Book Blitz & Excerpt: These Small Hours + Giveaway

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These Small Hours, by Gloria Herrmann

General Release Date: 20th July 2021

Word Count: 86,701
Book Length: SUPER NOVEL
Pages: 322

Genres:

CONTEMPORARY
CRIME
CRIME AND MYSTERY
EROTIC ROMANCE
MYSTERY
THRILLERS AND SUSPENSE

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Book Description

Keep writing…or die trying.

Charlene Vanderberg is a bestselling author whose world is turned upside as she experiences writer’s block for the first time. She now faces a deadline to redeem her career after her last book, a sappy romance, flopped. Charley had only wanted to try her hand at a different genre, one with a little less murder and mayhem, but had ended up creating some disgruntled fans. That’s when the words disappeared, and Charley found herself unable to write a single sentence.

After being plagued with crippling writer’s block for months and about to hang up the towel, Charley’s agent Pamela has convinced her that a change of scenery would help get her creative juices flowing again. She sends Charley off to a cozy lake resort and has enlisted some protection for her in the person of Nick Capra, a detective who is running from his own demons, has no desire to babysit the famous author but finds himself unable to stop developing feelings for his charge.

Famous for writing chilling tales, Charley isn’t prepared for the nightmare in store for her. The sleepy lake community where nothing bad ever happens begins to see a string of grisly murders. Charley discovers these murders were meant to inspire her to write her next novel. A copycat killer is reenacting scenes from her bestsellers. No one is safe from this killer—not even Charley.

Reader advisory: This book contains incidents of alcohol use, violence and murder.

Excerpt

“You can’t possibly be serious?”

“I am, and it will be good for you. I promise. You need to trust me on this.”

Charley—also known as Charlene Vanderberg, a bestselling author—was currently experiencing writer’s block for the first time. The words were there, locked somewhere in her mind and refusing to come out when she sat down every night to free them. Nothing. Just a blank page staring back at her, taunting Charley with the blinking cursor of where words should form. It had been months since Charley had written anything that hadn’t ended up on the wrong side of the delete button. At this rate, she feared there might never be words again.

“It’s the perfect solution,” Pamela beseeched.

Her agent was a force of nature and had the manipulative power of getting her way. That’s why Charley had agreed to sign on with Pamela Mansfield once her second manuscript had been complete. Charley had needed someone fierce to land her a book deal and steer her career in the right direction. Rejection letters didn’t help her fragile writer’s ego, and it was challenging enough to be recognized by any publisher without an agent. That’s why she needed one like Pamela. That woman knew her way around the publishing world and had seen something in Charley.

Her advice and encouragement had pushed Charley and ultimately launched her into the success she was now enjoying. Over the years, they had become good friends, almost like family. Charley had learned a great deal from this tiny woman who was set on building a brand and empire with the clients she represented. Pamela only worked with the best, most talented people in the industry, and Charley still couldn’t believe she was among them. She didn’t want to disappoint Pamela and worried that if those words didn’t start making an appearance soon, there would be some ugly consequences. They both had reputations to uphold.

Charley eyed Pamela curiously from across the table, half-hoping to break her agent’s resolve. It wasn’t going to happen, and they both knew that. The unwavering but tender stare as Pamela held her ground on what a great idea this was showed Charley that it truly was in her best interest.

“So, you honestly think by shipping me off to some lake resort in the middle of nowhere, I’ll really get this book done? That magically all of my creative juices will start to flow again because you’ve got me locked up in some hillbilly cabin?” Charley scoffed. “Sounds like all the makings of a Stephen King novel, and we both know how those go,” Charley teased as she poked her straw at a bobbing ice cube in her sweaty glass of water.

“Not just any cabin, Charley. My nephew owns the cutest little resort in Crescent Lake. The best part is that it’s only a few hours from here. Just imagine, all these quaint cabins around that gorgeous lake. Besides, you know very well that you give Stephen King a run for his money.” Pamela winked and turned her attention to the plate in front of her. “I thought nature was sort of your thing? Aren’t you some kind of country girl?” Pamela countered playfully as she stabbed her colorful salad of varied bright leaves and vegetables.

“It was. I mean, I like it well enough, but I’m hardly a country girl,” she answered with a touch of sophisticated sass.

“That’s right. You’re a famous writer now and living in your fabulous apartment with a perfect view of the Seattle skyline.” Pamela smirked with her fork to her lips. “Too good for the great outdoors?”

“What I meant was that I haven’t done anything remotely outdoorsy for years.”

“Then you’re long overdue.”

“I just don’t see how it will help.” Charley shook her head and looked away. The restaurant with its elegant lighting and décor was filled with patrons all sipping wine and dining on extravagant dishes. Her writing had afforded her this lifestyle. Maybe I’m a little out of touch. The years of success and landing movie deals had pampered her with opportunities she’d never dreamed possible, especially for a girl who’d grown up on a rural farm town in the middle of Washington. She gazed back and saw a peculiar flicker in Pamela’s hazel eyes.

“What?”

Pamela squirmed ever so slightly in her seat and bit her mauve-painted bottom lip. All the playfulness abandoned her face and was quickly replaced with something else. Charley studied her and tried to figure out exactly what it was. She could sense her agent’s nervous energy.

“They want that book before fall,” Pamela stated bluntly as she gently placed her fork down.

“And if they don’t get it by then?” Charley asked. Her belly began to do anxiety-induced flip-flops. So many what ifs ran through her mind that her sense of reason started to trip over them.

She clasped her hands together in prayer form. Pamela exhaled but kept her eyes locked on Charley. Through a forced smile, she calmly replied, “Let’s just focus on getting this book done.”

“Nothing like a little pressure to add to my already-growing problem.” Charley nibbled on a dry piece of skin on her bottom lip.

“You need a change of scenery and a little quiet inspiration then that ridiculous writer’s block will be gone. Every author goes through this at some point,” Pamela reassured Charley but nervously twirled a strand of her chestnut hair between her fingers. “I’ve had clients who’ve been down this road before.”

