Disgusting, taking vows before a god you didn’t believe in, one that you knew did not exist. Kai narrowed his eyes at the priest who was conducting the marriage ceremony of his sister-in-arms. She cut a glare to him from where she knelt at the altar. Her groom didn’t falter in his recitation of his vows, though Kai was aware of a hitch in Adam Montrose’s breathing when Elizabeth began to speak. Fools, both of them. In love. What a crock of shit.
Kai sternly reminded himself not to bare his teeth at the aging priest as he made his way down the line, offering communion to the wedding party. The old man took one look at him and hurriedly moved on. Adam Montrose was indeed an odd choice for a mate. Though Kai remained unconvinced of his worth, he had indeed proved himself to be loyal to Elizabeth. And that, at least, was worth some modicum of trust, wasn’t it?
The final words were pronounced in Latin, a tongue that, in Kai’s not-so-humble opinion, should have been allowed to die centuries ago. It was a useless archaic language. Why, oh why, if Elizabeth had to fall in love, did it have to be with a Catholic? And furthermore, why did it have to be a Catholic ceremony? It should have been over long ago. A wedding. Kai suppressed a snort. Of all the foolishness.
A sharp elbow to his ribs brought him back to the present. Kai turned his head, letting his eyes flare that odd shade of green exclusive to Scions as he regarded Jacob with a glare. The younger Predator merely rolled his eyes and jerked his head to where the rest of the wedding party was engaged in a mundane and useless recessional behind Elizabeth and her new husband.
He fell into step beside the pretty, young woman who claimed to be Montrose’s only family. The entire farce of a ceremony was for her benefit. Okay, so it really was for the Prey within the city who were so enamored of Elizabeth and her endless, tiring, good deeds. He did not offer the young woman his arm, instead fixing a scowl on her as she raised her hand as if to touch him. The glare was effective; she backed off, letting her hand drop once more.
As soon as they stepped into the lobby of the church, Kai made a stiff bow to her before hauling ass out as soon as he could. He fished the keys to his rental car from the pocket of his tux and made his way to the sedan. Maybe he could get away with skipping the reception? Elizabeth would undoubtedly be too preoccupied with her other guests to notice his absence.
As if she’d read his mind, Elizabeth’s limousine pulled to a stop beside him. He spun, staring at her in disbelief. She grinned up at him, unrepentantly happy. It was a disconcerting expression to see on her face. Kai’s gruff exterior softened a little. If anyone deserved a little happiness, it was Elizabeth. After all, she’d saved the entire family. Did it really matter if her new partner was a spineless wuss who didn’t have half a brain? Kai carefully schooled his expression into a blank stare. Elizabeth leaned on the car, squinting in the late evening sun. Kai itched to be in the air-conditioned coolness of his own car. True he could stand sunlight, but it did take a lot out of him, even a Scion wasn’t entirely immune. “You aren’t thinking of skipping out on the reception, Kai. You wouldn’t be so rude as to leave Miss Montrose without a dance partner.”
“Unless she wants to be my next meal, then yes … that is exactly my intention.” His blunt words were not tempered with any kindness.
Elizabeth’s lips curved into a smile. “You do know that my feelings will be hurt. But if you change your mind, I might be persuaded to forgive you for entertaining such a silly notion.” Her smile didn’t waver; the smug bitch knew she had him.
Kai had a soft spot for his oldest sibling. It was almost a reversal; his protective instincts toward her deceptively frail person were odd, given that she was several decades older than he. He swallowed hard, shoulders sagging in defeat. “Fine, Elizabeth. I’ll be there.”
“Good. And do dance with the delicious Miss Montrose; I noticed that she was quite taken with you at the wedding. Could hardly keep her eyes off you.”
Kai’s eyes widened in shock as the window rolled up and the limo took off. Was she actually giving him permission to have a nip of Adam Montrose’s only living relative? Ridiculous. Besides, if he was going to take anything from her, it would be her very life. He had no use for nattering women. They were all trouble. Kai gazed after the retreating limo, expression shifting in that moment alone. It was a soft, sad smile that graced his features now. Elizabeth was the only one … she was no trouble at all.
