams.
Lord, will I ever be able to trust a man again? Everyone I love seems to leave me one way or another, except You. Even Chloe has a new life now, and while I’m glad for her, what about me? Is this how my life ends? In a kidnapping because of someone else’s greed? How could she rely on the word of a blue-eyed monster?
She wiped her wet cheeks and opened her eyes. Through the window, she saw the other hut, but not a soul was in sight.
Maybe there’s an outhouse?
Using a bathroom became an immediate necessity, and Madison stared at the closed door. If her creepy captor was out there, she would insist on finding some privacy, and if he wasn’t around, maybe she could make a run for it instead.
Madison squared her shoulders and marched the three steps it took to reach the door. She twisted the metal knob. It was still locked from the outside. More tears pooled in her eyes while she rattled the doorknob.
The chances of anyone other than her captors hearing her were remote, but logic evaporated as panic set in. What if a local wandered along the beach or boaters pulled ashore? Someone might hear her and she had nothing to lose.
“Help!” Her throat was drier than she thought.
“Help!” She pounded her fists against the wooden door. She was about to take her aggression out on the window next when the key turned and the door flung open, pushing her deeper inside.
“Well, well, Sleeping Beauty is awake.” Blue Eyes wore an amused grin. “Calm down, princess.” He inspected the doorknob and followed her steps. “Looks like you’ve broken the lock. Feisty one, aren’t you?”
Good. That could be my ticket out of here. Madison backed away until she was pinned against the wall.
“How long do you intend to hold me prisoner here?” She jutted her chin.
He shrugged. “Depends on your little sister. If all goes according to plan, you might be back at your posh resort in a day or so. But if she decides to get clever and involve the cops, we might have to keep you indefinitely. We could get to know each other better, Miss Grey. How would that be?”
“You have a high opinion of yourself, don’t you?”
Blue Eyes laughed and flexed his huge biceps. “Who wouldn’t want to get to know me better?”
Madison set her hands on her hips. “ If you think I’m staying here all night, I’m going to need a bathroom. Now. Plus some more water. And some food.” Where was this courage coming from?
“Hmm. Let me check with the boss. Hang tough. And don’t go anywhere. We’re watching your every move.” He smirked and turned on his heel.
When the bulky guy disappeared outside, Madison breathed a sigh of relief. He was unpredictable and gave her the creeps, big time. She watched him through the window as he paced over to the beach hut to the left as she faced the ocean. She craned her neck and also spotted a red jeep parked close by, meaning the other hut must be their little headquarters. Interesting. There had to be keys.
Blue Eyes kept one eye on her door. An escape attempt would be futile.
Who is his boss? And how does he know Chloe and me?
Madison racked her brain, trying to come up with anyone who might go to this much trouble for money. Maybe someone their father had sour business dealings with? Or it could be anyone who followed the local news and liked the look of the Grey sisters and their financial gain. They probably appeared vulnerable and an easy target, and these days, the internet was able to spew out any information required. How much of a ransom had they asked for, and was it even feasible? Madison gulped. Chloe had to make some tough decisions, and Nathan and Luke were going to have to help her through this horrendous ordeal. Poor Chloe.
Blue Eyes turned from the entrance of the other hut and stalked back to hers. She held her breath and waited for the verdict. He swung the door open and poked his head inside.
“Okay, beautiful, you get a potty break, but make it quick. And don’t even think of trying any funny business—you hear me?” He lifted his hand and she flinched. The earlier slap still stung her cheek and her pride.
Madison nodded and followed him outside. The ocean opened up wide before her as she stepped onto soft sand. She breathed the salty, warm air in through her nose and relished being outdoors. Even in the evening light, her eyes were sensitive after being in the dim hut for hours, and she squinted while glancing around for any clues as to her whereabouts. Not that she knew one beach from another in Jamaica, but there had to be a landmark of some sort—a road, another hut. Something.
“This way.” He grabbed her upper arm and led her to the left of her hut.
Think, Madison. Think. Look around.
Only palm trees, beach, ocean, and now that she was outside, she spotted the awful glass bottom boat attached to a rickety dock. A chill grew up her spine. They hurried past the other shack, where “the boss” was residing, and arrived at a tiny outhouse. It was uninviting, to say the least.
“This is it?” She wrinkled her nose.
“You’re being held for ransom, princess. Did you expect The Ritz? You got two minutes. I’ll be right outside.”
Madison plugged her nose and was in and out of the sorry excuse of a bathroom in seconds. Blue Eyes surprised her by thrusting a wet-wipe package into her hands. Must have had it stashed in his pocket. These brutes were concerned about hygiene? Fascinating. He grabbed her arm again and tugged her in the direction of her prison. He was strong. What if his boss was even more of a bully? Strange he hadn’t shown his face yet. For the life of her, she couldn’t recall much about him from her initial kidnapping. He had attempted to disguise himself with the hoodie and shades. Perhaps he was a local and couldn’t risk being recognized.
