Chapter 23: The Glass Bottom Boat by Laura Thomas

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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/ Chapter 18 / Chapter 19 / Chapter 20 / Chapter 21 / Chapter 22

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

IT WAS A MIRACLE, NO doubt about it. Joe, the New York guardian angel, gave Luke a carrot, and it dangled before him as he sped into the dark night. So, the glass bottom boat played a major part in the kidnapping. Good to know he wasn’t on a wild-goose chase. And there were only two guys involved. Phew. The thought of dealing with a larger group in the kidnapping team had batted around his imagination for the last couple of hours, and it was a possibility when he thought back to the scuffle he’d witnessed at the resort on Friday night.

“I wonder what that was all about?” He scanned the deserted horizon. “Maybe the fight was with the real boat owners or something.” If it was reported to the police, no wonder the kidnappers didn’t want the authorities involved. Two reported crimes at one resort would send up some major red flags.

Windblown after several long hours on the water this evening, Luke’s body protested. His legs cramped, and his shoulders ached from holding the steering wheel steady against the current, but disturbing thoughts of Madison being held hostage urged him onward. Possible scenarios flitted through his mind. She could be anywhere, even off the island by now. No, he wouldn’t believe that. Wherever she was, one thing was for certain. She would be petrified.

“Hang in there, Madison,” he whispered into the wind.

The speedboat trawled along the coast, slowing at any signs of another vessel. Luke pulled into several smaller beaches and two larger resorts before he moored at another decrepit dock. There was a full jerrican of fuel on board, and it wouldn’t hurt to fill up. He tended to the tank and tossed the empty can in the back of the boat before jumping onto the dock. He pulled out his phone and breathed a sigh of relief when the signal was strong.

“Hey, Nathan, it’s me.”

“Luke. You okay? Found anything?”

“I’m on the right track, but I haven’t found the boat yet.” Luke heard Nathan relay the information to Chloe and then continued. “I spoke with someone else who met Sam and the other guy.”

“For real?”

“Yeah, they wanted to rent a glass bottom boat, and he didn’t like the look of them. It was our guys for sure, right down to the icy blue eyes. Anyway, this man I spoke with brushed them off a few weeks ago, but they found a boat elsewhere because he saw them pass by his beach early this morning.”

Nathan exhaled in a whoosh. “Wow. You were right. But they could be anywhere by now.”

“True, they’ve had hours to get away, but this guy confirmed they were heading east. They must have stopped somewhere to make the call to Chloe.”

“That was at two.”

“Right. And think about it—they won’t go far if they intend to collect their money tomorrow.”

“Yeah, I guess so. Unless they split up. Blue Eyes could have Madison at some remote location and they may have left Sam close to our resort.”

Some wisdom here, Lord? “No, I don’t think so. Something my man said to me rings true. He called them Brawn and Brains. I don’t think one could do without the other in this little scheme.”

“Hmm. You could be onto something there. You must be exhausted, man. Sure you’re okay to keep going? I can meet you somewhere and take over.”

“No, I’m good. I’m not stopping now. It’s dark, and I’m not supposed to be out, so I should continue on here, even if it’s at a snail’s pace.”

“Is your speedboat owner going to be cool with this? What if he thinks you’ve stolen it and calls the police or something? You know we have to keep any sign of the cops away for Madison’s sake.”

“Look at you being the sensible one for a change, little brother. Relax. I left my details with them, and I warned the kid I may not be back before dark. He won’t get into trouble. I’ll take the flak. Plus, he’ll make a great profit, which I’ll bill to you, by the way. I’m a poor missionary, remember?”

“No worries. I just want everyone back safe. Without involving the police. Listen. Chloe wants a quick word. I’ll pass you over to her.”

Luke switched the phone to his other ear and paced the boardwalk.

“Luke?” Chloe’s voice was strained. “I believe Madi’s okay. I can feel it. But I know she’s beyond scared. We can’t let her get hurt. Please find her.”

“You know I’ll search all night if I have to. Try to get some sleep.”

“That’s not going to happen. But I’m grateful, Luke. You’re going above and beyond here. Don’t get yourself into trouble, okay?”

“I’ll be careful. Don’t worry about me.”

There was a pause. “I’ve been listening to Madi’s iPod.”

“Yeah?” Could God use an iPod to speak into Chloe’s life even tonight?

“I thought it might help me feel closer to her, like you said. Anyway, the words on these worship songs are amazing. It’s like she knew I would be listening and they are written just for me.”

“That’s awesome.” Madison would be thrilled…

“I wanted you to know. And there’s something else.” Her voice grew softer.

Luke strained to hear every detail. “What is it?”

“When I went back to her room earlier, I didn’t find a note or anything, but I picked up her journal, and I’ve been reading it.”

She wouldn’t be happy about that. Who would? “That’s awkward.”

