The Winning Hand (MacGregors Series #8)

The Winning Hand (MacGregors Series #8)

by Nora Roberts

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101569375
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/10/2012
Series: MacGregors Series , #8
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 206
Sales rank: 48,816
File size: 960 KB

About the Author

Nora Roberts is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than 200 novels. She is also the author of the bestselling In Death series written under the pen name J. D. Robb. There are more than 500 million copies of her books in print.

Hometown:

Keedysville, Maryland

Date of Birth:

1950

Place of Birth:

Silver Spring, Maryland

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

When her car sputtered and died a mile outside of Las Vegas, Darcy Wallace seriously considered staying where she was and baking to death under the brutal desert sun. She had $9.37 left in her pocket and a long stretch of road behind her that led to nowhere.

    She was lucky to have even that pitiful amount of cash on her, as her purse had been stolen outside a diner in Utah the night before. The rubbery chicken sandwich was the last meal she'd had, and she figured the stray ten she'd found in her pocket was the last miracle she could expect.

    Both her job and her home in Kansas were gone. She had no family and no one to go back to. She felt she'd had every reason for tossing her clothes into a suitcase and driving away from what had been, and what would have been, had she remained.

    She'd driven west simply because her car had been pointing in that direction and she'd taken it as a sign. She'd promised herself an adventure, a personal odyssey and a new, improved life.

    Reading about plucky young women who braved the world, carved a path, took risks and blithely accepted challenges was no longer enough. Or so she'd told herself as the miles had clicked away on the odometer of her ancient and sickly sedan. It was time to take something for herself, or at least to try.

    If she had stayed, she would have fallen in line. Again. Done what she was told. Again. And spent her life haunted by dreams and regrets.

    But now, one long week after sneaking out of town in the middle of the night like a thief, she wondered if she was destined for the ordinary. Perhaps she'd been born to follow all the roles. Maybe she should have been content with what life offered and kept her eyes cast down, instead of constantly trying to peek around the next corner.

    Gerald would have given her a good life, a life she knew many women would envy. With him, she could have had a lovely home tidily kept by a loyal staff, closets bursting with conventionally stylish wife-of-the-executive clothes, a summer place in Bar Harbor, winter getaways to tropical climes. She would never be hungry, never do without.

    All it required was for her to do exactly as she was told, exactly when she was told. All it required was for her to keep buried every dream, every longing, every private wish.

    It shouldn't have been hard. She'd been doing it all of her life.

    But it was.

    Closing her eyes, she rested her forehead on the steering wheel. Why did Gerald want her so much? she wondered. There was nothing special about her. She had a good mind and an average face. Her own mother had described her just that way often enough. She didn't believe it was so much a physical attraction on Gerald's side, though she suspected he liked the fact she was a small woman of slight build. Easily dominated.

    God, he frightened her.

    She remembered how furious he'd been when she'd cutoff her shoulder-length hair, snipping away until it was as short as a boy's.

    Well, she liked it, she thought with a little spurt of defiance. And it was her hair, damn it, she added, pushing her fingers through choppily cut, toffee-colored locks.

    They weren't married yet, thank the Lord. He had no right to tell her how to look, how to dress, how to behave. And now, if she could just hold on, he never would have that right.

    She should never have agreed to marry him in the first place. She'd just been so tired, so afraid, so confused. Even though the regrets and the doubts had set in almost immediately, even though she'd given him back the ring and apologized, she might have gone through with it rather than stand up under his anger and live through the gossip of a broken engagement. But she'd discovered he'd manipulated her, that he was responsible for her losing her job, for the threat of eviction from her apartment.

    He'd wanted her to buckle. And she'd nearly obliged him, she thought now as she wiped sweat from her face with the back of her hand.

    The hell with it, she decided and pushed herself out of the car. So she had less than ten dollars, no transportation and a mile hike ahead of her. She was out from under Gerald's thumb. She was finally, at twenty-three, on her own.

    Leaving her suitcase in the trunk, she grabbed the weighty tote that contained all that really mattered to her, then headed off on foot. She'd burned her bridges. Now it was time to see what was around that next corner.