* * * *
Rachel tipped her chair back onto two legs. Her foot tapped impatiently as she watched the people dancing. It was a strange affair, Adam’s wedding. She’d not spoken to her cousin since they were children when she received the invitation to his wedding in the mail, along with an all-expenses paid itinerary. Curiosity had drawn her out of the solace of her home in the mountains. Only one privately owned piece of property on the entire mountain, and it was hers. And the government had been after her for years to sell. What she wouldn’t give to be back there now.
There was a slight clearing of a throat behind her, scaring her back to the present. It was that man, the brooding Asian who’d been her escort. His expression was hard, as if he’d been forced to swallow something foul. He extended his hand to her expectantly. “Dance with me.”
Rachel arched a brow. Was it supposed to be an invitation? If it was, he was sadly mistaken. She gave her head a slight shake.
“I didn’t ask if you wanted to dance.” He curled his fingers at her again, obviously surprised when she shook her head once more. His hand shot out, closing around her wrist with bruising force. “You will dance with me.”
Rachel gasped as she was hauled bodily from her chair and onto the dance floor. His arms wrapped around her waist, holding her flush against his body. Part of her wanted to struggle, to get away, but the other part of her didn’t want to cause a scene. He probably meant no harm; Adam had said something about the man having spent the last years in Japan, and it certainly lent credence to his crappy attitude, having been out of the country for so long. But weren’t the Japanese supposed to be a polite people?
She craned her head back to stare up at him, then cocked it to the side. He glared across the room to where Adam was sharing a dance with his radiant bride. Rachel sucked in a sharp breath. Her dance partner was breathtaking. Tall and lean, but muscular. Her fingers grasped at the lapels of his tux, as she leaned forward, unbidden, sniffing the fabric softly. He stopped moving suddenly, and she felt a flush creep across her face. “Why are you sniffing me?”
“I’m not sniffing you,” she lied as she lifted her head and forced a bright smile. “I was checking to make sure my allergy medicine was still working.” Silently, she prayed he would believe her little white lie.
He set them into motion again without another word. Rachel sought out something, anything, to say. “Lovely wedding.”
“Yes.” Her partner’s tone was still flat, devoid of any emotion.
She lowered her head and rolled her eyes. How annoying the man was quickly becoming. She decided to try again. “Adam seems happy.”
“Yes,” he responded once more.
Rachel’s smile disappeared. “And Elizabeth looks lovely.”
That was it. Rachel placed her palms flat on his chest and pushed him away firmly. An expression of surprise flared in odd black eyes for a moment as he let his hands fall from her waist. She lifted her chin defiantly. “Thank you for the dance, Mr…”
“Matsumoto Kai.” He stated the name as blandly as he had any other word that evening.
“I thought Adam called you Kai.”
“Kai is my first name.” His expression tightened. “I do not give you permission to address me by my first name.”
“I don’t care. I’m never going to see you again. As I said … thanks for the dance. I really should be getting back to my room. I have a meeting in the morning and have to leave early.” She inclined her head and left him there, staring after her. She made it no more than three steps when she felt fingers close around her wrist. To her surprise, he had followed her.
He did not release her hand, instead brushed past her, hauling her behind him once more. “I will walk you to your room.”
“You will let me go.” She tugged at her wrist, stunned when he tightened his grip to painful proportions. His eyes flared again, and she gasped. Weren’t they supposed to be black?
The eyes narrowed a moment later, once more that same bottomless obsidian and she was left to wonder if her mind had been playing tricks on her. “I will not let you go, and you won’t cause a scene. I promise no harm will come to you. I intend to see to it.”
“My safety isn’t your concern.”
“It is when I am your assigned escort for this event.” They were already out the door and into the lobby before she could bring herself to protest further.
“Mr. Matsumoto, let me go.”
“No. You’ll try to run.” He spoke stubbornly as he hit the button on the elevator. “I will deliver you safely to your room as per Elizabeth’s wish. Then I will bid you farewell and take my own leave.”
Rachel relaxed a little. At least the gruff man didn’t seem to be planning anything. It was almost as if he were a man on a mission. She arched a brow and let her self be dragged into the elevator. “What floor?”
He jabbed at the button with his forefinger and released his grasp on her hand, now evidently satisfied that she had no route of escape. The seconds passed in tense silence until the bell dinged, announcing their arrival to her floor. His fingers closed around her wrist again, and for a moment, she wondered if she might have bruises in the morning.
“515.” She ground out the number with a sinking heart. It was getting old, being towed along like a child.
