The Better Part of Darkness

( 62 )

Overview

Atlanta: it's the promised city for the off-worlders, foreigners from the alternate dimensions of heaven-like Elysia and hell-like Charbydon. Some bring good works and miracles. And some bring unimaginable evil....

Charlie Madigan is a divorced mother of one, and a kick-ass cop trained to take down the toughest human and off-world criminals. She's recently returned from the dead after a brutal attack, an unexplained revival that has left her plagued by ruthless nightmares and ...

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The Better Part of Darkness

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Overview

Atlanta: it's the promised city for the off-worlders, foreigners from the alternate dimensions of heaven-like Elysia and hell-like Charbydon. Some bring good works and miracles. And some bring unimaginable evil....

Charlie Madigan is a divorced mother of one, and a kick-ass cop trained to take down the toughest human and off-world criminals. She's recently returned from the dead after a brutal attack, an unexplained revival that has left her plagued by ruthless nightmares and random outbursts of strength that make doing her job for Atlanta P.D.'s Integration Task Force even harder. Since the Revelation, the criminal element in Underground Atlanta has grown, leaving Charlie and her partner Hank to keep the chaos to a dull roar. But now an insidious new danger is descending on her city with terrifying speed, threatening innocent lives: a deadly, off-world narcotic known as ash. Charlie is determined to uncover the source of ash before it targets another victim — but can she protect those she loves from a force more powerful than heaven and hell combined?

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Gay debuts with this captivating urban fantasy. Thirteen years ago, mankind officially recognized the existence of paradisiacal Elysia and hellish Charbydon, and the multitude of mythical beings inhabiting them. Now Atlanta is a crossroads for all sorts of creatures, and the Integration Task Force keeps tabs on them all. Recently resurrected single mom Charlie Madigan juggles her personal life with her career as an ITF officer, searching for the source of a deadly narcotic called ash. When her family and friends are caught in the middle of her investigation, Charlie discovers powers she never knew, and a destiny that could destroy the entire world. How far will she go to save her child and her city? Intricate world-building and richly complex characters mix with a fast-paced plot to create a standout start to a new series. (Dec.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781439109656
  • Publisher: Pocket Books
  • Publication date: 11/24/2009
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 382,735
  • Product dimensions: 4.10 (w) x 6.84 (h) x 1.07 (d)

Read an Excerpt

1

"You told a two-thousand-year-old oracle to prove it." Hank kept pace beside me, nursing his bloody nose with a handful of fast-food napkins I'd pulled from the glove box earlier. "I mean, do you ever think before the words spew out of your mouth, Charlie?"

"Yeah, all the time." I jogged up the four brick steps. "If Alessandra didn't have to act like a knowit-all, then I wouldn't have to say things to her."

"She is a know-it-all!"

A tired huff escaped me as I opened the front door to Hope Ridge School for Girls and fixed Hank with a deadpan look. "You've been whining ever since we left."

He swept past me, riding high on his martyrdom. "I'm not whining, I'm complaining. About you. And your incredible talent for pissing off people way more powerful than yourself."

I was exhausted from another sleepless night, and Hank's bitching grated on my last nerve. "Well, what do you want me to say, Hank?"

We strode at a fast clip down the empty hallway, passing Emma's homeroom door. Hope Ridge was my daughter's school. I'd been there hundreds of times in the last four years. But never like this.

Granted, the call that went over the wire was for paramedics, not ITF. The only reason we'd come was to make sure everything was okay. Otherwise we'd be over at Thumbs Up having a late breakfast.

"How about I'm sorry," Hank was saying. "Sorry, Hank, for always getting you punched, kicked, cursed out, et cetera, et cetera..." He dabbed at his nose a few times. The bleeding had finally stopped. "I don't know why they always hit me when you're the one who — "

Two school security guards blocked the restroom door. Hank had the good sense to end the conversation as we approached.

"She's in there," one of them said, holding the door open.

I nodded my thanks, stepped inside, and immediately froze. My lungs deflated on a stunned exhale. "Shit."

Hank let the door close behind us, gave a quick once-over of the victim on the floor, and then studied my shocked face. "What? You know this girl?"

I stared down at the female body curled into a fetal position, one hand under her cheek, as though she'd simply decided to lie down on the ugly green-and-white tiled floor of the girls' bathroom and take a nap.

Numbness and disbelief stole over me. I blinked hard, wanting to erase what I was seeing, wanting to go back to this morning and somehow change the course of events that had led to this.

"Charlie?"

I didn't answer. My voice wouldn't come.

Hank knelt by the right shoulder of the girl, rested one arm casually across his thigh, and stared up at me. Annoyed wrinkles creased the corners of his mouth. Nothing unusual. Hank looked at me like that all the time.

"Hello? Earth to Madigan. What the hell's with you today?"

I did a mental shake to regain my clarity. Didn't help much. I knew what I had to do. Investigate. Gather information. But I couldn't remember how to begin. Nothing had hit so close to home before. Hank's big form made the teenage girl on the floor look so small, so childlike...so innocent.

"Wait a second," he said as it dawned on him, "October tenth. Your favorite day of the year. How could I forget? An entire day of you being loopy as hell." He sighed and raised his perfect face to the ceiling. "What did I do to deserve this?"

"Uh, you invaded my world, my city, my life. How's that for starters?" I shot him my trademark smile — cynical and slightly twisted.

Yeah, October tenth was my favorite freaking day of the year. The thirteenth anniversary. The day heaven and hell came out of the closet. Literally.

It wasn't a day one tended to forget.

"Charlie?"

"Yeah," I answered automatically.

I had to regain control of myself. I was good at my job and now it meant more than ever because I knew this girl. I'd practically watched her grow up. I'd just seen her this morning, for God's sake.

"Yeah, I know her. Don't you recognize her?" My voice didn't break, but my heart hurt like a sonofabitch. "Amanda Mott. She's" — I swallowed — "was Emma's friend and babysitter. Big sister, really..."