    It took her an hour to reach her destination. She couldn't have explained why she kept walking along Route 15, away from the scatter of motels, gas stations, and toward that shimmering Oz-like skyline of Vegas in the distance. She only knew she wanted to be there, inside that globe of exotic buildings and shapes where lights were twinkling like a carnival.

    The sun was tipping down below the western peaks of the red mountains that ringed that glittering oasis. Her hunger had gone from grinding distress to a dull ache. She considered stopping for food, to rest, to drink, but there was something therapeutic about simply putting one foot in front of the other, her eyes on the tall, spectacular hotels glimmering in the distance.

    What were they like inside? she wondered. Would everything be glossy and polished, colorful to the point of gaudy? She imagined an atmosphere of sex and gambling, desperation and triumph, with an underlying snicker of naughtiness. There would be men with hard eyes, women with wild laughs. She'd get a job in one of those opulent dens of indulgence and have a front row seat for every show.

    Oh, how she wanted to live and see and experience.

    She wanted the crowds and the noise, the hot blood and the cold nerves. Everything, everything that was the opposite of what she'd had before. Most of all she wanted to feel--strong, ripping emotions, towering joys, vivid excitement. And she would write about it all, she determined, shifting the tote which, filled with her notebooks and manuscript pages, weighed like stone. She would write, tucked in some little room looking out at it all.

    Stumbling with exhaustion, she tripped on a curb, then righted herself. The streets were crowded, everyone seemed to have somewhere to go. Even at dusk, the lights of the city winked and gleamed and beckoned: Come in, take a chance, roll the dice.

    She saw families of tourists--fathers in shorts with legs pink from the unforgiving sun, children with wide eyes, mothers with the frantic look of sensory overload.

    Her own eyes were wide, the golden brown glazed with fatigue. The man-made volcano erupted in the distance, drawing screams and cheers from the crowd who'd gathered to watch and making Darcy gape with glassy-eyed wonder. The noise smothered the odd buzzing in her ears as she was jostled by the crowd.

    Dazed and dazzled, she wandered aimlessly, gawking at the huge Roman statues, blinking at the neon, passing by the spurting fountains that gushed with shifting colors. It was a wonderland, loud and gaudy and unapologetically adult, and she was as lost and as fascinated as Alice.

    She found herself standing in front of twin towers as white as the moon and joined together by a wide, curved bridge with hundreds of windows. Surrounding the building were seas of flowers, both wild and exotic, and pools of mirror-bright water fed by the rush of a terraced waterfall that tumbled from the topmost spear of a mountain.

    Guarding the entrance to the bridge was an enormous--five times larger than life--Indian war chief astride a gold stallion. His face and bare chest were gleaming copper. His war bonnet flowed with winking stones of rich reds and blues and greens. In his hand he carried a lance with a diamond-bright tip that winked fire.

    He's so beautiful, was all she could thinks, so proud and defiant.

    She would have sworn the statue's dark eyes were alive, fixed on hers. Daring her to come closer, to go inside, to take her chances.

    Darcy stepped into The Comanche on watery legs and swayed against the sudden rush of cool air.

    The lobby was immense, the tile floors a bold geometric pattern of emerald and sapphire that made her head spin. Cacti and palms grew regally out of copper or pottery urns. Brilliant floral displays graced huge tables, the scent of the lilies so sweet it brought tears to her eyes.

    She walked on, amazed by the waterfall that rushed down a stone wall into a pond filled with bright fish, the sparkling light that shimmered from huge crystal-and-gold chandeliers. The place was a maze of color and flash, brighter and more brilliant than any reality she'd known or any dream she'd imagined.

    There were shops, the offerings in the windows as glittery as the chandeliers. She watched an elegant blonde debate between two diamond necklaces the way another might consider her choice of tomatoes.

    A laugh bubbled up in Darcy's throat, forcing her to press a hand to her mouth to hold it in. It wasn't the time or place to be noticed, she warned herself. She didn't belong in such glamorous surroundings.

    She turned the corner and felt her head reel at the sudden brassy sound of the casino. Bells and voices, the metallic rat-a-tat of coins falling on coins. Whirls and buzzes and hoots. The wave of energy pouring out brought a rush to her blood.

