History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

17 October 2016

A Teaser from Mission for a Queen

In July I blogged about Hortense Bonaparte, who is an important character in my new historical  mystery novella, Mission for a Queen.

With Mission for a Queen out in just over two weeks (November 3), here is teaser, a scene between Hortense and Mélanie Suzanne Rannoch. Mélanie Suzanne (the fictional heroine of my series) met Hortense on a mission seven years before. Now Hortense is in exile in Switzerland following Waterloo and Mélanie and her British husband Malcolm are exiles themselves due to Mélanie's past a French spy being exposed. They have stopped to see Hortense on their way to Italy and find Hortense one again in need of their services.

Hortense watched the door close behind Malcolm and Raoul and drew a shuddering breath. She glanced down at her hands, then seemed to force herself to meet Mélanie's gaze.
"You're right to trust Malcolm," Mélanie said.
"I don't doubt it. He's plainly a remarkable man." Hortense gathered the paisley folds of her shawl about her shoulders. "I'm sure you could read between the lines of what I didn't say."
Mélanie reached for her cooling coffee and took a sip. "Some of it."
"You must despise me."
"Darling. Of course not."
Hortense gave a bitter smile, twisting her fingers in the fringe on the shawl. "Aren't you going to say it?"
Mélanie returned the cup to its saucer with care. "Say what, dearest?"
"That you thought I'd already met the love of my life. Having thrown away so much of my life for him, how could I possibly look elsewhere?"
"Hortense—" Mélanie put her hand over her friend's. Hortense's fingers were cold to the touch. "I'd never presume to claim I knew who was the love of someone's life. And even if one does talk in those terms, losing that person doesn't mean one can't feel for someone else."
Hortense glanced away. Silhouetted against the French windows, her face was drawn with anguish. "Does he love her?"
No need to ask whom Hortense meant by "her." Mélanie saw Auguste-Charles-Joseph, Comte de Flahaut, bending over his bride's chair in the supper room at her ball in Berkeley Square two months since, handing his wife into her chair at the opera, circling the floor with her in a waltz. "He cares for her." She saw the look in Flahaut's gaze as it rested on Margaret's perfectly coiffed hair. "There's been gossip, of course—"
"There always is about Flahaut and his women." Hortense's mouth twisted in a wry smile. There had been a string of women in Flahaut's past, long before their scandalous affair ("More beautiful women than I," Hortense had said to Mélanie seven years ago). "And of course, given his situation and her fortune, people were bound to draw obvious conclusions. But I know him. I can't believe that's all—"
 The gaze she turned to Mélanie was wide with fear, but whether fear that her former lover had fallen in love or that he hadn't, Mélanie couldn't have said. She wasn't sure Hortense could have done. "I don't think that is all," Mélanie said truthfully. "He told me he cares for her, and seeing them together, I believe it. But—" She hesitated, wondering how much to say, how much might bring the most comfort. "I don't think it's the same as what you shared. I don't think anything ever will be."
Hortense's mouth twisted again, this time with sorrow. "You're kind, chérie. But now which of us is talking like a romantic?"
"I'm not in the least romantic." Mélanie had a sharp image in her mind of Flahaut, lifting Hortense's hand to his lips, tenderness writ in the angle of his head as it bent over her own. "But I understand love rather better than I did seven years ago."
"Oh, ma chère." Hortense gripped her hand. "Here I am going on about myself when you're facing—"
"We're safe." Mélanie reached for her coffee again, taking refuge behind the gilt-rimmed porcelain. Coffee in Britain never quite tasted the same, even when she or Blanca made it. "Which is more than most of my compatriots can say." She took a fortifying sip of coffee and explained briefly that Malcolm had discovered Carfax knew of her past, leaving out mention of David and Simon. "It's no more than I deserve." She squeezed Hortense's hand, determined not to be coddled. "But I hate what's it's doing to Malcolm."
"I can't imagine he wants to be anywhere but where he is. He's head over ears in love with you."
"My dear." Mélanie straightened up and drew the gauze folds of her scarf about her shoulders. "You've been little more than a half hour in his company."
"And I've seen the way he looks at you."
"Malcolm is loyal."
