After parking on the gravel road curb right outside the tall stone walls protecting the entire Whitworth estate, Cole studied his watch. He had twenty minutes of time left to free Madison.
He stared through the rain lightly pelting the windshield, and wondered if God was really, truly going to be right there with them. Nevertheless, Cole knew that God had brought Madison into his life for a very special reason. He was stark determined to not give up on saving Madison, no matter what he was risking in between. He loved her with all his heart. He was not going to let Addison have his way, either. Not this time.
After cutting the ignition, Cole sat there in the driver’s seat deeply in prayer about the entire situation. Then, after surrending the entire problem in God’s capable hands, he climbed out of the car, closed the door quietly, and then faced the tall stone wall. As a kid, he and his siblings had enjoyed trying to climb the walls. Addison had been the most successful in getting to the top.
Of course, those had been the days of fun and laughter before all five of the siblings would soon learn about the terrible things that came with the family company. They learned that their father had wanted them only to be heirs to the company. Over time, Cole had decided to protect his mother the best he could, and he thought for a long time that that’s what his other siblings had wanted, too. That they would go against whatever their father asked them to, and go along with the morals their mother had taught them with.
But one fall morning, during breakfast when their father was bragging a bit about the company, Cole had been shocked to learn that every one of his four siblings, especially Addison, were planning to experience life on their father’s side. Over time they went against every word that barely came out of their mother’s mouth, and learned that life would just be richer and better and safer if they never had respect for their mother again.
He needed to do this for everybody who’d lost their lives to their business. He was not going to count on anyone else except God and himself this time, and maybe Mick if he happened to change his mind.
Cole took his time climbing the wall to the other side. Then, he crawled directly over to the house wall, and then snuck low as he walked to the backyard, which was wholly consisted of a huge garden. Cole had once admired the place, and at one time or another, had actually helped his mother and sisters build everything from the big bushes and tall trees to the water fountains, statues, stone paths, and various kinds of flowers surrounding the entire backyard complex. It was a beautiful place to be, but it was also a place where many people had still died. On some of the stones of the stone paths, there was faded blood stains that were now facing the ground to, again, keep the family’s real identity hidden.
Cole knew that the basement was also a great place to keep hostages, and that was where the family had kept hostages over time. He knew that Madison would be there. Sweat pierced his skin as he continued trying to breathe as little as possible. He kept his gaze on full alert at each of his surroundings to make sure no thug caught him for trying to rescue her.
He chose the appropriate basement window. Then, Cole leaned forward, dug out the jackknife one of his late uncles had given to him when he was fifteen as a birthday present. He was relieved to see the basement window was open, since that’s the way they kept every basement window this time of year annually.
Resting on his haunches, Cole could plainly see, through the window’s screen, Madison sitting in a hardback, wooden chair, tied to it. She was by the basement’s short, curvy, cement stairwell, and he could only hope that the basement door was closed.
“Maddie,” he whispered, and then used his jackknife to cut the screen open.
Madison must have heard something, because she looked up. Relief hit her beautiful blue eyes, and her shoulders slightly drooped as if a huge burden had been lifted off her shoulders.
Cole carefully climbed through the window, easily jumping inside to the basement floor mostly cluttered with unused storage and all other sorts of stuff they hadn’t wanted over the years.
Adrenaline piped through him like a water fountain. Reaching Madison, he fisted his jackknife back into the back pocket of his dark jeans, and cradled her soft face in both of his hands.
“Are you all right?” he asked gently.
“Yes,” Madison said sweetly, but then suddenly, her eyes widened. “No—”
Cole had barely turned when Karl slammed a fist against his mouth, knocking him to the floor.
“Leave him alone!” Madison screeched as Cole got back on his feet and tried to push against Karl.
But the four thugs only laughed as if they thought he was the idiot of the family instead.
“Better luck next time,” Linus snickered, and they all helped in fisting Cole into the chair ironically opposite of Madison, and tying him up there.
“You just wait,” Karl said as they backed away from their work. A couple breathed heavily, because Cole had tried to struggle free while they’d tied him up. “Boss will be down here in no time!”
They all continued laughing as they made their way back up the stairway, closing the door behind them.
Cole could hear the sound of a deadbolt turning from the other side of the door. He sighed with stark relief, his hair messy and plain white T-shirt wrinkled from the workout. He sniffed, and then closed his eyes briefly, thanking the Lord for keeping them as safe as possible so far.
