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 / Chapter 25 /Chapter 26
MADISON RELISHED THE WARMTH OF Luke’s body beside her as they shared their final seconds on the boat. It felt right and good. What a night. How did this relationship develop at such breakneck speed between two souls intent on not opening up their hearts? In the dingy hut and again on the scary boat, she prayed for her life to be spared, and now she faced more potential happiness than she had ever imagined possible.
Luke was serious about her. The words he prayed moments ago, they were real. She wasn’t dreaming. Something changed in his heart and she was falling hard for her rescuer. Tonight, she swung from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs in a matter of hours. Both her head and her heart were ready to explode.
Please, God, let the truth about my kidnapping be revealed so I can start living again. Preferably alongside this particular missionary.
“Madi? Madi!” Chloe waved both arms in the air.
They pulled in, and while Luke secured the tie lines, Madison stepped off the boat and was engulfed in a tight hug from her sister. She cried and laughed and held on to the dearest family member she had left. Chloe made no sense as she bawled into Madison’s shoulder. It was good to be together. They pulled back and wiped their faces.
Madison moved farther onto the dock to allow Luke to jump from the boat. Chloe took both of his hands in her own. “I don’t know how I’ll ever repay you for this, but you are hands down the best brother-in-law ever.” She glanced at Madison. “Thank you so much for bringing my sister back. You’ll never know how much it means to me.”
Madison grinned at Luke as he shifted from one foot to the other. “Anyone would have done the same. Especially for this young lady.”
“I don’t know how you did it, man.” Madison spun round at the sound of Nathan’s voice. He stepped forward and slapped his brother on the back and then resorted to a bear hug and plenty of whooping. “I guess your God really does answer prayers, eh? You’re pretty awesome. You know that, right?”
Luke laughed, but it sounded forced. “I’ve always told you God answers. I’m glad you believe me, at long last. But you’d better stop with all this gushing. I’m not used to receiving actual compliments from my brother.”
“Yeah, I’m done now. Gotta keep you humble.” Nathan smirked.
Madison caught Luke’s eye and attempted a reassuring smile. They needed those answers sooner rather than later.
Chloe linked arms with her sister. “I thought I’d lost you forever. I even prayed, and you know I’m not into that.”
“Your prayers worked, then?”
“Yeah, I guess. Are you sure they didn’t hurt you? I heard the thug slap you when we were on the phone. I’ve been so worried, imagining the worst…” A sob choked her voice.
“Hey, I’m fine. I think I sprained my ankle, but it’s already feeling better than it was.”
“But you were on a glass bottom boat?”
“On my own.” A shudder ran through her body. But not as bad as before.
Chloe cringed. “Like in your nightmares. However did you cope?”
“It was worse than I imagined. But I knew God was with me and I prayed like crazy. Then this merman came along…” She winked at Luke.
Their conversation was cut short when the resort manager joined the foursome at the end of the main dock. He was taller than the guys by at least four inches and looked like a stiff wind could blow him over. Judging by his disheveled shirt and crooked tie, he had been awakened for the occasion. He was the manager they reported to on Saturday night. Perhaps now he would take them seriously.
“Hello again.” He turned to Chloe and Nathan. “My name is David, and I believe we have some serious business to attend to tonight, ladies and gentlemen.” He checked his watch. “Or should I say ‘this morning’?”
Madison had lost track of time. “Is it morning already?”
“It’s one o’clock, miss,” David said. “But don’t worry about that. Our main concern is the well-being of our guests, and we want to make you comfortable while the authorities help sort it all out. Why don’t you come with me to one of the meeting rooms? I’ve been informed that the police are on their way and need you to answer questions, of course.” He narrowed his eyes when he saw the boat. “I don’t know who that belongs to, but we’ll worry about it later on.”
Madison caught Luke’s grin and his hand as the entourage followed David across the beach while he continued talking.
“Are you all okay? Hungry perhaps? Any injuries? You seem to be limping, miss. I can call our first-aid administrator if necessary. I’m afraid I don’t know much about this incident, other than the kidnapping.”
Madison shrugged. “I’m exhausted. A few bruises, a sore ankle, and a headache, but other than a dry set of clothes, some ice, and a painkiller, I don’t think I’ll need anything else. My stomach’s not up to food right now, but thank you.”
“Of course. I’ll see to it.” David glanced at Luke. “And your husband?”
“I’m fine—thanks. But I’m not her husband.” Luke ran his free hand through his hair.
Yet. “He’s my hero.” She squeezed their clasped hands. With Luke on one side and Chloe on the other, her heart was full.