Hank gave a solemn nod. "Thus the 'shit' comment."

"Thus the 'shit' comment."

"She have any illnesses you know of? Depression? Unstable?"

"No, nothing like that. She's a good kid, Hank."

His troubled sigh echoed in the sterile bathroom. I watched him turn his attention back to Amanda's body, leaning closer — too close.

I knelt down. "Jesus, Hank, are you sniffing her?"

Blue topaz eyes met mine, and he hit me with a full-on grin. Sometimes, when he did that, it stole my breath for a split second. He dragged his fingers through thick, wavy hair the color of sunshine on gold and then frowned. "You don't smell that?"

I leaned closer and sniffed. "Uh, no."

"Figures," he muttered. "You people are so out of touch."

Oh, did I mention? Hank wasn't human.

All part of the policy. Integrate. Work together. Build relationships. Hank and I have been partners for three years now, both assigned to the ITF — Integration Task Force — which has pretty much taken over the policing and monitoring of all immigrant beings...whether from here or somewhere else.

No one had been happy about being assigned to work with an off-world partner. In fact, there wasn't a law enforcement officer out there who'd been comfortable with the new assignments. But we soon saw the necessity. With the influx of any alien, illegal or otherwise, crime rose. Better to have the insider knowledge to deal with it.

Hank was a siren. Particularly useful in police work. Criminals, suspects, witnesses — they all wanted to tell the truth just to please him. All he had to do was take off his voice modifier. Developed by Mott Technologies and made of thick iridescent metal with two balls at the ends, similar to a Celtic torc, the voice-mod adjusted Hank's supernaturally alluring voice into something we mere mortals could handle without embarrassing ourselves. And it wasn't just women. Men, kids, babies, animals, you name it. Any living creature was drawn to Hank like he was the village piper. I liked to call him the village idiot, but, hey, that's just me.

Hank's expression became serious, his frown deepening. He reached out and put two fingers on the side of Amanda's neck and then closed his eyes. I waited, knowing not to interrupt. Hank was right, for the most part. Humans were more out of touch in the psychic sense, though ITF had begun hiring any psychically-inclined officer they could get their hands on. Off-worlders, however, were blessed with an overabundance of senses.

"You gotta be kidding me." He removed his fingers and gave me a frank look. "She's not dead."

"What?"

"She's not dead."

Immediately I felt for her pulse. Nothing. "I swear to God, Hank, I'll put a bullet in your belly and send you back to Elysia if you're messing with me." And I'd done it once before, so he knew to take me seriously.

"Jeez, Charlie, give me some credit will you? I wouldn't kid you about this."

Emma loved Amanda like any devoted little sister would. She also adored Hank. And I knew that if this affected her, then Hank wouldn't mess with me on something so personal.

I stared at my partner over Amanda's body for a hard second, then shot to my feet and radioed the paramedics with the news as Hank began walking slowly down the row of stalls, searching each one for clues as to what might've caused Amanda to drop into a death-like sleep on the cold, dirty floor during third period Algebra.

I crouched next to Amanda, wanting so badly to tuck the loose strands of white-blonde hair behind her ear. But I didn't dare. God, please don't let this be what I think it is.

As we waited for the paramedics, I used the time to scan her body, searching over the Black Watch plaid skirt, the knee-high white socks, the chunky black Mary Janes, and the white blouse. It was the same uniform Emma had worn to school, the same one she wore every day. Nothing seemed out of place, except for Amanda herself. She looked peaceful, happy even.

The medical examiner entered the bathroom with her hard, shiny black case and equally shiny black bob, which curved under a small oval face, determined red lips, and dark Asian eyes. She'd gotten another new pair of glasses and they framed her eyes perfectly, as did the other twenty-odd pairs she owned. Liz bought designer eyeglasses like some women bought expensive shoes. "Hey, Madigan." She shut the door behind her. "How is it you can afford to send your kid to a swanky place like this?"

I was going to kill Hank. The blabbermouth.

I stood and moved aside. "It's called child support. Automatic draft is a wondrous thing."

"Ah, that would explain it." She set down her case, opened it, and withdrew a small pair of latex gloves, which she put on with a loud snap. Then she knelt next to Amanda to check her pulse and listen to her heartbeat. "Heard over the radio you have a live one here." She sighed, preferring to analyze the dead over the living. "Not exactly my specialty but...How old is she?"

"Sixteen," I answered quietly, allowing Liz to be the brilliant medical examiner that she was. Of course it didn't hurt that she was also a kick-ass necromancer. Usually, what the dead couldn't tell us from our investigation, they could tell Liz. But we always tried to solve a case ourselves. It took a massive amount of energy and life force to raise the dead. And if Liz did it for every John Doe who rolled through the door, she would've lost her own life a long time ago. After a long moment, she removed the earpieces to the stethoscope.

"Anything?" I asked.

"Heartbeat is so damn faint and slow you can hardly hear it with the stethoscope. At this rate, she should be going into cardiac arrest. Looks like all the others."

I glanced impatiently at the door. Where the hell were the medics?

Still hopeful, Liz examined Amanda's skull. "There appears to be no external damage to her body at all. Maybe an aneurysm, or..." She lifted Amanda's eyelid, and we both gasped even though we'd seen this a dozen times in the last week.

I knelt down. "Damn."

A cloudy white film glazed over Amanda's eye. Goose bumps crept up my arms and legs, a sign of foreboding that left me downright cold. The Pine-Sol scent of the room was starting to give me a headache.

"Looks like ash has just moved uptown," Liz said on a resigned breath.

Hank dropped to his haunches next to me and took in this new information. A steel curtain slid over his features. Hank always showed his emotions. And with the realization of what we were seeing, ash making its way from Underground Atlanta into a midtown private school, Hank should've been cursing or hitting something by now. I studied him intently and didn't miss the telltale flex of his jaw before he stood. Yeah, something was definitely up.