Chloe sighed. “I feel horrible about invading her privacy, but her life’s at stake here. Anyway, it turns out she was freaked out by Blue Eyes this weekend like you said, but she was also determined not to give in to fear. You were right. And there’s something else you should be aware of.”

“Yes?” Luke braced himself.

“I know you’re a missionary and never want to get married and stuff, but my big sister is falling for you. Which is beyond huge after everything she’s been through.”

“I see.” Luke felt the pulse in the side of his neck pumping fast.

“Do whatever you like with that nugget of information, but I thought it was important for you to be aware of her emotional state. Be gentle with her, okay? She can’t handle her heart being broken again. Especially by her hero.”

Luke closed his eyes, at a loss for words. Her hero? Her heart?

“Did you hear me, Luke? The line’s not great.”

“Yeah, I heard loud and clear. Thanks. I should go now, but I’ll speak to you both later.”

“Take care, brother-in-law.”

Luke slipped the phone into his pocket. He couldn’t move for a moment.

“Thanks, Lord, for Chloe listening to songs of hope in You. I know You can use those songs to speak deep truth into her life.” He looked up into the starry night. “And, God, I’m not sure what’s going on with my heart where Madison is concerned, but since it looks like she has feelings for me, I don’t want to hurt her with another rejection. Am I supposed to stay single, or are my growing feelings in Your will? I need direction for my future as well as for my boat. This is crazy, but You’re in control. That much I know.”

He rotated his head, stretched his back, and hurtled back onto the speedboat. The moon was almost full, and it lit up the ocean before him. He had to be extra vigilant boating in the dark, and he ran the motor on a low speed while he scanned the shoreline. His eyes were acclimatized to the darkness, but the constant strain had given him a killer of a headache. The least of his worries.

A smaller resort up ahead held a beach party in full swing, and Luke recognized the sounds of a steel band drifting in the air. With nothing to pique his interest, he puttered on. There was a tranquil atmosphere between beaches, and he felt like the only person on the entire ocean. Which he possibly was at this time of night.

Unless Madison was still floating in a boat somewhere. She could be on land by now. For her sake, he hoped so. His throat clogged with emotion. Why did some people have to go through so much? This was supposed to be a week of celebration and relaxation for them all, but now? A disaster. God, what are You doing in all this? I don’t understand.

Luke glanced down at his wrist. He wore the braided bracelet made by some of the kids at the orphanage. They presented him with it before he left and made him promise to keep it on the whole time he was away until he arrived back home. Home. Where was home anyway? Mexico or Seattle or somewhere new God might be calling him to? He touched the woven threads around his wrist and smiled. How could he even consider not going back to his beloved kids? Had he imagined the unsettled feeling in his gut when he was given his renewal papers? This time away was invaluable.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone again. Only 20 percent of power left, but he needed to take one quick look. The picture of Madison at the beach bonfire filled the screen. It took his breath away. Man, she was beautiful. Not only her angel face but also her eyes captivated him like nothing else, and they reflected the grace and love that came from within. It didn’t hurt that she loved babies, enjoyed traveling, and could speak Spanish. And hadn’t she challenged him that maybe there was something new in his future, too?

“What, God?” Tears brimmed. “What am I supposed to do with all this? Am I imagining these feeling for Madison? Didn’t You want me to stay single to serve You more effectively?”

Don’t you think I can use you if you are married, son?

Whoa. Not audible words but a sentence from the depth of his soul sounded in his ears. Had he doubted God’s ability? He sure hadn’t meant to. Singleness had suited him up to now, but that was before Madison Grey. Perhaps his mind was cloudy with exhaustion—this might not be the most prudent time to make life-changing decisions. Although he came to Jamaica, seeking God’s wisdom for his future…

Luke looked down. He held his phone next to the bracelet and glanced from one to the other. Funny how he hadn’t noticed that before—they almost matched. The bright yellow and brown threads from the bracelet picked up the colors of Madison’s yellow dress and chocolate-colored ringlets around her shoulders. Was it a sign?

“Tell me if I’m wrong, Lord, but I’m thinking maybe these two crazy worlds could collide beautifully.”

Peace settled over Luke. He could almost feel it cover him from head to toe. His heart rate returned to normal and he slid the phone back into his pocket. I have to go rescue my girl.

*****

Madison attempted her breathing exercises again. What were the possible outcomes of this whole scenario? Best case—Sam would receive the money and escape, let her go back to the resort, and the ordeal would be over. But was that realistic? It sounded too straightforward, and she now knew the depth of evil Sam was capable of. With greed as his driving force, let alone whatever mental delusions clouded his judgment, he could choose to stalk her for the rest of her days just for the pleasure of knowing she’d always be looking over her shoulder in fear.

But now that she knew the truth, Sam could never go back to the States. He must have arranged a flight straight from Jamaica to some unknown destination to set himself up for the rest of his life, like he said. Unless he had no intention of letting Madison go free to identify him. After all, he’d confessed his role as embezzler and murderer in addition to kidnapper. If he ever planned on returning to the States, he would have to get rid of both Madison and Chloe and then probably Nathan and Luke as well.