“Good. Here we are.” David ushered them all through the deserted lobby and into a small room. A large rectangular table took up most of the space and was surrounded by formal padded chairs. “Excuse me while I round up some supplies for you.” He rushed back out toward the lobby.
Chloe released Madison and fell into Nathan’s arms. They both looked exhausted and took two seats on the far side of the table.
Luke led Madison to a chair and let go of her hand. She collapsed into it, her narrow escape sinking in, her adrenaline crashing fast.
Luke claimed the chair beside her. “You all right?”
“Just bone weary. I can’t think straight anymore.” She glanced over at her sister, who was deep in conversation with Nathan.
Luke followed her gaze and lowered his voice. “Do you want to tell Chloe about Sam’s involvement in your parents’ accident or ask about the cuff link before the police arrive?”
Madison leaned both elbows on the table and rested her head in her hands. “Half of me wants to forget I ever found the stupid cuff link, but what if Sam implicates Nathan? I can’t bear the thought of Chloe hearing about it that way, but she also needs to know the accident wasn’t an accident.”
“Did I hear my name?” Chloe chimed into the conversation. “What’s up, sis? Can I get you anything?”
She sat up straight. This was not going to be easy. “Listen, guys. This is super awkward. I’m so grateful to be back and overjoyed nobody was hurt in the process, but there’s something I need to tell you.” She bit her lip.
Luke shifted his chair closer to hers and put an arm around her shoulders.
“What’s wrong?” Chloe’s blue eyes were like saucers.
There was no way to candy-coat this piece of news. “Sam told me he caused Mom and Dad’s plane to crash.”
“What?” Chloe’s mouth flew open. “How can that be? They did a full investigation, didn’t they?”
“Yes, but it was inconclusive, remember? A lot of evidence was compromised in the lake, and we had no reason to suspect anyone would ever try to tamper with Dad’s plane.”
“I can’t believe it. They were…murdered? I didn’t think it could get any worse. And Sam? We let him into our lives. We were nice to the guy who killed our parents? No, it can’t be true.” Chloe buried her face in her hands.
“I know.” Madison took a deep breath. “I nearly married him, remember?”
“I can’t believe this.”
“There’s more to his scam than we ever imagined. He also said he’d been pilfering money from Dad’s company for years and saw the plane accident as a means to getting to me and, in turn, the major money.”
Chloe almost choked. “But we welcomed him into our home, and he never broke a sweat. He sat there and comforted us while we grieved. He helped us both through a horrible time and he weaseled his way into your heart. How could he?”
Madison shrugged. She had already cried over the realization, but this was fresh news for her sister. “He played us all. Even poor Dad.”
“That’s absurd.” Nathan pulled his chair closer to his wife’s. “This guy’s got nerve. To be that close with your family and have this whole master plan going on.” He squeezed Chloe’s hand. “Actually, Madison, this is going to sound crazy, but I have to tell you something, too.”
Madison stared across the table at Nathan’s green eyes. He looked down. “Really? Because there’s something I need to ask you about. I found something on the—”
“Good morning, everyone.”
Their conversation was cut short when three Jamaican policemen entered the room and filled the space. They wore flat black hats, which they removed when each took an available seat around the table.
The eldest policeman spoke again. “I’m Officer Peters, and these are Officers Stephens and Johnson.” He looked at the bedraggled group leaning over the table. “It appears you have all had a traumatic day. I’m sorry for your distress.”
“Yes, sir.” Luke spoke for them all. “We’re glad to have the whole situation behind us. Are the two men in custody?”
“Yes, I can confirm they are both in custody.” Officer Peters pulled a notebook and pencil from his breast pocket. “We’ll be contacting the US Embassy and the police force in Seattle straightaway. You’re safe now.”
Madison exhaled and closed her eyes. “What a relief.” Her eyes flew open. “Was anyone shot? We heard a gun go off back at the other beach.”
“No, miss. I would say it was a warning shot. Nobody is injured.”
Madison nodded. The need to see Sam receive justice was at the top of her list of priorities after today. Being shot to death seemed like an easy out. Her parents deserved justice.
Officer Peters took his time staring at each of them around the table, landing on Nathan. “You must be the brother who phoned us?”
He nodded. “That was me. And I have the note I mentioned right here.” He dug into his shorts pocket and set the ransom note in front of the officer. Madison’s chest tightened. She didn’t want to read it. Not right now.
“Good.” He scanned it and scribbled in his notebook before looking at Madison.
“We will need you to tell us everything that happened today. I know this will be hard and you are tired, but I must insist. We will record this interview. Okay?”