"Mom! Mom, what's going on?" Emma's terrified voice echoed from the hallway.

Motherhood and work. Usually I had no trouble keeping the two separated, but this time the lines were seriously blurred. "Damn it." I closed my eyes for a second, hating that they had crossed, hating that they'd even come close. I drew in a deep breath and switched gears from detective to mom. "Hold on a sec," I told Hank and Liz and then walked calmly into the hallway, mentally preparing myself.

Seeing her standing there in her uniform, all tall and thin, approaching twelve way too fast, it suddenly hit me how much Emma had grown in the last year. A rush of sad realization squeezed my chest. Time was racing by where my daughter was concerned. She pressed against the police tape, which had gone up while we were inside, and pushed against the school security officer. He held her back with a hand on her shoulder. My hand went to the service weapon on my hip. An automatic gesture. I didn't intend to use it, but the guy had better get his paws off my kid.

"Hey." I placed my hand on his left shoulder, probably harder than I should have. "I got it."

He hesitated. He might be the big guy here at school, but he knew not to mess with an ITF agent. Our training and selection process had become legendary. Not many people could look a hellhound in the eye and know how to defeat it. We'd been trained to face every being and beast from both worlds, and we all had the scars and nightmares to prove it.

"Ma'am." He nodded, stepping back.

I turned to my daughter, lowering my voice. "What are you doing out of class?" I had to show my confident side, let her know everything would be all right. But my heart pounded. She was highly intuitive and knew me better than anyone. I reached out to smooth the wavy brown bangs behind her ear. She always wore a ponytail to school — couldn't convince her to do anything different.

She did a quick wave with her wooden bathroom pass. "Mom," she began in an I'm-not-a-stupid-kid-I-know-what's-going-on tone, "they told us to stay in class, that something happened with a student, but I saw you and Hank from the window and said I had to go." She leaned close, her big brown eyes turning wide and glassy. "Amanda was supposed to be my lab buddy today, but she never showed." Her nostrils flared and tears rose to the surface. "It's not her, is it?"

I opened my mouth to answer at the same moment the paramedics burst through the front door and raced down the hall. Great. I turned back to her. Two lines of tears trailed down her cheeks. Her bottom lip trembled, tugging hard on my protective instincts.

"Oh, God. I knew it!" There was a hint of accusation in her tone, as though I somehow had control over what had happened.

"Oh, baby." I pulled her close, hugging her tight and smoothing back her hair, breathing in the familiar scent of Cherry Blast shampoo. She was too young to know this kind of worry and fear. But Emma was a strong kid. She'd had to fly by the seat of her pants right along with me when I became a mother at nineteen, and she'd handled that learning curve like a champ. And she'd been able to get through the divorce with way more strength and understanding than me.

We'd get through this. And I damned sure as hell was going to find out who was flooding the city with ash. The optimistic part of me wanted to believe there was another explanation for Amanda's condition, that somehow it was just a medical issue. But I knew it was a silly hope. No medical problems I knew of turned your eyes into something out of The Exorcist. How in the hell had it spread so quickly?

"It'll be all right, kiddo." I leaned back and gazed down at her, giving her my most reassuring smile. She was the one innocent, good thing in my world. And I intended to keep it that way. "Amanda will make it, you'll see. She's not hurt, not bleeding; she's just asleep and we can't figure out why."

I kissed her forehead, pausing there for a moment to breathe in her scent again. No one else could give me that kind of immediate peace. She grounded me, kept me always looking forward and never back. Kept me from lingering too long on all the evil things I'd witnessed over my career and in my past. I straightened and drew in a deep, cleansing breath, then looked her straight in the eye. "But we'll fix this, I promise. Okay?"

Her mouth dropped open. One hand went to her hip. "Okay? That's it? Okay? Like I'm eight years old or something? " Her chin lifted a notch, and her eyes glinted in opposition. "It's not okay. I want to see her."

"You know I couldn't let you, even if I wanted to, which I don't."

"Well, I'm not leaving," she said, "until I see her." Attitude poured off her in maddening waves that, in any other circumstance, would've riled me. But the challenging stance and the belligerent cock to her head couldn't hide her fear. She was like a wounded puppy — scared to death, too small to defend itself, yet baring its teeth anyway.

I took her shoulders and turned her around to face the way she'd come. "There's not a thing you can do right now. Let me do my job, okay? We'll talk tonight."

Her chin didn't drop, but her tone did. "Fine."

I watched her shuffle down the hall, wanting nothing more than to run to her and give her one more hug, but I couldn't. I had to make good on my promise. She stopped at her classroom door and glanced back at me, the uniform reminding me of the first time she wore it in third grade. So young then. So young now. Even from that distance, I saw her vulnerable look and the deep sigh that escaped her lips.

"She's hurting," Hank observed quietly, coming to stand beside me as Emma went inside her classroom.

"Yeah, I don't need super senses to figure that out." I marched away from him, down the hall in the opposite direction, needing some air before I totally lost it.

Usually on cases, I had no trouble remaining distant and methodical. Don't get close, and you don't lose your objectivity. And you don't get yourself beaten to death running down a back alley after a pissed-off ghoul before your partner gets there to back you up. I'd learned my lesson. And I hadn't made a mistake like that again.

I couldn't make one now.

The unmistakable scent of autumn, of changing leaves and cool soil, rode on a leisurely breeze, helping to calm my emotions as I stepped into the courtyard where the kids often ate lunch on nice days like this.

I turned my face to the warm sunlight, letting my eyelids close. The voices on my radio drifted into the background along with the birds in the courtyard and the sound of cars on the side street beyond the high stone walls that surrounded the school grounds.

Just a moment's peace was all I was after, but as my mind drifted all I could think about was the irony. I busted my ass every day to afford the best and safest school for Emma, to pay for everything else myself and use Will's child support solely for her education.

