Fire and Ice: California (Americana Series)

Fire and Ice: California (Americana Series)

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Overview

Alisa Franklin is in dire need of a husband. She's looking for a strictly business arrangement, but Zachary Stuart has a hidden agenda. 2 cassettes.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780373152957
Publisher: Harlequin
Publication date: 08/23/1995
Series: Americana Series
Edition description: Abridged
Product dimensions: 4.21(w) x 6.78(h) x 0.65(d)

About the Author

Janet Dailey, who passed away in 2013, was born Janet Haradon in 1944 in Storm Lake, Iowa. She attended secretarial school in Omaha, Nebraska, before meeting her husband, Bill. The two worked together in construction and land development until they “retired” to travel throughout the United States, inspiring Janet to write the Americana series of romances, setting a novel in every state of the Union. In 1974, Janet Dailey was the first American author to write for Harlequin. Her first novel was No Quarter Asked . She has gone on to write approximately ninety novels, twenty-one of which have appeared on the New York Times bestseller list. She won many awards and accolades for her work, appearing widely on radio and television. Today, there are over three hundred million Janet Dailey books in print in nineteen different languages, making her one of the most popular novelists in the world. For more information about Janet Dailey, visit www.janetdailey.com.

Read an Excerpt

Introduction

Introducing JANET DAILEY AMERICANA. Every novel in this collection is your passport to a romantic tour of the United States through time-honored favorites by America's First Lady of romance fiction. Each of the fifty novels is set in a different state, researched by Janet and her husband, Bill. For the Daileys it was an odyssey of discovery. For you, it's the journey of a lifetime.

Preface

When I first started writing back in the Seventies, my husband Bill and I were retired and traveling all over the States with our home--a 34' travel trailer--in tow. That's when Bill came up with the great idea of my writing a romance novel set in each one of our fifty states. It was an idea I ultimately accomplished before switching to mainstream fiction and hitting all the international bestseller lists.

As we were preparing to reissue these early titles, I initially planned to update them all--modernize them, so to speak, and bring them into the new high-tech age. Then I realized I couldn't do that successfully any more than I could take a dress from the Seventies and redesign it into one that would look as if it were made yesterday. That's when I saw that the true charm of these novels is their look back on another time and another age. Over the years, they have become historical novels, however recent the history. When you read them yourself, I know you will feel the same.

So, enjoy, and happy reading to all!
CHAPTER ONE

"WITH your face and figure, you would have no difficulty getting a husband. Too bad you were born with such a frigid nature." The youngman leaned back in the chaise-longue along the plush Las Vegas hotel pool. He inhaled deeply on his cigarette while studying the golden tanned body of the girl sunbathing beside him.

"You forgot to add 'and my money', Michael." Her eyes remained closed, shutting out the glare of the Nevada sun midway down in the afternoon sky. "And I wasn't born with a frigid nature. It took years of hard work before I successfully discovered its benefits."

His gaze traveled over her slim ankles and the slender long legs, the soft lime-green two-piece swimsuit that accented her narrow waist and the gentle swell of her breasts, before stopping at her face to investigate the Grecian perfection of her profile and the pale gold colour of her naturally blonde hair. An amused chuckle escaped his lips, bringing one eye open to stare at him quizzically.

"My poor Alisa," Michael stared at his cigarette rather than meet the cool gaze of her clear blue eyes. "To be so hardened against men and yet placed in the position of having to marry one!"

"I see nothing amusing in that!" Alisa Franklin rose from her reclining position to reach out angrily to her gold cigarette case lying on the table beside Michael.

"Oh, come now." A cynical gleam brightened his eyes as he leaned over to light her cigarette. "Surely you see the twisted humour of the hand reaching out from the grave, especially when you consider it's all your mother's doing."

"My mother was an intensely old-fashioned woman who believed that a woman wasn't complete without a man!"

"And managed to marry five times to prove it!" Michael laughed. His lean body, clad only in black trunks, leaned back against the chair.

"She was a fool!" Alisa exclaimed. "A weak-willed person who hung on every man's coat tails, a simpering idiot with her lavender scents and lace handkerchiefs. She knew how I loathed those summers I spent with Roy and Marguerite--and she had the simpleness to be taken in by their snivelings and state in her will that they were to have custody of Christine!"