She glanced at the boss’s hut on their way past, but the door was shut, and the glass on the window was filthy. No clues there. The red jeep had no roof, and Madison’s mind raced. She could run for it, jump in over the door, and be out of here in the perfect getaway vehicle. Blue Eyes could eat her sand. She peered closer to check for keys in the ignition, but Blue Eyes caught her gaze.
“Don’t even think about it.” He patted his shorts pocket. “That’s my baby, and I keep the keys. How stupid do you think I am?”
Madison bit her tongue. So many answers came to mind.
Her steps slowed at the thought of being locked up again with nothing but stale air and cramped conditions.
“Can’t I stay outside for a while?” She looked straight into those icy eyes and forced herself not to cower. “I can’t exactly go anywhere without you seeing, and it’s so stuffy in there.”
He laughed in her face. “In your dreams. What makes you think I care about your comfort? I don’t trust you for a minute after your little stunt on the phone. And don’t worry. I’ll be watching your door all night long now that your lock is useless.”
Thanks for the reminder, goon. Madison’s shoulders slumped when he steered her toward her door and pushed her through.
“Looks like the boss brought you some goodies. Only the best for you, eh? In you go. I’m watching, so don’t get any wild ideas. Sleep tight.”
Madison stared at the plate on the wooden table and didn’t even turn around when Blue Eyes slammed the door behind him.
“What’s all this? How strange. First the wet wipes and now a china plate?”
On a white china plate sat a pink cloth napkin, and on top of the napkin were two plump muffins.
Madison picked up a water bottle, grateful to see there were two more for later. So, they didn’t intend for her to die of thirst or hunger. She drank deeply, hoping to clear her mind before looking back at the plate. No, she wasn’t hallucinating. The muffins were still there.
No, wait. They couldn’t be, could they? Her stomach recoiled and her hand shook when she lifted one of the muffins to her mouth. She sniffed and then took a bite. What on earth? Pumpkin and chocolate chip—her favorite.
One person other than her sister was aware of her obsession with pumpkin-chocolate-chip muffins.
Madison’s fingers trembled, and she dropped the muffin onto the plate.
That would explain the wet wipe. But why would he kidnap her? Surely he wasn’t still after the money. Had it remained his obsession? How had his bitterness grown to this? Was his pride so damaged when the truth came out? Madison went out of her way to keep details of his planned fraud top secret, hoping he would be grateful, learn his lesson, and disappear. Only a select few individuals knew about his scheme to take her inheritance and run with it after they were married. Why hadn’t she reported him?
She gasped. Of course, it was Sam she saw in the glass bottom boat the night before the wedding. There had been something familiar about his shadow even in that split second. That’s why she turned back to take another look. She felt his presence in some strange way yet pushed it from the recesses of her mind in an attempt to protect her heart.
Madison slumped onto the hard chair and tried to steady her shaking hands. Her empty finger reminded her of the diamond solitaire engagement ring she wore a year ago.
Why couldn’t her mom and dad be alive? They would have seen through his charm and deception in no time, and her father would have made sure Sam Kinkaid would never be in their lives again. Had she been naive to expect him to disappear without a trace? Yes, it appeared she was. Naive in every way. That much was obvious now.
“Daddy, you would have known he couldn’t be trusted, wouldn’t you?” Even as she spoke the words, she realized Sam worked for her father’s company for a number of years and never was suspected of anything other than loyalty and dedication. No, he was a master fraud and had fooled everyone. “How can I ever rely on my own judgment again?”
Tears trickled down her face and splashed onto the ugly table. Sam was sitting yards away from her right now on this beach in the other hut. Laughing, no doubt. He was manipulating Chloe, robbing them of their inheritance, ruining the honeymoon, and shattering Madison’s nerves for good.
She needed a plan. There was no way she would allow that lowlife to crush her twice. She wanted to smash the window and hurl the muffins into the sand but thought better of it. Sustenance was necessary and she needed to keep her cool. Sam must know by now that she had figured out his identity. No way was she going to cave to his power trip.
Madison the Nervous and Fearful stepped aside for Madison the Organized Planner. Praying the muffins weren’t drugged or poisoned, she nibbled on one until it was gone and then washed it down with a swig of water. She hated how delicious it was. Yet sugar would give her the energy she needed and clarity of mind. Chew. Swallow.
Leaning her cheek against the window frame, she soaked in the final seconds of the most glorious sunset deepening over the ocean. She sighed. Her heavenly Father created every sunset and was ultimately in control—she knew it.
Give me wisdom and strength, God. Help me get out of here.
Madison finished the second muffin and drained another bottle of water while the evening grew darker. An escape plan percolated in her mind—she wasn’t about to wait around to see what Sam and Blue Eyes would do if something went wrong with the money pickup. I have to at least try. What were the chances of them staying awake and watching her door all night long? She had detected beer on Blue Eyes’s breath earlier and Sam was not a night owl. He needed his beauty sleep. They were bound to fall asleep at some point, and that would be the perfect opportunity to put her running training into action. It was worth taking the risk.
This could be life or death. I have to push my fears aside tonight…or die trying.
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