“I haven’t ever had this problem,” Charley confessed in a near whisper. “I’ve never had an issue with writing—like…ever, Pamela.” Charley’s heart beat a little faster with a sudden pang of anxiety. “The stories always kept coming, the characters made their demands well known and now poof, they’re gone. Writing is what I do—what I did.” As the words left her mouth, Charley realized the severity of her problem. If she didn’t pull it together and find a way to get her writing mojo back, Charley didn’t know what would become of her career. By the look on her agent’s face, it definitely wasn’t good. “Fine… I’ll go to your nephew’s little resort.” Charley defiantly speared the lemon wedge that rested on her perfectly cooked salmon. She no longer had an appetite as her brain developed images of her impending failure. She could lose it all—her swanky apartment, ridiculously expensive SUV and her famous name. It could all be gone.

Pamela smiled. “Don’t worry. We’ll get this book done and you’ll be back on top again. Everyone wins.”

Charley hoped Pamela was right.

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About the Author

Gloria Herrmann

Gloria Herrmann is a contemporary romance author originally from California but now lives in the Pacific Northwest with her family and pug Rizzo. Her stories are a reflection of the love she has for family, friends, and real-life moments.

You can follow Gloria on Instagram here

Giveaway

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Gloria Herrmann These Small Hours Giveaway

GLORIA HERRMANN IS GIVING AWAY THIS FABULOUS PRIZE TO ONE LUCKY WINNER. ENTER HERE FOR YOUR CHANCE TO WIN A LOVELY GIFT PACKAGE AND GET AND YOUR FREE GLORIA HERRMANN ROMANCE BOOK! Notice Notice: This competition ends on 3rd August 2021 at 5pm GMT. Competition hosted by Totally Entwined Group.

Book Blitz & Excerpt: The Way to a Man’s Heart + Giveaway

The Way to a Mans Heart

The Way to a Man’s Heart

by Ann Marie James

Book1 in the Kingdom of Corazón series

Word Count: 33,982
Book Length: SHORT NOVEL
Pages: 135

Genres:

CONTEMPORARY
EROTIC ROMANCE
FRIENDS TO LOVERS
GAY
GLBTQI
ROYALS
THRILLERS AND SUSPENSE

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Book Description

The heart wants what the heart wants…

Christian Diaz grew up as the best friend and unofficial bodyguard to the Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Corazón. After an incident left him questioning his place in the castle, Christian joined the military and didn’t return for ten long years.

Now he’s been assigned to the castle as Royal Military Liaison to investigate the source of some recent threats against the crown. The annual Midsummer’s Ball is the perfect place for the anti-monarchy group to make their next move, so that’s where Christian will be too. If it gives him a chance to reconnect with his friends in the castle and make a play for the man he has compared all others to, it’s even better.

Max Ramirez is now the head chef for the castle. He started as a sous chef at age twenty when Christian was just an awkward teen. Now that Christian’s back at the castle, all grown up and interested in Max, the chef is determined not to let an opportunity with Christian pass him by.

When someone tries to sabotage the Midsummer’s Ball, Max and Christian need to work together to track down the people determined to make this event their last.

Reader advisory: This book contains mentions of drug use, obsession, references to parental abuse, drink spiking, violence, attempted rape, and attempted murder.

Excerpt

The royal family of the Kingdom of Corazón greeted their guests for the Midsummers Ball as Christian watched. He ran a hand down the front of his dress military uniform to straighten it while he waited for his turn to be announced. This was his first formal duty as the newly appointed Royal Military Liaison, and he needed to make sure he looked his best. He shifted his feet to find some relief for his ankle, which was still sore from him standing for a long time. His last mission had not gone to plan, and a broken ankle had been the result. Although the cast had come off a couple of weeks prior, it still wasn’t one hundred percent.

“Royal Military Liaison Lieutenant Diaz,” the herald announced. Christian caught the eye of Crown Prince Sebastian toward the end of the greeting line and his best friend’s eyes widened in surprise before his face lit up with happiness at seeing him. As the only child of the Castle Commander, Christian had grown up here, but he’d been in the service away from the castle for ten years. At thirty, Christian was the same age as Crown Prince Sebastian. They had been best friends from the time they had been in diapers, and even though Christian and the prince still got together when their schedules allowed, it wasn’t the same as seeing and being with him every day. Christian had missed him fiercely.

The royal children of the kingdom were usually paired with a young playmate from the age of about ten. Christian had started earlier than age ten as Sebastian’s companion, since he was always with him anyway. As Castle Commander, his father was the head of the guard slash castle security. He’d taken the companion idea a step further and trained Christian to be as good as he could be in martial arts and marksmanship. In his father’s eyes, Christian was to act as another line of defense for the Crown Prince. While Christian had not carried a gun—that was the role of the actual bodyguards—he was trained in case he ever had to use one.

With a nod to the herald, Christian stepped forward to greet the Queen of the Kingdom of Corazón. Queen Tania reached out both hands to Christian, and he clasped them and raised them to his lips while bowing over them. “My Queen… It is a pleasure to see you. You haven’t changed a bit.”

“Lieutenant Diaz, it is a pleasure to see you as well. Ten years is way too long. We have missed you.”

“I apologize for the lengthy absence, Your Highness. I needed a change, but I am assigned here for the foreseeable future, so you will have time to get sick of me again.”

“So my husband has told me. I am excited to have you home, although in a different capacity as the Royal Military Liaison. I look forward to catching up.”

“As do I.”

The queen turned a stern eye on her eldest daughter, who was standing to her right. “Princess Zia, isn’t it wonderful that Christian will be back with us for a while?”

Christian tried to mask his sneer as his gaze went to Zia, who was not at all happy this evening. Of course, she wouldn’t be, since she wasn’t the center of attention. She wasn’t a very nice person and never had been. She was also part of the reason he’d left and joined the military. What she did… No, he wasn’t going to think about it. It was in the past. He was stronger and even more deadly now. It was time for him to face his demons. The military had finished the training his father had started, turning him into a true weapon. At twenty-eight, Christian had hoped Zia would have grown up and stopped being so self-absorbed, but the affliction seemed to have gotten worse instead of better in the time Christian had been away.

Christian gave Princess Zia a shallow bow. “Princess Zia.” That was all he could manage. He wasn’t going to lie and say he’d missed her.

Princess Zia tossed back her hair and gave him her haughtiest look. “Mr. Diaz.”