"Not to mention all that money that goes with her," Michael added.

"I don't care a snap for the money and you know it." She ground the half-smoked cigarette out in the ashtray. "Mother knew my father's trust fund left me amply provided, which was the reason Christine was the main beneficiary of her will. The poor child will never enjoy any of it with Marguerite and Roy in control. You should have seen the way she looked at me when I left her there yesterday. Damn it! What am I going to do?"

"I don't see what you're getting so excited about," he mocked. "Your mother stated very clearly in her will that if you were married, the custody of Christine would be yours. You merely have to marry someone."

She longed to cry out "Never!" but the memory of Christine's pleading eyes danced in front of her face, making such a statement impossible.

"You forgot the provision that also states I must live with my husband for at least one year." Alisa lit another cigarette and puffed on it in angry frustration. "If only you weren't my cousin, you would solve all my problems. As it stands, I can't think of one man I'd like to spend an evening with, let alone twelve months!"

"The only reason you tolerate me is because I don't pander your ego as everyone else does." Michael's mouth curled sardonically. "I knew you when you had braces on your teeth and were as skinny as a reed, tagging along after me like a puppydog. I suppose your cynicism amuses me, as well as your money."

"Don't try to sneer at me, Michael," Alisa returned in a dangerously cold and quiet voice. "You're only twenty-six, just two years older than I. You are an adequate escort, very occasionally amusing company, but more importantly, you don't subject me to those degrading pawing sessions."

"The ice maiden has no cousinly affection for me at all? Perhaps you should seek a husband. He might be more satisfactory. I'd love to see you married to some domineering tyrant who would beat you twice a day."

"You can wipe that smug smile off your face, because I'll never marry anyone that I can't succeed in having the upper hand with!" Alisa rose from her chair, sweeping her long white-gold locks away from her face before slipping on the lacy beach robe. "You did reserve a table for the Parisian revue this evening as I told you to do, didn't you? Or did you spend the money on the dice tables like you have all the rest I've given you since we came to Las Vegas?"

"No, I obeyed Your Highness's command and slipped an extra tip to the reservation clerk to ensure a satisfactory table." He got to his feet, his slender tall frame giving him only a three-inch advantage as he stood facing her. "I'll pick you up at eight-thirty. We'll have time for dinner before the eleven o'clock show." As Alisa turned to leave, Michael asked quietly, "What are you going to do about Christine?"

"Find a husband." Her voice was sharp and contemptuous. But as she continued, Michael heard the ringing pride creep through. "He'll be someone of quality with a respectable family name. I'll not marry some fortune-hunting scum and endure the laughter that would follow. Not even for my sister!"

Alisa didn't wait for Michael to comment on her statement. She traversed the full length of the pool area, disdainful of the ogling eyes and suggestive voices that followed her. Her total disregard to the male attention served as a spur to goad them to more attempts to gain her interest, but Alisa's disinterest was genuine. Her only reaction was one of revulsion that left an unclean feeling when she finally reached her suite.

Only after Alisa had been immersed in the marble bath filled with bubbling suds did she feel free of the disgusting traces of leering eyes. With an enormous white bath towel draped around her, she sat down in front of the vanity, gazing silently and absently at her composed reflection in the mirror. She had become accustomed to the perfection that stared back. Only once had Alisa wished she had been born a 'plain Jane', but that had quickly passed. Her own love of beautiful things would have rejected the lack of it in her own appearance, just as she realized, with insight, that had she been a plain girl, she would quite likely have possessed a romantically foolish nature, mooning and sighing over some man like so many of her other acquaintances did.

Now those silly notions were behind her, successfully buried with the braces and the gaucheness of waiting until her body had matured enough to catch up with her gangling long legs. With an amused and bitter smile, Alisa realized how much gratitude she owed her mother. Her mother had divorced Alisa's father, her first husband, only three years after the birth of their only child, Alisa. Two years later, when she was nearly five, he was killed in a car crash. She had clung childishly to his image, bestowing on him all the attributes that she dreamed a father would have. But the parade of men through her mother's life had quickly tarnished her faith. It had seemed to Alisa that she was forever being shuttled off to her Aunt Marguerite and Uncle Roy's to make way for another honeymoon or another divorce.

