Welcome back to our Wednesday and Saturday serial installments! We are happy to continue to share 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 23 / Chapter 24
THIS IS THE LONGEST NIGHT of my life.
Fear prevented Madison from succumbing to sleep—who knew what those creeps might do with her next? The salty smell of the ocean filled her nostrils, and her stomach cramped from hunger. Two measly muffins. That’s all she’d eaten in the past twenty-four hours, and it wasn’t enough after the physical exertion she’d put herself through. Her body ached from exhaustion after the run and the stress and the craziness of the day. Her breathing slowed and her eyelids felt like lead. Peace. Safety. Sleep.
Rapid knocking startled Madison and she jumped.
Did I actually fall asleep?
The knocking started up again, muffled yet persistent. She gave her head a shake.
I’m losing my mind. Who would be knocking on a boat? Is that coming from underneath?
She got her bearings and peered down through the glass panel below. Too horrified to even scream, she gasped, covering her mouth with both hands. What? How on earth? But when the apparition didn’t magically disappear, reality hit with tremendous force. Her mind wasn’t playing tricks. He was swimming under the boat. It was him, for real.
“Luke?” He was here to rescue her?
Madison dropped to the floor and touched the glass with her bound hands. His dark hair was wavy in the water, but there was no mistaking the kindness in those captivating green eyes. He pressed one hand next to hers on the other side of the glass, and their eyes locked. The moment was surreal and joyous, and every butterfly in creation found its way to Madison’s stomach. Am I still dreaming?
The next second, Luke gave a thumbs-up, and she responded likewise as well as she could with her hands tied together. Then he was gone and she was alone again. She pinched the skin on her cheek. Yes, she was awake. Madison continued staring down into the empty ocean. Had she hallucinated the merman?
A slight splash of water sounded from the side of the boat, and Madison spun around. Luke’s head popped up where the ladder was located, and he grinned, heaving huge breaths. It was him. Madison scrambled across the boat and helped him over the side. She was never more relieved in her life.
“Luke.” A quick glance back toward the hut. “Quickly, before they see you. What are you doing here? However did you find me?”
Luke bent over while his breathing recovered. “It’s a long story, but we need to get you out of here as soon as possible.”
Dripping wet, he straightened in front of her and tipped her chin up. Their eyes met again and her knees buckled. “Madison, are you okay? Did they hurt you?”
She struggled to speak. He was here. For her. “Umm, I’ve got a few bruises, and my ankle’s sore, but it’s not bad. Can you untie me, please?” She lifted her hands.
“Of course, but let’s get out of sight.” He checked the beach.
They ducked down, and while Luke worked on the cord, Madison’s mind raced. This was one scenario she had not considered. Bizarre. She shook her head and tried to gather her thoughts.
He squeezed life back into her hands, then continued loosening the knot. “Here, wriggle your wrists for a second.” He glanced down. “What happened to your ankle? It looks puffy.”
“I turned it on the uneven road when I was trying to escape up the mountain.”
He raised both eyebrows. “Wow.”
“Obviously, it didn’t work out well.”
“You’re a strong woman, Madison Grey.”
“Look at me. I’m trapped on a boat and being held for ransom by a psychopathic murderer.”
Luke broke through the last of the rope. “You’re living your worst nightmare. Now, let’s get you out of here.”
There was only one way out. The thought of being swallowed by the ocean made her stomach twist. They may not make it. He had to know the truth. “Luke, it’s Sam. He’s behind all this. And Blue Eyes—you know, the guy who was following me at the resort? Sam wants the money he didn’t get from me the first time.”
“Yeah, we kind of thought as much. I’m so sorry.”
How did he figure that out? Her mind raced. “But there’s more.” She took a shaky breath. He had to know what Sam was capable of. “Sam told me he caused my parents’ plane to crash. And then I thought he might kill me and maybe even Chloe…” Her words ran into each other. Was she making any sense at all?
“Wait—your parents’ accident, too?” Luke froze and a muscle in his jaw spasmed. “You weren’t kidding when you called him a psychopathic murderer. If he confessed that nugget of news to you, I’m guessing he won’t want you to be able to report him.” He popped his head up and ducked back down. “We need to leave before these guys suspect anything or come to check on you. It looks like they’re in one of those huts on the beach.”