“It’s Lieutenant Diaz, actually, Your Highness.” Christian didn’t wait for her to respond, instead turning to greet the king of the Kingdom of Corazón. A striking man, even in his fifties, King Raul Hart exuded a sense of calm authority that Christian had always admired, making him seem larger than life. “King Raul.” Christian bowed low in front of the man. When he straightened, Christian was shocked to realize that he was now taller than the king. When they had met briefly the day before, the king had been busy on a phone call and had just waved him into his office and into a chair. Christian had experienced another surprise growth spurt after he had joined the military at age twenty and was now six-three, but he hadn’t realized that made him taller than the king.

“Hello again, Royal Military Liaison Lieutenant Diaz.” The king’s eyes twinkled at him as he ignored protocol and pulled Christian into a hug. “I didn’t get a chance to do that when we met yesterday. I wanted to correct that error.”

“Yes, sir.” Christian returned the hug before stepping back and offering him a crisp salute. “Lieutenant Diaz reporting for duty, sir.”

“As you were, Lieutenant. Now I think there’s someone here who can’t wait to greet you. It was hard keeping this a secret from him.”

“I know. I talked to him earlier, and I almost spilled the beans.”

Christian moved down the line and tried to keep a stern expression on his face as he saluted before grinning at one of his best friends. “Crown Prince.”

“Why didn’t you tell me you were being assigned to the castle as Royal Military Liaison?”

“I thought you would like the surprise of it. It just happened a few days ago.” Christian once more ran a hand down the front of his military uniform. “First mission, the Midsummer’s Ball. It’s a very tough assignment.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re here. I can’t wait to see more of you, and as a bonus, now I won’t have to drive to visit you.”

Christian scoffed. “Like it’s that far to the base or my house from here.”

“When I was used to you being always at my side, it’s too far.”

“It’s been ten years, Bas.”

“Too far. Too long.”

“Yes, Your Highness.” Christian couldn’t help the eye roll at the end. It was good to be back with friends.

Prince Sebastian just grinned in response.

“My turn. My turn.”

Christian turned his head to the left to see Princess Katarina waving him down the line. “Princess Katarina, it is a pleasure to see you again.”

“I am so excited you made it and that we will get to see more of you.”

“Me too, Your Highness.”

He leaned forward to kiss her cheek and she took the opportunity to whisper in his ear.

“I think you have broken our Head Chef.”

“What?” Christian pulled back so he could look in her eyes, as if that would somehow make what she’d said make sense.

“He is standing over by the hors d’oeuvres table and has been staring at you since you were announced.” Katarina giggled. “He looks like someone has struck him.”

Christian shook his head at her, although his heart sped up at the thought of seeing his old crush, but he tried not to show that her words had affected him. “I will leave you to greet the rest of your guests. We can catch up later.”

“Save me a dance, please, Lieutenant.”

“It would be an honor, Princess.”

Christian glanced over at the hors d’oeuvre table to find Max Ramirez indeed staring at him. The eye contact must have startled him because he jumped then looked at his shoes for a moment and clasped his hands behind his back. Christian strode across the room to greet him, determined not to make an ass of himself. He pulled Max into a quick hug in greeting, before holding him out at arm’s length so he could get a better look at him.

Max had been his older teenage crush and was the epitome of everything he had ever dreamed of in a man. I obviously still have it bad for the guy. At six-foot-five, Max was a giant—but a gentle one. Christian was still leaner than Max, but along with the growth spurt, he had put on a lot of muscle and his frame had filled out a lot since the last time they had seen each other, making them more equal in stature. There was something about the man that had always called to him.

“Max! How are you doing?”

“I’m doing great. Head Chef now.”

“I heard. Six years ago now, right? Everyone was talking about you being the youngest to ever get the job.”

“Yeah. They told me on my thirtieth birthday. I did not see it coming.” Max had started as an apprentice to the head chef, Howie Klein, straight out of culinary school. The twenty-year-old had met the chef’s cranky, militaristic style in the kitchen with a smile on his face. Which, as the last apprentice had stormed out of the kitchen after throwing a pan at Mr. Klein’s head, had been important.

“Yeah. It’s too bad about the arthritis in Mr. Klein’s feet. I still talk to his son Ryan frequently. He told me his father was gutted to have to retire but happy to have you to move into the position. Good for you. It was a well-earned promotion.”

“He still stops in from time to time to give his opinion on things, so I still get to see him. Thank you. I’m proud of their faith in me. I’m assuming this is a promotion for you?”

“Yep. Going to be assigned to the castle for a while.” There was an awkward pause in the conversation. Christian turned so he was standing shoulder to shoulder with Max and could have a better view of the room. He waved a hand indicating the greeting line. “I can’t believe Princess Katarina is eighteen already.”

“Right? She was, what? Eight when you left? She seemed pleased to see you. I’m surprised she remembered you.”

“I was assigned to be her personal guard when she visited colleges last summer. We spent eight weeks together. We got to know each other pretty well.”

“Oh. No one said. What about Prince Sebastian?”

“We still hang out and talk as often as we can. I inherited my grandmother’s cottage on the west side of the island. Sebastian usually visits me there when I’m on-island.”

“What about Ryan? You said you still talk to him frequently?”

“I still consider him one of my best friends, along with Prince Sebastian.” Christian laughed self-deprecatingly. “We bonded over our unrequited crushes. His on Prince Sebastian and mine on you.” He gave Max a quick wink before turning his attention back to the room. “I visit him as often as I can in Boston, and we try to talk at least once a week, when possible. He’ll be here tonight, actually, along with his best friend from college and her husband.”

“He will?”

“Yep. Princess Katarina insisted. We stayed with Ryan while touring colleges in Boston, and she got to know all of them.”

“Ryan is almost a full-fledged doctor now, right?”

“He’s actually done already. Four years as an undergrad at Harvard, then four years of medical school. He finished up his residency a few weeks ago. Speaking of…” Christian elbowed Max in the side, ignoring the tingle where they touched, and nodded toward the entry. Christian made sure to be watching Prince Sebastian’s expression, when first the Surgeon General of the Island, Doctor Guttschein, was announced, then Ryan Klein was there with his friends Emma and Ian Robinson.

“Wow. He’s definitely grown up.” Max chuckled. “The prince obviously thinks so too.”