Kindergarten through twelfth grade, Hope Ridge was one of the best private schools in Atlanta. And, despite all that, I couldn't protect her from the harsh realities of life. I knew what it was like to be a victim, and I knew what it was like to love a victim, to feel helpless and lost. Crime happened anywhere and in the safest places. It was inevitable. But, still, part of me had been convinced that if I worked hard enough, somehow my child would be exempt.

The mention of Amanda's name over the radio interrupted my thoughts. They were taking her to Grady Memorial Hospital. All her vital signs were normal except her heartbeat. She didn't appear to be worsening.

Ash had hit the market so fast, just in the last few weeks, that we still didn't know what we were dealing with. Chemically engineered? An airborne agent? An ingested substance from Elysia or Charbydon? There were so many mysterious things brought into the country with the influx of our new neighbors. I scrubbed my face with both hands, feeling overwhelmed. Protecting citizens was hard enough, and lately, as we mingled more and more with the offworlders, it felt as though we were patrolling blind.

At least I had Hank.

And he knew way more than he let on. I turned and headed back into the building, steeling my resolve. He'd spill his alien guts one way or another.

The soles of my black boots echoed in the empty space as I marched down the hall. Ahead, Hank was speaking to the school superintendent and Principal Anton. He pacified their fears. I could see it in their faces, the way they breathed relief and the gratitude they showed as they shook his hand.

Hank turned to me as I approached. I didn't halt my stride, just grabbed his thick bicep and propelled him down the hall with me.

"Whoa, I know you like to manhandle me and all, but this should probably wait until we're alone."

"Shut up, Hank."

I shoved open the front door, stepping out into the bright sunshine only to run into a large group of reporters. Perfect.

"Is it true the victim is Cassius Mott's daughter?"

"Is she like all the others? Is it ash?"

"Do you have any leads on what the drug is exactly?"

"Will you bring in a medium to help with the investigation?"

"Hey, aren't you that cop who died a few months back?"

Sometimes, I hated reporters. Especially the ones with memories like elephants.

"C'mon! Back off!" Hank flung out his arms, trying to shield me.

We pushed and elbowed our way to the car parked out front. I slipped behind the wheel and waited for Hank to get in. Once his door was shut, I drove around the corner and down one block where I stopped the car at the curb to question him.

"Okay, spill."

He drew one leg in and propped his arm on the window ledge, obviously in tune with my meaning. "I was going to tell you before the whole Amanda thing...I talked to the ER doc from Grady. Some of the tests came back from the first rash of vics. It's definitely an off-world substance. Most likely in powder form since they found some residue in the nostrils and lungs of the two who didn't make it. The effects are almost instantaneous. The few who have woken up from the coma are dying. Once it leaves their system, their bodies begin to shut down." He sighed deeply, shaking his head and staring out the front windshield. "They're doing more tests. So far, no other cities have reported any cases, and security has been increased at all the off-world gates."

"So it started here in Atlanta. It came through our gate."

Figured. Many of the new crimes and problems stemmed from trafficking in off-world items. Spellmongers from Elysia and Charbydon had become a big problem, selling all kinds of illegal concoctions and substances. Soul bartering, a gigantic no-no, still occurred in dark alleys and private residences. And none of it would change unless we all suddenly became happy and content with ourselves and our lives. Fat chance of that. Any way to get a leg up, illegal or otherwise, was here to stay.

"We need to figure out where it's coming from. If it's leaking into other schools..." My voice broke. "You're a siren," I said, refocusing. "Nothing about this seems familiar, like anything you've come across before?" I was grasping at straws. We'd had an entire off-world team on this for the last week and no one seemed to know anything.

"The condition on the eyes. The guys at the station have considered it, but don't seem to think it's related. Could be a long shot..." Hank cleared his throat and I caught a split-second squirm. I turned in the seat, more curious than ever. He spared me a dry glance and then looked straight ahead. "The condition happens naturally when some Elysians get, you know, excited."

"Excited about wha — Oh. Oh! That kind of excited. Really?"

"Really. Look," he said, frowning, "it doesn't happen with sirens, but I've seen it with others. It's like an effect of euphoria, happens when they perform certain ritual dances or prayers, or they...you know..."

"Got it." I held up both hands, putting an immediate halt to any mention of sex. Definitely not something I wanted to discuss with a drop-dead gorgeous siren with all the grace and power of a lion. That was a personal boundary I promised myself long ago I'd never cross. If I did, it would be way too easy to start wanting something I couldn't — and shouldn't — have. Hank was not only my partner, but one of my best friends. Not something I wanted to mess with. "Have you seen this recently?" I asked, wishing I'd rolled down my window for some air.

"I'm never gonna hear the end of this, am I?" He didn't wait for an answer. Instead he said on an irritated breath, "In Underground."

"What place in Underground?" I pressed.

"Helios Alley. The Bath House."

No surprise. Helios Alley catered to off-worlders, Elysians to be exact. Restaurants, clubs, shops, you name it. Two streets over was Solomon Street — Charbydon territory. And the street in between was Mercy Street, a mix of everything — magic shops, psychics, anything supernatural and you'd find it there, legal or not.

If we'd learn anything about ash, it'd be in Underground.

My first reaction was to laugh, which I did, but then I saw he wasn't exactly laughing with me. "Are you serious? The Bath House? I didn't take you for a nudist."

His eyes rolled. "It's not a nudist club. It's a public bath house, like the Romans used to have. Didn't you study history in school?"

"Yeah, and the Romans had all kinds of nasty sex orgies in the baths." I sighed dramatically, shaking my head. "It all starts with a massage..."

A spectacular groan came out of Hank's mouth, which expanded his chest and made his white shirt stretch nicely across the broad expanse. Hell, seeing him lounging around naked in some bath would probably be worth the trip downtown. Hank had one of the best bodies I'd ever seen. But then he was a siren — his species had a knack for attraction and seduction.

