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The Predator: Chapter 9


Indecision was weighing her down, where her own emotions were concerned.

Her father hadn’t called again.

Not once.

Morana didn’t know why that worried her, but for some reason, she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was going to happen. Something she was not going to like by any means. She wouldn’t anyway, not if her father was perpetrating it.

Taking a deep breath, and shaking off those thoughts for later, she opened the door of the guest bedroom and walked out into the penthouse.

After the previous night, had she been any regular girl in any other world, she wouldn’t have known what to expect. But her normal wasn’t regular, which was exactly the reason she knew what to expect.

She walked out of the guest bedroom, knowing she was alone in the penthouse. He’d left as soon as dawn had struck, and so had she, retreating into the guestroom for the remainder of the night, a few hours ago.

They hadn’t spoken a word after that initial conversation, but she knew, as she walked towards the kitchen, that whatever silent truce had existed with those fragile raindrops had disappeared along with the rain. The sun shone brightly in the sky, the light cutting through the glass wall and lighting up the entire room, every dark inch of space touched with fire, the conditioned air keeping away the heat. The view, that gorgeous view, lay bare before her eyes, the sunlight glinting off the water at one end and climbing over the buildings at the other.

Hopping up on the stool she’d been sitting on the previous evening, she thought of preparing some coffee for herself then thought better of it. The truce was over. She’d already been drugged once. She wasn’t a fool enough to be again.

The sound of the elevator opening made her turn quickly, her hand resting on her handbag, where her gun resided. Her grip on the bag eased slightly when she saw Amara walking towards her, her tall, curvy body encased in tan slacks, a red top, and green silk scarf, her dark, wild curls falling around her beautiful face, a small smile on her lips.

‘Good morning, Morana,’ the woman nodded, her forest-green eyes bright.

Morana relaxed slightly and nodded back. ‘Amara.’

Amara smiled and pulled open the fridge. The familiar manner with which she moved around the space as she got glasses from cabinets irked Morana for some reason. She grit her teeth and turned away, looking out at the view.

‘Would you like some juice?’

Morana turned back to see her holding up some orange juice in her hand, her head tilted in a query. She hesitated and Amara smiled. ‘It’s not drugged, don’t worry.’

Mentally shaking her head at herself, Morana nodded.

‘I cannot blame you for worrying, though. Not after what happened at the club,’ Amara kept on speaking, pouring out the cool liquid in two tall glasses, her voice that same soft timbre it had been, making Morana’s heart clench, her mind racing with questions about this woman who’d shown her only kindness. What was it like for her, knowing she could never speak above a whisper? Did it hurt if she spoke louder? Did she carry physical scars too? How badly had she been tortured?

Morana blinked the questions away, more pressing ones rising in her mind.

‘Did you get back to the club safely that night?’ she asked as the other woman sat across from her, her elbows on the table.

‘Yes,’ Amara replied in her soft rasp. ‘Tristan was there. I was safe.’

Coming from a woman who’d been tortured as a girl, that one statement told Morana a lot. She filed it away for later and continued with the questions.

‘Do you know who got in the SUV after you and Mr. Caine made it to the club?’

Amara frowned slightly, her lips pursing. ‘No. Did something happen?’

Morana sighed, shaking her head. There was no point in telling her the story if he hadn’t. Had he told Dante? Or had he omitted information again?

‘Although,’ the woman mused, her dark eyes blinking in memory, ‘now that I think of it, Tristan did hurry back out when he saw the SUV going again.’

Morana watched Amara take a sip from her glass, and satisfied that it was fine, she took a sip from hers. The sweet, cool drink washed down her throat, tingling her senses as she sat straighter, her eyes on the other woman.

‘You’re incredibly brave, you know,’ Amara spoke in that hushed voice of hers, a smile on her lips.

Morana blinked in surprise, before feeling herself flush slightly. ‘Um, thank you, I guess.’

The other woman chuckled at her awkward response, completely relaxed in the space. ‘Tristan is an intimidating man, all on his own. And he goes out of his way to intimidate you more. The fact that you spent the night alone at his house tells me a lot about you. Although being the only child of a man as reputed as your father… I don’t know why I’m surprised. You’re strong. I admire that.’

