Today's Reading


Grace Percy had always dreamed of being part of a dashing pursuit of some villain; she'd just never imagined doing so in a gondola with a complete stranger.

Her darling husband, Lord Frederick Astley, had just paid the gondolier for his services to take them to the famous St. Mark's Square in Venice, when a rather unkempt man rushed past them, snatched Grace's purse, and dashed down the canal-lined street into the late afternoon crowds. Without hesitation, Frederick took off in pursuit, leaving Grace to stare for a second at the bewildered gondolier as if he knew exactly what to suggest next.

"It was the purse I recently purchased in Florence, you see?" But the older man only nodded without one ounce of recollection in his expression.

Just as Grace started to follow Frederick, a shout shook her to a stop.

"That thief stole my watch!" The call came from a towheaded man running toward them, his white jacket flapping behind him. "And he won't get away with it. Not on my watch."

A faint twinkle lit his eyes as the man slid to a stop in front of Grace, whether from his pun or some other mischief, Grace had no idea. Nor did she have time to consider. For not only did the man have an American accent, which distracted her already, but he made a rather impressive vault from the pier onto her gondola. Truthfully, he had beautiful athleticism, and she would have said so if the stranger hadn't begun untying the gondola with what appeared to be an intent of stealing the vehicle she and Frederick had just hired.

"A minute, sir," she called, stumbling forward onto the shifting little boat. "My husband and I already paid for this gondola, and I will not have you—"
"Take the next one," interrupted the stranger, and with a little jerk, the gondola moved away from the pier.

Heat rose into Grace's face as she reached for the single oar in the man's hand. Athletic or not, she would not condone another thievery. "Release your hold on this gondola or I shall have this very fine gondolier expel you himself."

The astonished gondolier unleashed some exclamation in Italian at the same time the American tugged the oar from Grace's grip. With a huff, she snatched it back, only to have the little tug-of-war result in the oar rising skyward, efficiently knocking her hat from her head before giving the poor gondolier a wallop hard enough to send him, with very little athleticism, over the side of the boat into the canal.

Grace reached out toward the man to no avail. The gondolier made a small splash and then surfaced, sputtering unintelligible Italian—or she supposed that was what he sputtered, but since she spoke very little Italian, she had no idea.

She frowned. And she'd been so looking forward to being serenaded by a gondolier.

"Mi dispiace," she apologized to the man floating away. It was one of the few phrases she knew well enough to say, likely due to the fact of having to use it so often.

Her attention shifted to the stranger at the oar. He wasn't very old. Probably nearer Frederick's age than hers, and he rocked forward and back while moving the oar, as if he knew exactly what he was doing. She'd observed a few gondoliers and wondered how a single oar on one side of a boat could make it glide so effortlessly and quickly through the canals. It appeared to have something to do with the rocking motion of the driver and the boat's shape.

The sound of commotion pulled her attention upward toward the land. She searched the crowded street running along the canal, her gaze barely catching sight of her dashing husband as he pursued the dastardly thief on foot. Centuries' old, pale brick buildings, stone columns, and classic domes towering just beyond recognition sped by, taunting her curiosity.

"Oh," she cried, as a sudden bump of the boat sent her into a seated position.

The craft picked up more speed, closing in on Frederick's chase. What to do?

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