by Shannon Stacey, author of One Christmas Eve
The holiday season is a hectic time for adults, and for many it’s not only very busy, but also a time of emotional and/or financial stress. Nothing kickstarts my festive mood like a holiday romance because, whether the pages are filled with angsty emotion or humor and fun, I know the story will end in a happily-ever-after for the holidays.
Here are just a few of the books I’m looking forward to savoring with my favorite fleece blanket and a hot mug of coffee. (If my dogs will share my fleece blanket with me. They can be rather greedy when it comes to fleece.)
I’ve always been a sucker for romances set in Alaska. Throw in Christmas and a guy trying not to fall for his sister’s best friend and I am so there.
I also love books set in Montana (which might be Nora Roberts’s fault). Throw in a grumpy doctor, some search and rescue, and Hanukkah, and this sounds like a perfect holiday read!
A little heat with my romance is perfect for a chilly night, so I find a lot of Harlequin Desires on my holiday reading list. I love Jessica’s books and it has a fake fiancé, so I’ll definitely be reading Christmas Seduction!
For even more heat, I’ll be reading this offering from the Dirty Bits line by Carina Press. Small-town librarians snowed in at the library overnight!
That title! Coupled with the premise—a single mom, a fixer-upper house, and a bad boy passing through—this is one that definitely needs to be in my holiday TBR.
I try to read at least one holiday romance per year that’s set in a place that’s a lot warmer than New Hampshire, and Jamaica definitely fits the bill. I’m so here for a hot CEO that was the best man at her wedding that didn’t happen!
Now that the season for holiday romances is upon us, I know I’ll be buying a lot more of them than I can read before the New Year. (To be honest, I have more holiday romances in my TBR pile than I can read before New Year’s Day of 2050, but it never hurts to have a stockpile.) Holiday romance covers tend to catch my eye, and I can’t resist the titles. Knowing I’ll close the book basking in the glow of a heartwarming holiday HEA makes them irresistible to me and, as you can see, I’ve already got my reading list ready!
About One Christmas Eve:
They couldn’t be more different. Or more perfect for each other.
New York Times bestselling author Shannon Stacey returns with a warm and cozy opposites-attract Christmas story.
Zoe Randall is busy living her life as she damn well pleases. She’s back in her favorite town, her divorce in her rearview mirror, and living out her childhood dream of running a bookstore with her cousin. She has no interest in the uptight nerd who opened his boring-ass business next to her shop…until he complains about one of her sexy window displays.
Then it’s game on.
Preston Wheeler knows he takes life a little too seriously. But when the saucy bookseller next door starts pushing his buttons, he can feel that changing. Beautiful, vivacious Zoe challenges him in all the best ways, and soon he’s pushing her buttons right back: teasing and flirting all the way through the holiday season.
As Preston loosens up and Zoe is treated to the man behind the suit (particularly his forearms), she realizes she’s more interested than she cares to admit. And Preston comes to see the beauty—the absolute delight—in adding Zoe’s bright splashes of color to his once very black-and-white existence.
by A.C. Arthur, author of Awaken the Dragon
Whenever I’m asked where the inspiration for my stories comes from, the answer inevitably circles around three things: people, places and things. I’m always people-watching and absorbing character traits and flaws. I read books and watch movies that take me to different places. And I have an on-again, off-again, curious streak that draws me to certain things at odd times. I know this seems like a well of inspiration to draw from, but most of my stories boil down to one central element within these three and the rest grows from there.
For my new paranormal romance series, The Legion, it was the movie Black Panther. I’m a huge fan of the Marvel Universe, not the comic books, but the movies. So of course, I was in theaters opening weekend for the release of Black Panther. Because I’d never read the comic books, I really had no idea what to expect from this movie. All I knew was—Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan and Lupita Nyong’o. Three strong black lead characters were bursting out of this expansive superhero world with beauty, grace and an explosion of black power and elegance. When I left the theater, I knew I’d eventually write a story that captured just a little bit of the magic that movie had exposed.
Fast forward to writing some other books, watching more movies and experiencing life in general and more ideas began to stick in my mind. Pictures I’d seen on Pinterest, concepts I thought I might like to touch on, colors, people who had great voices. Really, it was like a hodgepodge of stuff came to me at different times until I figured I just needed to get some things down on paper.