The summer of her fifteenth birthday had been the most traumatic of all. Her third stepfather, wealthy as all her mother's husbands were, had taken an intense interest in Alisa. The soft curves of womanhood had just begun to show on her previously slender boyish frame. The slight straightening of her teeth had been accomplished by braces and the unsightly wires were gone. For a month Alisa had basked in the warm glow of his attention. They had gone sailing together nearly every day. Her mother, who was a terrible sailor, had remained ashore. It was on one of those expeditions that Alisa had become aware of a change in his attention.

It was a gorgeously sunlit day, encouraging lazy hours spent sunbathing on the deck. The slight breeze had died, leaving the sails becalmed underneath the warm rays of the sun. Alisa had lain stretched out on the sailboat's deck, her simple two-piece swimsuit of the summer before not quite fitting her newly formed curves. She remembered her stepfather walking towards her, stopping to stare down at her. She remembered being puzzled by his gaze and the curious light that was in his eyes. A strange fear had swept over her when Alisa remembered they were alone on the boat and at least two miles from shore. She had shaded her eyes from the brilliant sun to gaze up at him, noticing for the first time the dissipated lines around his mouth, the paunch that showed quite visibly in swimming trunks, and the seemingly always constant can of beer in his hand.

He had knelt down beside her, his eyes resting on the slight cleavage of her swimsuit top before moving to the tiny pale gold topknot of hair on her head.

"Take your hair down, Alisa," he had commanded thickly.

Her fingers had fumbled to obey as a shiver of fear raced through her. As her hair had cascaded down on to her shoulders, her stepfather's hand had reached out to capture the spun gold in his hands. Aware that what was happening wasn't right, Alisa had attempted to stand, but he quickly pinned her to the deck, his heavy breathing sending waves of alcoholic odor over her face as she tried to turn away.

"How about a kiss for your old stepdad?" he had muttered.

Kicking, scratching, and screaming, Alisa had tried to ward him off, but without much success as he at last had covered her mouth with his. The disgustingly repulsive memory of his mouth practically slobbering over her face was as fresh today as it was that afternoon when she had finally broke free and dived over the side. Luckily she had managed to flag down a passing boat which took her to shore, where she had sobbed out the story to her horrified mother.

Not even her mother's divorce and subsequent successful marriage to Dale Patterson had managed to erase or blot out the events of that afternoon. The beginnings of her cool reserve had begun. In the later years of her teens, Alisa was aware her looks were the envy of girl friends and that any of the more sought-after boys were hers for the asking. But few boys interested her enough, and those that did had always met the same fate. Alisa had realized with growing disgust that once you accepted a date with a boy, it wasn't the pleasure of your company that they were interested in. At first she had tried to endure the good-night kisses, but they always expected more the next time. Gradually she refused all dates, hating the sense of obligation that came with the acceptance. She shunned nearly every social gathering, and those she couldn't, she was escorted to by her cousin Michael.

There were only two things she enjoyed out of life any more, her precocious half-sister Christine and the gaming tables in Las Vegas. Alisa's gambling wasn't an obsession; if she won, she stopped. If she was getting behind, she stopped too, always knowing that as long as her inheritance held out, there was always another day. But Christine? Alisa sighed deeply, removing a brush from the table, and began brushing her hair. There was no question about whether or not she wanted Christine.

Dear, darling little Christine whom Alisa had taken care of since Chris was a baby. To have Christine Alisa must have a husband, an incredibly simple solution for someone as beautiful and wealthy as she, but a terribly galling one at the same time. Even as names and faces danced in her head, Alisa was rejecting them. Never once did she doubt that if she chose one, she would fail to succeed in getting him to the altar. She loathed the more acceptable ones who were quick to cater to her just as she feared the ones who would attempt to force themselves on her. If only she could go out and buy herself a husband, Alisa thought with a smile, how simple it would be!

Although the entire revue had been well staged from the choreography of the scantily clad dancers to the individual acts of the entertainers, Alisa hadn't been able to enjoy the show. Her mind was centered on finding a solution to her problem. When Michael had picked her up earlier in the evening, Alisa had been determined to put her thoughts behind her, taking enormous time choosing her dress before finally settling on a new silver lamé evening gown, sleeveless and curling around her neck with a mandarin collar. With it she had worn a black lace shawl with silver threads running through the rose design. Her pale yellow hair she had styled to wing down the sides of her face from its centre parting to sweep back into a sophisticated chignon at the nape of her neck.