“The police should be on their way, and Sam’s not going to be happy.”
“The police?” Relief flooded her entire being, and then dread. The ocean. She glanced up at Luke. She trusted him. She could do this. “Okay. Tell me what I need to do.”
Luke pulled her close. “We have to swim out of here. You know that, right? We can’t use this dock because they could see us and it takes us too close to the huts. They could even be watching the boat right now, so we have to stay low. I’m counting on the fact they think you’re stuck in here for the night. Sam knows your fear of water, right?”
“He knows.” Another look at the water. Tears brimmed. “But I’m not sure if I can swim out there, Luke. Please don’t let me drown.”
Panic rose from the pit of her stomach. She had to hold it all together in front of her rescuer. He was putting his own life on the line for her. He was putting her first. For real. Thank You, Lord.
Luke enveloped her in a tight hug, and even though he was soaking wet, she pulled in closer.
“I won’t let you drown. I’ll be with you every second. I won’t leave you. Do you believe me?”
Her heart beat a steady confirmation as she looked up into those green pools. “Yes. I trust you, Luke.”
“Good. Then let’s go. Take off your shoes and socks, and follow me in. We need to be as quick and quiet as possible.”
Madison stripped her feet and followed him to the side of the boat. Her ankle ached a little, but swimming shouldn’t be a problem. Disappearing into the inky ocean was another matter.
Luke held her hand and closed his eyes. “God, we give Madison’s fear over to You and pray You will take us to safety and that justice will be served. Amen.”
“I’ll slip into the water first and help you in. You understand, honey?” His voice was a whisper.
“Sure.” Madison was terrified. But did he just say “honey,” as in a romantic term of endearment? Her frozen insides warmed.
“I’m afraid you don’t have the luxury of sitting on the side deliberating.”
“I understand. I need to get away from this place. Go ahead. I’ll follow. I can do this.”
The next minute, he was out in the ocean, treading water with outstretched arms, waiting for her to climb onto the ladder. She couldn’t do it. Couldn’t make her limbs move in that direction. There were too many unknowns, too many bad memories, too many fears.
Clear as day, Madison saw the reality before her. This trust, this leap of faith would literally save her life. If I can take this step and leap from the “safety” of this stupid boat, which is suffocating me, then perhaps I can really live. Placing her trust in God, knowing He would walk her through anything and everything she feared, was simple yet huge. She stared into Luke’s eyes. If she took such a monumental step, maybe this young man with the open arms would be there to walk alongside her. This could be the beginning of something beautiful. There was much to lose but so much more to gain.
Madison held her breath as she backed over the edge of the boat, clung to the ladder, and lowered herself into the water. This was it—no turning back. She let go.
Luke caught her before her head sank below the surface. The water was chilly, and Madison fought to stay afloat in her initial panic, but he supported her until she gained control over her shallow breathing. I did it. She swallowed the cheer that welled up inside and concentrated on not splashing her arms. No noise allowed. The bulk of the boat blocked her view of the shore like a shield.
“Do we have to go underwater? I don’t think I can.”
“No need,” Luke whispered. “We’re right at the end of the dock, so we can swim above the surface all the way. Easy as pie.” His encouraging smile in the moonlight steadied her nerves. “Ready?”
“How deep are we?” Madison gasped between breaths.
“Don’t even think about it. Focus on our destination. Do you see the dock over there?”
Madison turned to where Luke pointed. It looked a million miles away. “Okay.” Her voice quivered. “Deep is worse than distance. You pray and I’ll swim.”
With Luke right beside her, Madison broke into breaststroke, imagining she were in a swimming pool—a shallow, safe one. She felt warm from within, and her arms strengthened with every stroke. It wasn’t so bad, as long as she didn’t think about Sam. Focus. Luke’s boat. Luke. Chloe. Safety.
They rounded the end of the dock, and Luke’s speedboat came into view. Madison could almost taste freedom. Hope was nearly tangible and soon this nightmare would be a distant memory.
“Madison, I need you to keep calm and continue swimming all the way. Don’t stop.”