I’d already had a skeleton of a synopsis written from a couple years ago. It was a story about dragons, but back then I’d just started writing about jaguar shapeshifters, so I didn’t want to start wandering around with too many species. I revisited the old synopsis and found it still spoke to me as a story that I wanted to tell, but not in the same way. I wanted to create a world that was not only steeped in fantasy and mythical lure, but also in cultural history and depth. So, the dragon met the African demigoddess.
Not only was I naturally drawn to my African heritage, but I especially related to the Orishas, with their spiritual connection and their power which was drawn from nature. There was a purity and humanity in them that I found innately interesting. And while dragon shapeshifter stories weren’t new to the genre, combining their majestic power with the sometimes quiet, but steadfast strength of a black woman—a demigoddess—gave me a feeling of invigoration and a desire to create a world where this combined excellence could lead and bring about change.
The first book in The Legion series is Awaken the Dragon. This is the meeting and discovery story, the first step to greatness is how I thought about it as I wrote. Not in that I thought the words I put on page were great, but that the story that I was beginning to tell might at some point take on a greater meaning. Theo and Shola, the protagonists, are both on a journey of learning, exploring and, in the end, standing firm in their truth and their destiny. Of course, at this point they don’t know where that destiny will lead, but it’s a first step for them and the others who will follow behind them. And it’s a first step into a love affair that neither ever imagined. Yeah, that sounds cliché for a romance book, but believe me when I say these two people were on such focused and decisive paths that left no room for venturing off course that the love and attraction did blindside them—and everyone around them, as well. But love will be the driving force behind their success. This will be true for every other couple brought together in this series. While the world around them is a dumpster fire and will cast them into one dangerous situation after another, they’ll each cling to the love blooming inside to find their place and purpose. Alpha men, strong women, dark entities, dooming curses, and a blending of cultural biases, myths and eventually revelations, will be featured in this series. It is my hope that every reader will come along for the ride.
About Awaken the Dragon:
He’s sworn to protect the very entity she was born to kill…
Next in line for the Drakon throne, Theo Masters is the most powerful half human, half dragon in the world. Royal power is the last thing he wants, however. He lives as a human and runs the Legion Security Company. But his new client—a mysterious, beautiful human from a small African village—and the unknown danger she faces may forever change the quiet life that he’s chosen.
Shola N’Gara exists to kill the dark spirit that is attempting to demolish her people. It’s her purpose and her destiny. The gorgeous protector who taunts her with his sexy voice and body is not—especially after he shifts into a magnificent black dragon with turquoise eyes.
A rise in demon activity and the brutal murders Theo’s agents have been reporting start to add up. Someone is making a play, and it’s big enough to change the course of the world as they know it. Now Shola must choose between her destiny and her heart. And Theo must decide if standing by the woman he’s fallen in love with is worth facing his father in a battle to the death.
Halloween is here, and we couldn’t be more excited for this excuse to share some of our favorite paranormal romances! Whether you’re looking for vampires, shapeshifters, psychics or Faerie princes, we have the perfect sexy and suspenseful story for you.
Here are 8 paranormal romances you won’t want to miss!
Rowan Summerwaite is no ordinary woman. Physical vessel to the Celtic Goddess Brigid and raised by the leader of the Vampire Nation, she’s a supercharged hunter with the power to slay any vampire who violates the age-old treaty.
A recent string of murders has her at odds with Las Vegas’s new Scion, the arrogant and powerful Clive Stewart. The killings have the mark of Vampire all over them, and Rowan warns Clive to keep his people in line—or she’ll mete out her own brand of justice.
Though her dealings with Clive are adversarial to say the least, Rowan is intensely aware of her attraction to him. But she can’t let it distract her from her duty—to find and battle the killer before more women die.
Book 1 in the Goddess with a Blade series.
Priest Rahandras has lived with the darkness trapped inside himself for years. Betrayed by his own brother and forced to watch his clan’s brutal annihilation, the only thing Priest wants more than to escape the curse that haunts him—as both man and beast—is to rebuild.
Until the mate he’s longed for walks into his life with an elder from his past. She’s everything he’s wished for, and the key to the clan’s very survival.
Kateri Falsen is a woman of logic and facts. While Priest’s cat can sense her arousal, telling her they’re fated won’t be enough. He’ll have to show her his love: with his words, with his actions and with his body.