"Malcolm plainly adores you." Hortense hesitated a moment. "Speaking of which, Raoul—"
"Oh, yes." Mélanie smiled despite everything. "He's head over ears in love with Laura."
Despite her words, Hortense gave a start of surprise. "I think even he'd admit it," Mélanie said. "Or, if not, it's only because words like that don't come easily to him, and he's trying to protect Laura."
"I never saw him—"
"People change. Which doesn't mean he's any better than the rest of us at letting himself be happy." Mélanie leaned forwards. "Right now we aren't the ones with the problems. Tell me about Pierre Amouret."
Hortense drew a breath, a scrape of sound in the lace and crystal of the room. "As you must have guessed, I let myself grow—close to him."
Mélanie had guessed, and though she could never despise Hortense, she owned to having felt a start of surprise she would not for the world let her friend see. Throughout their friendship, she had seen Hortense as single-mindedly in love with one man. Laughable, given her own past and views on love, to feel such surprise, but—"I'm sorry for how it ended, though I'm glad you haven't been entirely lonely."
Hortense's laugh was bitter as stewed tea. "He—we—I enjoyed the admiration. I let myself feel things I hadn't for a long time. Things I shouldn't."
"No one should have to live without—"
"It wasn't love. I don't know about Flahaut, but I'm quite sure I couldn't follow that road again. We weren't even—" Hortense colored. "But I can't deny it was agreeable. Having a man's admiration. Letting myself flirt. What harm could it do? I thought." She gripped her elbows, hugging her arms across her chest. "God, I was a fool."
"You're hardly the first person to have been taken in by someone's romantic attentions." Mélanie swallowed. Hard.
"I should have seen—"
"It's hard to spot when you're not trained to see it. Or even when you are. And he may—"
Mélanie smoothed the links of her bracelet, the slender white-gold chain with diamonds that Malcolm had given her for her most recent birthday. Before he knew the truth about her. "He may really have cared for you."
"I'm not imagining things, Mélanie. I know what he took from me."
"I'm not suggesting you're imagining things. It doesn't mean he didn't care."
"He—" Hortense shook her head. "I don't know what would have happened if he hadn't left. If I hadn't learned the truth. How far I'd have let it go. Not far, I think. But after being alone for so long—I was enjoying the soap bubble. And then yesterday he went out for a ride and never came back." She pushed herself to her feet. "I thought it was odd. I thought"—she shook her head—"that perhaps I'd gone too far. Offended him in some way. He was so courteous and well mannered. It was only that night when I opened my jewel box that I realized my bracelet was missing." She locked her hands together, her knuckles white.
Mélanie pushed herself to her feet as well. "Don't panic just yet. We don't even know why he took the bracelet."
Hortense rubbed her bare arms. "That almost makes it worse. He went to such lengths, it must be important. Which is rather terrifying.
"We'll find it, dearest. Before any damage is done."
"You can't be sure of that."
"No." Mélanie put an arm round Hortense's shoulders. "But the odds are very good. If you don't trust me, trust Raoul. Not to mention Malcolm."
Hortense shook her head. "You and Raoul are expert at fixing things. I'm sure your husband is too. And I'm the sort of person who gets things fixed for her." She stared at a painting of a young Napoleon in gleaming uniform, brilliant and defiant. "But you can't fix everything. Perhaps it's time I learn to be responsible for some of my own mistakes."
Mélanie squeezed Hortense's shoulders. "Life is complicated enough, sweetheart. Take help where you can."
"Spoken by the most self-reliant woman I know."
"Dearest, I wouldn't have survived half this long if I hadn't learned to accept help."
"So I should simply sit here and let you rescue me again?"
"You're one of the strongest people I know, Hortense." Mélanie drew her friend back over to the sofa. "You're keeping your children safe in a dangerous world. There's no challenge more important than that."
Hortense's gaze went to the French windows. Indistinct childish voices echoed through the glass. A blur of movement indicated the game of tag was still in progress. "Both the boys are safe, thank God. And—"
She broke off, but Mélanie knew she was thinking of her third surviving son, Flahaut's child, who lived in secret with his grandmother. And with that realization came the knowledge of something else she had to share with her friend. Not the best time for such news, but perhaps it would at least give Hortense another focus for her thoughts. "Hortense—I saw someone else we both know in England."