She wanted the whole thing over with. “That’s fine.”
One of the other officers took a small tape recorder from a briefcase and placed it on the table.
The manager entered the room with fresh robes for Madison and Luke, and he was followed by a young lady who set a pot of steaming coffee and mugs on the table and some ice and a bottle of painkillers with four glasses of water.
The aroma of coffee was heaven. Madison smiled her thanks and slipped into the robe’s warmth. She swallowed the pills and reached for the coffee to warm her insides and give her enough caffeine to concentrate on the interview. She rested the ice pack on her swollen ankle. Instant relief.
Officer Peters’s finger hovered above the recorder. “Are you ready, Miss Grey?”
She took a deep breath and nodded. I can do this. Starting with Friday night in the lobby when she had first spotted Blue Eyes, she relayed every detail she could remember. Luke interjected with observations of his own, further explaining his role in the rescue. Between them, they covered everything. It was grueling, especially when the officers interrupted with even more questions. An hour later, a yawn split her face.
Chloe spoke next. “Officer, my sister is exhausted. And I think she needs to get home as soon as possible. If I can find flights, I think we should leave tomorrow.”
Officer Peters shook his head. “I’m afraid we’ll need you to stay in the country until we get this all figured out. I’m sorry.”
“That’s fine.” Madison fought another yawn. “I need to rest and recover, and I can do that right here, so let’s stick to our original plan. I’m safe now. I can’t imagine having to pack up and get on a plane tomorrow. Really, Chloe, I’d rather recuperate on the beach. And you guys have a honeymoon to salvage.”
Officer Peters cleared his throat. “There is one thing we need to discuss as a matter of importance, even though I know you must all be tired.”
“Go ahead.” Luke offered Madison another coffee. She shook her head, in danger of a caffeine overload at this hour. He poured himself a cup.
“Evidence was found at the scene where we picked up the alleged kidnappers—incriminating documents, chloroform, a gun. But the suspects were also forthcoming with some information they thought we would find interesting, and it concerns one of you.” His eyes darted to Nathan.
Nathan’s mouth fell open. “Me? Why?”
“Mr. Sam Kinkaid implied you were involved in this scam, Mr. Alexander. He is willing to write a statement confirming you knew about the planned abduction in the boat several months ago and that you met with him and Mr. Holloday on numerous occasions.”
“What? Mr. Holloday?” Nathan shook his head. “I don’t know any Holloday.”
Madison heart lurched. She took one hand from the table and touched the cuff link, still tucked in her waistband.
Luke rubbed his chin. “That must be Blue Eyes.”
Madison looked from Luke to Nathan. “How well did you know Sam? Luke told me you’d met him.”
Nathan groaned. “This is such a mess. I met them both when we were planning the wedding, but he used another name. He called himself Steve Jacobs.” He paused while Officer Peters scribbled down the name. “I had no idea he was your ex, Madison. I had nothing to do with this sick scheme. I swear. It was only after the ransom note that I started to piece everything together and we realized Steve Jacobs was Sam. Why would I put my fiancée—my wife—through this turmoil?” He put an arm around Chloe as tears trickled down her cheeks.
The officer tapped a pencil on the table. “How did you happen to meet these men?”
“They posed as photographers, and then Sam came to me later with a great deal on this resort. We met a couple of times, but he made me uncomfortable, and so I shook him loose as soon as I could. Haven’t heard from him since.”
“Why did he make you uncomfortable?” Madison stared into Nathan’s eyes, so like his brother’s. She had to know the truth. It had to make sense.
“He kept going on about how we should incorporate this glass bottom boat idea into the wedding. Now I realize why, but at the time, it was plain weird. And he asked a lot of questions about you, Madison.” He squeezed Chloe closer. “More than about the bride, which is kind of suspicious, in hindsight.”
She lowered her head and blinked away tears as Luke put an arm back around her shoulders.
Officer Peters cleared his throat. “So, you’re saying you had nothing to do with today’s kidnapping.”
“Of course he didn’t.” Chloe threw her hands in the air. “Why would he? For goodness’ sake, he married me and is entitled to half my money anyway. It wouldn’t make any sense. There’s no proof, only what that loser is trying to pin on Nathan.”
Madison chewed on her thumbnail. She vacillated between keeping the whole cuff link business a secret or exposing Nathan and seeing what answers he might have. But how could she live with herself if he did something wrong and Chloe was put in danger or had her heart broken later on? No, the truth was going to come out. It had to, for them all to move on from this.