Protecting Kateri from the evil trapped inside him is paramount. But when lost clan members are systematically murdered, he’ll have to choose between exposing his mate to his black magic or risking her as the next victim.
Book 1 in the Ancient Ink series.
Hunting for big bad wolves was never part of Agent Cooper Dayton’s plan, but a werewolf attack lands him in the carefully guarded Bureau of Special Investigations. A new case comes with a new partner: ruggedly sexy werewolf Oliver Park.
Park is an agent of The Trust, a werewolf oversight organization working to ease escalating tensions with the BSI. But as far as Cooper’s concerned, it’s failing. As they investigate a series of mysterious deaths unlike anything they’ve seen, every bone in Cooper’s body is suspicious of his new partner—even when Park proves himself as competent as he is utterly captivating.
When more people vanish, pressure to solve the case skyrockets. And though he’d resolved to keep things professional, Cooper’s friction with Park soon erupts…into a physical need that can’t be contained or controlled. But with a body count that’s rising by the day, werewolves and humans are in equal danger. If Cooper and Park don’t catch the killer soon, one—or both—of them could be the next to go.
Book 1 in the Big Bad Wolf series.
Immortal not-ghost Wes Cooper and his vampire partner, Hudson Rojas, have it all—rewarding private investigation work, great friends and, most important, a love that’s endured. But ever since Wes sent a demon screaming back to the beyond, his abilities have grown overpowering and overwhelming. He’s hiding the fact that he’s losing control the best he can, but it’s hard to keep anything a secret for long when your partner’s a former cop…and especially when your partner’s a former cop who wants to move in together.
When all hell literally breaks loose in Toronto and superstrength ghosts are unleashed on Wes and his friends, he and Hudson are thrown into a case unlike any they’ve seen before. To save the city, Wes needs to harness his new power…and find some answers. But when he gets them, the solution to fix it all could mean losing everything.
Book 2 in the Not Dead Yet series.
Arthur Kenzie’s life’s work is protecting the world from the supernatural relics that could destroy it. When an amulet with the power to control the tides is shipped to New York, he must intercept it before it can be used to devastating effects. This time, in order to succeed, he needs a powerful psychometric…and the only one available has sworn off his abilities altogether.
Rory Brodigan’s gift comes with great risk. To protect himself, he’s become a recluse, redirecting his magic to find counterfeit antiques. But with the city’s fate hanging in the balance, he can’t force himself to say no.
Being with Arthur is dangerous, but Rory’s ever-growing attraction to him begins to make him brave. And as Arthur coaxes him out of seclusion, a magical and emotional bond begins to form. One that proves impossible to break—even when Arthur sacrifices himself to keep Rory safe and Rory must risk everything to save him.
The only human student at Mather’s School of Magick, Phineas Smith has a target on his back. Born with the rare ability to tap into unlimited magick, he finds both Faerie Courts want his allegiance—and will do anything to get it.
They don’t realize he can’t levitate a feather, much less defend the Faerie Realm as it slips into civil war.
Unseelie Prince Roark Lyne, Phineas’s roommate—and self-proclaimed arch nemesis—is beautiful and brave and a pain in the ass. Phineas can’t begin to sort through their six years of sexual tension masquerading as mutual dislike. But Roark is also the only one able to help Finn tame his magick.
Trusting Roark’s mysterious motives may be foolish; not accepting his temporary protection would be deadly.
Caught in the middle of the impending war, Phineas and Roark forge a dangerous alliance. And as the walls between them crumble, Phineas realizes that Roark isn’t the monster he’d imagined. But their growing intimacy threatens to expose a secret that could either turn the tide of the war…or destroy them both.
Book 1 in the Darkest Court series.
Katie Grady left Diablo Lake to get over a humiliating breakup. But her family needs her help, so she’s back, in a sublet right across the hall from the guy she’s lusted after for years. Jace Dooley is hotter than ever, and their friendship picks up along with massive doses of grown-up chemistry.
The very scent of Katie sharpens Jace’s canines, makes the wolf within him stir. There’s nothing more alluring to a Pack Alpha than a sexy female who is so very in charge. She won’t be coddled, but if he plays his hand just right she might be convinced to become his.