“Why? You’re not leaving me, are you?” Madison stopped swimming and looked over at Luke. He was treading water and looking at something behind them. Water closed in above her head. No, I can’t drown now. Her childhood dreams were front and center as she flailed her arms and legs. Where was Luke? He promised not to leave her…
In a heartbeat, he pinned her unruly limbs with strong arms and pushed her up to the water’s surface. She took a large gulp of air and spluttered.
“Shhh,” he whispered into her ear.
Each breath burned, but she was okay. Luke held her while she calmed down. His hands were steady and sure as he guided her onto her back.
“Shhh, you’re going to be fine. Float and take deep breaths. There you go. I’m not going anywhere. Don’t worry. You lost it for a second there. That’s all.”
Madison caught her breath and concentrated on staying above the rocking surface. “Thanks, I’m better now, I think.” Inhale, exhale. “But what’s going on? Is it Sam?”
“We’re going to be safe in a few minutes, but we have to move faster. Someone opened the door of the hut on the beach.”
Madison flipped over and launched straight into another breaststroke. “No. It can’t be happening—I thought we were safe. They’re coming to get me and then they’ll hurt you. Luke, I’m so sorry.” Her body heaved sobs with each stroke. The dock was visible. And the getaway boat was close. So close.
Luke was within grabbing reach, but she needed to do this on her own.
“We’re nearly there and you’re doing great.” His voice was barely audible. “Please swim and breathe. Swim and breathe. You let me worry about what’s going on behind us. Look ahead and keep moving.”
For several seconds, they swam in silence. All Madison heard was the sound of her own breathing. And then Luke, louder than before.
“I hate to say it, but we’ll be safer under the water. Do you understand?”
Dread washed over Madison. That was asking too much. Her body might be able to swim underwater, but her mind couldn’t cope. The choice was hers—either trust Luke and face her demons or put his life in jeopardy, not to mention her own.
“Let’s not take any chances. They’re less likely to see us underwater, and if they do happen to shoot—”
“Do you think they’ll shoot at us?” She remembered to whisper.
“Did you see either of them with a gun?”
Her heart plummeted. “Yes. Stay with me?”
“Of course. Keep your eyes open. I’ll be right beside you. I promise. Take a massive breath.”
The next moment, Madison took the deepest breath she could manage in the circumstances. Luke grabbed her hand, and the real world was left behind. Together, they plunged down and moved through the water. He was a strong swimmer and pulled her effortlessly alongside him through the deep, dark ocean.
She was okay.
They left the cruelty and the craziness above water and she willed herself not to panic. Snorkeling used to be her favorite thing to do, way back before her accident. She’d forgotten the peaceful majesty of the underwater world. A whole part of creation she had denied herself for so many years. Relax. She glanced over at Luke again and sensed he was in his natural element. Her arms burned and her lungs felt ready to explode. Let this be over soon, please. She pumped her legs with the last burst of energy she could muster.
Beyond the seaweed and schools of small fish, Madison spotted the underside of what must be the speedboat ahead of them. Swim, swim, swim.
Then Luke pulled her up to the surface, and she greedily gulped air into her lungs. He placed her fingers around the bottom of a rope ladder, hoisted himself up the side of the boat with ease, and then held out his hand for her to follow.
“We made it.” His hair dripped onto her as he leaned over and pulled her up out of the water. “You’re safe. You’re safe.” He held her in his arms as she quaked from a combination of adrenaline and exhaustion. But they weren’t out of danger yet.
Shouts came from behind, and Luke pulled them down flat into the boat. Sirens sounded. Madison curled up in a ball, waiting for footsteps to march up their dock. But footsteps never came. She dared to let out her breath. Shouting voices, slamming doors. Luke poked his head up, and then—a gunshot.
Madison jumped. “No. What was that? Are you okay?” She pulled him back down.
“We’re fine.” Luke caught his breath. “You did it. Thank the Lord we’re all safe. See—the police arrived in perfect time. We can leave and get you back to your sister.” He pulled her up.
“For real?” Madison felt like a rag doll. Every part of her was spent, and she barely had the strength to speak. “The police? Shouldn’t we stick around to speak to them?” Her teeth chattered and she couldn’t stop trembling as she peered over at the beach.