But when he heard Madison sob, his eyelids flipped open.
Madison’s face looked perfectly adorable as always, except for the fearful tears in her eyes as she gazed tenderly at him. Her honey blond curls were slightly messy from maybe trying to struggle free on the way to the basement. But as they looked at each other, she smiled gently.
“I love you,” she whispered brokenly.
Cole sat rigid, half in shock, for several moments. Then at last, he felt a grin come across his face. He cocked his head at her, and then honestly told her back, “Love ya, too.”
Madison nodded, sniffled, and then looked away. A single tear rolled down her cheek.
Cole’s grin vanished. He was determined to do whatever means necessary to keep Madison safe. So, he looked away, chewing on his bottom lip, and thought about this for a long moment.
“I went to see Mick.” He glanced up at her. “Hopefully he may come and save us before it’s too late.”
She quirked an eyebrow. “You think he might?”
Cole raised his eyebrows. “I’m counting on it. He just might be our only hope.” Through the ropes, he reached into his back pocket, with much concentration, and pulled out his jackknife.
Her brows crinkled together. “What’s the matter?”
“Trying to get free.” He gritted his teeth together. “I have a jackknife. One of my late uncles gave it to me when I was fifteen.”
“Well, that will come in handy.” Her eyes briefly shone with amusement as she watched him.
Cole smirked, despite the situation. “I’m so glad you still have some sense of humor, because I think mine left me two weeks ago.” He finally cut himself free, and then threw the rope to the side. He stood, and hurried over to get her free, too.
“What’s your plan?” Madison asked, assuming he had one.
“We go through the backyard garden, climb over the stone wall,” he explained in a low voice as he quickly cut her free and then helped her up, “and then hurry through the corn fields the neighbors have out back until we get to my car.”
“Think it will work?” she asked, her eyes so wide and expectant.
Cole couldn’t help curling a strand of hair back behind her ear. “Well, even if it doesn’t,” he said grimly, “at least I have you.” He winked at her without humor.
“And I’ll have you.” Madison wrapped her left hand within his right, and gazed at him very trustingly.
Cole studied her for a long moment. That is, until he heard shouting come about from the other side of the basement door.
“Come on,” he whispered, and led the way out of the basement window. As he helped her out, too, he noticed that the rain had turned to pouring, but he was certain it wouldn’t keep them from carrying on with their plan.
Through the garden, Cole led the way in a running pace to the far stone wall on the other side of the mansion.
“Come on!” he pushed, feeling Madison’s fingers claw into his skin at the apprehension of what might come ahead.
They were almost to the wall when Madison shrieked.
Cole froze, and followed her gaze to the short left where each of the company’s hired thugs, all four of them, were standing side by side near the wall, halfway hidden under the tall tree nearby, as if daring them to cross the wall and get away with it.
Madison clung to Cole’s side, both hands holding his left hand now, and Cole knew exactly what was coming.
Cole turned sharply, and at the sight of each of the sibling Whitworths coming toward him, he immediately braced himself in front of Madison. He felt her arms curl around his waist, mostly hiding behind him. He would keep her safe until his dying minute.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Addison stopped from no more than eight or ten feet away, and then fisted a gun from out of his inner suit coat pocket.
Cole heard Madison gasp as Addison steadily held the gun to his own brother.
“Let’s just stop all this ruckus now.” Addison gave a chuckle, and the rain only seemed to pound over them harder, almost as hard as hail. “I think you and your girlfriend have come far enough, Cole.”
“Come on, Cole,” Lorraine called as she stood farther away with Jack and Emily. “Why did you have to spoil everything?”
Cole gritted his teeth angrily. “It’s not like any of you had any real help in this company as it is,” he said simply, but bitterly. “By the way, where does Dad happen to be? Hiding in his bedroom?”
“You got that right.” Addison looked only too content holding his gun at him with both hands. “Except he’s not exactly hiding. Mainly just listening for that single gunshot to end everything here and now. Then we’ll finally be able to live better lives without people who will just give stuff away. Like you.”
“The thing is, Addison,” Cole snarled. “I don’t exactly think you have the guts to kill me with your own two hands. Let’s not tell someone else to do it this time, all right? Why don’t you just do it yourself? Prove that you actually have that kind of courage.”
“Oh, I do.” Addison chuckled over the piercing thunder hitting them. “I just didn’t really want to do anything about it until now.”