Flushing harder, even as she tried to keep it under wraps, Morana cleared her throat. She’d never received any kind of compliment on anything besides her intelligence. And getting one now, about something so rooted in who she was, was unsettling, to say the least.

Ready to change the topic, she took a deep breath and –

‘Do you live here?’

– wanted to disappear into thin air.

Amara choked a little on her juice, her eyes widening before she burst out laughing, the sound soft but genuine. ‘With Tristan? Good lord, no!”

It bothered Morana that she relaxed at that.

Amara continued chuckling. “That man is territorial about his space. Very territorial. I once entered his room without knocking, he almost glared the life out of me!’

Everything inside Morana stilled with the information.

She had entered his room without permission yesterday. She had stood, right on the edge of his space, and he’d seen her. Except he hadn’t glared. He’d been affected.

Words, his words, from weeks ago filled her mind.

 ‘I have territory that is mine. Don’t ever invade it.


Had those just been words in an attempt to assert his control as she’d thought, or something more?

Amara’s voice broke her out of her thoughts.

‘Tristan doesn’t allow people into his space. Everyone who knows him knows that.’

Morana blinked, still reeling from questions about the incredibly baffling man. ‘Then why did he let me, of all people, stay here?’ Why had he insisted that she stay? Why had he growled like that when Dante had been ready to offer her his apartment?

Amara’s eyes sharpened slightly, a smile on her lips. ‘It’s curious, isn’t it?’

Morana stayed silent. Amara shook her head. ‘So, to answer your question, no, I don’t live here. But I live nearby.’

Her curiosity piqued. ‘You don’t live in Tenebrae?’

Morana saw Amara’s eyes shadow as she looked away, out at the view. An air of pensiveness hung around her shoulders as she sighed, the sigh wrenched from deep in her soul.

‘I can visit my family there, but I haven’t been allowed to stay.’

Interesting choice of words.

‘Why?’ Morana asked before she could stop herself.

Amara looked at Morana, her dark eyes pained, carrying dark burdens even as her lips smiled wryly. ‘Some things are better left unanswered, Morana. My home is there. My mother still serves the Maroni household. My roots, everything I am, everyone that I love – it’s all there. But I’m cursed not to stay.’

Morana blinked, feeling her heart ache for the woman. Amara had a home, a loving place where she could never live. Morana lived in one place but didn’t have a home. And in that moment, she felt the woman’s pain.

Before she knew it, her hand was crossing the space between them, taking hold of Amara’s and squeezing softly. ‘I’m sorry.’

Morana saw the surprise in the other woman’s eyes at the gesture, even as she squeezed her hand back, her expression soft, grateful.

She shrugged. ‘I just miss home sometimes. That’s why I get so happy when Tristan or Dante visit.’

‘You must have friends here,’ Morana mused.

‘Not really,’ Amara looked down. ‘I’m here for work, mainly. Plus, it’s not my city. I have limitations.’

Morana wanted to tell her to give her a call sometime. She wanted to tell her she didn’t have any friends either. She wanted to tell her she would love to be friends with her own brave self.

But she couldn’t.

She had the words, on the tip of her tongue, ready to tumble out. She had that need, so, so deep inside her, to know someone, to have a friend, to share her life and stories with a person. But actions like that could have consequences, not only for her but for Amara too. She had been banished by her own city and sent here. Morana couldn’t get her thrown out, or killed.

She bit her lip and pulled back her hand, clearing her throat, looking out from the glass wall inside her, reaching but unable to touch.

The sound of the elevator opening saved her from any awkward silence.

Morana turned again to see the newcomers, her eyes falling on Dante and Tristan Caine walking in, both tall, broad, incredibly handsome men. She saw Dante falter for a second as his eyes fell on Amara, but he continued approaching them, dressed in another sharp suit. The man beside him, on the other hand, strode in gracefully, drawing Morana’s eyes. Again.

She could feel her stomach knot as her eyes locked with his, those sharp blue eyes looking magnificent in the sunlight, his tight, muscled body in a simple t-shirt and cargo pants, telling her wherever they had been, it had been informal enough for him to go casually.

‘I see you’ve made yourself comfortable in my kitchen, Amara,’ he spoke, in that whiskeyed voice of his, to the woman behind her even as his eyes stayed on hers.

‘Just in your kitchen,’ Amara responded, her voice soft but perky.

