About the book
“There’s somethin’ goin’ on between the two of ye.”
“Yes, it’s called hostility.”
Genevieve Williams has had to fend for herself, after she is left all alone in this unforgiving world. She works hard and succeeds in becoming one of the best seamstresses around Scotland. That’s why she gets a personalized invitation to be the seamstress of one of the most powerful Lairds.
After losing his leg in the Jacobite war, Laird Braonan Collins has to live with being imperfect. Needing everything around him to be perfect to make up for his feelings of inadequacy, his castle -and his heart- become jungled after the arrival of a very messy, but very intriguing, woman.
They say opposites attract, and they couldn’t be more correct. Genevieve finds him insufferable, but soon realizes that this brooding Laird is nothing more than a scared and scarred man. Braonan finally feels that someone desires him despite his flaws.
Yet their happily ever after, finally within reach, is destroyed by those who hate to see them together…
Lightning crashed, illuminating the darkness. The sound of the rain slamming against the carriage soothed Genevieve’s frayed nerves as her carriage rumbled along the muddy road. She pulled in a long deep breath, trying to find a way to sleep through the ride. Each jostle of the carriage startled her awake, making sleep impossible to obtain.
Frustrated, Genevieve rubbed her eyes and resigned herself to being awake. If sleep was going to elude her, she figured she might as well keep busy. She plucked a small square fabric from the depths of her carpetbag and ran her thumb over the stitches of the embroidery she’d been working on for weeks.
A smile curled at the corner of her lips as lightning flashed, giving her a quick glimpse of the small patchwork. Her mind couldn’t help but drift to another time as the image of her father’s face burned in her mind’s eye.
“Now, remember my little button. You must keep your stitches tight. No one will pay for shoddy work or loose hems. Always make sure your thread is well spun.” Her father’s voice echoed around her as if he sat directly beside her. She closed her eyes, allowing the memory to consume her as she rubbed over the stitching.
“Very good,” Maxwell said, glancing over Genevieve’s shoulder, inspecting her work. His eyes sparkled with pride. “Soon, you may even become better than I am at this.”
“No one is better than you, Papa,” Genevieve said with a giggle.
“You must remember what I teach you,” he said, brushing his fingers down her cheek with a grin. “For one day, you will tailor to Lairds and Ladies, Dukes and Earls.”
“Or maybe even the King?” Genevieve asked, beaming.
“Just remember, the more work your hands do, the more the people will want to see fault in what you produce. You must always work as if it is your first piece. Do not let popularity get to your head. Always double check your work, and as I said before.” Maxwell beamed at her once again, filling her little heart with so much love she thought it would burst.
“Keep the stitching tight,” Genevieve said in unison with her father.
A calmness came over her as her father’s face entered her mind. She could see him so clearly sitting beside her, teaching her the art of sewing. He’d been one of the finest tailors in all of Scotland and England. His work had made him a legend.
Genevieve sighed. Living up to her father’s expectations was one thing, but to have to live up to others was stressful. Yet, what else was she to do? It was the only trade she knew, and she was determined to be the best.
Her heart swelled as the memory played in her mind. A wisp of a smile played on her lips as the memory of her father faded. It had been six years since her father passed, yet his memory haunted her every day. She pressed the small patch of fabric to her cheek, envisioning her father’s soft touch on her skin.
“I’ve made it, Papa,” she whispered to the empty carriage. “Although I’m not yet creating masterpieces for kings and queens to wear to fancy places, I’ve built a name for myself. And it’s all thanks to you.”
Genevieve kissed the small square patch and placed it carefully back into her carpetbag. She bit her lip, suppressing the tears that threatened to spill down her cheeks. The rumble of thunder boomed in her ears as the carriage came to a stop. Pulling back the curtain, she glanced out the window. The O’Brien Castle, its stone blocks rising high into the sky, towered over her. She couldn’t help but gasp at the sheer size of it.
The carriage door opened, and the tiny light from the lantern illuminated the driver’s face. His sopping wet hand reached out for her. Genevieve’s muscles tightened, and she swallowed hard. Grabbing her bag, Genevieve stepped out into the rain as the castle door opened.
“Welcome,” the man in the doorway said with a huge welcoming grin. He dipped his head as Genevieve scurried out of the rain and into the dry, warm castle.