Katie presents a challenge to Jace’s wolf nature, whose chief instinct is to protect. Especially now that she’s coming into the magic that is her birthright—and suddenly Jace isn’t the only one who’s interested in Katie or the raw power she’s just learning to use.
Book 1 in the Diablo Lake series.
Not much worries Noah Wulfenbach, one of the most powerful shifters in North America, but questions about Iva Yamauchi’s recovery had made him anxious. He was vigilant in his caring for his mate, sitting beside her tree, talking to it—to her. Now that she’s back, Noah’s relief is matched only by his desire to drag the feisty dryad to his house to complete their mating bond.
Iva is ready to make up for lost time, especially with the delicious Alpha Prime of the werewolves, her fated mate. She and Noah had only just recognized their connection when she was injured and broken, forced to retreat to her tree. She’s curious and excited to find out just how firmly she’s tied to Mr. Tall, Dark and Growly.
Before Iva and Noah can explore the depth of their connection, supernatural hunters threaten the population of Maggie’s Grove. Together with the other town rulers, the fated pair must slay the demon-possessed leader of the hunters. Iva and Noah just found each other; they’re not ready to say goodbye…but they may not have a choice.
Book 5 in the Maggie’s Grove series.
What will you be reading this Halloween? Let us know in the comments section!
by A.M. Arthur, author of Lucky Break
Hey, reading family! I’m A.M. Arthur, author of the Clean Slate Ranch series for Carina Press, and I’m here to chat a bit about my inspiration for this series and its characters.
I’ve been a huge fan of cowboys and the Old American West for most of my life, probably since I first watched the movie Young Guns. Sure, the hot cast didn’t hurt, but I was also fascinated by the period—the wildness of the West and the cowboy lifestyle, the gunslingers and shoot-outs. Even modern-day cowboys and their lives on ranches across the States charm me. But for a long time, that love didn’t translate over to books, so I was an adult before I read my first cowboy romance. It was an M/M by R.J. Scott called Crooked Tree Ranch, and I was hooked as a reader. But not as a writer.
Even as I built my career writing across all kinds of tropes and subgenres, it never actively occurred to me to write my own cowboy series. The inspiration never arrived until my editor and I were discussing how I could branch out and cowboys came up. And then all I could think about was the movie City Slickers, and how fun it would be if Billy Crystal’s uptight city boy fell in love with Jack Palance’s grumpy cowboy. After that my cowboys started coming to life.
Jack’s grumpy cowboy became my own grumpy cowboy Mack, but why was he grumpy? Why did he work on a dude ranch that catered to tourists? As I dug into Mack’s backstory, two of my other cowboy characters emerged—Mack’s two best friends Colt and Reyes. Three men who’d all met and worked together in Los Angeles, but who now worked in a Northern California tourist spot. Their lives were tangled up in each other, but why were they all cowboys now? The name Clean Slate Ranch came with that answer—all three men had needed a fresh start from their old lives. And in some ways, I imagined the Clean Slate Ranch books to be a trilogy, following the love lives of Mack, Reyes and Colt.
But other background characters started doing interesting things. Popping up and stealing scenes, turning the trilogy into a much longer series, and one of those scene stealers is the hero of my newest release, Lucky Break. Robin is a high-energy flirt who’s playing that role to hide a broken heart from his friends and fellow horsemen, especially as he watches three of his coworkers fall in love and find happiness. While I was trying to figure out his backstory, I ran across a video clip on Facebook of trick riders on horseback, and it flipped a switch in my brain. I started researching trick riding and traveling rodeo shows, and suddenly Robin’s past slid right into place. Someone I’d created to fill in space and support the other characters had come to life in the best way. My favorite part of writing is finding inspiration in the smallest things and reimagining them into something bigger, better. Something exciting for readers to enjoy.
So what’s your favorite book or movie featuring cowboys? Let’s dish!
About Lucky Break:
Welcome to Clean Slate Ranch: home of tight jeans, cowboy boots and rough trails. For some men, it’s a fantasy come true.
Shawn Matthews never imagined he’d be living out of his car, trying to make ends meet, but life doesn’t always go your way—he knows that better than most. When an accident leaves the Clean Slate Ranch shorthanded, Shawn is enlisted to help cook and finds himself bunked next to the sexiest cowboy he’s ever laid eyes on.