"I swear, Charlie," he grumbled, turning in the seat to face me with an evil glint in his blue eyes, "if we weren't friends, I'd take off this damned modifier, make you strip naked, and skip all the way down to the station house."

That sobered me up because I knew he had the ability. And because I knew Hank had his limits. "Okay, point taken. So, why The Bath House?"

"Females," he answered without pause. "I'm single. I have a life, unlike someone in this car."

"Yeah, well, you can be single without going to extremes. Women throw themselves at you all the time. You don't need to hang out at a nud — er, bath house."

"I do if I'm looking for one of my kind. You think it's easy, getting hit on all the time and not being the tiniest bit interested? The only female sirens in Atlanta are ones who have mates, or work in the private sector, or occasionally hang out at the baths because it reminds them of home."

"Poor you." I put the car in gear. "Try being a single mother, who carries three lethal firearms and can take down a runner at fifty yards. Trust me; it doesn't make a date feel all warm and fuzzy inside."

I pulled into traffic and then made a U-turn at the light to head back to the station. "I have to make babysitting arrangements for tonight." Hank blinked, confused, so I enlightened him with a smile before turning my attention back to the road. "We're going to The Bath House. Looks like you finally got yourself a hot date."

His lips dipped down, leaving a dimple in his left cheek. "Joy," he said, as disgruntled as a teenager being told to clean their room. "Please, please, please, Charlie, don't do anything stupid."

Hank wouldn't care about causing a scene. That's why we made a good team. When it was necessary, neither one of us backed down, no matter what, no matter where. I switched lanes and passed a taxi, a thought suddenly occurring. "What? You like someone there or something?"

He rubbed his hands down his face and muttered, "Oh, Jesus H. Christ."

Hah! A broad grin stretched across my face. "You do!" My laughter filled the car. "You have a crush on someone at The Bath House," I sang. "Hey, doesn't that mean you're shy if you have a crush? Hank's shy! Oh, my God..." I laughed for at least a good half mile. He cursed under his breath and slid down into the seat. Last time I had a date, with an officer from the ninth precinct, Hank had had a major field day. "Payback is a bitch, my friend."

I parked the car in the fire lane off Ellis Street in front of ITF Building One, or as we referred to it: Station One. "It's three right now. I'm gonna head over to the hospital and check on Amanda, make arrangements, and then I'll meet you downtown at eight."

Hank opened the door. "I'll talk to the guys at the lab again about this eye connection. And I'll pick you up at ten." He lifted his hand to stop my argument. "Things don't even start to heat up until then. You'd know that if you weren't celibate." He got out of the car and then leaned back through the window. "Oh, and try to take a beauty nap, and don't look so damned professional if you can help it. Let your hair down, maybe use some of that deep red lipstick you wore on your date with Officer Wandering Eye."

My eyes narrowed, and I opened my mouth, but he flashed me a broad grin, a wink, and then he was gone.

I supposed I deserved that.

Copyright © 2009 by Kelly Gay

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 62 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 16, 2011

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    I Also Recommend:

    In a word ... RIVETING!

    If you like this genre, this one has it all -- a great plot, superior world building, a fast pace, great secondary characters and a kick-ass, likeable heroine. Charlie Madigan is an Atlanta resident trying to provide a happy and safe life for her 11-year old daughter, Emma, after her divorce. This Atlanta, however, is now inhabited by various races from 2 parallel planes of existence (Elysia and Charbydon). Charlie has got her hands full working for the ITF (polices/monitors all immigrant beings from earth or off-world) with her siren partner and friend, Hank. The world building created here is stellar as we learn about the various races and their abilities. But Charlie learns a few surprises of her own. I found the storyline to be fast-paced and chock full of details, lots and lots of wonderful details. I was glad that I could not figure out or predict the ending. This was riveting and so enjoyable. I was consumed with Charlie and the strong supporting cast! I'm anxious to start the next in this series. Do yourself a favor and don't pass this one up!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 15, 2010

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    Great action packed mystery set in a world like we know with a mix of fantasy.

    Thought you had a rough day? Charlie has just had one, or a few, with just one thing after another coming up. It all started when she got the call of an unconscious girl on the bathroom floor at her daughters school, fearing she's another victim to ash. When she goes to investigate the scene she learns the girl is the girl who's babysat her daughter and is like a daughter to her. Then, her day just goes down hill from there; she gets beaten to a pulp by jinn, and her ex-husband wants to be with her again - after what he did. On top of all going wrong today the nightmares that started eight months ago, when she died, which have been haunting her every time she closes her eyes have pushed her to the exhausted state and now strange things are happening to her; emotionally and physically.

    I enjoyed this book more and more as I read. I liked the world that Kelly has created here. She has taken the world we know and added a few extras to it. We have a sound explanation to where the different beings come from, and the abilities they have. Through these parallel planes we have mages, sirens, a being I like to call a vampire/elf mixed type but what Charlie calls aliens, and jinn along with a other beings as well. There was one small piece that threw me off only a few times and that was the sudden appearance of unexpected beings, or item. In these few moments I felt I might have missed a piece that would lead up to them, but this in no way affected the story happening.

    Part of what I enjoyed the most was the storyline direction and mystery. Charlie was constantly in action and uncovering a piece of the puzzle. The story was constantly on forward movement, in a fast pacing. We got the pieces right along with Charlie as she went through the actions and we tried to piece them together, together.

    The characters where great. As Charlie wasn't my favorite character in the story, it was no fault of hers. It was the secondary characters I enjoyed. They helped in drawing the character of Charlie. Her sister is a wonderful addition with her magic skills and friends. Her partner, Hank, is a nice addition with being a siren. Charlie's husband, or ex-husband...now he is one to watch as you read. And then we have Charlie's daughter, nice to see we have a main character who is a single mom and trying to make it work. And the relationship she has with her daughter is a great one.