He couldn’t help but chuckle as he watched Sebastian’s jaw drop in astonishment. Ryan had changed a lot over the years, going from gangly and coltish to becoming a well-proportioned hunk. Yep. He’s just Sebastian’s type now. He followed Ryan and his friends with his gaze as they made their way through the greeting line, chuckling to himself as he noted Sebastian’s impatience as he waited for his turn to speak to Ryan.

Princess Katarina waved a hand in Christian and Max’s direction as she finished greeting them. Ryan’s face lit up as he saw them, and he hurried over to embrace Max after shooting Christian a grin.

“You are certainly a sight for sore eyes, Ryan.”

“Thanks, Max. It’s great to see you.”

“Gah.” Max slapped Ryan on the back then gave him an assessing look. “You are way too thin. We need to work on fattening you up a bit.”

“I was busy learning. Didn’t have much time for cooking. Let me introduce you to my friends from America. Emily and Ian, this is the chef you heard me going on about. Emily is also a doctor in the Island Doctor program and will be working with me here on Corazón. Ian is her husband and a very talented carpenter. Ian did his best to keep us fed, but sometimes it was a decision between sleep or eating,” Ryan finished with a shrug.

“It is an honor to meet you, sir.” Ian extended his hand for a shake. “This one”—with a thumb point back to Ryan—“talked about yours and his dad’s cooking all the time. Memories of food and the kitchen were like his happy place when he was particularly stressed.”

Ryan grinned widely at Ian’s comment but didn’t deny it. “The kitchen was my happy place. Max did a great job of making sure there was always something available for Christian, Prince Sebastian and me during those starving teenage years.”

“Yes, I couldn’t wait to meet you. I feel like I know you already.” Emily stepped up and hugged Max instead of shaking his hand.

Max looked shocked for a moment but gently hugged her back. “It is great to meet you as well.”

“Christian,” Emily gushed, “how are you? Ian has missed you.”

“I did.” Ian nodded. “It’s great when I have someone to talk to about something non-medical related or who isn’t zombie-level tired.”

“Yes, dear, I know we have treated you so badly.” Emily patted his cheek in a condescending but loving manner before turning back to Christian. “Anyway, all that’s behind us. Ryan and I start at the hospital in August. They are giving us a few weeks to settle in and reset.”

“I look forward to hanging out with all of you. You’re staying with Ryan in his cottage, right?”

“Just for a short time. Surprise! We bought the cottage on the other side of Ryan from you.”

“Really? The Svenson place? I heard Mrs. Svenson passed away a couple of months ago but didn’t even think about it.”

“Yep. We bought it. It needs a lot of updating, though.”

Christian cringed thinking about the last time he had seen inside the very dated house. “I remember the avocado appliances.”

“Yeah, but it’s all ours.”

“Can’t wait.”

“How’s the ankle? Glad to see you are out of the cast.”

“What happened to your ankle?”

Christian looked at Max in surprise when he heard the note of panic in his voice. “I broke it about eight weeks ago on my last mission. Just got out of the cast a few weeks ago, so it’s light duty for a few more weeks until I can finish the physical therapy. Should be good as new after that.” Christian held his foot out and rotated it in a circle to show it was fine.

“Why didn’t you let me know? I could have come to help—or at least sent food, wherever you were. I’m assuming you were here on the island for at least part of your recovery.”

“Why would I have called for help? It’s just an ankle. I’ve had worse.”

A look of shock crossed Max’s face. “When were you hurt worse?”

Christian gave another one-shouldered shrug. “It comes with the job, Max. You know that.”

They were interrupted by the arrival of Christian’s father before the discussion could go any further.

“Christian. Ryan.” No hug. No smile. Just their names and a head nod. “I heard you were back.”

“Yes, sir. On light duty for a few more weeks, but the powers-that-be thought it would be good for me to represent them at this shindig.” Christian waved a hand to encompass the ballroom and all the people as he finished speaking. If Christian had expected the great Juan Diaz, head of the royal guard, to be happy to see him—which he hadn’t—he would have been hurt by his father’s reaction.

“Huh. And here I thought you’d actually smartened up and were ready to come back full-time and accept your responsibilities here.”

“I am coming back to accept my responsibilities here. I’m a lieutenant in this country’s army and I am doing my duty as assigned.”

“Don’t take that tone with me, young man.”

“I’m not, sir.” Christian squared his shoulders and faced his father, looking him directly in the eye and lowering his voice so the other people around them wouldn’t hear. “I am living my life the way I want to—not your plan for my life…mine. Now, if you’ll excuse me. I have some appetizers to eat and friends to catch up with. I’ll let you get back to your duties.” Christian made sure to put as much emphasis on the word ‘duties’ as he could.

He had heard enough lectures growing up about the importance of performing his duties—how he had to be at his best at all times, how he had to be serious. There had been no time for play in the Diaz household.

Juan Diaz’ only reaction was a clenched jaw. Christian swore he could almost hear his father’s teeth creak from the pressure. Without another word, Juan turned on his heel and strode away.

Christian closed his eyes while pinching the bridge of his nose for a moment to get his emotions under control. He’d done it. He’d stood up to his father. Ryan wrapped his arm around Christian’s waist and gave him a side hug.

“Good job,” he whispered.

“Thanks,” he whispered back. “Why are we whispering?”

Ryan squeezed him again. “Because I know you don’t know how to take a compliment. Not sure if he actually heard you, but you said what you’ve been wanting to say, so that’s good.”

Christian wrapped his arm around Ryan’s waist and gave him a quick squeeze in return before raising his voice to normal levels. “Yeah. Well, let’s forget about it for now and focus on the wonderful food Max and his crew have made for the ball.” He turned toward the chef. “You have truly outdone yourself, Max.”

“You know I love to do stuff like this. It’s been a blast working with Katarina. I love the tradition where the royal gets to plan the Midsummer’s Ball as their first adult event-planning after they turn eighteen. I think everyone is really going to enjoy everything she has come up with for this event.”

“I don’t think that’s what my father said when he was working with Princess Zia when it was her turn,” Ryan said dryly.

“Well, Zia’s event was a bit different. She wanted to make hers an exclusive event only for certain people, and that was her choice of how to use her budget. Katarina has been more about including as many people as possible. It’s been great to see her operate. She is well-loved—and look at how great everything is.”