“Ye must be Genevieve,” the man said, taking her bag from her clutched hand. Her eyes drifted about the small entranceway and nodded. Her heart thumped wildly in her chest as she shook off the drops of water still clinging to her hair.
“Yes, sir,” she answered, drawing her attention back to the man by her side. The thud of the door closing made her body tense. With the opportunity to leave fleeing from her, she turned to look through the narrow passage to her left.
Her heart quickened as her throat grew drier by the minute. She’d been in several fine houses over the years, yet there was a strange sensation that seeped into her bones. Straining her ears, she found the castle to be still, almost as if no one else lived there, save a few poor souls. Yet, the tables were polished and pictures dust-free. Every inch of the entranceway was blemish-free.
“Please, call me Adam. I’m the keeper of the house.” His accent was thick, and his voice husky. A sign of all the Scottish men Genevieve had come across her many years working in Scotland. She smiled politely as her chest tightened. Clenching her bag, she rolled her shoulders back.
“Elliot has done nothin’ but praise yer work,” Adam said, waving her to follow him.
“Yes, well, he often likes to ramble. I just hope he hasn’t praised me beyond what my skills are,” Genevieve said as she followed Adam through the narrow passageway and out into the large main entrance. Genevieve glanced to the chandelier overhead. She’d never seen one so grand before. With each step she took deeper into the castle, more things caught her eye.
“The Laird is a collector of sorts,” Adam said, catching Genevieve pausing by a side table to run her fingers over sparkling crystal vase. “But I’ll request ye nae touch that.”
“Sorry,” Genevieve said, jerking her fingertips away before they could smudge the polished etched glass.
“Ye’ll find the Laird likes to have things in a neat and orderly fashion. He’s nae one for tardiness, nor for excuses.”
“I understand,” she answered as they moved around the grand staircase to a smaller room. Adam paused at the door and glanced over his shoulder.
“One more thin’,” he said in such a hushed tone it unnerved Genevieve. “Donnae stare. He doesnae like it when people do so, and donnae let him see pity on yer face. Ye understand?”
Confusion washed through her as Adam curled his fingers around the knob of the door and opened it. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the dimly lit room. After blinking several times, three things came into her view. The fire in the corner of the room had burned down to embers. A man sat in the only overtly large chair with his back to her, and the sound of a piano lingered, like a haunting melody.
“Excuse me, Laird O’Brien,” Adam said in a clear voice that made Genevieve wondered if the Laird was hard of hearing. She hadn’t been told much about her new employer, only that his needs were particular.
“The seamstress has arrived,” Adam continued as his eyes danced from the man in the chair to Genevieve.
“The one the blacksmith has been goin’ on about?” A bitter voice drowned the delicate sounds of the piano playing. Genevieve’s back straightened as she stole a step closer.
“Aye, the one and the same,” Adam said with a smile. “Fine lass at that.”
“Yer presumin’ ye can tell of her skills by her appearance?” the Laird grumbled as a plume of smoke rose like a ribbon from his cigar. “Brin’ her in and let me get a better glimpse of the lass.”
“Laird, may I introduce Genevieve. Genevieve, this is Braonan, Laird O’Brien,” Adam said as he bowed and stepped aside. Adam’s hand wagged Genevieve to come closer. A part of her wished she’d gone anywhere other than here as she stepped into the rusty orange light. Swallowing hard, she drew her eyes to the man in the chair.
The Laird didn’t budge as he looked her down from head to toe. His lips twitched, causing Genevieve’s nerves to rattle.
“Yer the seamstress?” he asked, shifting his attention to the dog on the floor. Genevieve jumped back at the size of the beast. She’d never in all her life seen such an animal as big or as fluffy.
“Well?” Laird O’Brien barked, causing the dog to lift his head up for a moment before dropping it unamused. Genevieve swallowed hard as her eyes shifted to the wooden post beside the Laird. Her eyes squinted as her mind puzzled over why a post would be so out of place.
“I take it ye’ve come to stare at me then?” the Laird said through pursed lips. Genevieve shook her head and drew her eyes to his face. In the dim light, she noticed his lush hair and green eyes. His shoulders were broad and fit snuggly between the head of the chair.
“No,” she answered. “I’ve come because you requested my services.”