As they entered the casino area, Michael paused near the dice tables, a feverish gleam lighting his eyes as he watched the dice bounce across the green top. Poor Michael, Alisa thought without any sympathy. He had run through his inheritance in less than a year, but still he was anxious to lose more at the tables. She touched his elbow lightly and reluctantly he followed her as she continued wandering through the crowds.

The din of ecstatic winners and disgruntled losers mingled with the jangling bells of the slot machines and the casual voices of croupiers and dealers. People in expensive evening clothes rubbed elbows with others dressed in sporty wear. It was an incongruous mixture amidst the plush carpeting and dazzling chandeliers. There seemed to be only one place where the élite were separated from the average populace, and Alisa knew that her casual pace would eventually bring her to the secluded baccarat table.

Stopping at the ornate railing that isolated the players from the crowded casino floor, Alisa experienced again the tightening of her throat that always happened to her as she was about to take part in this aristocratic game of chance. Michael stood silently by her side, watching the coolness of her expression with the same amazement he felt every time they went through this routine. In a moment she would turn to him, discreetly pass him some money so that he could go off to his own game at the dice tables.

Through large, unexpressive blue eyes, Alisa studied the play in progress and the players. As her gaze drifted around to each person, she ignored the younger women at the table, seated there under the employment of the casino to add colour and inducement to legitimate players. Her pulse quickened as her eyes rested on the last player at the table.

His ebony black hair gleamed under the soft glow of the chandelier. Under the dark eyebrows, thick dark spikes of black lashes outlined his eyes, so dark brown that they appeared black. Even now, at this distance, Alisa could see the burning intensity of his gaze as he studied the cards before him. His tanned cheekbones sat prominently in his face, suggesting leanness that wasn't there. The long, narrow nose looked as uncompromising as the rest of him. Finally her eyes rested on the cruel line of his mouth.

Her left eyebrow lifted with her mounting excitement. There couldn't be two people who looked so much alike. A cool wave of resolution washed over her as Alisa turned slightly towards her cousin.

"That man sitting to the left of the croupier, what do you know about him?"

Michael glanced at her in surprise. Alisa was usually unconcerned about who she played with and rarely showed any interest in her fellow players, but obediently his gaze went to the man in question. As he recognized the man, Michael inhaled deeply to conceal his surprise. When he turned to Alisa he was equally surprised to see a glittering light in her eyes.

"That's Zachary Stuart. I haven't seen him in Vegas since before his father died. He's a ruthless gambler, or at least, he was. He had the most uncanny luck at the tables, especially when you consider that he never seemed to care one way or the other. You'd do well to follow his lead in betting, Alisa."

"I don't care how he gambles." Her gaze returned to the man at the table with a chilling calculation in her expression. "I want to know everything you know about him."

"What for?" But at the freezing flash of her blue eyes, Michael shrugged his resignation. "You probably know as much as I do. I'm sure you've seen him at a couple of Elizabeth's parties in San Francisco. His father was a big import-export tycoon in San Francisco, dabbling in real estate and land developments. He went under about seven years ago when he invested a little too heavily in a development that was wiped out by mud slides. Rumour had it that the accident that killed him was really suicide, but it was never proved. Zachary--he was about twenty-five at the time--inherited all the debts, which is about the time he stopped coming to Vegas. I've heard that the only thing that he was able to keep, outside of his mother's house in San Francisco, was a small vineyard in Napa Valley. The winery and the vineyards had been abandoned for several years, so I understand, which means the slim profits he has made these last few years have been poured back into the property."

Alisa permitted herself a smug smile when Michael finished. "So the arrogant Mr. Zachary Stuart is in need of money," she thought with jubilant bitterness.

"He looks like a man who would do anything for money," she commented aloud.

"I don't know if I would put it quite that way. Let's just say he would be pretty ruthless in getting what he wanted."

"Is he married?"