Everyone turned to inspect how the room was decorated for the event. Princess Katarina had gone with a fairy garden party theme. Flowers in a rainbow of colors were distributed throughout the room, with small, twisted grapevine sculptures of different fairies sitting on beds of petals serving as the centerpieces. Christian was especially impressed by the artistry of the Fairy King and Queen ice sculpture over by the drinks table. The whole effect was warm and yet classy. The doors were open to the outside, where the garden was decorated with lights, and more grapevine sculptures were hidden in the branches of the bushes and trees.

Christian chuckled. “As I told you, I can’t believe she’s eighteen already and doing stuff like this. It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was feeding her a bottle and changing her diaper.”

Ryan scoffed. “If memory serves me correctly, you avoided diaper issues at all costs.”

“Only because I had very important duties to handle with the prince.”

“Uh-huh. Like sneaking out to go for ice cream?”

“We only did that once!” Christian’s feigned outrage made Ryan laugh, which had been his intention.

Ryan reached out and cupped Christian’s neck. “I’m glad you’re here right now. I’ve missed you. Hopefully now that I’ve moved here permanently, we will be able to hang out more.”

“We will. I only have a few months left on this enlistment. I’m not sure if I’m going to re-sign or not. Don’t know what I would do next, but I think I’m ready for something new. Right now, I’ve actually been reassigned as the liaison to the castle for the foreseeable future.”

“Wait. You’re going to be around more?” Ryan sounded truly pleased with the idea.

“Yep. Anyway”—Christian rubbed his hands together while looking over the food on the tables—“I’m starving. I know the dinner isn’t for another hour, so let’s dig in. I have definitely missed Max’s cooking.”

Max grinned at all of them. “I look forward to having you all around, both old friends and new. I have missed the two of you. Now, I must get back to my kitchen. Who knows what crisis is lurking?” With a wave, Max turned and disappeared through the door leading into his domain.

Christian couldn’t help watching Max’s ass as he walked away, only to be interrupted by Ryan clapping him on the back. “You’ve still got it bad, man.”

“Like you can talk,” Ian said as he threw his arm over his wife’s shoulders. “Did you see him drooling over the prince?”

“I did. I also saw the prince doing his own drooling.”

“I can’t deny it. Prince Sebastian is still very fine.”

“Agreed,” Christian said. “Now to put operation Come to Daddy in action.”

“For the last time, we are not calling it that.”

Operation Nookie Time?”

“No.” Ryan gave Christian a shove. “Let’s just get some food, dork.”

Christian laughed as he grabbed a plate and started loading it up with a little bit of everything…except the fish. Christian hated fish in any form. Always had. Max had tried for years to find a fish dish he liked. As they were an island country, that made it difficult for him sometimes. Luckily, the island also had sheep, poultry, some beef and he was okay with different kinds of seafood, but not fish.

Christian and Ryan talked and joked with everyone in the group, in between speaking to all the people who came up to welcome them home. Ryan introduced Emily and Ian as they talked and everyone made sure they both were included in the conversations as much as possible. Ryan snagged the hand of a sneak thief trying to steal a shrimp from his plate.

“Sorry, Your Highness,” Ryan quickly released Sebastian’s wrist, when he realized who it was. “You do know there’s a ton of food right there, don’t you?” Ryan pointed at the still-full tables of appetizers.

“Yep, but stolen treats taste better. It’s been scientifically proven.”

“Has it now?” Ryan queried dryly. “And where can I find the results of this scientific study?”

“It’s well known. You can find it anywhere,” the prince responded.

“Uh-huh.”

“Whew,” Emily interrupted fanning herself with her hand. “Is it getting hot in here or is just me?”

Christian shook his head in mock disgust. “The two of them have always been that way. Although it’s nice to see that the prince finally bought a clue and understood what is right in front of him.”

The prince whipped his head around so he could stare at his long-time friend. “What?”

“What? Ryan is one of the few people who can challenge you intellectually and keep up with you physically as far as training. I am one of the others, but there has never been any chemistry between the two of us. The two of you, on the other hand? You start talking and it’s like the rest of the world ceases to exist.”

“Really?” Ryan said. “That’s interesting to hear. I always thought my crush on the prince was hopeless. In fact, I believe the prince even told me he didn’t see me as anything but a friend.”

Christian pretended to lower his voice and spoke in a stage whisper. “Plot twist, spoiler alert. He lied.” Christian switched his voice to normal. “Especially now that Ryan has grown into”—Christian paused to wave a hand in Ryan’s direction, indicating his body from top to bottom—“all this. Ryan is everything Sebastian ever said he wanted.” Christian watched with amusement as the prince squirmed.

“Not to change the subject or anything, but what are you doing here? You didn’t tell me you were coming to the ball.” Prince Sebastian stepped forward and pulled Christian into a quick guy-clench.

His friend’s laughter and joking eased something inside Christian. Man, it’s good to be home.

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About the Author

Ann Marie James

Ann Marie James is fluent in two languages, English and sarcasm. She believes that you will never learn anything new if you don’t read as much as you can, and/or talk to every stranger you meet. She always looks for the best in people and to treat people the way she wants to be treated. Above all Ann Marie believes in love, whatever form it takes. Relationships are hard, love is the glue that keeps it together.

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Book Blitz & Excerpt: Supernova + Giveaway

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Supernova, by Desiree Holt

Book 3 in the Galaxy series

Word Count: 73,058
Book Length: SUPER NOVEL
Pages: 270

Genres:

CONTEMPORARY
EROTIC ROMANCE
MEN IN UNIFORM
THRILLERS AND SUSPENSE

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Book Description

He couldn’t forget her.

In a supernova, a star implodes when it exceeds its magnificence. That’s Mallory Kane’s situation right now, and only Galaxy can get her to safety.

She has haunted John ‘Rocket’ Hardin’s dreams ever since their hot celebration of her rescue five years ago. Now her sister, Senator Alicia Kane, books a flight to nowhere on Galaxy’s plane because Mallory is again caught in a hot spot and needs help.

Trapped in the clutches of the Santa Marita cartel, she has no way off the island except for Rocket and Galaxy. The mission turns out to be more complicated than the last one. The vicious leader General Felix Barrera is determined to find Mallory and kill her, meaning Galaxy will need a lot of ingenuity to get her out of there.