    Machines were everywhere, shoulder to shoulder with their faces spinning with colors and shapes. People crowded around them, standing, sitting on stools, pulling coins from white plastic buckets and feeding the busy machines. She watched a woman press a red button, wait for the spin to end, then scream with delight as triple black bars lined up in the center. Money poured out into a silver bowl in a musical rush.

    It made Darcy grin.

    Here was fun, reckless and impulsive. Here were possibilities both grand and small. And life, loud, messy and hot.

    She'd never gambled in her life, not with money. Money was something to be earned, saved and carefully watched. But her fingers slipped into her pocket where the last of her crumpled bills seemed to pulse with heat against her skin.

    If not now, when? she asked herself with another bubbling giggle she could no longer quite control. What good was $9.37? It would buy her a meal, she told herself, gnawing on her lip. But then what?

    Light-headed, her ears ringing oddly, she roamed the aisles, blinking owlishly at people and machines. They were willing to take a chance, she thought. That's why they were here.

    Wasn't that why she was here?

    Then she saw it. It stood alone, big and bright and fascinating. It stood taller than she, its wide face made up of stylized stars and moons. The handle was nearly as thick as her arm and topped with a shiny red ball.

    It called itself Comanche Magic.

    JACKPOT! it proclaimed in diamond-white lights that flashed on and off and made her dizzy. Ruby red dots flowed along a black strip. She stared, fascinated at the number showing within the blinking lights.

    $1,800,079.37

    What an odd amount. Nine dollars and thirty-seven cents, she thought again, fingering the money in her pocket. Maybe it was a sign.

    How much did it cost? she wondered. She stepped closer, blinked to clear her wavering vision and struggled to read the rules. It was a progressive machine, so the numbers would change and grow as players pumped in their money.

    She could play for a dollar, she read, but that wouldn't get the jackpot even if she lined up the stars and moons on all three lines. To really play, she'd have to put in one dollar times three. Nearly all the money she had left in the world.

    Take a chance, a voice seemed to whisper slyly in her ear.

    Don't be foolish. This voice was prim, disapproving, and all too familiar. You can't throw your money away.

    Live a little. There was excitement in the whisper, and seduction. What are you waiting for?

    "I don't know," she muttered. "And I'm tired of waiting."

    Slowly, her eyes on the challenging face of the machine, Darcy dug into her pocket.

    With his gaze scanning the tables, Robert MacGregor Blade scrawled his initials on a chit. The man in chair three on the hundred-dollar table wasn't taking his losses in stride, he noted. Mac lifted a brow as the man held on fifteen with the dealer showing a king. If you're going to play for a hundred a hand, he mused as the dealer turned up a seven, you ought to know how to play.

    In a casual gesture, Mac lifted a hand to call over one of the tuxedoed security men. "Keep an eye on him," Mac murmured. "He's thinking about making trouble."

    "Yes, sir."

    Spotting trouble and dealing with it was second nature for Mac. He was a third-generation gambler, and his instincts were well honed. His grandfather, Daniel MacGregor, had made a fortune taking chances. Real estate was Daniel's first love, and he continued to buy and sell property, to develop and preserve, to wheel and deal, though he was into his nineties.

    Mac's parents had met in a casino aboard ship. His mother had been dealing blackjack, and his father had always been a player. They'd clashed and they'd clicked, both initially unaware that Daniel had maneuvered their meeting with marriage and the continuation of the MacGregor line in mind.

    Justin Blade had already owned The Comanche in Vegas, and another in Atlantic City. Serena MacGregor had become his partner, then his wife.

    Their eldest son had been born knowing how to roll the dice.

    Now, just shy of his thirtieth birthday, Comanche Vegas was his baby. His parents trusted him enough to leave it in his hands, and he made very certain they wouldn't regret it.

    It ran smoothly because he made certain it ran smoothly. It ran honest because it always had. It ran profitably because it was a Blade-MacGregor enterprise.

    He believed, absolutely, in winning--and always in winning clean.

    His lips twitched as a woman at one of the five-dollar tables hit twenty-one and applauded herself. Some would walk away winners, Mac mused, most wouldn't. Life was a gamble, and the house always had the edge.

