Chelsea slammed the cabin door behind her and raced toward the elevator. Cutting the corner, she nearly slammed headfirst into Liz.
“Whoa!” Laughing, Liz steadied her with hands on her shoulders. “Where’s the fire?”
“I need to get off this boat. Now.”
“Don’t be silly, Chels. We don’t dock at Grand Turk Island until the morning. There’s nowhere to go but the big, wide ocean until then.”
“Maddie is missing.”
“What?!” Liz jerked her head like she’d been slapped. “How?”
Chelsea punched the DOWN button, her foot tapping erratically on the carpeted floor. “I just got off the phone with Adam. He took them to see the fireworks after dinner with Santa and somehow got separated from Maddie. They’ve looked everywhere. Security initiated their search protocol, but so far nothing.” She hit the DOWN button again. “Where is this blasted elevator?”
When the doors opened to a car stuffed with begowned and bejeweled passengers, and an overwhelmingly pungent cloud of perfume, she waved the car on and headed to the stairwell.
Liz followed but hauled her to a stop at the first landing. “Hold on. Where are you going?”
“There has to be a security office on this floating monster of a hotel. They can get me off, can’t they?”
“Take a breath, Liz. I know you want to be there—I would, too—but what can you really do?”
“I know she must be terrified.”
“That’s not it, Liz. She knows something. It was all over her face when I was talking to her. She’s not spilling to Adam. I tried getting it out of her over the phone but she was almost hysterical crying.”
Liz drew in a deep breath. “Come on. I know someone who might be able to help.”
Her heart pounding, panic building, she followed Liz back to her family’s suite of rooms. Liz knocked on one of the doors, then faced Chelsea. “If anyone can get you there, it’s Nathan.”
“Nathan?” Something sizzled in Chelsea’s brain. “Suitcase Man?”
“Who?” Liz gave her a puzzled look. “No, my brother-in-law. Jared’s brother, Nathan. He’s an FBI agent. He knows people.”
“FBI? People?” Chelsea clutched Liz’s arm. “Like…the mob?”
Her friend’s eyebrows arched practically to her hairline. “Geez, Chels. No! Good people.”
The door opened, and there he stood, Suitcase Man, looking his yummiest yet in a black tux, complete with bow tie and cummerbund.
His mouth fell open, and his eyes widened as they made a full scan of her body. “Chelsea? You look…um…fantastic.”
Chelsea wished she had time to enjoy the compliment, but she didn’t. “Thank you and hello again, Nathan. I need help. Again.”
His eyes went from flirtatious to serious just that fast, and he stepped aside, ushered them into his cabin. It was neat but not fussy. He opened the mini fridge, pulled out a bottled water and handed it to her. “Have a seat.”
Her legs rubbery, Chelsea dropped into a chair, gulped half the bottle of water, then explained. As the words tumbled out, he knelt next to her and sandwiched her hands between his. “My six-year-old daughter is missing somewhere in a massive park. Even if Ali does know something, Maddie could be anywhere. Someone could have grabbed her.” Another shudder gripped her and she waited until it passed. “I need to get off this boat. I need to get to my kids. Now. Liz says you know people who can help?”
He arched an eyebrow at Liz who shrugged and smiled innocently.
“Let me make a call.” He nodded to her phone. “Can you send me your daughter’s picture?”
Her hands trembling, she had to hand him her phone to type in his number, and when the photo transferred, he smiled. “She is a cutie.” He gave her hand another squeeze. “Have faith.”
He turned his back and began talking into the phone, quietly. He glanced over his shoulder at her at one point, then returned to his call, an even more urgent tone in his voice. Finally, he disconnected and rejoined them. “We need to leave. There’s not much time.”
She fumbled in her evening clutch, trying to remember where she’d put her passport.. “Where? How?”
“I hope you like helicopter rides. We’re going to Disney World.”
Three hours later, they landed at the resort, and Chelsea gave the pilot a hug before climbing down. “Please give my thanks to your boss. I’m forever in his debt.”
The woman, who looked more like she belonged on the cover of Vogue than piloting a sleek turbojet helicopter, hugged back. “Hey, what good is having billions and living on super yacht with a helicopter if you can’t help people once in a while? I’m glad we were in the neighborhood when Nathan called and could work the detour into our schedule.” She grinned. “The boss runs a tight ship.”