Hortense's gaze flew to Mélanie's face.
Hortense stared at her. Seven years ago, when Mélanie had traveled into Switzerland with Hortense so she could give birth to her illegitimate child by Flahaut in secret, Julien St. Juste had escorted them. "He was there on a mission?"
"He was working for Lord Carfax. Malcolm's former spymaster."
"The man you're running from now." Hortense's voice shook with disbelief.
"In a nutshell. Apparently Julien has worked for Carfax for some time."
"Good God." The color drained from Hortense's face. "So Carfax knows about me? About the baby?"
Much as she wanted to deny it, Mélanie knew she had to be honest. "I'm not sure. I don't think so. Julien says he's still loyal to you and your mother."
"And you believe him?"
Mélanie saw the white gleam of Julien's smile and the hard brilliance of his gaze at their last meeting in Hyde Park. "Yes, actually. Julien's always had a code of sorts, difficult as it is to decipher. But he says Flahaut stopped being off-limits when he left you."
Hortense's shoulders snapped straight. "He didn't leave me. We—"
"So I told Julien. Julien asked if I thought you'd have made the choice on your own."
Hortense reached for her coffee and tossed down a swallow. "We have to warn Flahaut."
"Julien's left Britain. I don't think he's a threat for the moment."
"For the moment—"
"We've all learned to live with risk."
"Flahaut isn't an agent. And you aren't in Britain to protect him."
"But I still have friends there. If Julien shows his face again, if it seems we need to warn Flahaut, we can. Meanwhile, you're right. He's not trained at dissembling. Better for him not to know."
Hortense shook her head as though her world had tilted on its axis. "Has Julien always worked for this Carfax? He was my mother's lover. Did Carfax arrange that?"
"I don't know."
"Dear God. To have such an intimate relationship be controlled by a spymaster—"
Mélanie drew in her breath. "Quite."
Hortense's gaze shot to her face. "I didn't mean—"
"It's an apt comparison. In some ways there isn't much to choose between Julien and me."
"Don't be absurd." Hortense returned her cup to its saucer with a crisp click. "You couldn't be like Julien if you tried."
Mélanie reached for her coffee. "Carfax has some hold on Julien, but Julien hasn't worked for him exclusively. And to the extent Julien has feelings at all, he had them for your mother."
Hortense gave a harsh laugh. "Even my mother didn't trust him entirely, though I think she trusted him more than she should have done. Was it Julien who betrayed you to Carfax?"
"He says not, and he seems to have been telling the truth."
Hortense nodded. "If there's one person I'd have expected him not to betray, it's you."
Mélanie's fingers jerked, spattering coffee on her rose-and-ivory-striped sarcenet skirt. "Why—"
"He was half in love with you on that journey into Switzerland."
The cup clattered against the saucer in her nerveless fingers. "Hortense, that's ridiculous—"
"Perhaps more than half."
Mélanie snatched up a napkin and blotted the spilled coffee on her skirt. "Julien isn't the sort to fall in love with anyone."
"You just said his feelings for my mother were real."
"Yes, but—"
"And I think you were right, in a way. He was certainly loyal to her, and because of that I think he's loyal to me. At least to a degree. But you fascinated him."
Mélanie gave a short laugh, Julien's mocking voice ringing in her memory. "Perhaps because he couldn't get me back into bed after that first mission."
"You know perfectly well it was more than that." Hortense sat back against the cushions and regarded Mélanie. "I always thought he wasn't sure what to make of his feelings for you. That you were a challenge to the way he views the world."
Mélanie folded the stained napkin into neat quarters. "You always had a weakness for novels, Hortense."
"There are insights to be found in novels. Not that I think Julien wanted to run off with you and live in a rose-covered cottage—"
"I should hope not. We'd have killed each other inside a week."
"But I doubt the way he felt about you has changed, either. There's something oddly steadfast about Julien."
"That's true when it comes to your mother and you." And yet Julien's voice echoed in her memory. In the right circumstances. With the right woman. You could come close. She'd dismissed his words a few weeks ago. She still dismissed them. And yet, for an unaccountable reason, a chill ran through her.