"Him? No. Does he look like the marrying kind? Though there've been an ample number of women who've tried." Michael laughed softly as he withdrew a cigarette from his pocket. "He has a similar view of women to what you do of men, with the exception that he believes women were put on earth for the purpose of providing a sexual outlet for men. I'm sure it's quite rare for him to find a woman who would deny him his pleasure." He glanced at Alisa with mocking amusement until he saw the grim, calculating expression on her face. "Oh, no, Alisa, if you're thinking what I think you're thinking, you'd better just forget it. There's one man that you couldn't make toe the line."

For half a second, Alisa felt a twinge of fear that Michael could just be right, but she quickly pushed such a thought aside. "He meets all the requirements: a respectable family name though a little impoverished, and a person of breeding. It's all a matter of price, Michael dear."

"You might consider how much you'll have to pay," Michael said, but Alisa ignored him as she walked forward to the roped gate, nodding serenely to one of the men when he escorted her in and seated her at the baccarat table beside Zachary Stuart.

Although Alisa received several appreciative glances from other male players, there was no such recognition coming from Zachary Stuart. She sensed his indifference to her and set about subtly drawing his attention to her. At first she waited to place her bet until he had done so, then deliberately bet opposite him. He played exceedingly skillfully with Lady Luck sitting on his lap. Still he seemed unmoved by the growing stack of money in front of him and totally oblivious to Alisa's bets. Finally she removed a cigarette from her case, tapped it lightly on the table, and let it dangle in front of him absently as she watched the play. But when he courteously offered her a light, she declined and placed the cigarette back in its case. A few minutes later Alisa removed the cigarette again and just as Zachary's hand came out of his jacket pocket with a lighter, she turned to an older man on her other side and asked for a light. The deliberate affront successfully brought Zachary's attention to her.

When he refused his turn to deal the cards from the shoe, Alisa did likewise. The small stake that she had started off with was nearly depleted, so she abstained from placing any bet. As she leaned against the back of the chair, she felt his dark gaze studying her. Now she turned to meet it, her own eyes sparkling with the excitement of this new game she was playing.

"Would you like to have a drink with me?" he asked in a low, well modulated voice that had a condescending ring to it, even as the dark fire of his gaze mocked her.

"I don't know you," Alisa replied coolly, reaching forward to stub her cigarette out in one graceful movement.

"That's easily remedied. I'm Zachary Stuart." He indicated to the banker that they would be cashing in.

"Alisa, ... Alisa Franklin," she said calmly, despite the quivering elation of triumph racing through her as he rose to pull out her chair for her.

Without inquiring her preference, Zachary Stuart proceeded to guide her towards one of the quieter, more secluded, dimly lit lounges on the edge of the casino floor. She discovered that he was uncomfortably taller than she. When Alisa was wearing heels, she was nearly five foot ten, which usually put any of her dates at eye level. But with Zachary Stuart, she just reached his chin. His height also gave the illusion of slenderness that was extremely misleading, for the breadth of his shoulders was very intimidating. Alisa was glad when they were finally seated at a small table and she no longer had to look at him.

He ordered two dry Martinis, again without asking her preference, which she found quite irritating. With anyone else and in any other circumstances, Alisa would have refused the drink when it arrived at the table, merely to assert her authority since on her own she probably would have ordered the same drink. In this case, she managed to accept it graciously and quelled the tiny rebellion inside. As Alisa took a cigarette from her case and placed the filter-tipped end to her lips, a lighter snapped open and touched its yellow-orange flame to the cigarette.

"Tell me," Zachary Stuart said, "are you always like that?"

"I beg your pardon?" Alisa nearly choked on the smoke.

"About who lights your cigarettes? That was a very ingenious and insulting way to get my attention, but then you succeeded very completely." His face was shadowed, but his voice left no doubt that he was amused by her ploy. "Alisa Franklin. I believe I've heard your name before."

"It's quite possible. My mother, Eleanor Patterson, was killed in a plane crash a few weeks ago."

"I can see you're in deep mourning for her." His sarcasm brought a chilling coldness to her face which she quickly tried to hide.

"I believe I've heard of you before, too, Mr. Stuart. Wasn't your father a quite important person in San Francisco before his..." Alisa paused so that her words would carry the full implication, "...untimely death. You have a small vineyard now, I believe, in Napa Valley."

"You seem to know a great deal about me."