“That I have,” he snickered. “My blacksmith has been fillin’ my ear these past months claimin’ yer the best seamstress in all of Scotland.”
“Well, I wouldn’t say that,” she answered, dropping her eye to the dog and trying not to smile at its cuteness. She’d never been around many of them and often wished to own one.
“At least yer reasonable,” the Laird grumbled. “One cannae be so pompous as to believe one is the best without provin’ oneself.”
“My father used to say that,” she said, tilting her head as the conundrum of the wooden post plagued her thoughts.
“And did he tell ye to boast yerself as well?”
“I’m sorry?” Genevieve’s eyes shot to Adam lingering near the doorway. Panic shot through her, making her clutch her bag tighter.
“Clearly ye have Elliot praisin’ ye as if ye were a saint wit’ what ye can do with the needle. Yet, what I see is nothin’ more than a young girl wit’ a pretty face makin’ claims about a talent she doesnae possess. Clearly, ye’ve been boastful about what ye can do.”
“I beg your pardon, sir, but I’m not entirely certain what you have heard about me. All I can say is that my clients have not complained, and there has never been a project I could not do. My father taught me all I know, and I’ve mastered those skills. What people say about me is between them and God. I’ve heard no such praises, nor am I one to whisper lies to boost myself.”
“And yer father is?” the Laird said with a wave of his hand, irritation flashing across his stern features.
“Maxwell Williams, the same Max Williams that mended the Earl of Hurtly’s wardrobe and Laird Jameson MacKenzie’s. If you want recommendations, I suggest you ask my previous clients whether or not I’m capable of helping you with your particular needs and send for me again if you want my help.”
“Aye,” the Laird snapped. “Ye think I’d be foolish enough nae to ask around about ye? I ken who ye are lass. Yer father was a fine tailor, but he’s been dead for years now. I’ve written letters to yer clients. It’s why I’ve requested ye come here. I need a seamstress.”
“Yes,” Genevieve snapped and lifted her chin. “And thank you for bringing up such a painful memory. If you’re questioning my skills, then allow me a day to do some work. If you don’t like what I’ve done, I’ll leave. But I think you are trying to send me away merely because you think I’m too young for the task.”
The Laird narrowed his eyes as he leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. He tilted his head as his eyebrow arched. “Yer that confident, are ye?”
“I can mend whatever you need me to,” she answered boldly. The Laird leaned back in his chair and drew from his cigar. Genevieve watched the smoke ribbon around his square jaw.
“Adam, see that the lass has the eastern chamber. Give her a few tasks. Let us put her skills to the test.”
“Aye, sir,” Adam said, standing a bit straighter.
“And nae just the small things, give her the curtains from the west wing.”
“Of course,” Adam said as he bowed quickly and scrambled from the room. Genevieve’s body tingled as her eyes dropped from the Laird to the dog. In the back of her mind, the wooden post haunted her. Stealing a quick glimpse to the chair, it struck her like a bag of bricks.
He only has one leg.
“Somethin’ caught yer eye?” Braonan asked as his lip twitched. Genevieve shook her head and arched an eyebrow. Although he had noticed her eyes shifted down to the floor, he couldn’t be sure. The room was far too dim, and with Piston at his feet, there was a possibility she was only admiring the dog. Still, a nagging sensation bubbled in his gut as he pushed the insecurity down.
She is starin’ at my leg. Why must they always stare? Aye, it’s gone, and there is nothin’ I can do about it.
He jabbed the cigar into the tray on the small table, putting it out aggressively. If there was one thing he couldn’t stand, it was when people stared at him.
His wooden peg was like an anthill in the meadow, unavoidable and glaring to others. Yet, as he studied the seamstress, he noticed no pity flashing in her eyes. There wasn’t even a hint of curiosity about how it came to be missing. She stared at it as if it were something that just was, and it unsettled him.
“No,” she said, flashing her eyes back to his face. Tilting his head, he pursed his lips into a tight line. There was an air about her that rattled him. Although he was impressed at how she gazed at him unflinchingly, he found it difficult to stare back at her. Her eyes were piercing, and her face, unmoving.
Perhaps she hadn’t noticed and was merely lookin’ at Piston. Best to show her exactly what she’s doin’ here. See what she does then. Perhaps she’ll run and find me horrid.