Dante walked to the glass walls, his hands in his pockets, and looked out at the view, completely ignoring everyone in the room. Morana observed the other man, sensing the tension between him and Amara. She’d sensed it before as well.

Curious, she looked back at Tristan Caine, only to find him rifling through his cabinets, his eyes coming to hers just as hers went to him.

He looked at her.

Her heart stuttered.

He looked away.

Her heart started.

Closing her eyes at her own stupid reactions, Morana cleared her throat, turning towards Dante, where he stood against the wall.

‘Did you find anything at the warehouses?’

Dante didn’t turn but spoke loudly. ‘Not at the one here. But there were certain… oddities at the ones in Tenebrae.’

‘Oddities?’ Morana leaned forward, interested.

‘That warehouse had been owned by one of our local competitors a long time ago,’ Dante informed her, his profile in the sun sharp. ‘Except for the equipment my men found belonged to another gang. We can’t figure out who’d used it yet.’

Morana narrowed her eyes, the wheels in her mind churning. ‘What would it mean for Mr. Caine if the codes were to be used and he was to be framed?’

Dante turned around, his eyes hard on hers. ‘It would mean his death, Morana.’

So she could rule out Tristan Caine playing a mastermind game and framing himself. Unless the man was on a suicide mission.

‘You’ll know of any developments the moment they occur,’ Dante promised her, and Morana nodded, refusing to turn towards the other man.

Amara cleared her throat. ‘I’d actually just come to give these to you, Morana.’

Morana looked at the counter, to find her car keys resting there. Her car, her baby, was fixed. Her eyes flew up to lock with Tristan Caine’s. He wasn’t looking at her.

Morana nodded, her heart accelerating, and jumped down from the high stool, hitching her handbag over her shoulder and grabbing her keys.

‘I should leave now,’ she muttered, looking around once.

Dante gave her a polite nod, to which she nodded back, knowing they’d be in touch.

Amara smiled at her. ‘I hope we meet again, Morana.’

Morana swallowed. ‘Me too.’

And then she turned around, without a word to the owner of the penthouse, without a look in his direction, without an expression of the gratefulness she was feeling. She walked towards the elevator, with quick, sure steps, her eyes going to the view outside one last time, memorizing it, etching itself into her memory like the previous night had been etched on her soul.

No one spoke a word behind her. The tension caressed her back as she entered the elevator, her heart pounding, her palms sweating.

Taking a deep breath, she turned to press the button, and found her eyes locking, for one last time, with magnificent blue ones, where he stood in the kitchen, watching her.

Morana pressed the button, their gazes locked.

And the doors closed.



Something was wrong.

The moment she breezed through the mansion doors, the deep, deep sense of foreboding settled into her stomach.

She shouldn’t have returned. She should have taken her fixed, amazing car and hightailed it to someplace other than this mansion. But she hadn’t. Because Morana Vitalio was many things but she wasn’t a coward. And if she was going to die, she was going to die knowing that.

Gritting her teeth, she parked the car in the spot and got out, her eyes roving over the new wheels. How had Tristan Caine gotten it repaired overnight, on a stormy night? Were his connections that good?

Shaking her head, and shoving that baffling man out of her thoughts, Morana took in the beautiful, sunlit lawns, the gorgeous driveway and the stunning mansion.

And felt nothing but more foreboding.

She was going to leave. The moment the codes were found, she promised herself, she was going to run away and disappear, change her identity, make a life for herself, just like she wanted. She was going to go someplace far, far away and make friends without hesitation, meet men and have fun, and live without death dangling every day over her head.

The moment the codes were destroyed, she was leaving everything behind.

Feeling the strength seep into her with that decision, Morana started towards her wing, intending to head straight to her room, the eyes of her father’s men following her, when she saw the man in question sitting outside in the gazebo, with two other old, gruff men, discussing business.

He saw her enter and motioned for her to come to him with his fingers, a gesture that irritated her to no extent. Morana would have loved to show him her own finger and stride up to her suite, but he was with other people, and she knew defiance like that, especially after last night, might push him too far.

So, gritting her teeth again in a handful of minutes, Morana walked over to where he sat, the large canopy of leaves overhead providing shade for everyone seated.

Her father looked up at her, his eyes completely neutral, not a flicker in them. ‘We are dining out tonight at Crimson. Dress accordingly.’