She reached into her waistband and pulled out the cuff link. A quick glance at Luke. He nodded, his expression grim. She placed it on the table without saying a word.
“What’s this?” Officer Peters pointed with his pencil.
Nathan reached across the table and held it between his thumb and forefinger. “My cuff link. Where did you get this?”
Madison swallowed the lump in her throat. “It was in the glass bottom boat.”
“What?” Chloe’s hand flew to her mouth. “Nathan? What’s going on?”
Officer Peters’s gaze flitted from Chloe to Nathan and then to the other policemen in the room.
Nathan stood. His chair fell over behind him. “You all need to believe me on this. I haven’t worn my cuff links in months. Chloe, have you seen me wearing them recently? I thought I’d lost one of them, and I didn’t have the heart to tell you because I knew you’d be mad. You bought them for me at Christmas.”
“Oh, Nathan.” Chloe grabbed a tissue from her pocket and dabbed at her red-rimmed eyes. “Why have you been so secretive? I don’t understand any of it.” She looked at the officers. “But it’s true. I haven’t seen him with these cuff links in a long time.”
“Wait.” Luke pointed at his brother. “Is that why Mom bought you a new pair for the wedding? Does she know you lost Chloe’s pair?”
“Yeah.” Nathan shrugged. “You know what Mom’s like. She insisted on buying me a similar set, hoping Chloe wouldn’t notice. She didn’t want me to get myself into trouble.”
Chloe grabbed his hand. “Of course I noticed—I’m the detail queen. When you said you wanted to wear a pair your mom bought you for the wedding ceremony, I thought it was sweet. You could have told me you had lost one of mine.”
Luke stood eye to eye with his brother. “Don’t you see? That’s good. I knew there had to be some explanation. It proves you lost them beforehand. Right, Officer?” He looked to Officer Peters.
“I’m not sure the word of his mother would clear him. Kind of biased, wouldn’t you say?” He tapped his pencil on the table.
“I have the other cuff link back at home, but it’s not much good on its own.” Nathan collapsed onto his chair.
“What?” Luke smacked his own forehead with the palm of his hand. “Duh. Sometimes I wonder about you. Why didn’t you say so in the first place? And why on earth would you have one lone cuff link with you if you were on the boat in Jamaica? Who wears one cuff link on its own? If the other is safely in Seattle, it looks to me like this one was stolen and planted and proves you’ve been framed. Right, Officer?” He sat back down.
The three policemen conferred in hushed tones while the others sat in stunned silence. Madison’s headache was fading, but so was her energy. The past twenty-four hours were catching up with her. She massaged her temples and avoided eye contact with anyone, struggling to keep her tears from spilling over.
Officer Peters stood. “It would appear that you were framed. Are you sure you can lay your hands on the matching cuff link at home, Mr. Alexander?”
“Yes. I know it’s in my top drawer. I saw it there when I was packing for this trip. The jerk must have stolen one, but I can’t think when. He could have been following us all for weeks and even snooped around my apartment, for all I know. This gets creepier by the minute.” He dragged his fingers through his hair. “Am I off the hook, then?”
“Thanks to your additional information and testimony, we will be questioning Mr. Kinkaid and his associate at length. We’ll keep you up to date, Miss Grey, and you can rest assured the two gentlemen in question won’t be going free. I hope you are all able to enjoy what’s left of your vacation on our island.”
One of the other officers switched off the recorder and stowed it in his briefcase.
Madison cleared her throat. “There’s something else you need to speak about with Sam Kinkaid.” Luke squeezed her hand. “He confessed to me he tampered with my father’s plane and caused their fatal accident two years ago in Seattle.”
She couldn’t keep the sobs at bay any longer. Exhaustion was kicking in hard and fast. Luke folded her into his embrace and she buried her head in his chest.
One of the other officers made a note, and Peters looked surprised at that piece of news. “It’s a shocking addition to the charges. We’ll be sure to include this in the questioning, Miss Grey. I’ll have someone from the US Embassy come over first thing. We’ll be in touch later today for you to come in for written statements.”
She pulled back from Luke and dried her eyes on the sleeve of her robe. “Of course.”
He nodded. “Good night, everyone. We’ll leave you all to get some rest. Once again, I’m glad you’re all safe.”
There was an audible sigh of relief when the two couples were left alone in the room.
“I’m so sorry.” Nathan wiped a hand over his stubbly face. “I’ve messed up big time not being open with you all. Honey, can you forgive me?” He lifted Chloe’s delicate hand and kissed it.
She sighed. “I love you. Yes, I forgive you. We were all fooled, but we’re okay now. How are you doing, Madi? You look drained.”