The first time Robin Butler spots the new chef, he thinks he’s seeing an actual ghost. Shawn is the spitting image of his late husband, and it spooks the hell out of him. The former rodeo-star-turned-ranch-hand does his best to avoid the soft-spoken cook—except it’s kind of tough when the man makes the best damn grub this side of the Mississippi and has a boy-next-door charm that’s impossible to resist.
Even though the tension between them practically sizzles, Shawn doesn’t do hookups and Robin isn’t ready for a new relationship. Besides, Robin can tell Shawn’s been hurt and deserves a partner who isn’t saddled with a tragic past. But chemistry doesn’t lie. Maybe finding each other—and a second chance at love—is the lucky break they both need.
Welcome to our first-page critiques! These critiques are meant to give insight into how we might look at a manuscript as it comes across our desks on submission. We’ll strive to be critical but not mean. Because it’s only about 800 words, 2 pages at the most, the amount of feedback is necessarily limited—we don’t have access to more than a couple of pages!
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This month’s editor providing critique is Carina Press Freelance Editor Kate Marope.
This was submitted by the author as the first page of their new NA contemporary series where “After a prank gone wrong gets her booted from her college of choice, freshman Rowan Blanchette is forced to attend a public university closer to home, but moving cross-country and starting at a new school between semesters isn’t her idea of a good time.”
I hustle my ass inside a coffee shop on the busiest corner in Dinkytown. Warm air seeps through my coat, my jeans, my boots making my skin tingle as it warms. The place has a funky, vintage fifties vibe, chrome accents and red faux leather, mixed with ski lodge chic. How the fuck does this work together?
I pull down the ‘Help Wanted’ poster from the door and head toward the coffee counter, where a leggy red-head with an amazing ass is washing her hands. Halfway across the room, I spot a couple of U of M hoodies and veer to the right.
There’s an open chair at the table, so I plop myself down. “You boys go to school here?”
The blond one eyes me up. “We do.” He’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a lady killer. A pretty face with a dangerous smile.
I could get into so much trouble with that smile. “Well, thanks to the kind kindness of my former Dean of Students, I am now a student here, rather than a guest of the Tennessee Department of Corrections. Who wants to help me find my dorm?” Correction. I’m going to get into trouble with that smile.
The blond leans across the table and holds out a hand for me to shake. “I’m Deacon Cirillo – my friends call me Deke, sophomore, majoring in beer. This is Grayson Miller – Gray – honorary Cirillo, sophomore, double majoring in graphic design and e-commerce.”
I shake both their hands. “Lovely to meet you boys. I’m Rowan Blanchette, freshman, mostly undecided. And you’re ambitious. I like that.” I point at Grayson.
“Thank you.” Gray smiles softly, a flash of pearly whites, and I feel all the girls in the room simultaneously swoon for him. And maybe I swoon too. Just a tiny bit.
“How’s about we give you the Grand Cirillo-Miller Tour of Campus?” Deke pushes his chair back and stands.
“Ooh, I don’t know about a tour. I’ve been walking all day and my dogs are barking like mad.” I wink. “I’m going to grab a coffee while you two decide who’s showing me where my dorm is.” I stand and take a step toward the counter. “Though, I suppose we could do it as a group thing.”
Deke grabs at his chest and mock swoons. “You tempt me, harlot.”
Gray throws an elbow at his friend’s hip. “Down boy.”
I walk across the room to the Formica topped counter and ding the tiny service bell.
“Just a sec.” A voice calls from the back. A second later the leggy red head I saw earlier appears in the doorway. “Welcome to Hot Shots. What can I get you?”
“I need a large caramel macchiato to go and an application.” I check out the barista – she’s everything I’m not: a tall, thin, long-haired beauty, to my short, curvy – a little extra curvy – with a pixie cut.
“Sure thing. It’ll be $4.16 and you should go with Deke and Gray. The tour is completely worth it.”
“Oooh, fangirl?” I arch a perfectly waxed eyebrow.
“Ha. No. I live with them. Used to date Deke’s brother. He’s like a kid brother to me. The boys give a tour of the Cirillo brothers’ pranks. It’s worthwhile.” She turns her back to me and starts on my coffee.