    A tall man, he moved through the tables easily, in a beautifully tailored dark suit that draped elegance over tough and ready muscle. The legacy from his Comanche heritage showed in the gold-dust skin pulled tight over his cheekbones, in the rich black hair that framed a lean, watchful face and flowed to the collar of his formal jacket.

    But his eyes were Scot blue, deep as a loch and just as unfathomable.

    His smile was quick and charming when a regular hailed him. But he kept moving, barely pausing. He had work waiting in his office high above the action.

    "Mr. Blade?"

    He glanced over, stopping now as one of the roving cocktail waitress moved to him. "Yes?"

    "I just came over from the slots." The waitress shifted her tray and tried not to sigh as Mac gave her the full benefit of those dark blue eyes. "There's a woman over at the big progressive. She's a mess, Mr. Blade. Not too clean, pretty shaky. She might be on something. She's just staring at it, you know? Muttering to herself. I thought maybe I should call security."

    "I'll take a look."

    "She's, well, she's kind of pathetic. Not a working girl," the waitress added. "But she's either sick or stoned."

    "Thanks, I'll take care of it."

    Mac shifted directions, moving into the forest of slots rather than his private elevator. Security could handle any trouble that threatened the smooth operation of the casino. But it was his place, and he handled his own.

    A few feet away, Darcy fed her last three dollars into the slot. You're insane, she told herself, carefully babying the last bill when the machine spit it back at her. You've lost your mind, her pounding heart seemed to scream even as she smoothed the bill and slid it back in. But God, it felt so good to do something outrageous.

    She closed her eyes a moment, breathing deeply three times, then opening them again, grabbed the shiny red ball of the arm with a trembling hand.

    And pulled.

    Stars and moons revolved in front of her eyes, colors blurred, a calliope tune began to jingle. She found herself smiling at the absurdity of it, almost dreaming as the shapes spun and spun and spun.

    That was her life right now, she thought absently. Spinning and spinning. Where will it stop? Where will it go?

    Her smile only broadened as stars and moons began to click into place. They were so pretty. It had been worth the price just to watch, to know at least she'd pulled the handle.

    Click, click, click, shining stars, glowing moons. When they blurred, she blinked furiously. She wanted to see every movement, to hear every sound. Wasn't it pretty how neatly they all lined up? she thought and braced a hand against the machine when she felt herself begin to tip.

    And as she touched it, as her hand made contact with the cool metal, the movement stopped. The world exploded.

    Sirens shrieked, making her stagger back in shock. Colored lights went into a mad dance atop the machine, and a war drum began to beat. Whistles shrilled, bells clanged. All around her people began to shout and shove.

    What had she done? Oh God, what had she done?

    "Holy cow, you hit the big one!" Someone grabbed her, danced with her. She couldn't breathe, flailed weakly to try to escape.

    Everyone was pushing, pulling at her, shouting words she couldn't understand. Faces swam in front of hers, bodies pressed until she was trapped against the machine.

    An ocean was roaring in her head, a jackhammer pounded in her chest.

    Mac moved through the celebratory crowd, nudging well-wishers aside. He saw her, a slip of a woman who looked barely old enough to be inside the casino. Her dark blond hair was short and messily cut, bangs flopping down into enormous fawn colored eyes. Her face was angular as a pixie's and pale as wax.

    Her cotton shirt and slacks looked as though she'd slept in them, and as if she'd spent her sleeping hours curled up in the desert.

    Not stoned, he decided when he took her arm and felt the tremble. Terrified.

    Darcy cringed, shifted her gaze to his. She saw the war chief, the power and the challenge and the romance of him. He'd either save her, she thought dizzily, or finish her.

    "I didn't mean--I only ... what did I do?"

    Mac angled his head, smiled a little. A dim bulb, perhaps, he mused, but harmless. "You hit the jackpot," he told her.

    "Oh, well, then."

    She fainted.

    There was something wonderfully smooth under her cheek. Silk, satin, Darcy thought dimly. She'd always loved the feel of silk. Once she'd spent nearly her entire paycheck on a silk blouse, creamy white with tiny gold buttons, heart-shaped buttons. She'd had to skip lunch for two weeks, but it had been worth it every time she slipped that silk over her skin.