“I’ll give ye till mornin’,” Braonan stated as he entwined his fingers together. “I’ll assess yer work then. I’ll pay ye for yer work and either keep ye about a while longer or send ye on yer way.”
“And how much work are you planning on giving me? I’ll not do half your linens without pay. I said I’d do a sample. Not the whole lot.”
Braonan pursed his lips and reached for the crutch leaning against his chair. Shifting his arm over the cradle of the crutch, he pushed himself up. Keeping his eyes locked on her, he towered over her. His eyebrow arched. It was clear by her stern glare she was unimpressed by his size or his disability.
“I’ll pay ye what yer worth,” he said in a stony, non-negotiable manner. “Only after I’ve seen what ye can do. Far too many people these days lie about their abilities. I’ll nae be taken for a fool.”
“Nor will I,” she stated. “I’ve been working with a needle since before I could read or write. I know I can accomplish whatever task you set before me. But if this is a ruse to get free work from me, I’ll not partake in such a plot. I’ll do sixteen shillings worth of work. Be it clothes, or linens, or whatever you bring my way. Surely that will nae be too much of an inconvenience for a man with your,” she paused and glanced at his wooden peg before shifting her eyes back to his. “Stature.”
“Aye,” he growled. “Sixteen shillings is reasonable. And here I thought ye’d be sellin’ yerself short. Although, I must mentally tip my hat to ye lass. Yer nae as weak-willed as I assumed.”
“You mean I’m not as stupid as you thought I was due to my youth? I can assure you, sir, my father trained me in all matters of business. And I’ll not accept a payment I didn’t earn. If you think my work is poor, do not pay me. I wouldn’t want to take money for work I didn’t earn or for pity. There are other Lairds who will be more than pleased with what I can do.”
A rapping on the door caused Braonan’s ear to perk. He didn’t turn his eyes away from Genevieve as the door creaked open. The shuffling of feet drowned the soft melody of the piano. For a moment, he wished the music would stop altogether. It was beginning to grate on his nerves the way his brother rambled over the same missed notes.
“The chamber is ready, M’Laird.” Adam’s voice shifted as Braonan’s eyes turned to him. There was ire in his gaze that Adam couldn’t ignore. For a moment, Braonan wondered if his old steward would cower back out the door.
“Go,” Braonan ordered. Piston jumped to his feet and rushed to Adam’s side, tail wagging, eager to be released into the outdoors. Braonan rolled his eyes at the dog’s foolish behavior. He leaned against the fireplace mantle, allowing the warmth to caress his face.
“Ye’ll have the items completed by mornin’,” Braonan reminded Genevieve as she turned on her heel to face Adam. Giving him a sharp nod, she didn’t look back at him as she left. A prick of irritation stabbed at him.
She’s young and will be out by mornin’. There is nae way she is as skilled as she claims to be.
And her arrogance.
Best to weed her out now and send her on her way. Have her tend to one of the outlinin’ villages. A girl like that doesnae belong here in the castle.
With his leg aching, he hobbled back to his seat and dropped down into the chair, exhaling. Placing the crutch next to him once more, he let the tension from his shoulder ease. He pinched the bridge of his nose as his mind shifted to Genevieve. There was a savage spark about her that caused his blood to boil. It was clear that she wasn’t like the other women of his acquaintance. She had a backbone that was rigid and steady.
Yet, he couldn’t help but find her unorthodox ways alarming. After all, he was the Laird. No one dared question his authority. Of course, most of the people around were under his protection. She was an outside force of nature, like a storm brewing on the horizon he couldn’t control. The reasoning for his uneasiness, the cause for his dismay, she wasn’t a part of his clan. She was an outsider.
He’d heard of her skills, and many people attested to her work. But as Braonan mulled over his encounter with Genevieve, he realized it was because she had no loyalties to any man or clan in Scotland.
Rubbing the stubble on his chin, he stared into the dying embers. Braonan listened to the eerie notes from the piano cease, and the sound of footsteps stomp overhead. His eyes shifted to the ceiling.
I wonder what my brother will think of the lass. Nay doubt he’ll charm her.
Best nae to jump to any conclusions. The lass is headstrong. Perhaps she’ll be able to mend a few things. But I’ll nae put too much stock into her. She’s too young to be goin’ about. A girl of that age should be married, nae workin’ throughout Scotland.