    In the end, I enjoyed the book very much and look forward to reading The Darkest Edge of Dawn. As the story here ends there is lots of room and a few questions to answer to follow through further in the series. Kelly has a great start to a fresh new series here. Kelly has done a wonderful job drawing a mystery in a fantasy world with enough similarities to ours, but with many amazing surprises.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 9, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Gritty urban fantasy

    Great story, and gritty, realistic story-telling. My only complaint is that everything's not wrapped up in this first book... but that just makes me want to read the rest of the series all the more! If you're looking for a love story, this is not it-- It's a paranormal/urban fantasy that will have you rooting for the heroine, though. Give it a try!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 26, 2010

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    Divorced mom who can still kick an alien's butt!

    Really enjoyed this book! Think it's the first time I've read a book where the tough-as-nails heroine is also a divorced mother. Her child isn't a baby either, but an 11 year old girl named Emma. I liked that Emma was a large part of Charlie's life instead of a story device trotted out every now and again, then conveniently disappearing when not needed.

    Charlie has been plagued by nightmares ever since her resurrection from the dead, and is also noticing strange new abilities. But she doesn't let that get in the way of her job; her newest assignment is trying to discover who is flooding the streets of Atlanta with a dangerous new drug. Charlie and her partner Hank work well together, despite Hank being a Siren and Charlie being human. Charlie and Hank are both smart alecks, and I really enjoyed their banter. You could tell that they both cared for one another, but not romantically, which was refreshing. Where is it written that partners have to be romantically involved? That gets old after awhile. I thought Kelly handled the "aliens" well, and the descriptions of Elysia and Charbydon were incredibly interesting.

    This is the second book I've read recently where the main character has been brought back from the dead, so I wonder if this is a new trend in urban fantasy? Not that there's anything wrong with that. ;) Gave this book a 4/5 as I really enjoyed almost everything about it. Good plot, writing, and characters. Think that Kelly did a great job with her debut novel, and I'm looking forward to reading The Darkest Edge of Dawn, the sequel.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 25, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Dark Mystery/Crime Fantasy

    This story is complex and engrossing. The plot line starts with the protagonist, Charlie Madigan, (a police detective and recently divorced mother) and her gorgeous, 'siren' partner, Hank, investigating an apparent death at her daughter's school. She discovers her daughter's babysitter, a slightly older girl, comatose on the bathroom floor after apparently ingesting a deadly, off-world drug. The mystery transcends a simple drug investigation involving powerful players, a dangerous djinn underground and a growing, inexplicable darkness, rage and in-human strength within Charlie. The pace is brisk and becomes urgent when Charlie's family is threatened. The action sequences are plentiful and explosive. Charlie's character is engaging and witty with a gritty, take-no-prisoners edge. Hank is appealing and humorous. The setting takes place within an alternative Atlanta, a city reeling from a thirteen year influx of off-world aliens, (immigrating from two parallel dimensions, heaven-like Elysia and hell-like Charbydon). The book features a pantheon of off-world races and a darkly fascinating 'Underworld' Atlanta. The story climaxes in a desperate, magic-infused showdown and culminates in a conclusion which satisfies but leaves the characters facing daunting challenges. This book is an engrossing read, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys supernatural mystery and/or dark urban fantasy.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 2, 2009

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    I Also Recommend:

    Better Part of Darkness

    This was a phenomenal start to a new dark urban fantasy! Detective Charlie Madigan of the Integration Task Force, was revived from the dead eight months ago, after having been savagely killed on the job by an "off-worlder...

    Thirteen years ago a scientist discovered Charbydon, a parallel world to earth. Charbydon is sectioned into two disgruntle civilizations, Charbydon and Elysia. Ever since the great revelation, "off-worlders" have been coming to earth in droves for citizenship. Atlanta's underground has become home to countless powerful mythical beings, some looking for a peaceful new home, and some looking to dominate earth. Ash, a highly deadly and addictive drug also makes its way onto earth's soil. Once Ash is ingested, it's only a matter of time before the user expires in a glorious haze of euphoria. The distribution of Ash touches Charlie's life personally when her beloved daughter's babysitter falls into an Ash induced coma. The clock is ticking for Charlie to try and find an antidote. Unfortunately for Charlie, the dark-powers-that-be move devastating obstacles in her way to ensure her failure. For the first time in Charlie's life she decides to lean on her friends and together they pool their earthly and other-worldly powers. During this time Charlie makes a strange discovery about herself and soon discovers that her resurrection from the grave wasn't without a price.....

    This book is on my short list of highly anticipated new releases. This action-packed, police procedural fantasy was so original, interesting and fascinating; I completely devoured it and could hardly put it down. Charlie Madigan is a tough, smart and formidable heroine with twisted-humor that kicks butt and takes names. The dark world that Kelly Gay built is so dismal, bleak and mysterious it felt like danger lurked around every corner. I highly recommend this book to fellow dark urban fantasy readers and anxiously await the next book The Darkest Edge of Dawn.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 14, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    A 'real' heroine!

    Brought to you by OBS reviewer Verushka

    *Beware of possible spoilers*

    The plot of this novel can be summed up like this: Charlie Madigan is a divorced cop with a daughter, who is tasked with finding the source for a new drug that is overtaking Atlanta. Being as this is an urban fantasy, she comes with supernatural powers she is only just understanding after dying some months before the events of the novel.

    Fairly standard for the urban fantasy genre, but what makes this different is the details of Charlie’s personal life and the author’s skill at world-building.

    Charlie Madigan is a divorced mother of one, still trying to decide if her love for her ex is enough to make her forget how much she doesn’t trust him when this book opens. She is fiercely devoted to her daughter, putting her above all else. In a genre where competing love interests usually occupy much of a heroine’s attention, this was a welcome relief to me. She is also a member of the Atlanta Integration Task Force which polices the supernatural beings who have come to Earth from the heavenly Elysia and the hell that is Charbydon upon their discovery by a scientist called Titus Mott. This first novel chronicles Charlie and her partner, Hank’s attempts to find out the origin of an off-world drug they’ve named Ash that is killing its users. When her daughter’s friend is taken to the hospital because she’s taken the drug, Charlie becomes more determined than ever to find out what is going on.