“Yeah, right,” Cole huffed, and shook his head. “You don’t care about anything except yourself, Addison. All you’ve ever wanted is this entire estate to yourself, even if Dad, Lorraine, Emily, and Jack disappear without it! It’s so stupid, because after all it’s only a building. Not a home that Mom tried to make it out to be.”
“You think I even care what you say, Cole?” Addison gave out a big laugh. “About anything? You and your precious girlfriend are worthless to all of us!”
“I already know that.” Cole stiffened. He stood strong and unafraid, patient and tall in the storm, and was every bit prepared to give his soul to God if that’s what it took to prove his gumption until the end. It was something he had never tried to do with his mother, or anyone else, for that matter, who had lost their lives fighting for what they had believed in. Countless friends, extended family, neighbors, and the like. All of them had disappeared, and Cole had been unable to stop any of it. “But you’ve wanted to kill me all your life, Addison. So here’s your chance!” He extended his arms out briefly. “Get it over with.”
Addison nodded, and then cocked his gun. “Fine! I’ll kill you, then your precious girlfriend!”
“No!” Cole added sharply. “If you think about doing anything, you kill us together! That’s how it’s meant to be. You wouldn’t know what that’s like, would you, Addison? To actually know what it feels like to be loved, truly loved?”
Addison laughed. “There are more important things in life.”
“Things you don’t even know about, I bet,” Cole concluded. “All I did was respect you until everything went haywire!”
Addison stepped forward. “Cole, don’t you get that it’s all for me? For all of us, Cole, and you get none of it! None of it!”
Cole stiffened, and he leaned toward Madison’s head, his gaze still locked with Addison’s.
“Hold tight, sweetheart,” he whispered. “Hold tight, don’t ever let go, and close your eyes and pray.”
He heard Madison sob, and he hated himself for putting her through this. Putting her in danger like this, but there had been no other way.
Standing there in the rain facing his enemies, Cole silently prayed like a mad man. He stared his brother and his gun down, and the seconds only seemed to tick by.
Addison sneered. “Say goodbye,” he warned, and then raised the gun.
Cole held his breath.
But when a sudden gunshot rang out and Addison jerked violently, his eyes widening, Cole’s breath caught.
Very slowly, his breath and shoulders both shaking, Addison weakly turned around to gaze at the intruder.
Mick Whitworth stood there a few feet behind him, the rain just dripping off his skin, continuing to point the gun he’d just fired at Addison. As if knowing that his cousin was dying, he cautiously lowered his gun.
Addison glanced back at Cole with wide, horrified eyes.
“Brother,” he rasped, and then he fell to the ground.
Cole didn’t look at his brother’s body, but instead looked up to watch his siblings’ reactions as they turned around to see FBI agents behind them. Almost all in unison, Jack, Lorraine, and Emily looked back at Cole in dark question before being led out of the estate gates to the squad cars beginning to park in front of the backyard’s garden. Following them were the four thugs, Linus, Karl, Slade, and Russ, also being led in handcuffs by more FBI.
Finally, the back door of the house opened, and Byron, being led by another policeman, gazed out at Cole with haughty eyes before being nudged forward.
Cole shielded Madison with one arm. “It’s over,” he whispered, but then gazed up when Mick walked over to him.
“You all right?” Mick asked, and then a smile stretched across his weary-looking features.
“Just great.” Cole felt relief from the bottoms of his soul, and then extended his hand. “Thank you.” The sincere gratitude he felt almost made tears well up in his eyes.
Mick shook his head. “Take care of yourself.” He smirked, patted his shoulder, and then followed his team to the cars.
Cole turned back to Madison, where he gently wrapped an arm around her shivering shoulders.
“Come on,” he whispered.
He led her to the back porch, where they were protected from the continuing rain. There, he whispered, “Come here,” and pulled her into his arms.
Madison’s relieved sobs seemed to drown out the rest of the tension Cole felt. He held her tightly in his arms on that back porch, stroking her hair and whispering soothing words as he let her cry all the relief away. Their clothes were both soaked anyway.
Cole kept her face averted as he watched the police take his brother’s body away. He hadn’t exactly wanted Addison to die in the end, but for them all to just realize the mistakes they had made. But look at how it had ended, without Madison hurt. For that he knew he would be eternally thankful.
So as Madison finished crying, clinging to him in his arms like where she was meant to be, Cole felt his own tears stream down his cheeks. Finally, he praised God over and over and over.
It was over.