Today's Reading

The thief shrugged the shoulder of his well-cut suit jacket. There was another mark in his favor for not being similar to Oliver Twist. A stylish jacket with not a patch in sight.

"Old habits and all of that," came the thief's response. Another American? "I would have returned the purse on my own."

The thief dusted off his sleeves before reaching his hand into his jacket.

Frederick stepped forward, creating a barrier between the thief and Grace, only to find that the thief removed not a weapon but...a stopwatch? He clicked the button at the top of the watch and sent a grin up to the American stranger. "He beat your last time."

The first stranger looked over at Frederick, his eyes wide. "He beat my time?"

"By three minutes." The thief turned the stopwatch for the American to see. "I think you're losing your touch, Danny boy."

An indefinable noise came from her husband as he stepped forward.

"What is going on here?" Frederick moved toward the American. "A game?" He waved toward Grace, his body growing taller and broader as he growled out the accusation. "Where someone puts the well-being of a woman in danger?"

A thrill moved through Grace. Protective was incredibly heroic.

The "Danny boy" American had the decency to don a guilty frown. The thief named Paul bent his head like a little boy in trouble.

"We meant no harm, sir." The "Danny boy" American offered his hand to Frederick. "Just a silly competition me and my friend engage in once in a while, and usually"—he shot the thief a narrow-eyed look—"it is only between us."

"Perhaps you should be more particular about which friends you choose," came Frederick's reply as he offered Grace his arm.

Danny boy's laugh burst out. The thief's frown deepened.

"Paul's usually the best of friends, sir," Danny said with another laugh. "When he's not pinching a fine lady's purse." Danny removed his hat and took a low bow before Grace. "I'd be happy to try and make it up to the both of you."

So all along they'd been playing some game? Was the man named Paul acting as a thief and Danny attempting to catch him? A game of cat and mouse through the streets of Venice? It sounded like the mischief two young boys might engage in, but two men? No wonder Europeans held such varying views on Americans!

"I've heard enough." Frederick tugged Grace forward. "We're finished here."

"There really was no harm done," Danny shouted as Frederick brought Grace to his side and moved away from the crowd. "And I'll make things right with the gondolier, madam."

Grace looked back over her shoulder to find Danny dusting off the's jacket. A much more friendly action than villainous. What a strange pair! They must be very bored, indeed, to engage in such dangerous activities. Perhaps they weren't readers.

Grace's gaze moved to her husband, whose clipped pace and stiff jaw refused to relax despite the distance they'd created between them and the two men. With a little squeeze to his arm, she pulled his attention.

"It wasn't so bad, Frederick." She smiled up to him. "No one was hurt."
"Fortunate for them and us." His brows drew closer together. "How did you reach us so quickly?"

"The gondola. It's a much faster way to travel than I imagined. Nothing like grandfather's motorboat, of course, but very efficient, nonetheless."

"Your grandfather had a—" Frederick shook his head, the tension in his face relaxing a little. "Of course he did."

"I was rather good at steering it, as long as there weren't too many birds to distract me." She smiled up at him. "Who would have thought this day would start with such an adventure, and it's not even noon."

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