The moment Rocket and Mallory reconnect, the passion between them is stronger than they expected. Now Galaxy has to sneak her off the island, which includes a four-hour trek through a jungle and barely escaping death at the top of a very steep cliff.

If she and Rocket can survive all that, how can they not give in to the passion that flares hotter than ever?

Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of violence, death and murder. There are mention of drug trafficking, and of women being drugged and raped.

Excerpt

Fuck, it was hot.

John ‘Rocket’ Hardin thought that in the mountains it should at least be cooler, especially out of the sun in this little cave. But no, the heat invaded the space and made it into a warm, wet towel. He was sweaty and streaked with dirt that had blown against him as they’d climbed the rocky trails. He used the tail of his shirt to wipe as much off his face as he could, but only a shower was going to attack this mess.

He’d been fucking pissed off when his SEAL team had been told they were being sent to rescue a writer from the Taliban. Ten years in the service and he had to waste his time because some wacky writer thought it would be great to hang out with terrorists and interview them. And, oh, yeah, write books. Stupid idiot.

But they’d executed the extraction just as night had begun to fall, hoping to take advantage of the cover of darkness. But it hadn’t been cloudy or overcast, damn it, the stars bright in the sky and the moon like a big spotlight. The team had done its best to stay concealed, but without help from nature, someone had discovered their captive was gone before the SEALs were fully away. Rocket had broken off with Mallory, radioed Command to let them know and taken off with her in the mountains so their enemies wouldn’t find her. She hadn’t complained, just followed him, despite what she’d been through already and the harshness of the landscape.

Getting them out of that terrorist camp hadn’t been a picnic, for sure, but his team was experienced and it had almost gone off without a hitch. But then things had gotten very hairy. His stated job was to get Mallory to safety above all else. He hated splitting from the rest of his team, but he had his marching orders. Their job was containment so he and Mallory could get the fuck out of there. The orders had come straight from their commanding officer.

She was a trooper, he’d give her that, moving at his direction until they were far enough away from the camp and could find a place to hide. Using his satellite radio, he’d informed Command where they were and had been told to wait for extraction. Once the chopper arrived and landed on the plateau near their cave, they’d be out of there. And he’d probably never see her again.

Damn!

He glanced over at her and saw she was in almost the same condition he was. Her hair was wild, and she’d managed to push it behind her ears. But her skin looked like his, sweaty and streaked with dirt, not to mention the bruises on her wrists from the rope that had tied them.

He’d been shocked at his reaction when he’d first seen her in the hut where she was being held. In jeans and a T-shirt, hair wild and mussed, hands tied behind her back and smears of dirt on her cheeks and arms, she was still the sexiest woman he recalled ever laying eyes on.

But danger, it seemed, was an aphrodisiac, ramping up everything in his system well past the boiling point. This place was certainly as uninviting as any he’d ever been in, as far as sex was concerned. Despite that, he was so horny his dick hurt and his brain was filling with very un-SEAL-like thoughts. Mallory Kane was every man’s wet dream, with her lush, toned body, her curly auburn hair and green eyes that blazed like emeralds.

Maybe it was the aftereffect of all that tension. Maybe it was a need to reaffirm life after escaping from a lethal situation. Or maybe he felt that she needed something to erase the after-effects of her captivity.

Whatever it was, he wanted her more than he wanted to breathe. And wasn’t that just a damn shock for someone with his discipline? This was no place for sex to intrude. Life was not fucking fair. At all. But maybe after…

Business first, asshole.

Now they sat side by side, leaning against the wall of the cave, Mallory pulling herself together.

“Thank you,” she told him when her breathing finally evened out.

Her voice was soft and rich, almost musical, even with the stress she was going through. He thought he could listen to it every day. The only problem was it went straight to his dick, which was doing its best to break the zipper of his camos.

“You’re welcome.” He slid a glance at her and grinned. “All in a day’s work.”

“Those must be some days, then.”

“It’s part of our motto,” he said. “The only easy day was yesterday.”

She snorted. “If this is an example, then you guys deserve a ton of awards for what you do. I didn’t think I would leave there with my head still attached.”

“You should try and get a little rest,” he told her. “It will be a while until the helo gets here. I radioed that we were secure here.”

“Rest?” Her laugh had a tinge of hysteria. “I almost rested permanently. I am just so grateful that you came to rescue me. I know those people were going to kill me. And soon.”

Rocket studied her for a moment. “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure.” She shrugged. “You saved my life, so I guess you can ask me anything.”

“So, just out of curiosity, you had to have known how dangerous this whole thing was. I mean, you might as well have committed suicide. What made you set this up to begin with?”

When she didn’t answer at once, he glanced over at her. She was frowning.

“Is that question a problem?” Rocket pushed.

“No. Not a problem. I just…” She swallowed. “I guess I was just focused on getting the story and writing the book. The last one I did was very successful and I have a great contract for this one.”

“But that’s not all of it, is it?” he asked.

“The main part.”

He waited, but when she didn’t say any more, his curiosity got the better of him.

“Is it so exciting that you’re willing to risk your life for it?” When she didn’t answer, he turned sightly and reached over to cup her chin. “Mallory?”

She sighed. “It’s a long story that you wouldn’t be interested in. But it’s a way to prove myself and I really don’t want to discuss it now. Okay? Please?”

“Sure.” He could understand that, it that didn’t kill his curiosity by a long shot.

“But…” She nibbled her lower lip. “I do want you to know I realize that I owe you my life.”

She raised her eyes to his, a whirlpool of emotions swirling there. Okay. There was more than just following a story here and writing a book. But how did he find out what it was? She was the first woman to pierce the emotional shell he kept himself locked in and he wanted to know more about her. No, he wanted to know all about her.

“And this may be inappropriate, but I’m doing it anyway, because I really want to thank you for what you did.” She knelt beside him, cradled his face in her hands and pressed her mouth to his.

Holy shit! His dick tried again to escape the pressure of his fly and he was sure his temperature went up. It shocked him, because he’d sure had enough sex in his life to be able to control his reactions when he needed to.