“Hurry, woman. I won’t have Elizabeth think I haven’t done my duty by you. And I haven’t got all night.” His words were gruff, like the rest of him. For a moment, Rachel was tempted to smack him.
They stopped in front of her room and she fished her key from her purse. “You know, you really should work on that temper, Mr. Matsumoto. You’ll never get anywhere with anyone with that kind of attitude.”
She slipped the keycard into the lock, waiting until it turned green to push the door open. “You’ve seen me here safely, now you can leave. I really wish I could say it’s been a pleasure.”
The expression of surprise on his face was priceless as she pushed the door shut with a sickly sweet smile. She tossed the keycard and impossibly tiny handbag on the dresser as she entered the room. To her astonishment, the door bounced off the wall behind it, startling her from her moment of smugness.
She spun in place, eyes widening as she saw him there. He hovered in the doorway, fingers still on the wooden frame, arm outstretched. He was imposing, tall and dangerous as he glared at her. Rachel took an instinctive step back. He stalked forward, slamming the door behind himself once he’d cleared the threshold. “Get out.” She pushed the words out in a shaky breath, knowing that she wouldn’t be able to fight him off if he got it into his head that he wanted to hurt her.
“Big words for a little girl,” he sneered as he came to a halt before her. His arms crossed over his chest as he stared down at her and not for the first time, Rachel wished that she’d gotten the Montrose height. As it was, he loomed over her, probably topping six feet to her diminutive five one. “You owe me an apology.”
“For what? Returning your rudeness with my own?” If she was going to die at the hands of a very angry, very scary Japanese man she was damn well going to go down in flames.
“I was not rude to you. I escorted you to your room, as was my duty per being assigned as your escort. I even danced with you and made small talk. This is not rudeness. If anything, you were rude to me.”
“There’s no rudeness in telling the truth. And we could argue about this all night. As I said, I have a meeting tomorrow morning, so if you’ll please leave…”
“I’m not going anywhere until I have my apology.”
Rachel frowned as she realized for the first time that his eyes were not pure black as she’d first suspected. Instead, they were flecked with a color that could only be described as cinnamon. What disturbed her more than his eyes was the fact that she was noticing them … for the umpteenth time. She scowled and stepped away, turning her back to him as she rummaged in her open suitcase for her PJ’s. “Then you should be prepared to wait a very long time. I’m going to shower.”
When she moved to brush past him, she was stunned by the sheer speed of his movement. She was pinned against the wall next to the bathroom door, breath knocked out of her. She gasped for precious air, hand coming up to rest on the arm he pressed against her throat to hold her in place. He ground the single word out as an order. “Apologize.”
“No.” She tugged at the arm, an exercise in futility.
“Apologize now, or your life is forfeit for your insolence.” Murder threaded his voice, and she winced as more uncomfortable pressure was applied to her neck.
Rachel willed herself not to pull her eyes from his face. If she was going to die, she was damn well going to do it with her eyes open. “No.”
He bared his teeth at her and chills shot down her spine. She had no doubt that the man was capable of murder in that moment. “You would sacrifice your life for the sake of your pride?”
“I think the question is would you sacrifice my life for the sake of yours.” She shot the question back at him, curling her nails into the skin beneath the fabric-covered arm. “Now let me go and get the hell out of my room.”
The world swam before her eyes as she registered the growl that emitted from him. His chest rumbled and for some reason, she could feel his anger burgeoning in her own. “Foolish mortal woman.” The words barely registered in her mind before his arm fell away and she was jerked forward, his lips covering hers with interminable gentleness.
* * * *
Kai fully intended to take advantage of her dazed state. The thrall he cast over her was not a deep one, but it was enough to take the edge off her razor sharp awareness. He swept his tongue over the seam of her lips, hands coming up to thread into her hair, fingers working at the pins that held riotous red strands in a demure bun. The pins fell silently to the carpet behind him as he tossed them away.
When she parted her lips, he wasted no time. His touch changed from gentle to ferocious when his teeth nicked her lips, razor-sharp canines piercing the skin. When the first, and indeed only, droplet of her blood hit his tongue, he was lost. Kai’s fingers tightened in her hair as he pulled her from the wall, bringing her flush against his body.