    She sighed, remembering it.

    "Come on, all the way out."

    "What?" She blinked her eyes open, focused on a slant of light from a jeweled lamp.

    "Here, try this." Mac slipped a hand under her head, lifted it and put a glass of water to her lips.

    "What?"

    "You're repeating yourself. Drink some water."

    "Okay." She sipped obediently, studying the tanned, long-fingered hand that held the glass. She was on a bed, she realized now, a huge bed with a silky cover. There was a mirrored ceiling over her head. "Oh my." Warily she shifted her gaze until she saw his face. "I thought you were the war chief."

    "Close." He set the glass aside, then sat on the edge of the bed, noting with amusement that she scooted over slightly to keep more distance between them. "Mac Blade. I run the place."

    "Darcy. I'm Darcy Wallace. Why am I here?"

    "It seemed better than leaving you sprawled on the floor of the casino. You fainted."

    "I did?" Mortified, she closed her eyes again. "Yes, I guess I did. I'm sorry."

    "It's not an atypical reaction to winning close to two million dollars."

    Her eyes popped open, her hand grabbed at her throat. "I'm sorry, I'm still a little confused. Did you say I won almost two million dollars?"

    "You put the money in, you pulled the lever, you hit." There wasn't an ounce of color in her cheeks, he noted, and thought she looked like a bruised fairy. "We'll deal with the paperwork when you're feeling a little steadier. Do you want to see a doctor?"

    "No, I'm just ... I'm okay. I can't think. My head's spinning."

    "Take your time." Instinctively he plumped up the pillows behind her and eased her back. "Is there someone I can call to help you out?"

    "No! Don't call anyone."

    His brow lifted at her quick and violent refusal, but he only nodded. "All right."

    "There isn't anyone," she said more calmly. "I'm traveling. I--my purse was stolen yesterday in Utah. My car broke down a mile or so out of town. I think it's the fuel pump this time."

    "Could be," he murmured, tongue in cheek. "How did you get here?"

    "I walked in. I just got here." Or she thought she had. It was hard to remember how long she'd walked around, goggling at everything. "I had nine dollars and thirty-seven cents."

    "I see." He wasn't sure if she was a lunatic or a first-class gambler. "Well, now you have approximately one million, eight hundred thousand, eighty-nine dollars and thirty-seven cents."

    "Oh ... oh." Shattered, she put her hands over her face and burst into tears.

    There were too many women in his life for Mac to be uncomfortable with female tears. He sat where he was, let her sob it out.

    An odd little package, he thought. When she'd slid unconscious into his arms she'd been limp as water and had weighed no more than a child. Now she'd told him she'd hiked over a mile in the stunning late spring heat, then risked what little money she'd had on a yank of a slot.

    That required either steel or insanity.

    Whichever it was, she'd beaten the odds. And now she was rich--and for a while at least, his responsibility.

    "I'm sorry." She wiped at her somehow charmingly dirty face with her hands. "I'm not like this. Really. I can't take it in." She accepted the handkerchief he offered and blew her nose. "I don't know what to do."

    "Let's start with the basics. When's the last time you ate?"

    "Last night--well, I bought a candy bar this morning, but it melted before I could finish it. So it doesn't really count."

    "I'll order you some food." He rose, looking down at her. "I'll have them set it up down in the parlor. Why don't you take a hot bath, try to relax, get your bearings."

    She gnawed her lip. "I don't have any clothes. I left my suitcase in my car. Oh! My bag. I had my bag."

    "I have it." Because she'd gone pale again, he reached down beside the bed and lifted the plain brown tote. "This one?"

    "Yes. Yes, thank you." Relief had her closing her eyes and straggling to calm herself again. "I thought I'd lost it. It's not clothes," she added, letting out a long sigh. "It's my work."

    "It's safe, and there's a robe in the closet."

    She cleared her throat. However kind he was being, she was still alone with him, a perfect stranger, in a very opulent and sensual bedroom. "I appreciate it. But I should get a room. If I could have a small advance on the money, I can find a hotel."