He was not prepared for this. He was supposed to be rescuing and protecting her, not thinking about sex. He thrust his fingers into her disheveled hair to hold her head in place, pressed his lips against hers and, when they parted slightly, thrust his tongue inside. She tasted like ten kinds of sin. When he licked the inner surfaces of her mouth, she brushed her tongue against his and before he realized what he was doing, he slipped his hands around to the front and cupped her breasts, gently squeezing them. He felt a tear in the fabric of one cup and anger gripped him. Did the barbaric terrorists molest her?

“It’s okay,” she whispered against his lips, as if she knew what he was thinking. “They didn’t rape me. I swear. Just tried to demoralize me. Break my spirit. But it didn’t work.”

“Good. I can see that.”

“But I need to get it all out of my mind. You can see that, right?”

Oh, yeah. And it might be against the rules, but he was all on board with this. “I just don’t want you to think I expect—”

She moved until she was straddling him, her hot center pressing hard against his aching dick. “I don’t just want this. I need this, to celebrate the fact I’m still alive.”

At some point he’d get the details of what happened out of her, but not now. Right now, he could tell what she wanted was to wipe the worst of it out of her mind, and he was glad to help her. They had another hour at least before the helicopter coming to extract them would be here and he intended to make good use of every single minute. He had never done anything like this before. Business was always…all business. But there was such electricity between them. And they’d just come through a harrowing situation and needed reaffirmation of life.

“If you’re sure, then, damn it, yes. I want this, too.”

He took her mouth in another kiss, moving his hands to lightly pinch her nipples. She moaned, sliding her hands beneath his shirt and dragging her fingernails across his back. Heat filled his body. Jesus! Although he sure never had trouble responding to a woman, he didn’t ever remember reacting this way before. Or this fast.

Rocket eased her T-shirt up so he could touch the smooth skin of her abdomen. Before he could even think about it, he had unfastened her bra and pushed it up so he could palm her bare breasts. Rubbing his thumbs over the taut nipples made them bead beneath his touch. The temptation was too much for him, so he pushed her top even higher, bent his head just enough and took one of those nipples into his mouth. When he sucked it hard, she moaned and leaned into him.

He didn’t know if she’d object or smack him, but he yanked off the shirt and the bra and tossed them to the side. Then he went after her breasts with a vengeance, licking and sucking and squeezing. Mallory threw her head back, more little moans drifting from her mouth, the sound of them heating him up even more. He didn’t even stop to think about what he was doing, or the trouble he could get into because of it. He knew he wanted this woman and that hunger was driving him forward.

Mallory arched up to him, her nails scraping his back, the sensation shooting straight to his cock and his balls. He was afraid he’d come just from sucking her breasts and miss the best part of the fun. He lifted his mouth and slid it to the hollow of her throat, where he swirled the tip of his tongue before dusting kisses along her neck.

Realizing at last that they were in a somewhat uncomfortable position, he lifted Mallory and moved her body so she was straddling him. She sat pressing against him so his cock was nestled right at the vee of her thighs, at the heat of her sex. He was sure she could feel how hard and thick his dick had become. He had to restrain himself from ripping her clothes off and plunging into her fast and quick. But that wasn’t him. It was bad enough that he was probably breaking a million rules. He needed to treat her with respect. She was a strong woman who had survived an ordeal that would have destroyed a lot of people. He might never see her again—although he pushed that aside—but he wasn’t going to go at her like a rutting pig, either, despite how he’d started out. And he wanted to make sure she knew that.

He lifted his head, cradled her face in his palms and looked directly into her eyes.

“Before we go any further, I don’t want you to feel you have to do this,” he told her. “You’ve been through an ordeal and I want to respect that. The fact that I want you, bad, shouldn’t come into consideration.”

She smiled and raked her fingers through her hair, and her disheveled look only made her appear sweeter and sexier.

“I don’t do anything I don’t want to,” she told him, her breathing accelerated. “And I want this, too.” Her lips curved in a very sexy smile. “What better way to celebrate the fact that I’m alive and not with my head rolling on the floor in some barbarian’s camp? And who better to celebrate with than the man who rescued me?” She gave him a tiny smile. “I do want this, Rocket. And it’s not an obligation for saving me. Okay?”

She grabbed his head and pressed her lips to his, sliding her tongue into his mouth.

Holy shit! Even her kisses were off the charts.

“Okay. Good to know.” He cupped her chin. “We’ve got most of an hour before the helo gets here. I think I know a good way to pass the time, right?”

“Yes.” She wriggled against his cock. “I want this. With you.”

He locked his gaze with hers for a long moment, but he felt a little better about this now. “Good. I want this, too.”

The time for talking was over. Rocket set Mallory aside so he could strip off his fatigues and lay them on the floor to give her as much protection from the dirt as possible. He thought about leaving his boxer briefs on, then figured, what for?

When he turned around, Mallory had kicked off her shoes and stripped off her jeans. She looked at him as she eased her bikini panties down her legs, giving a sexy wiggle. Was it possible for him to get any harder? If he did, his dick might just break off. But he couldn’t tear his eyes away from her toned legs, her nicely rounded butt and the trimmed patch of auburn hair that covered her sex. His mouth watered as he imagined her sweet taste.

They were lying on the floor, naked bodies pressed together, the heat of her sex scorching him, when his brain kicked into gear.

Shit!

“Mallory?”

“I thought we were done talking.” She wriggled beneath him.

“Yeah, well, I have to tell you this.”

She frowned up at him. “A confession? Now?”

“Uh-huh. I, uh, don’t have any condoms with me.”

She burst out laughing. “I already figured that. You’re on a mission, not a night out. No sweat. I’m on birth control.”

“And I’m clean,” he assured her. “I get tested regularly.”

He didn’t want to tell her it was a leftover from his days as an extreme horndog. He waited for her to say something, but instead she pulled his head down to hers and licked his lips. Her tongue was like a hot flame, scorching him clear to his balls. He held her head in place as he licked every inch of her mouth before trailing his tongue along her chin and down her neck. He pressed the tip of his tongue against the hollow of her throat, feeling the strong beat of her pulse, before moving down the smooth skin between her breasts. He loved the feel of them against his hands as he palmed them and rolled the nipples between thumb and forefinger.

Mallory moaned, a soft, sensuous sound as he trailed his mouth down over the slight curve of her stomach until he reached that gorgeous thatch of auburn hair. He slid his arms beneath her thighs so he could place them over his shoulders and used his thumbs to separate the plump lips of her sex. The pink bud of her clit peeped out at him and he couldn’t resist stroking it with his tongue.