"Just bits and pieces," Alisa replied with biting softness. "How's business?"

Zachary leaned forward, the small candle on the table illuminating his face and giving a sardonic curl to his lips.

"I have the strange feeling that if I said it was good you'd be disappointed." He regarded her with malicious amusement as a fleeting expression of discomfort flashed across her face. "You seem a little too frostbitten to want the key to my hotel room, so why don't you tell me exactly why you agreed to have a drink with me?"

"You're quite right. I dislike wasting time with subtleties. I have a proposition to make to you, Mr. Stuart." At the disbelieving arched eyebrow, Alisa added hastily, "A business proposition."

When she paused for his reaction, Zachary moved back into the shadows of the lounge. Alisa tried to stifle the growing irritation, but some of the sharpness crept through.

"I understand that you are a little financially strapped right now, that you could use some money to make improvements on your vineyard and winery. I am prepared to give you that money."

"That's very interesting. I can't help wondering why you should choose my business to invest in. Surely there is something you hope I will give you in return."

The barest hint of colour touched her cheeks as Alisa straightened her shoulders and lifted her chin and spoke with as much dignity as she could.

"I need a husband."

A short, derisive laugh came from the man across the table. "There must be any number of marriage-minded men who would jump at the chance to marry a beautiful woman such as yourself. I recall hearing your name linked with Paul Andrews. Why don't you marry him?"

"Paul?" For a brief moment, Alisa groped to put a face to the name, before the image of a strong, gentle man with light brown, almost blond hair was brought to mind. "He was a silly little milksop who panted at my heels like a puppydog. The palms of his hands were always sweaty." Alisa's voice was quite expressive in her distaste, although her expression remained composed and indifferent.

"Did you hear he attempted suicide when you ordered him to leave you alone? It was about a year ago, I think."

"That was a feeble-minded and spineless thing to do. Undoubtedly he couldn't succeed at that either." Paul Andrews was a tiresome subject to Alisa, one that was taking their conversation away from the business at hand. "My marriage would only be temporary. That's why I'd prefer it to be to a stranger."

"Are you pregnant?"

"Of course not!" Alisa denied vehemently and angrily.

"Well, it is the usual reason why most women have to get married," Zachary mocked, his dark eyes twinkling at her in amusement. "What do you have to gain by marriage?"

"My half-sister Christine, who's seven years old," Alisa retorted in cold defiance, wishing she could slap that derisive and sarcastic expression from his face. "My mother's will stated that I could have permanent custody of Christine only if I was married and had lived with my husband for one entire year. Otherwise her guardianship would go to my aunt and uncle."

"Do you care for this little girl, or do you just hate your aunt and uncle?"

"My feelings for both are equally intense-if it's any of your business." She lifted the Martini glass to her mouth and sipped it calmly.

"If I were to agree to your ridiculous proposal, what would you be prepared to pay me?" The lighter flared again in the dimly lit room as Zachary inhaled on his cigarette. The brief, flickering flame revealed black fires in his eyes as he watched her reaction.

"It would depend on what you required."

"Around two hundred thousand would adequately take care of the modernization," he replied.

"You're a very high-priced person." The words were drawn through tightly clenched teeth which managed to prevent Alisa from telling him exactly what she thought.

"You get what you pay for, Alisa. My freedom is worth a great deal to me." He studied the smoke from his cigarette, it grey trail drifting lazily near his face. "What made you decide to put your proposition to me?"

It had been at one of Elizabeth's parties, just as Michael had said, when Alisa had seen Zachary Stuart. Paul Andrews had been making himself a persistent nuisance. Perhaps that was why when he had left her side to greet the tall, dark-haired man just arriving, Alisa had spared the time to look. It had been Zachary Stuart, Alisa realized now. Paul had attempted to bring Zachary over to introduce him to Alisa, but Zachary had declined.

Later in the evening when Alisa was just leaving the ladies' powder room, she had overheard Zachary talking. It had been a case of accidental eavesdropping, with only his profile against a backdrop of greenery to identify him. But he wasn't the kind of man one would forget.

[NOTE: END OF EXCERPT BUT CHAPTER ONE CONTINUES PAST THIS POINT.]

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Fire and Ice: California (Americana Series) 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
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jjcb More than 1 year ago
Short book not worth price
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