Could he be that barbaric? Her stomach turned at the memory of what he had done to her parents. Even if the ransom exchange went as planned, the odds of her ever being reunited with her sister and a happy future were slim to none. If this is it, I’ll never get the opportunity to walk down the aisle to my future husband. And I’ll never get to hold my own babies. I’m not ready to give up.

Another option was even more disastrous. What if Chloe wanted to play it safe and decided to go to the police right now? If Sam found out, he might do something crazy straightaway. Her mouth went dry. If so, this could be her last night alive. The Sam facade she fell in love with wouldn’t have hurt a fly, but now she’d seen his irrational side. Even last year when she discovered his intent on fraud, something edgy and unpredictable put her on high alert and caused her to get rid of every trace of him from her life. Or so she had thought. Who knows what he is capable of now—he could even kill me and then pursue Chloe…

Dear Chloe. Here she was, in Jamaica trying to enjoy her honeymoon. This was so unfair. Perhaps she was fast asleep after the stress of the day or pounding the streets looking for her sister. She must be frantic with worry. Hopefully, Nathan was being a rock for her. What a dreadful way to start a marriage. In an attempt to take her mind off her impending doom, Madison lowered her head to pray for the newlyweds, but as she did, something caught her eye.

The thought of having to look through the wretched glass into the ocean again gave her palpitations, but something gold glistened in the moonlight right at the edge of the window. With care, Madison bent over and grabbed it with her bound hands.

She held it up, turning it around. It looked familiar.

“No. It can’t be.”

She stared at a gold cuff link with the initials N.A. engraved in the center. Nathan Alexander. Madison’s jaw dropped. Last Christmas, she had spent hours shopping in the Seattle city center with Chloe, hunting for the perfect Christmas gift for Nathan. It was a true labor of love and a test of sisterly patience, but by the end of the day, Chloe selected the cuff links and even had them engraved with his initials. Madison blinked and looked again. There was no doubt whatsoever this belonged to him. The question remained—why on earth was it on a boat belonging to Sam? But they had never met, had they? When Nathan came along, Sam was history.

Madison gasped. Nathan isn’t in on this scheme, too, is he?

Curled in a ball on the bench, she swallowed down panic and thought back through the wedding preparations and possible conversations with Nathan that might now prove suspicious. He was eager to book this particular resort, and Chloe was happy to let him take that side of the planning, but there wasn’t anything dubious about his desire to help. Was he in cahoots with Sam all along? Does he even know Sam?

Chloe could be in danger with her shiny new husband. The thought of Chloe being hurt brought a fresh wave of anxiety over Madison’s exhausted body. Breathe. She gripped the cuff link. What if Nathan planned to scam Chloe out of her inheritance, like Sam’s attempt with her last year? They could all be in it together.

No. It couldn’t be. But what other explanation was there? Chloe’s heart would break for sure. Madison already experienced the searing pain that followed betrayal—and the agonizing months of despair and self-loathing. But for Chloe, it would be even worse because she was married to the man. Something didn’t fit, but Madison’s head pounded so nothing made sense anymore. All she knew was that she had to get away from here. Away from Sam. And she had to get back to Chloe’s side in order to protect her. Had to keep this piece of evidence safe.

With some effort, she slid the cuff link into the little pocket inside her waistband. Out of sight, out of mind? Her vision swirled. How had Nathan been on this boat on his wedding day? He wore cuff links—she noticed them at the wedding dinner. Nausea returned. Had Nathan sold her out to Sam? Every hair stood on end. God, what do I do now? I can’t trust anyone…

Luke. She focused on Luke. He was genuine, wasn’t he? Doubts jabbed as she imagined him with Nathan, plotting to trick the gullible Grey sisters.

No way.

In the limited time they had spent together, Luke proved himself trustworthy. God was central in his life, and even if they had no future together, he would be doing everything in his power to rescue her right now. She knew it. Whether Nathan was involved in this or not, Luke was a man of integrity and honor. Those green eyes of his were deep pools of honesty, and Madison longed to see them again. She was safe with Luke. She trusted him. Yes, she trusted him. But now it was too late. Thoughts of him in a tuxedo mingled with visions of James Bond, and then the shivering started in earnest. Fear took over and sobs erupted.

She didn’t even realize she was crying at first—how could there be more tears yet to be shed? But they came, hot and fast. She let them fall, and once they were all used up, she resorted to praying out loud in the cool night air. She got over her irrational self-consciousness. She was completely alone out here, for goodness’ sake, and after a while, it was as if God were sitting in the boat with her. She talked with her Father, pouring out her heart and holding nothing back.

Tears sprinkled her bound hands.

“God, help me. Help us all.”

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More books by Laura Thomas:

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The Lighthouse Baby

The Orphan Beach

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