Mallory shivered and lifted her hips, raising herself closer to his mouth. Shit, she tasted like the sweetest sin, a flavor that he had a feeling he could become totally addicted to. He traced the delicate skin on either side of her clit with slow licks, stopping to nibble that little bud every few seconds. Each time he did, she made such a delicious sound that his hunger spiked even more, and she tried to lift herself to his mouth. The painful ache in his dick and his balls told him he was closer than he would have liked. He wanted to make sure she got her orgasm before he lost all control.

Nudging her thighs farther apart, he slid two fingers into her soaked channel, humming his satisfaction as her inner walls tightened around them. Her eyes were closed and her face flushed with pleasure, obvious even in the dim light of the cave. The little sounds she made aroused him even more. When he added a third finger, she planted her feet on either side of him and pushed herself into his touch.

“Don’t stop,” she begged.

He gave a low, throaty chuckle. “Don’t worry. I have no intention of stopping.”

As he increased the pressure, he curled his fingers slightly so that with each glide, he scraped lightly against her sweet spot. She pushed against his hand harder and harder, riding it, her little moans making him impossibly more aroused.

Her orgasm rolled through her, tightening her body, her inner walls fucking his fingers. He thrust again, pinched her clit…and she came, making those delicious tiny sounds as her liquid coated his hand.

At last the shivers subsided, the groans of pleasure became softer and her body relaxed slightly. But he was almost at the breaking point, drinking in the sight of Mallory lying naked and flushed on the floor. He was so aroused by this time that he had to grit his teeth and reach for control.

Then he was on his knees between her thighs, lifting her legs to rest on his shoulders so her hips were raised. She was open to him and he could not wait another minute. With his fingers wrapped around his throbbing dick, he positioned the head at the opening of her sex, drew in a breath and thrust forward. Her hot, wet flesh gripped him like a vise, the electricity of it shooting straight to his balls.

Oh, sweet Jesus!

He didn’t remember the last time he’d fucked where his cock was bare. The sweet feel of her skin and her liquid sent him into overdrive. He closed his eyes for a moment to gather himself. Then, with his palms beneath the cheeks of her incredible ass, he began the familiar rhythm. It didn’t matter that they were in this cave, his clothes spread out as a shield on the dirt floor, or that the light was so dim he couldn’t see every inch of her the way he wanted to. All that mattered was that this delicious, hot woman was here and he was having the best sex of his life with her.

She grabbed his forearms, digging in her nails as she moved with him. They fell into a rhythm as if they’d been doing this forever, as if their bodies were used to it. Every one of his nerves was on fire. In, out, back, forth…he wanted to make it good for her, but his control was snapping.

“I can’t last much longer,” he gasped, “although I’m trying, babe. I really am.”

“I’m almost—almost—yes!”

He felt the surge of her second orgasm and the clenching of her walls just as he exploded. Their bodies throbbed together, spasming, her tight sex pulsing around his shaft. On and on it went, beyond anything he expected, until finally the last tremor faded. He managed to lower her legs to the ground and fell forward, catching himself on his elbows. He studied her face, seeing the satisfied glow and the look in her eyes. His heart was still beating erratically and hers matched the rhythm.

For a long time, they just lay there like that, staring at each other as if exchanging silent conversation. Then he lowered his mouth to hers and indulged in a deep, deep kiss. And when the last of the tension finally left both their bodies, he eased his cock from her grasp and sat back on his heels. Fishing in the pocket of his pants, he pulled out the bandana he used to wipe sweat from his face and cleaned both of them.

“We’ll both need a good shower after this.” He chuckled, but then his face sobered. “Mallory, I—”

She reached up a hand to touch his lips with her fingers. “Don’t. Do not say a word. Don’t ruin it. Please.”

“But I should—”

“No.” She shook her head. “It was special and let’s keep it that way.”

Rocket had no idea where the conversation would have gone from there, but at that moment his radio squawked. “Rocketman here.”

“Helo is four clicks away,” came the voice from the command center. “Get ready. How copy?”

“Good copy.” He clicked off and looked at Mallory. “Time to get ready.”

They dressed in silence, brushing off as much dirt from their bodies and their clothes as they could. Before they left the cave, he pulled her into his arms for one last kiss, as tender as it was erotic.

“Just so you know,” he told her when he lifted his mouth from hers, “I’m never going to forget this, Mallory.”

“Me neither, Rocket.” She brushed her lips against his. “By the way, where did your call sign come from?”

He grinned. “We’ll save that for another time. Because I’m sure, no matter how long it takes, there will be one.”

“I’ll hold you to it.”

“And now we’d better get out there so the helo can see us.”

He checked the immediate area outside the cave before motioning her forward. Just as she stepped outside, Rocket heard the sound of the rotors and the helo lowered to the plateau just outside the cave. Rocket grabbed Mallory’s hand and they ran for the door one of the men inside was just sliding open. Rocket boosted her inside before grabbing for the hands that hauled him up.

Then they were airborne.

As the chopper cut through the night, Rocket quietly studied Mallory. Was she glowing or was that his imagination? Could the others in the helo look at her—or him—and guess what had taken place? As he studied her, as casually as possible, she glanced over at him and their gazes locked. For one moment, heat flashed, then she looked away. He’d broken protocol with her, but he couldn’t find it in himself to regret it. What the hell, anyway. He’d never see her again, and that actually saddened him.

When they finally reached the field camp and Mallory was helped down out of the helo, two men came running forward to hurry her off. Rocket watched, and at the last minute before being hustled into a car, she turned and waved.

Then she was gone, and for a long moment, Rocket wondered if the whole thing had even happened at all.

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About the Author

Desiree Holt

A multi-published, award winning, Amazon and USA Today best-selling author, Desiree Holt has produced more than 200 titles and won many awards. She has received an EPIC E-Book Award, the Holt Medallion and many others including Author After Dark’s Author of the Year. She has been featured on CBS Sunday Morning and in The Village Voice, The Daily Beast, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The London Daily Mail. She lives in Florida with her cats who insist they help her write her books, and is addicted to football.

You can follow Desiree on Facebook and Twitter and check out her Blog.

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