The heat of her body that had so tempted him when they’d danced echoed against his flesh, teasing him and inciting the anger that inevitably came when he was in such close contact with his Prey. His mind shifted, perspective sharpening as he ravaged her mouth, taking and tasting without regard for her feelings or pleasure. Kai’s fingers worked at the zipper of her gown. He ripped his lips from her, growling in the back of his throat before taking the fabric firmly in hand and ripping it down the back. He pushed her away long enough to jerk the ruined garment from her slender frame.
A feral smile touched his lips as he examined his latest conquest. She was pleasing to the eye, well proportioned and would do nicely. Her blood was rich and hinted at a purity he hadn’t tasted in a while. English blood was always among the most intoxicating blends.
She stared at him, eyes wide. To his astonishment, she’d broken his thrall. His hands closed over her hips possessively, pulling her against himself once more. She inhaled sharply as she was pressed against the hard edge of his arousal, and he made his intentions plain without speaking a word. Kai bared his teeth against the crook of her neck, surprised when he felt the acceptance within her.
He snarled the words at her as he all but threw her on the bed. “Foolish mortal woman.“
She gasped, eyes widening as she landed on her back. She scurried back, scrambling toward the headboard as if to get away from him. Her fear spiked, further inciting him. He’d take her; he’d teach her a lesson about provoking strange men in a moment of prideful weakness. Then he’d have a little snack and leave her without the knowledge of what he’d done. It was the way of things; after all, she was the Prey and he the Predator.
“I don’t…” She spoke softly and Kai knew it was because she did not understand why he’d suddenly pushed her away.
Kai stepped to the side of the bed, shrugging out of his tux jacket. He deposited it on the other bed before beginning to methodically strip himself of the rest of his clothing.
“You’re all the same. Chattel; nothing more.” His voice was hard, and he knew she wouldn’t understand of what he spoke. It didn’t matter, she would remember none of this and tomorrow she could go back to her foolish, happy, mortal life.
Her eyes, they would have made a god weep had they seen the beautiful fear that lay within their icy blue depths. They were the only resemblance she shared with her equally dimwitted cousin. Kai bared his teeth at her, letting her glimpse the short, razor sharp canines he’d nicked her with only moments before. “I’m going to take you now. And you won’t stop me.”
Rachel Montrose really was pretty when she was provoked. He could feel her heart rate jump as he stalked toward the edge of the bed, now completely naked. “You will accept my thrall and gain your enjoyment from knowing you must please me in order to live through the night. Isn’t that right, Prey?”
Her fear only mounted as he lunged for her, all but ripping the ridiculous excuse for underwear from her tiny frame. Her fingers dug into his shoulder as he cast the thrall once more. She accepted it readily this time, and he was surprised to find that beneath her fear, her arousal was as great as his own. It was a muted sensation, dimmed by the near-anesthetic nature of the thrall. He would waste no time in foreplay; after all, her pleasure was secondary. He was not after anything beyond a release of the most primal kind and a sating of the hunger that had plagued him all damn day.
Kai’s fingers ghosted over her pulse point, as he let his eyes slide shut. She shivered beneath him as he leaned closer, letting his teeth play along the line of her neck. His hand moved again, tracing down the line of her body before jerking her legs apart to settle himself at her entrance. She was already wet, further evidence of her aroused state.
He rocked his hips into hers, letting his length slide just a few centimeters into her warmth. Oddly enough, she was tighter than he expected.
Kai held her leg behind the knee. He lifted his head to bare his teeth at her once more. He did not speak, instead he tightened his grip on her knee and buried himself inside her in one fast, brutal thrust. He registered the presence of a barrier only after he’d torn through it. He grinned against her throat, hissing into her ear. “If I’d known you were a virgin, I’d have gone slower, savored your pain more thoroughly. And you’d have loved every moment, wouldn’t you?”
His eyes slid closed as he abandoned himself to the primal urge to possess his Prey entirely. It bubbled up within him as he began to move. He gave her no time to adjust to him, instead setting a pace that was at once vicious and perfect. She arched beneath him, body bowing instinctively to meet every thrust. The connection through the thrall only amplified the rising bloodlust.
Kai’s hand left her thigh, rising to grasp her wrists and pin them over her head. He raised his hand to stare at her through shining peridot orbs. She was exquisite, caught in the mingling pleasure and pain. To his surprise, he felt her release her tenuous hold on her body and slide into the haze of a quickly approaching climax.