Madison blinked. Even that took a great deal of effort. Sleep would be bliss about now. She clambered to her feet and stretched. “I need a hot bath, and then I’m falling into bed. We can talk more tomorrow. I mean, later today.”
“Do you want me to stay with you?” Chloe rushed around the table and gave her a hug. “Nathan won’t mind. Right, babe?”
“Madison, I feel so awful for everything you’ve been through. I don’t mind. Heck, I’ll stand guard outside your door if it helps.”
“No way.” Madison took a deep breath. “You two have a honeymoon to enjoy. I’m going to sleep like a baby. I promise. No more nightmares about glass bottom boats either.” She reached a hand out to grab Luke’s. “Thanks to this guy, I think I’ve conquered that fear. I’ll catch up with you later, okay?”
Chloe shook her head. “I can’t believe what you’ve been through in the past twenty-four hours.”
“I’m fine. I will be fine. Truly.” Madison glanced at Luke. “More than fine.”
Luke put an arm around Madison. She trembled from exhaustion and needed to rest. “You two can go on ahead. I’ll walk Madison to her room since I have a feeling she might even need carrying at this point. And I’ll keep my phone on tonight so she can call me at any time if she’s worried.”
“Your phone is still in your room on the bedside table. I checked it earlier.” Chloe kissed her cheek. “Sleep well.”
Nathan punched his brother in the arm. “Hero to the end.”
“Thanks.” Madison leaned against Luke’s side as the newlyweds left. “I think I hit a wall. Could you be my knight in shining armor for a while longer?”
He grinned down at her. “I think we could consider making that a long-term arrangement.” He swooped her up in his arms with a surge of energy that belied his own exhaustion and carried her to the elevator, then all the way to her room.
“Thanks. You can set me down while I dig out my key.” She kept her voice to a whisper in the silent hallway.
Luke lowered her to her feet. “I can’t believe you still have your room key.” Why hadn’t he thought to check with Chloe?
“Right? I hope it still works.” She smiled up at him, and his heart hammered in his chest. How was she still so beautiful after everything she had experienced in the past twenty-four hours? “I’d forgotten it was even in here.” She pushed aside the hotel’s robe, then unzipped the small back pocket of her shorts and slid out the plastic key before glancing up at his face. “Are you staring at me?”
“Just thinking how amazing you look.” He leaned against the doorframe.
She raised a brow and smoothed her hair. “I feel gross. A mixture of salt, sweat, and sticky. But thanks for the sentiment.” She pushed the door open.
“Mind if I come in and check everything?”
“Be my guest.” She flicked on the lights while Luke checked that the French doors were locked, saw her phone charging on the nightstand beside the bed, and poked his head into the bathroom. “Can I run you a hot bath? Everything will feel better after that.”
“Thanks. That sounds perfect.”
He emptied a small container of something with a delicious lavender scent into the steady stream of water. It was the least he could do to make her feel better. Would her skin smell of lavender when he saw her later on?
He cleared his throat. “Sure you’re not going to fall asleep in the tub?”
Madison stood at the bathroom door and chuckled, a small pile of clothes in her hands. “I promise. I’ll make it quick—the bed is my ultimate destination. Thanks for bringing me in, but I think I’ve got it from here.”
“Sounds good.” He left the faucets running and joined her. “I’m done in, too. Give me a call if there’s any problem at all?”
“Don’t worry. You’re my number-one hero go-to guy from now on.” Her smile was wobbly but her eyes shone with truth.
It warmed his heart. “Promise?” He stroked her silky-soft cheek.
“Yeah. I think I do, missionary boy.” Her voice grew husky.
Luke turned to the door. “I should go now.” He knew his cheeks were flaming. “Get some decent sleep and call me when you want some company for breakfast.”
“I will. Thanks again, for everything. Sleep tight.”
Madison shut the door behind him, and he waited until he heard the lock turn. He could hardly put one foot in front of the other. He yawned and stretched his arms above his head on his way to the elevator and punched in the floor number for his room. The doors slid open, and he entered, then slumped against the side of the elevator. Up two floors.
As he ascended, peace washed over him again. This all felt so right, the whole Madison situation. He wanted to protect and cherish this woman always, not only in Jamaica. This is the real deal, isn’t it, Lord? This is what I’ve been waiting for. A holy Yes resounded in his chest.
The corridor was deserted as he plodded toward his room. He glanced down at the woven bracelet on his wrist and smiled. I’m coming home, kids. And I think you’re going to like the new house mama I have in mind…
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