“Nice to meet you Not Fangirl. I’m Rowan and I think I’m about to go on a campus tour with two guys I just met. Seems totally kosher.” I laugh a little, because this is so typical of me and half of moving home from Tennessee was so I could focus on growing up and making better decisions. Clearly, this is not one of the better decisions I need to learn to make.
“Nice to meet you Rowan. I’m Iris.” The redhead tosses her hair over her shoulder. “And the boys are safe, I promise.” She slides a cardboard cup across the counter, steam rising in tempting curls.
“Good. Promises from strangers are totally meaningful.” I sip carefully at my coffee, desperate for the caffeine, but conscious of my easily scalded taste buds.
“Come on now. We’ve known each other several minutes; we’re on a first name basis. We’re hardly strangers.” She grins. “Plus, you know where to find me if they beat you up and take your lunch money.”
“It’s not my lunch money I’m worried about.” I bite my lip and try not to smile.
From the query letter, we know that Rowan is a “One-night-stand junkie” who “…needs to focus on herself and her future – finishing college and growing her business. A man isn’t in her plans.” She’s looking to improve on her second go of things. To that end, it would be critical for the first page or two to establish who Rowan wants to be on this new campus, and maybe a few hints of who she used to be and what made her reach the tipping point to do better (or her plan for it).
For a brief moment, we get a sense that Rowan needs cash flow—she went into the coffeehouse and snatched up the We’re Hiring sign—but she immediately gets distracted by the hotties in the corner. Her job search is a side note to the flirty banter. While I appreciate the author was trying to show “old” Rowan, this just suggested that Rowan was not even really trying to change whatever character flaw that led the “prank gone wrong” which in turn led to her being forced to change schools (she lasted all of 2 paragraphs before she relapsed). This pattern repeats when she asks Iris for an application (they talk more about the boys than the job she supposedly needs).
Rowan’s general attitude in this scene is very flippant. She’s clearly not remorseful for what she (maybe supposedly) did, but she’s also not thankful for having avoided the slammer. Her tone is sarcastic and glib (“Well, thanks to the kind kindness of my former Dean of Students, I am now a student here, rather than a guest of the Tennessee Department of Corrections”). Some amount of intention, whether she wants to change for “better” or if she’s intending to do more of the same (e.g. there’s nothing wrong with me), needs to be there. Right now, she’s going back and forth.
Unfortunately, the author gave us too much information about all the other characters—from full names, familial relations, majors, to housing situations and everything in between—and Rowan’s characterization falls a little flat (she is a flippant, boy chaser). There are very few hints at Rowan’s motivations (why is she trying to do better?), aspirations (she’s “mostly undecided”; what business is she trying to grow?), and conflict (what old habits is she struggling against? What is the nature of that struggle, since she knows she need to learn to make better choices for herself?).
I would’ve loved to see her on the drive to campus or unpacking in her dorm before she goes to the Hot Shots and discover what her expectations and plans for the new her and new campus were. I wasn’t sure if the town was really called Dinkytown, or if this was more sass from her and a reflection of her resentment of being sent there. Basically, I would have appreciated more context to the situation.
Rowan’s conversation with Deke and Grayson felt awkward because of all the details the author crammed in there. She’s meeting guys for the first time at a coffee shop and asking for directions; full names, majors, and all that could’ve waited until the actual tour or as she got to know them better (e.g. That’s the X department where I spend most of my time…cue convo about who is studying what).
On a smaller note, the introduction/meet cute, didn’t fall quite right, just because Deke is very proactive in fighting for Rowan’s attention (though, I’m not a fan of him calling her a harlot, tbh). Grayson, who is supposed to be the hero is not really matching her sexy, aggressive energy, and it doesn’t give a sense of this is a moment.
All in all, I think this is a case where the author was trying to get the chemistry right, but in doing that the heroine and context got a little bit lost. And that’s not abnormal—beginnings are hard, especially when you’re writing a new series with characters whose stories and circumstances you don’t quite know yet. I would recommend that, after they get to know the characters and their arcs better, they go back to these first few pages or chapters to smooth out that arc, so Rowan’s development and situation has a clearer progression (i.e. it’s evident to the reader where or what her character will move towards). Don’t fear not having all the details right up front; worry more about having the right details first.
Would I keep reading? No, because of the pacing and characterization issues.
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