    Charlie’s personal life is complicated by Emma, a daughter who is growing up despite her mother’s best intentions, and a husband, Will, Charlie still loves but does not trust. Charlie is torn by her own misgivings and her love for her husband and this alone makes her a standout in this genre. Will, in the end, is a tragic figure in ways I did not expect, and I cannot help but feel for the pair they once were. Charlie doesn’t get a chance to deal with her feelings for him properly in this book, and I get the feeling that for her, he and the issue he created for her will remain an “issue” in any other relationship she has going forward in the other books in this series.

    I can appreciate the depth Gay has added to Charlie in this way, for not often are love interests treated with such care and not used merely as love interests in novels of this genre. Will makes Charlie a better character, even if it is not ultimately a good situation for her. The beauty of Charlie is that she is complicated by very mundane, easy to understand trials and tribulations that, powers and cop or not, still affect her the way they would anyone else. I find it isn’t often that a character is relatable on the level of her personal life/situation – I mean, how many readers are going to be demon-hunting PIs who have two hot guys demanding our attention? I’m not saying every reader will understand what it is like to be a single mum, figuring out a relationship with her ex, but it is a bit more relatable than other situations of heroines in this genre.

    Review continued at openbooksociety dot com

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 10, 2012

    Love it!

    .

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  • Posted November 9, 2011

    Great storyline

    I liked the characters. I look forward to reading the next installment.

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  • Posted September 8, 2011

    Disjointed narrative

    A bit awkward in the beginning as it tended to jump around to poor effect. Didnt seem to know if it was a thriller, mystery, or steamy romance but not in a good way. I could see glimpses of a good story and interesting world, but hard to get past some of the writing Not sure that Ill read any more in the series.

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  • Posted May 26, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    loved it

    original characters and setting. finished this and picked up the next one right after

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  • Posted February 9, 2010

    Nice first offering in a promising series...

    Kelly Gay does a fantastic job grabbing the reader's attention from page one and keeping it until the end. THE BETTER PART OF DARKNESS features all of the urban fantasy must-haves: Demons, kick-butt heroine, dark magic, seduction, and a gripping mystery centered around other-worldly beings. The weakest part of this book is its cast of characters: there's too many of them. Gay could have done some judicious pruning of the cast, but chose to extend the lifespan of some beyond expectation. In so doing, she sacrifices some of the darkness and grit that make her world compelling, and infuses slapstick comedy, which does little to enhance the book IMHO. I encourage readers to reach their own opinion, though, because this book is a delight and definitely worth reading!

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  • Posted January 16, 2010

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    One of the Best Debut Novels I've ever read

    from an ARC:

    Either I'm getting way better at picking out books I want to read, or there are a lot of great debut novels with good writing and dialogue in the bookstores today. This is one of those books that I was waiting to get, wanting to get very badly, I was lucky and won it. I'm so glad I received this book. It's worth buying, worth reading and worth looking for the sequel.

    The main character, Charlie (Charlene) Madigan is a detective with the Atlanta P.D.'s Integration Task Force. She's also a divorced mother of a young "tween" (Emma). The Atlanta P.D needs the Integration Task Force (ITF) to deal with the new citizens of the world. "Offworlders" from Charbydon (similar to the biblical Hell) and Elysia (similar to Heaven) - two dimensions recently discovered by a scientist- have settled in Atlanta and with the new citizens come new paranormal crimes. Charlie's partner, Hank, is a siren as well as a good friend of the family.

    The secondary characters in this book are interesting supporting characters. There is Charlie's sister, Bryn, who practices magic; her daughter Emma; her ex-husband Will (that's my youngest son's name- a good all-round name) who is fightin an addiction that helped to end their marraige,;and her boss, the chief- Chief Abernathy. Throughout the book he's mainly referred to as the chief, if his first name was mentioned I don't recall it right now, and somehow that works for me.

    Besides being a cop working with paranomals, Charlie seems to have some sort of edge herself. She was recently killed and brought back to life with some extra abilities and nightmares. This is a help as well as a hindrance to her.

    The plot of the book starts with the recent introduciton of a new deadly drug, an off-world narcotic (ash). Charlie and Hank investigate this and soon find Charlie's family in danger. There are important people involved and soon Charlie is being accused of murder. Bad things happen to people Charlie cares about, and her reactions are amazing to behold. I loved her reactions - from the rage, to the cold determination to her utter breakdown in emotions. Through it all, she never gives up and in fact finally realizes that she has to learn how to work with the extras she came back to life with.

    The more I read of this book, the further I got into, the more I enjoyed myself. Charlie's reactions were totally believable and she is a strong woman who can lose her temper, fall into a rage, and yet doesn't come across as totally cranky and angry or abusive to everyone she comes across - she has her moments, but her character is likeable. Charlie also learns more about the off-worlders than she knew before and isn't too stubborn to admit there's more to learn.

    The dialogue was also very good. I love reading a book when the dialogue fits the character's personalities. Good dialogue helps a book along, bad dialogue just can bring the whole thing to a screeching halt for me. Thankfully this is an example of great dialogue fitting in with a great origianl plot and great narration.

    And the ending? chills.

    If you get this book (and you should) enjoy not only the supporting cast already mentioned, but the supporting characters introduced throughout the book. A lot of interesting characters, most of whom I hope to see in future books. Books like The Darkest Edge of Dawn, which according to Amazon.com is the second Charlie Madigan book and releases in August 2010.

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  • Posted January 10, 2010

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    I Also Recommend:

    A class #1 hit!