For a moment, Braonan found himself relieved at the silence in the room. The only sound that drifted to his ears was the crackling of the fire. He breathed in deeply, allowing the silence to comfort him.
Damn ye, Frankie!
Braonan’s eyes shot to the ceiling as the piano started once again. His only relief was the fact his brother had changed songs. Still, he wanted peace.
Rising to his feet, he scooped the crutch from the side of his chair, and taking it by the end, he rammed the wood on the ceiling, pounding as hard as he could. The piano keys rang out in a rude and violent sound, causing him to grind his teeth.
If only gettin’ rid of my brother would be as simple as it will be to get rid of the lass.
Genevieve followed closely behind Adam. Her mind raced as her jaw flexed from irritability. Adam’s soft chuckle pulled her from her thoughts as they climbed the steps to the second floor. She looked at Adam with an arched eyebrow and lips twitching.
“I see the Laird has gotten under yer skin,” Adam said over his shoulder.
“I don’t know what you are talking about,” Genevieve stated, masking her frustration.
“Ye cannae tell me ye didnae feel the tension in the room. Or if ye didnae surely ye saw how the Laird’s veins started to pop. What did ye say to him to cause him distress?”
Genevieve shook her head and cleared her throat. “I told him I expected to get paid for my time. And if he doesn’t like what I do, then I’ll leave. I’ll not stay someplace I’m not wanted.”
“Ye ken he called for ye specifically,” Adam said as he strolled down the hall at a snail’s pace. Genevieve didn’t answer. She found herself too worked up and antsy to be moving so slowly down the hallway.
Exhaling, she released the stress in her shoulders. She knew that if she was going to mend things, being in a foul state would do her no good.
“If he called for me, then why did her treat me like I’m a criminal? The Laird made it seem like I’m not capable of doing my job.”
Adam shook his head, “Tis nae that. He was just expectin’ someone a wee bit older. To be honest, so was I. Most seamstresses around these parts are my age, and their work is mediocre at best. And yet, here ye come, fresh and young as sprin’. Just unsettled the Laird is all. Ye prove yerself, and ye’ll see a big difference in him come the marrow.”
Genevieve nodded as the side door suddenly flew open. She cupped her hand to her mouth as a younger man with wild hair and a clean-shaved face lingered in the doorway. His smile unhinged her, and she could tell by the shape of his eyes he was related to the Laird.
“Is this the new lass come to correct my brother’s wardrobe?” the man asked, wagging his eyebrows as he pushed off the wall. Genevieve swallowed hard as she studied him. The man bowed low and extended his hand to her.
Slipping her hand into the gentleman’s hand, Genevieve’s eyes shifted to Adam. “Ah, Genevieve, this is Franklin Collins, the Laird’s brother.”
“I thought I noticed the resemblance,” Genevieve said as Franklin briefly brushed his lips over her knuckles and winked at her.
“I see ye met my brother,” Franklin said with a smirk as he straightened himself. “What did ye think? Did he give ye the cold glare? Or were his veins bulgin’?”
Genevieve blinked several times as Franklin continued bombarding her with questions.
“Tell me, did he show off his stump?” Franklin asked with a chuckle. “My brother is quite fond of it.”
“Franklin,” Adam snapped as if the man was Franklin’s father and needed to stop him from being so rude.
“Me apologies,” Franklin said as Genevieve turned her attention to Adam. As Genevieve followed Adam to her chamber, Franklin was hot on her heels. “Truly. My brother can be a bit overdramatic and moody. I’m hoping that a new friendly and younger face will help brighten his day.”
Genevieve paused in the hallway and stared at Franklin. She pulled in a long deep breath. “I assure you, sir, my only concern is my work. I have been called here for a reason. Now, please, the Laird has only given me so much time to get the chore done.”
Franklin nodded and threw his hands up. “I completely understand. Ye have business to attend to. Donnae let me stop ye from seein’ yer work completed. But donnae hesitate if there is anythin’ at all I can do for ye.”
“Thank you,” Genevieve said with a smile as Franklin turned his back to her and skipped down the hallway.
“Ye’ll have to forgive that one,” Adam said. “Franklin has always been very curious, and havin’ a new face around these parts makes him a wee bit excited.”
