Once a Thief - By Frances Devine Page 0,1

show! Laughter exploded from his throat.

A lady walking by drew her little girl closer and frowned pointedly at him then turned away. Blake winked at the child, and she flashed him an impish grin from beneath her mother’s arm. Chuckling, he turned the corner and headed down the street toward the bank. If he forgot Father’s deposit, he wouldn’t be laughing for long.

“What. . . ?” Jerked from his reverie, Blake swerved to one side, barely avoiding a young man who had rushed past him.

Blake stopped and stared, blinking in confusion. Another boy, younger than the first, headed toward him at a dead run. Blake and the boy each tried to dodge the other, and in doing so, both moved the same way. Blake hit the sidewalk with a jolt.

The boy, who’d landed beside him, yanked his arm from beneath Blake’s leg then scrambled to his feet and bolted around the corner.

“Stop them! They just robbed the bank!” The shout came from further down the street.

Before Blake could pull himself up, he saw a set of boot-clad feet running pell-mell toward him. He swung his umbrella toward the fugitive, catching him around the ankle with the handle. Blake was on top of the culprit before he could scramble up.

“Get off me, you. . . !”

“Oomph,” Blake grunted and grabbed at the foot that had landed on his stomach. “Not a chance, you rascal.”

A boot caught him on the chin.

“Ouch! You little hoodlum. Be still.”

“I. . .said. . .let me go! I didn’t. . .do. . .anything!”

Blake dodged another kick aimed toward his midsection.

“Blake Nelson! You get off that poor girl this instant! What are you thinking?”

Girl? Jumping up, he blinked hard, trying to make sense of the tumbling mass of auburn curls where a boy’s cap had sat a moment before. Gold-flecked brown eyes flashed up at him from the loveliest face he had ever seen. The red and gold bed of leaves on which she lay only made the picture more captivating.

A hand pushed him aside, and his neighbor, Amelia Kramer, stormed past, fixing him with a glare. “I would never have believed you could be such a bully. Wait until your mother hears about this.” Kneeling by the squirming girl, she patted her on the arm. “Are you all right?”

Blake shook himself out of his hypnotic state. “But. . .Mrs. Kramer, she just robbed the bank.”

“Nonsense!” She whirled around and leveled him with a fierce scowl. “Does this tiny thing look like she could rob a bank?” She turned her attention back to the girl who sat up, rubbing her arm, and smiled tremulously.

Curious faces peered from the gathering crowd of employees and customers from businesses along the street. Benjamin Kramer, vice president of the bank, rushed toward them. Seeing his wife on the sidewalk, he reached down and helped her to her feet. “Amelia, are you all right, dear? Did you fall?”

“I’m fine, Ben. I was just trying to help this poor girl Blake knocked down and manhandled.” She glared at Blake again, and blood rushed to his face.

“I didn’t knock her down and I certainly wasn’t manhandling her, I was simply trying. . .” Blake shrugged and released a frustrated breath.

“What’s going on?” Benjamin interrupted. “Someone said one of the robbers had been caught.” He looked around questioningly at the people who stood around gaping.

A tall, well-dressed man pushed his way through the crowd, his face red and beaded with perspiration. “Well, I certainly hope so. Someone lifted my wallet and managed to get my watch. It’s solid gold.” The man shifted from one foot to the other, breathing heavily. He showed a cut watch fob, hanging from his vest pocket.

“I thought the bank had been robbed.” Blake rubbed his hand across his head in an attempt to smooth his black locks that were more than likely standing straight up.

“No, no.” Mr. Kramer said. “Thankfully, not the bank. But Mr. Fowler appears to have been the victim of pickpockets. Did anyone see the culprits?”

Blake stepped forward and said uncertainly, “Actually, I did. Two got away, but I think I’ve apprehended one of them, sir. This girl was running after the others.”

Mr. Kramer glanced down in surprise at the small figure who opened her eyes wide and shook her head.

“Sir, I’m not a robber.” Her voice trembled. “I was trying to get to the corner before they got away so I could see which direction they ran. I was only trying to help.”

“There, a perfectly logical explanation,