    "Something wrong with this one?"

    "This what?"

    "This hotel," he said with what he considered admirable patience. "This room."

    "No, nothing. It's beautiful."

    "Then make yourself comfortable. Your room's comped for the duration of your stay--"

    "What? Excuse me?" She sat up a little straighter. "I can have this room? I can just ... stay here?"

    "It's the usual procedure for high rollers." He smiled again, making her heart bump. "You qualify."

    "I do?"

    "The management hopes you'll put some of those winnings back into the pot. At the tables, the shops. Your room and meals, your bar bills, are on us."

    She eased off the bed. "I get all this for free, because I won money from you?"

    This time his grin was quick, and just a little wolfish. "I want the chance to win some of it back."

    Lord, he was beautiful. Like the hero in a novel. That thought rolled around in her jumbled brain. "That seems only fair. Thank you so much, Mr. McBlade."

    "Not McBlade," he corrected, taking the hand she offered. "Mac. Mac Blade."

    "Oh. I'm afraid I haven't been very coherent,"

    "You'll feel better after you've eaten, gotten some rest."

    "I'm sure you're right."

    "Why don't we talk in the morning, say ten o'clock. My office."

    "Yes, in the morning."

    "Welcome to Las Vegas, Ms. Wallace," he said, and turned toward a sweep of open stairs that led to the living area.

    "Thank you." She ordered her shaky legs to carry her to the rail, then lost her breath when she looked down at the sprawling space done in sapphires and emeralds, accented with ebony wood and lush arrangements of tropical flowers. She watched him cross an ocean of Oriental carpet. "Mr. Blade?"

    "Yes?" He turned, glanced up, and thought she looked about twelve years old and as lost as a lamb.

    "What will I do with all that money?"

    He flashed that grin again. "You'll think of something. I'd make book on it." Then pressing a button, he stepped through the brass doors that slid open, into what surely was a private elevator.

    When the doors closed again, Darcy gave in to her buckling knees and sat on the floor. She hugged herself hard, rocked. If this was some dream, some hallucination brought on by stress or sunstroke, she hoped it never cleared away.

    She hadn't just escaped, she realized. She'd been liberated.

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The Winning Hand (MacGregors Series #9) 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 41 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
read this book!! You will not like being disturbed. All of the MacGregors Series that I have read are very good
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Short and to the point!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This story was great! Who wouldn't like to be in Darcy's place, a woman who is on the run, breaks down in Las Vegas, uses her last $9.00 and change, plays a slot machine and wins almost two millions dollars. Then the manager of the casino, Mac, another one of those gorgeous Macgregors not only comes to her aid but eventually falls for her as well. I myself don't gamble, but it sure was fun reading about someone beating the odds, just once and wishing it was me. It was a fun read. It's definitely a keeper. Go get it! I know you'll enjoy it as much as I did.
Darla on LibraryThing 3 months ago
Fun. Loved Darcy, loved Mac. Thought they were both very realistic. She was naive but not stupid; he was unintentionally patronizing--it made for good conflict, and was completely understandable.
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this it a great continuing story of the Mac Gregors. I could not put the book down once I started to read it. All Nora's book are very entertaining
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nolagirl6 More than 1 year ago
Great short love story....I did not like Mac at first...but love the ending.
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doozelou More than 1 year ago
Couldn't put the book down. Nora keeps her readers going and wanting more.
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Kitzy More than 1 year ago
Just like all the other MacGregors books I was not disappointed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've read a lot of Nora Roberts and enjoy her writing generally, but this particular book was extra special for me. Perhaps part of the attraction is the Las Vegas casino setting and the aura of what the Comanche has to offer, both as a venue and as part of the main male character's persona. I loved the familiarity of the MacGregor clan and the chance to peak into the "happy ever after" lives of the now middle generation. Who doesn't wonder what it'd be like to win the big jackpot and be faced with the adventure of how to make the most of it? But the real delight of this book was how often the clever dialogue caught me by surprise and I couldn't help but have a hearty laugh out loud! The main female character is adorable. This book reminded me some of Jude Devereau's style (sorry if I misspelled her name). Anyway, thanks, Nora, for a very fun read.
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