Genevieve didn’t say anything as Adam stopped at the last door on the right and smiled at her. There was a kindness in his smile and a sparkle in his eyes that reminded her of her father. As Adam turned the knob of the door and pushed it open, Genevieve’s eyes widened.
The room was illuminated by the light of the fireplace and several strategically placed candles. She stepped over the threshold and deeper into the room. In the far corner, she noticed the bay window with heavy flowing curtains that fell from the ceiling to the floor like a waterfall. The bed was larger than anything she had ever slept on before. And the open space before her was double the size of her last cottage.
Swallowing hard, she tried to contain her excitement. Her heart skipped and sputtered as Adam cupped his hands behind his back and stood at the threshold.
“Is this big enough for ye?” he asked.
“Oh, yes,” Genevieve said, setting her bag down on the floor. She moved closer to the bed and noticed a desk tucked away with a basket of yarn and spools of thread. “More than enough room.”
“Excellent,” Adam said. “I’ve had the servants fetch ye some things from around the castle to mend.”
“Sixteen shillings worth,” Genevieve stated as she rummaged through the basket finding all sorts of needles and hooks for her to use.
“Aye,” Adam said. “I’ll let ye get settled for a bit. Expect the door to be knockin’ soon, though.”
Genevieve glanced at Adam and gave a sharp nod. The old man turned and hobbled out of the room, closing the door behind him as he left. Genevieve stepped into the middle of the room and spun around with her arms out. She’d never in her life been in such a grand room. Many of the rooms her clients put her in small nooks that hadn’t been warmed in months.
A smile drifted over her face, and she moved to the fireplace. Stretching her hands out over the fire, she allowed herself to soak in the heat. The knocking on the door caused her shoulders to drop. Although she expected the servants to come, Genevieve hoped for a few more peaceful moments alone.
Best get this done and over with.
Moving to the door, she pulled it open and gasped. Seven young women, with their hands full of linens and various items, stood in the hallway. Genevieve’s eyes widened as she stepped aside, allowing them to enter.
“Best to put them on the desk,” Genevieve instructed. The servants moved in a line and dropped the items on the desk. The servants marched swiftly into the room and turned on their heels after depositing their burdens. Genevieve stared at them as they marched right back out without a sideways glance.
“If there’s anythin’ ye need…” the familiar voice said as Genevieve inspected the items on the desk. She lifted her attention to the door and smiled. Elliot stood at the threshold, fidgeting with his hands and a bashful grin on his face. Genevieve couldn’t remember the last time she had seen the blacksmith, but found her heart lightened on seeing a familiar face.
“Donnae hesitate to ask.”
“And since when do you work here?” she asked, ignoring the work on the desk for a moment. Elliot shrugged as his gaze shifted to the floor before returning to hers.
“Only a season or so,” he answered.
“The Laird mentioned you were the one to whisper in his ear about my skills,” she said with a crooked grin.
“Aye,” Elliot bobbed his head bashfully. “Yer the best there is at what ye do. And donnae mind the Laird here. He’s strict and can be a bit hot-tempered, but tis only because he expects the best and will pay handsomely for it.”
“Well,” Genevieve glanced to the pile of work on her desk and exhaled. “It seems I have work to do.”
Elliot stepped back and nodded. “Aye. I ken ye’ll do well.”
“I hope so,” she answered. “But will I see you again?”
The smile on his face beamed as his eyes widened. His head bobbed, and he swallowed hard. “Aye, I’d like that very much.”
“Well, depending on if I can tackle this monstrosity, perhaps I’ll have some time in the morning to see you?”
“I’d like that very much,” Elliot said as Genevieve moved to the door. She waved her fingers at him as she closed the door.
Turning, she tried to remember what her father would say when huge tasks were set before him. She moved back to the desk, removed her smock and jacket, and put them on the back of the chair.
One stitch at a time, and I’ll be fine.
Genevieve pulled the chair out from the desk and sat down. She rummaged through the basket of threads and needles left for her and got to work. As the hours passed, the pile of completed work measured higher than the work needed to be done.
By the time the pile was finished, the candles in her room were nothing but mounds of melted wax on their bases. The fire had burned to embers. Crawling out from the chair, Genevieve stretched out her back and shuffled to the bed. Dropping down into the soft pillow and heavy blankets, she moaned. Every muscle in her hands ached, and her backside was sore. Yawning, she snuggled into the pillows and let sleep take her.
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