Morana nodded and waited for him to say anything more. He raised his eyebrows and dismissed her with another flick of his fingers.

Hands clenched in fists, she turned away and walked up to her suite, locking the door firmly behind her.

Then, she sat down on her bed.

And thought.

This was off. She’d expected him to be angry or even taunting. She’d expected him to be indifferent like he had always been. But this… it almost seemed manipulative. His calm, after she’d spent the night out, was troublesome. It wasn’t a good calm. And for some reason, her stomach was in knots, and not of the good kind. Not the knots she liked.


‘Your independence is an illusion I’ve let you sustain.’


Taking a deep breath, Morana stood up and headed towards the bathroom, the knots only getting worse with each step.




Her lips were crimson. The blood rushing inside her body was crimson. The blood she wanted to see come out of the other man’s nose would be crimson.

Clenching her jaw, Morana sat in the restaurant, on the table in the corner that was always reserved for her father, dressed appropriately in a black sleeveless, backless dress that flared out in a skirt from her waist. The only notable thing about it was the simple split on the side. Four other men sat around the table, excluding her father.

Her father had not spoken a word to her throughout the day, and while it wasn’t out of the ordinary, it was out of the ordinary after the stunt she’d pulled. It hadn’t been an ordinary day. Usually, she drove her own car to the dinners she attended. Tonight, her father had simply told her to get inside his town car. She’d almost protested when he’d given her a silencing look.

‘It is important we arrive together,’ he’d told her.

Morana had bitten her tongue and gotten in the car.

And now she sat, realizing why her father had wanted them to arrive together. It wasn’t just dinner. It was a humiliating dinner.

One of the men, a handsome man in his early thirties, sat beside Morana, trying for the third time to get his hand under the split in her dress. The first time she’d thought it had been an accidental brush. The second time she’d brushed his hand aside with a stern look in his direction. This time, though, her temper spiked.

She took a hold of his hand in her grip and bent his fingers backward.

‘Touch me again, and I will break your fingers.’

Silence fell upon the table at her words. Her father glanced at her, raising an eyebrow. She waited for him to reprimand her or the man. He just turned away, engaging the others back into the conversation, like a guy ten years her senior hadn’t tried to molest her under the table.

Morana threw the man’s hand away from herself in disgust. She leaned back in her chair, taking a deep, controlled breath, anger invading her bones.

‘The Outfit is here.’

The words of one of the middle-aged men at the table broke through her crimson haze.

Her father nodded. ‘I know. Security is in place.’

On cue, for the first time, Morana looked around the restaurant to realize her father was right. The place, the entire place, was crawling with security. Both theirs and the Outfit’s. Men in plainclothes sat alert at tables, weapons concealed but obvious against their clothes, the threat of an outburst hanging violently in the air. Civilians, seemingly aware of whatever was going down, were tensed and finishing their meals as quickly as they could. The staff walked around on eggshells and nervousness dripped from every tray.

Morana let her eyes wander and take in everything, trying to locate the table of the Outfit, but unable to see the two men she recognized anywhere in the restaurant.

But her nape prickled.

She could feel eyes on her.

His eyes.

Hungry eyes.

Her breath hitched. She didn’t know how she knew it was him. She didn’t want to think about how she knew it was him. But she knew. It was the same gaze she’d seen in his territory. The same gaze she could feel in hers.

Picking up her glass of wine, she let her eyes roam covertly over the space again, trying to pin where he sat. She couldn’t, which only meant their table was behind her.

She didn’t turn. Turning would mean acknowledging not just him, but the Outfit, and with her father behaving the way he was, she stayed in position.

But she felt those eyes caress every inch of her exposed back, felt her nape prickle in awareness as her body buzzed with sensation, imagining him, sitting somewhere, devouring her with those blue, blue eyes. He would be in a suit, like the ones she’d seen him in. A suit that would hide his scars and tattoos, and highlight his muscles. Morana swallowed, keeping her eyes down, her entire body rushing with heat just thinking about him.

She shouldn’t be thinking about him.

But god help her, she couldn’t stop.

Closing her eyes, inhaling softly, she quickly brought her phone on her lap and opened a window, typing a message, her hand hovering on the ‘send’ button.

He could see her. He was seeing her. And she was at a disadvantage. Nodding, on the tail of that thought, she hit ‘send’.