They dashed off, ducking low to avoid the whirling blades overhead, and were met by the resort’s security chief, Sally something, who confirmed there had been no sighting of Maddie. Two minutes later they were in a room with Adam and Ali, sprawled on a couch and covered by a thin blanket, her favorite party shoes peeking out from the edge. Sparing a glance for her ex-husband, Chelsea dropped to her knees and stroked Ali’s cheek. Her daughter’s eyes snapped open and wordlessly she threw her arms around Chelsea’s neck.
Easing her back, Chelsea said, “Ali, baby, look at me.”
Ali lifted her eyes, bit her lip, then burst into tears.
“You know something, don’t you?”
Her face squished to Chelsea’s chest, after a few shuddering breaths, she mumbled, “Maddie didn’t want to get lost.”
“Where did Maddie want to go, honey? Tell me.”
“She thought she saw Mrs. Jones and went to say hi.”
Chelsea searched her brain until an image came to mind. “Mrs. Jones from down the block?”
“Uh-huh. She said she’ll be right back but I shouldn’t tell Daddy ‘cause he’ll be mad. Then she didn’t come back.”
She ignored Adam’s snort and hugged Ali. “That’s good, sweetie. I know we’ll find her now.”
After settling Ali back on the couch, Chelsea joined Nathan and chief “Sally.” Adam stood there, questioning eyes darting between her and Nathan. She’d answer him later. Maybe.
“She’s talking about one of our neighbors. Her name is Alice Jones and she’s got to be in her seventies. I can’t imagine she’d be here. That’s too much of a coincidence.”
“You never know.” Nathan squeezed her hand, his grip warm and comforting, feeling just right. She clung a moment. ”Tell us everything you know about her, anything you can think of.”
When she’d finished, Nathan tipped his head to Sally. “I’ll work it from my end. You work it from yours.”
Twenty minutes later, Sally gave a whoop. “We have an Alice Jones, same address, staying here at the resort on a senior group tour.”
Chelsea headed for the door, but Nathan stepped in front of her. ”I’m sorry, I know it’s hard, but you can’t come.” He gave her shoulder a gentle rub. “I promise I’ll call the second we know anything.”
Too exhausted to do more than nod, Chelsea flopped onto the couch and drew Ali into her arms. She smelled like little girl—sweet and precious—and she forced her mind from the dark thoughts hammering at the edges of her consciousness. Another twenty of the longest minutes of Chelsea’s life passed, and when the phone rang, she pounced.
Nathan spoke. “Maddie’s here. She’s safe. We’re on our way.”
Time somehow moved in slow motion and at warp speed at once until she held her daughter in her arms. A sleepy daughter who’d been hanging out with Alice Jones for the better part of the evening. Seems they’d talked for a few minutes, and when Alice offered to take her back to Adam, they got lost and wound up back at the hotel where they both fell asleep.
There were still a multitude of questions circling Chelsea’s head—like what was Alice Jones doing by herself, and why didn’t she just call security? And who was the mysterious friend who’d been able to chauffeur them across the Atlantic? For now, though, all she cared was that she had both her girls in her arms.
They made their way back to the hotel where Adam and the girls were staying and booked rooms for Chelsea and Nathan. For tonight the girls would say with her and they’d figure out the rest in the morning. She touched Nathan’s hand and tangled her fingers with his while they waited for room keys. “I’ll never be able to express my thanks enough. Again.”
“I was glad to help. Again.”
“Mommy, is it still Christmas Eve?” Maddie asked, clinging to her hand as they moved wearily down the hall.
Glancing at her watch, Chelsea nodded.”For another five minutes.”
“Can we read the Christmas story? Please?”
Ali piped in. “Please, Mommy!”
She closed her eyes and stifled a yawn, then nudged Nathan’s arm. “Want to join us?” She looked from Maddie to Ali. “You girls don’t mind, do you, if Mommy’s new friend joins us?”
“We don’t mind,” Maddie said in a prim little voice but giving him a shy little smile.
“I can’t think of a more perfect way to end this evening than with you lovely ladies and the story of a miracle,” Nathan said. “After all, you’ve found yours--” He snagged her hand. “And I think I'm on my way to finding mine."
I hope you have enjoyed my contribution to this year's month of Christmas stories. Please come back tomorrow for a part one of Alicia Dean's story. (I'm looking forward to reading!)
Quick note about Nathan's "mysterious friend." He is a character in a new series I'm working on who lives on yacht, cruising the seas. I'm having a ton of fun researching super yachts and hope to have more news on the series in the months ahead.
Wishing all a joyous Christmas and a happy and healthy 2018.
Leah St. James