Satisfaction rumbled through him as he nudged her head to the side, letting his tongue flick out over the shell of her ear. He withdrew from her again, slamming himself back inside her welcoming heat with a guttural groan. She whimpered beneath him, wordless pleas that incited his further need. Kai’s stomach clenched in anticipation as he broke the skin of her earlobe and tasted her essence for a second time.
When he spoke, his voice was dangerous even to his own ears. “Mine.” It was a purely masculine response to the taking of her virginity and her very lifeblood. She was his, and would remain so until her dying day. He drove his cock into her again, his own self-control wearing thin. Her body broke, pulsing and spasming around him as she screamed her release. Kai ducked his head, tearing into her flesh with those dangerous teeth. The skin ripped, and the taste was immediately overwhelming. He buried himself inside her again and again, barely realizing that she was still shaking around him when he felt his toes begin to curl, heralding his own need to find his release.
She screamed, far too loudly. Kai clamped his hand over her mouth to muffle the sounds. He snarled and buried himself in her one final time, giving up the last vestiges of control. She was impossibly tight around him, milking him of everything his body had to offer. Her blood was pure on his tongue, and he refused to release her, not yet.
Kai had found a feast and was unwilling to let her go. He couldn’t kill her, not without facing Elizabeth’s wrath, but damned if he wasn’t going to take as much as he could without making her ill. His hips moved within her reflexively, thrusting in minute movements as her trembling ceased. He felt a prick of pain as her front teeth pierced his own flesh and felt her tongue immediately soothe the bite apologetically. He tore his lips from her neck and pulled his hands from her mouth, staring at his palm in disbelief. “You bit me.”
The pressure that pinned her wrists slackened as Kai moved to staunch the flow of blood that still trickled from her neck. It was staining the sheets. Her fist lashed out catching him across the jaw. He bared his teeth at her again. “You try my patience, woman. The next time you strike me is the last, for I will kill you.”
He withdrew from her and released her, satisfied that the bleeding had stopped. He sneered at her. “Foolish woman. Provoking me. You will sleep it off, Prey. You will not remember this night, neither the good nor the bad. It’s all a dream. The only thing you will remember is that you were taken and marked by the one to which you belong. And you never know when I will return to claim what’s mine once more.”
“Yours…” Her voice was quiet, almost childlike.
He turned to pull on his trousers, throwing on his undershirt before returning his attention to regard the pale woman. She’d curled up on her side while he’d been turned, and her eyes were glazed as she watched him, beyond speaking evidently. He knelt beside the bed, jacket and shirt in hand. “You are mine, Prey. Tell me, satisfy my curiosity…” The thrall would prevent her from lying. “Was I too rough?”
A strange little smile played at her lips. “No. Perfect.”
Satisfied with this answer, he rose once more. He extracted a handkerchief from his pocket and wet it with his tongue, wiping away any evidence of her blood from his lips and chin. Sometimes, he could get a little carried away. It wouldn’t do to shock the hotel staff. Besides that, dried blood itched like hell. Kai spun on his heel and exited the room, leaving the sated and naked form of Rachel Montrose in his wake.
* * * *
Rachel stretched in the bed, arms shooting out from beneath the covers as she arched her back. She grinned to herself as she felt the bones in her spine pop and her muscles respond by loosening up. She couldn’t quite put her finger on why she felt so relaxed, but she was in a good mood none-the-less.
She pushed herself up out of the bed, eyes widening when she realized that she’d never made it to the bathroom for her bath. Indeed, her pajamas still lay on the floor in front of the bathroom door where she’d left them when … wait, when had she left them there? Rachel’s smile disappeared. And furthermore, why was she naked? Just how much had she had to drink last night?
She shot from the bed, eyes glancing wildly over the room. She swallowed hard when her gaze landed on one very expensive, very ruined bridesmaid gown. Rachel stared at it in shock for a long moment, unbelieving what she was seeing. Drunk. The word echoed in her mind. She shook her head vehemently. She would have felt the effects of a hangover. Something niggled at the back of her mind; she should remember what had happened.
Rachel turned to face the bed once more, frown deepening when she saw the stains. Marked.
It would appear that she had indeed had a bit too much to drink. The evidence was there. She’d gotten drunk, had sex with a stranger who hadn’t stuck around, and now could remember nothing. It was the logical association to make after all.