    Kelly Gay's debut novel THE BETTER PART OF DARKNESS is a fabulous, original read. She demonstrates a stunningly, kicka$$ characters and a fast moving plot that will leave readers wanting more of this intricately complex world that she has created! Charlie, the main character is a no - nonsense detective that kicks-ass and still has time to be a great mom and save the world.... or does she? The books goes through twists and turns that will keep readers hooked, line and sinker. I impatiently await the 2nd novel in the series due out this summer.

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  • Posted January 3, 2010

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    The Better Part Of Darkness Could Have Been Better.

    The cover is appealing, as it definately has the urban fantasy look to it, giving the impression of a confident and strong woman in a dark and grungy world.

    The story starts off strong. Charlie Madigan arrives at her daughter's school, after she overhears a call for paramedics being needed. (As a mother myself, I can relate to the urgency, to make sure that her daughter was alright and safe.) Once there, she discovers the body of her daughter's friend/babysitter on the girl's bathroom floor. The good news, she isn't dead. The bad news, an underworld narcotic called, "ASH" appears to have reached the uptown schools. Charlie, along with her sexy Siren partner Hank, make it thier misson to get the drug and those who are behind the drug off the streets.

    Charlie has the mentality, determination, and heart of a good cop. But she is too stubborn and self absorbed. There is too much emphasis on her self analyzing everything, it gets boring. Yeah...yeah....get on with it already. This happens many times throughout the book. What I do like, is Charlie being a divorced mother. It gives her crediablity and makes her a bit more likable. I also appreciate her not being able to push aside years of feelings for her ex-husband and the inner struggles that those feelings cause. Her relationship with her partner is refreshing as well, they genuinely care for each other. Their bickering interaction, is well done. I have come to the conclusion that they are both smartasses. Charlie's and her daugher's relationship is endearing. I do like that, at times, it seems like the daughter is taking care of the mother, than the other way around.

    With exception of Hank and Emma, I feel the remaining characters lack depth, substance and are unnecessary. None are very engaging and feel as if they are just thrown in to fill up space. Those who do have a purpose, don't have enough back story to make me find them believable.

    Although, the character depth isn't the greatest, the world building is cleverly done and perhaps the book's strongest attribute. The world is not what it used to be, since the "discovery" of two other planes of existence. Kelly Gay's universe has alot of potential, that has room to grow. I really dig the possible religious ramifications and the idea of a Heaven and Hell on Earth, and the mention of Legend, darkness, demons, angels, aliens, etc... It supports the unending struggle of good versus evil, thus giving it a strong base for a plot. If only, it is the main focus. Unfortunately, to many subplots and not enough main plot.

    All in all, it is a good read, but not a great book. Turning the last page, I am left feeling unsatisfied. There are too many subplots still open, that leaves me without closure. Most of the characters lacked depth, substance and purpose. I did feel that the protagonist wasn't so much ass kicking, but smart mouthed. That being said, as urban fantasies go, it didn't suck. For me, it is probably a one time read.

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  • Posted December 30, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Great read!

    I just happened to find this book on a corner shelf at the store. I was a little unsure when I read the description but once I started this book, I couldn't put it down. Kelly Gay has created a great sci-fi/ fantasy. The book was easy to follow and well written. I can't wait for the sequel!

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  • Posted December 25, 2009

    Great debut novel

    My thoughts...This debut novel by Kelly Gay takes the reader into to an incredibly complex, fascinating, and scary world where humans are not the only creatures that walk the streets. But these are not your average beings, I'm not talking about Vampires and Werewolves, I am speaking of beings from other worlds that have come to our world to live. The incredibly strong heroine Charlie deals with being a single mom, a paranormal police officer and a set of personal problems that would make anyone think they were crazy. She has a supernatural partner, a Siren, who is sure to steal your heart. The two try to prevent a foreign drug from harming the population of the city of Atlanta.

    The storyline of The Better Part of Darkness moved along at a steady pace. Although the pages are filled with elaborate details of their world, I was not overwhelmed but fully immersed. I could imagine the city and the emotions experienced by the characters. Like any good mystery, there were clues to help the reader piece together the crime and determine the culprit. There were some grey areas when trying to determine who was good and who was evil. While the current plot wrapped up nicely, Charlie is left with quite a few loose ends for the next book, The Darkest Edge of Dawn.

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  • Posted December 23, 2009

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    I Also Recommend:

    Love this new book

    I piccked this up at Walmart of all places, just for something to read while I waited for a shipment from B&N... woow! I'm a huge fan of Kim Harrison and Kelly Gay will be rignt up with her. The story was interesting, always moving, and had some original ideas. Charlie is a great character and just as butt-kicking as Rachel Morgan. Bravo!

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  • Posted October 12, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    eaders will be hooked with this super police procedural urban fantasy

    On October 13. thirteen years ago, heaven and hell came out of the closet. Mankind had no choice but to recognize the Revelation of the existence of heavenly Elysia and hellish Charbydon, and a horde of biblical legendary mythological creatures residing in both. Atlanta has become an urban center for all these visitors from heaven and hell, which is why the Integration Task Force has a major presence in the city.

    ITF single mom Charlie Madigan raises Emma while conducting an investigation with her partner Hank into the death of Amanda Mott, a student at Hope Ridge School for Girls. Charlie, who knows what it is like to die having done so before returning to life, makes the case personal as she knew Amanda who was like a big sister to Emma. Other young people also die as a dangerous off-world drug has hit the streets; ash kills speedily. Charlie and Hank make iqnuries trying to find the source of the smuggling even as her power grows, but she feels helpless as ash spreads to her family and friends with her fear being for Emma.

    Starting with its opening dialogue in which Hank lectures his partner for skeptically questioning an Oracle to prove her statement, readers will be hooked with this super police procedural urban fantasy. The key to the exciting story line is the denizen of green card recipients from Elysia and Charbydon seem genuine. This makes for an enjoyable read as the donkey kicking heroine and her sidekick work the mean streets of post Revelation Atlanta in an enlightening mystery.

    Harriet Klausner

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 19, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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