Her heart started to pound, indecision warring with grit, unable to understand why she’d sent him that message.


Stop staring.


Her inbox glowed with a new message. Heart hammering, Morana pressed on it.


Tristan Caine: No.


No. Just no? How eloquent.


Me: Your funeral. My father might see and kill you.


A message came back almost immediately.


Tristan Caine: I highly doubt it.


Me: And why is that?


Tristan Caine: He barely raised a finger at the dick pawing you. He won’t kill me for staring.


Morana felt her face flush, humiliated anger washing over her, anger that turned into fury as she realized the truth in that statement. She was just a piece of property that one man could touch and others could watch to her father. Her body almost trembled but she grit her teeth.


Me: He’s a guest. You’re not.


There was a pause before the reply came.


Tristan Caine: So he can touch you and I cannot?


Her heart stopped. Before pounding with a vengeance. He’d never spoken to her like that.


Me: This conversation is over.


She locked her phone. And unlocked it again.

New message. She swallowed.


Tristan Caine: Chicken.


Morana stopped, blinking at the screen for a second before anger infused her again. Chicken? Who the fuck did he think he was? He was clearly baiting her, and she’d be damned if she took it.

Before she could lock her phone, he was typing again.


Tristan Caine: I dare you.


Don’t. Don’t take the bait, Morana kept on repeating.  


Me: To do what?


Long pause. Heart thundering, she waited, careful not to seem too engrossed.


Tristan Caine: To show him even half the wildcat you are.


Morana locked her phone away. She wouldn’t rise to the bait. She absolutely was not going to fall for that. She was a grown woman and not a toddler. There were men with weapons ready to rain bullets on everyone and she could not trigger them.

But she could feel that stare on her back, zinging across her skin.

She wasn’t going to rise to the bait. She wasn’t going to rise to the bait. She wasn’t going to rise to the bait.

And the asshole groped her thigh again.

Everything she’d been feeling all day, all the confusion, the anger, the frustration, the heat – everything mingled together. Her fingers were wrapped around the man’s hand before she knew it, and she snapped his wrist back hard, not enough to break a bone but enough to give him a serious sprain.

‘You bitch!’

He cried out loud, cradling the hand to his chest, his handsome face twisted in agony as the entire restaurant went silent. Morana felt multiple eyes on her, felt a few weapons pointed at her. She ignored them all, rising from the table.

‘Morana,’ her father ground out, his voice hard.

‘I warned him to keep his hands off,’ she told him aloud, every inch of her body aware of the climbing tension. ‘He refused.’

The tension climbed. No one spoke.

‘She’s got fire, Gabriel,’ one of the men on the table hooted, his eyes crawling over her exposed skin. ‘I wouldn’t mind getting burned.’

‘You’re welcome to die,’ Morana spit back at him.

Her father didn’t address the man, but her. ‘Go cool yourself down.’

Disgust plastered all over her face, she picked up her clutch and turned towards the corridor that led to the washrooms, not sparing anyone a single glance, her body trembling with rage.

She’d almost turned the corridor when her eyes locked with his.

Her step slowed, as she took him in, that dark suit and open collar he always wore out before her disgust with the entire male population filled her. His eyes were watching her, completely blank of any look. The moment she let her disgust show, his eyes flared with something. She turned before she could linger and read what.

Entering the restroom, she placed her hands on the clean granite counter, watching her own self in the mirror, the cubicles at the other end empty.

What was she doing there? In the restaurant, in her life? Why was she even doing anything? Her father didn’t care one wink about her. Nobody did. And it made her angry.

She was angry because a strange man had groped her right in front of her father and he hadn’t said a word. She was angry because she’d messaged the man she hated and he’d prodded her to act rather than anyone else. She was angry because she’d left that glass wall and rainy night and yet something inside her completely refused to leave it.

She was angry.

And she could see it. On her flushed face, on her trembling body, on her heated skin.

She was angry. God, she was so angry.

The door to the restroom opened, and Morana looked down, hiding her eyes from whoever had entered. The last thing she wanted was a casual chitchat with some clueless woman.

She washed her hands and pressed the cool water on her cheeks, waiting for some sound behind her as the other woman moved about. There was no sound.