“Isn’t it?” she huffed the question to the room at large.
It was disappointing, not to remember having lost one’s virginity, and even more so to know that she’d unconsciously thought so little of it that she’d lose it to a person whose face she couldn’t even remember. After all, she’d zealously guarded said virginity through all of high school and college. And had it really meant so little? Rachel snorted. Apparently it didn’t mean a damn thing.
She moved from the bed, muscles she didn’t know she had screaming at her. The discarded pajamas were retrieved, and she continued in her quest for the bathtub. It was going to be an odd morning, she had a meeting in less the two hours with the manager of the gallery where her photography was sold. She had to put this from her mind and get on with her day.
* * * *
Kai rounded on Elizabeth, eyes wide in disbelief over what he’d just heard. “Impossible. Utterly ridiculous.” He spat the words at her, fists clenching into tight balls. “Of all the stupid ideas.”
Brilliant green eyes narrowed as Elizabeth motioned for Jacob to leave the room. She paused in the packing of her suitcase. They were going to some stupid island in the Caribbean for a honeymoon. Pathetic. “You will do as I have bid you, Kai. You are the next in line as well as my first choice to take over my position. You have no choice in the matter. It has been centuries since you held any responsibility as a Scion. It’s high time you changed that.”
She returned her attention to her suitcase, folding up a pair of slacks neatly. “Besides that, Kai, you have to learn to live with the mortals. You’ve spent too much time in isolation, I’ve been far too lenient with you as it is.”
Kai resisted the urge to bare his teeth at his oldest bonded sibling. “Fuck you and fuck Seattle. I don’t want it. I’m leaving for Japan tonight. You can’t make me stay in this shit hole. I won’t do it.”
“Calm down and watch your language. I will not permit rude comments.” Elizabeth glanced at her watch. “I’m going on my honeymoon. Jacob will watch over things here while I’m gone. You are free to return to Tokyo and wrap up your personal business there. This transition will not be an immediate one, but I’d suggest tying up your loose ends. Five years from today, you will take over the care and keeping of this city. Period.”
The discomfort in his chest eased. At least he would have five more years of solitude, away from Elizabeth and the unending politics that inevitably went hand-in-hand with such a position. He relaxed a bit and dropped onto the bed beside the suitcase she was locking. “Elizabeth, I don’t want this. But thank you for your generosity with the time frame. It will give me time to prepare myself for this task.”
“And don’t even think of handing the reins over to someone else after the transition ceremony, Kai. I know how your mind works; you’re as devious as they come. I won’t have control of my city in the hands of someone who doesn’t know what they are doing.” Elizabeth straightened and reached for her coat. She tugged it on, lifting out her hair and letting the fine brown strands cascade down her back.
Kai was struck, not for the first time, by the way she radiated contentment. For one vain moment, he wished he could snatch it for himself. Contentment was a rare thing for a Predator. Instead, he drew in a deep breath. “Very well.”
“By the way, I meant to ask, how did your evening with Rachel Montrose go?” She smiled sweetly, an open expression that sent Kai’s guards up.
He shrugged nonchalantly and rose from the bed. “It was satisfying. I had a lovely drink and that was that.”
“So you didn’t bond with her?” He thought he detected a thread of disappointment in Elizabeth’s voice.
Kai’s eyes widened in blatant shock. “No. I would never bond with someone so … abrasive and stupid. She’s no better than a nattering little girl. She was a good lay only because she was a virgin. And her blood was acceptable. However, I will not be laying eyes on her again. She won’t even remember what happened.”
Elizabeth’s gaze was measuring. He found no condemnation there, only acceptance. She nodded. “I see. Well then, have a good flight back to Tokyo, Kai. I’ll keep in touch.”
He knew Elizabeth well enough to know when he’d been dismissed. Kai strode from the room, scowl fixed firmly in place. He jabbed at the button, mind wandering to the girl he’d taken the previous night. His groin tightened in response to the memory of her pretty face reflecting the sensations she‘d felt.
He licked his lips and for a moment toyed with the idea of having her one last time before he returned to Tokyo. It would be well worth his effort … take his time … see what made her tick. It would undoubtedly be his final opportunity to have her. It was, unfortunately, utterly against his nature.
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