Today's Reading

As the afternoon waned, the fading sunlight took on a lovely golden sheen, glistening down on the palace, the sun's glow turning its cream exterior into molten hues. Massive statues of the Roman gods Mars and Jupiter stood on either side of an equally grand staircase. But Grace's favorite sight thus far, and the one in which Frederick's patience required the most practice, was the grand, fifteenth-century clock tower. Something about its unique beauty captured Grace, mostly because of the large and ornate astronomical clock in the center of the tower, its azure and gold decorations reflecting the colors of the sky above.

A statue of the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus perched just above the clock, with mother peering down at the square below. Grace wondered if this was to give some consolation to all the people historically executed in this square with their backs to the water and their faces toward the clock...or Mary and the Christ child. But of course there was the pinnacle of the tower—the dark bronze statues that rang in the hour. From a distance, their situation at the top gave off the look of a crown, but as Frederick and Grace drew closer, the "crown" took the shape of two bronze men striking a massive bronze bell in rhythm to create the wonderful chimes.

The view of Venice from the clock tower's pinnacle proved breathtaking and encompassed not only a view to their hotel and beyond but also the branch-like canals braiding in and out of the city to spill into what was called the lagoon, a beautiful bay of the Adriatic Sea. With all the many waterways, more numerous than streets, no wonder Venice was known as the Floating City.

Frederick was finishing up a conversation with a guide in the square about the workings of the clock, while Grace tried to complete her sketch, when a strange sort of awareness tingled up her exposed neck. She paused her pencil's scratching movements against the paper and straightened, casting a look behind her. The benign passing of tourists and natives met her gaze—nothing out of the ordinary. She looked back at Frederick, but his focus steadied on the guide, whose arms moved in exaggerated ways.

The people in Italy certainly lived up to their reputation of being highly expressive when they spoke. Many times Grace had no idea what they were saying, but they said it with such conviction, she found herself nodding along anyway.

She returned to her sketching, but the odd feeling resurrected, moving down her neck and across her shoulders. Was someone watching her? She scanned the area again, but the only eyes pointed in her direction were the ones from nearby statues. Tucking her sketch pad beneath her arm and holding the pencil between her teeth, she reached into her rescued purse and drew out a small mirror. She'd only started carrying one after reading Jack Miracle's book on being a detective. He highly praised the value of a mirror and gave a few thorough examples of why. Carefully, she raised the mirror with the hopes of looking behind her without being conspicuous, but the mirror caught the sun's reflection.

She squinted and nearly stumbled back, blinking. Clearly, she hadn't practiced spying through a hand mirror enough to be proficient. With a shake of her head, she turned her body a little and made a second attempt. This time, it worked. She skimmed her gaze along the courtyard, past Frederick and the guide, and then stopped. In the shadows of a columned building behind her she saw a tall figure. His position cloaked any recognition, but his size and stature confirmed he was a man. Oh, if she only had their trusted valet, Elliott, or their newly adopted daughter, Zahra, along as another set of eyes, but they'd sent their beloved valet off to seek his possible romantic fortunes with a thief, and little Zahra wasn't allowed to leave Egypt until certain paperwork had been completed. So...until Elliott returned or Inspector Randolph delivered Zahra to them, she had to rely on her eyes alone, which, after her near-blinding, were seeing spots. She pressed her eyes closed to clear them, and when she reopened them, the man was gone. Turning, she blinked through the spots and surveyed the area again.

Nothing. Not a trace.

And now Frederick was walking toward her.

Should she tell him about the man? She frowned. Well, it wasn't as if she had any real evidence, and they'd been having such a lovely time after the fake robbery, she hated to sully the afternoon with another concern. Besides, she wasn't too proud to admit that sometimes her imagination did gallop off into all sorts of assumptions. At times it was fiction's fault.

But not always.

"Fascinating. All of it." Frederick grinned and gestured back toward the tower. "To think of the ingenuity of centuries ago."

"Truly. And I'm still in awe that only a few weeks ago we witnessed the pyramids, which are over four millennia old," Grace added. "It's all the more proof that God loves creativity."

"Indeed, and imagination. To conjure up these designs? These inventions?" He offered her his arm. "I'm afraid my mind runs more toward practical than fantastical."

"That's why we are so well suited, don't you think?" She slid her arm through his. "My fantastical brain is in desperate need of your practicality, though I must say you are incredibly inventive when you want to be."

"Am I?"

The slightest hitch in one of his brows paired with a rather intense look completely distracted her from any shadowy figures. She hadn't meant for her compliment to run in a rather rascally direction, but once he'd placed the thought in her mind, she didn't see any reason for dismissing it. Her smile took a slow curl. Her darling sleuthing partner happily filled her days with historical and artistic adventures and her nights with deliciously roguish ones. Heat made a wonderfully ridiculous climb up her neck and into her cheeks. Why did she ever think marriage would be dull and boring?

This excerpt ends on page 19 of the paperback edition.

Monday we begin the book Love, Unscripted by Denise Hunter.

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