Luke handed her a towel from the cubby and grabbed one for himself. “Don’t worry. The police have it all under control. We don’t have to hang around. I guessed that if this worked, you would be anxious to get back to Chloe. Nathan should have explained the plan to the authorities, and so they’ll be expecting us back at the resort.” He jumped up to untie the boat from the dock. “I’d rather get going before the police decide to chat with us here instead. I’m afraid it could be a long night.”
She craned her neck in an attempt to see what was going on back at the shore. “I want to be certain they have Sam. What if he made a run for it?” Would she ever quit looking over her shoulder if he was on the loose?
Luke stepped back into the boat and pulled a pair of binoculars from the cubby. He held them to his eyes. “Trust me—they have both guys. I don’t know who was shot, but there doesn’t appear to be anyone on the ground.” He offered her the binoculars.
She shook her head. “I’d rather take your word for it.” She’d seen enough of Sam and Blue Eyes.
He put an arm around her shoulders and she fit perfectly against his side. “You’re going to freeze if we hang around here any longer. Let me get things ready to set off here.” He turned to check the gauges. “Help yourself to my phone—it’s on the seat. See if the signal’s strong enough to give your little sister a call before I start the engine. I don’t have much battery left, but Nathan is on speed dial.”
Madison bit her lower lip. Was it over? Was she safe? She reached across and grabbed the phone.
One click of the button and she had service. “Nathan, is Chloe there?”
“Madison? Yeah, we’re both here on speaker phone.”
“Madison?” Chloe’s voice broke.
“Chloe, it’s me. I’m with Luke and we’re both safe.” Squeals and hollers ensued while Madison explained the situation amid tears of joy. “Chloe, we need to get moving here, but we’ll see you at the resort. We can answer all the police questions there. I have so much to tell you.”
“How long will you be? I can’t wait to see you safe and sound.”
Madison looked at Luke. “How long?”
He tipped his head to one side. “An hour or so?”
Chloe said her goodbyes, and Madison handed the phone back to Luke. He retrieved two water bottles and handed one to Madison. She guzzled the contents in seconds while Luke started the motor.
“I’m guessing Chloe’s relieved?” he shouted above the rumble of the engine. “I’ll have you back with her as quickly as I can.”
He backed the boat away from the dock. Madison stumbled with the sudden movement. She gasped. Her swollen ankle. Adrenaline must be fading.
Luke idled the motor and was at her side in a flash. “First, let’s prop your ankle up before it inflates like a balloon.” He helped her to the captain’s chair and lowered her into it. He placed her foot on the next seat and padded it with his T-shirt. “Better?”
Luke waved to the police, and they waved back. They were on their way.
Wind blew the hair from her face as she looked up at her hero. “Luke, you risked your life for me.” She had to shout over the boat noise.
Luke stood at the steering wheel and shrugged. “It was nothing.” He let out a laugh. “Sorry. That was a complete lie. I’m not in the habit of rescuing beautiful, kidnapped women.”
He called her beautiful. “It’s not a regular occurrence in Mexico?”
“No, can’t say it is.” He turned and tapped her nose. “But I would do it all over again for you in a heartbeat. You have no idea how worried I’ve been.”
Madison gulped. “You know you saved my life, don’t you?” Her voice was husky, the magnitude of his sacrifice overwhelming her. She cleared her throat. “Somehow I knew you wouldn’t leave me. I don’t even know where to begin in the gratitude department. You’re my knight in shining armor. Come here a second.”
He bent down to her level and she planted a quick kiss on his cheek.
His eyes widened and dimples appeared on his cheeks. “I think we have some talking to do.” He straightened and turned back to the wheel, half watching the water, half watching her face.
“Do we?” Madison’s heart swelled. What about his whole singleness thing? Had something changed?
“I think so. At least, I do. Let’s say God opened my eyes to a whole new realm of possibilities.”
Was their conversation just yesterday? What had they said? “Maybe God has something exciting planned for you which you know nothing about yet.” She allowed the words to sink in deep like a promise. “I like the sound of that.” She smiled and shivered.
“You need some help keeping warm?” His green eyes filled with concern and he settled in the chair next to her. They would have to sit close together all the way to the resort. She could live with that.
Madison didn’t say anything but rather tucked herself under his arm, shut out the night, and reveled in her newfound freedom. Freedom in the water. Freedom in love.
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