Stilling, her body alert, she looked up slowly, to find her eyes ensnared with blue, blue ones.

He was there, in the ladies’ room, in a restaurant filled with men and women of both their families and guns and weapons ready to be fired. Was he insane?

Morana turned on her heels, heading towards the door, the rage inside her kindling, only to find him blocking her path.

‘Get out of my way,’ she spit out, in no mood to deal with him.

‘So you can go out to your father and that dickhead?’ he goaded, his voice washing over her in a way she completely did not want in that moment.

Gritting her teeth, she tried to sidestep him, only to fail. The anger simmered.

‘Get. Out. Of. My. Way,’ she enunciated, every word hard, her tone frigid.

He didn’t budge.

And she let it out.

Her fingers circled his neck before she could blink, and she slammed her entire body into his. He fell a step back against the door, not because of her strength (she knew well enough to know not to fool herself into that), but because he wanted to. His eyes blazed on hers as he tilted his head, uncaring that she could strangle him. Her fingers flexed on those corded muscles, warm muscles, and the urge to let out all her anger, for some reason, assaulted her. Because whatever the reason, he was honest about his hatred of her. She appreciated that honesty. She needed that honesty.

But she was on the edge. On an edge she hadn’t known she’d been walking. She was tiptoeing now.

‘I asked for one simple thing,’ she ground out, her mouth trembling. ‘I told you to stay away from me. You agreed. You gave me your word. Then why is it that I find you everywhere I turn? I’m warning you, right now, I won’t give a damn about the codes. You all can die for all I care. You. Stay. The. Fuck. Away. From. Me.’

Before she could even blink, her front was pressed against the door, the hand that had been on his neck twisted behind her back firmly but not painfully, her other palm pressed flat on the wood as he pressed into her back, her completely bareback, the buttons of his shirt rubbing against the exposed line of her spine with each breath they took. A woodsy, musky scent she knew was him wrapped all around her as his other hand pressed on the wood beside her own. Her body shook as she turned her face sideways, her forehead brushing against the scruff of his chin as he leaned down, his lips lined against her ear.

Her heart thundered in her chest, blood pounding in her ears. Heat infused her body, the scent, the feel, the sensations heady.

‘Get one thing straight, right now, Ms. Vitalio,’ he murmured right against the shell of her ear, that voice – that voice of whiskey and sin – rolling down her spine in waves, spreading throughout her body, pooling low in her belly. The sensation of those lips made her chest heave against the wooden door. The wooden door that was the only barrier between them and a restaurant full of people, including her father, who wouldn’t hesitate to kill either of them.

That knowledge sent another thrill through her. That knowledge that for some reason, this man made her feel like a dangerous woman; that knowledge that for some reason, she knew this man wouldn’t let anyone else kill her. And she stood inside with him pressed to her, not an ounce of remorse for betraying her father inside her. The thrill was all that there was.

‘I will stay away when I want to,’ he whispered. ‘Not because you or anyone else tell me to. But I’ve never forced a woman, and I won’t now.’

Morana bit her lip, realizing he wasn’t touching her anywhere except where her hand was behind her back. He wasn’t touching her, and she felt on fire.

‘We’ve been honest so far, Ms. Vitalio,’ he murmured. ‘I’ll be honest now. I despise you but I want you. Fuck it, I do. And I want you out of my system.’

The crude way he spoke made her breaths heave faster. He continued.

‘Your father’s men are right outside this door this very second. You want me gone? Just say the word.’

Morana stilled, her head turning towards the wood, her breaths rapid in the confined space.

‘You need to make a decision.’

Holy fuck. How was she supposed to make a decision with her brain fried? God, she wanted him. She’d had sex once, with Jackson, mostly out of rebellion, but it hadn’t been something she’d wanted to repeat anytime soon. There hadn’t been even a quarter of the heat just locking gazes with this man had. She’d never felt so heady, so carnal, so, so utterly wanton in her own lust.

And that was the crux of the entire problem. She hated him, everything he had done and every word he’d said. She wanted to kill him someday. But her body wanted him. And she wanted him out of her system. Just once.

Her father was right outside. His men were right outside. The Outfit was right outside.

Tristan Caine was inside. Behind her.

She wanted him inside her.

Morana closed her eyes, raising her free hand to the top corner of the wooden door.

And she locked it.

Decision made.


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