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19 September 2016

Spies, Loyalty, Betrayal & the Napoleonic Wars Revisited

Someone recently did me the compliment of tweeting a post I wrote several years and four books ago Spies, Loyalty, Betrayal & the Napoleonic Wars. Reading it over it resonated with much of what I am writing about now. I thought I would update it for this week's post. Also helpful because I am in the midst of  copy edits and just got back from traveling (there I am above with my daughter in Ashland, Oregon). I hope you enjoy this updated trip down memory lane.

I gravitated to the Regency/Napoleonic era through my love of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. But I also love spy stories, both James Bond adventure and the sort of intricate chess games and moral dilemmas John le Carré dramatizes so brilliantly. The Napoleonic Wars offers are a wonderfully rich setting for both types of story. So many different sides, so many different factions within sides. The French under Napoleon had been bent on conquest, but they had also brought much-needed reforms to many countries. Some liberal Spaniards saw supporting the French in the Peninsular War as the quickest route to progressive reform. And after the Napoleonic Wars, a number of the victors wanted to turn the clock back to before the French Revolution  and saw any hint of reform as one step away from blood in the streets. Friends easily melt into enemies and back again. Napoleon’s longtime foreign minister Prince Talleyrand  later became prime minister under the Bourbon restoration. Joseph Fouché who had been ruthless in using terror against enemies of the Bonapartist government, was equally ruthless in going after Napoleon’s supporters who were proscribed from the amnesty after Waterloo. In the midst of breakneck adventure, a love affair can have political consequences, a tactical decision can shatter a friendship, it can come down to a question not of whether or not commit betrayal but only of who or what to betray.


I’ve always been fascinated by moral dilemmas. And I’m intrigued by how romantic fidelity and betrayal can parallel other types of fidelity and betrayal (whether between husbands and wives or in their relationship with other characters or with a country or cause). I like writing stories of intrigue set in tumultuous times, but I think in those sorts of times (probably always but then more than ever) choices don’t tend to come down to easy, clear-questions of right and wrong. It’s interesting to see how characters wrestle with those issues and how the personal and the political intertwine. The possibility that a loved one or friend isn’t who you thought they were is perhaps one of our deepest fears in a relationship. And yet most of us are somewhat different people in different aspects of our lives and have different loyalties – to spouses, children, lovers, friends, causes, countries, work. Sometimes it isn’t so much a question of betrayal as of deciding which loyalty comes first. It’s not so far from the seemingly lofty sentiment of “I could not love thee, dear, so much, Lov’d I not Honour more” to betraying a lover for a cause.

Or so my heroine Suzanne might argue. Her husband Malcolm might have more difficulty with the idea. He takes personal loyalties very seriously, though he was the one who went off to the field at Waterloo and risked himself (though he wasn't a soldier) leaving his wife and son behind in Brussels. In the midst of the carnage, he wondered which loyalty he should have put first. While Suzanne, for different reasons, was wondering much the same thing. In the wake of the most recent book in the series, London Gambit, Malcolm and Suzanne have been forced to flee Britain because the secrets of Suzanne's past as a Bonapartist French spy have unraveled. On their way to safety at Malcolm's villa in Tuscany, they stop in Switzerland to see Suzanne's friend Hortense Bonaparte, Josephine's daughter and Napoleon's stepdaughter. They find Hortense in trouble, leading to the events of my forthcoming novella, Mission for a Queen (out November 3). Sitting with Hortense in her elegant salon, Malcolm thinks "He was used to enemies changing into allies. But there was something about sitting in this decorous salon, a few feet away from the stepdaughter of the man who had been his country's opponent for so many years—"

Malcolm's loyalty to his wife has led him into exile from his country and to the stepdaughter of the man he fought against for so many years. He finds himself, alongside Suzanne, helping Hortense with a problem that is intensely personal and yet has political ramifications that could ripple across the Continent.

Writers, do you choose time periods because they lend themselves particularly well to the type of stories you want to tell? Or does your choice of time period influence the stories you create? Readers, do you think you like to read about particular eras because of the type of stories and the issues in those stories that tend to work in those eras? What's the worst choice of loyalties you've encountered in a book? And what's your favorite spy story in any era?

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05 September 2016

How Did 18th Century Gowns Work, Part One

Got an interesting question from a fellow author this week. She was confused about how 18th Century gowns worked (the method of fastening isn't obvious). There are two main styles of bodice on most 18thC gowns: closed-front/compère and the stomacher-front (and some that are a sneaky combo!). Let's talk about the closed-front ones today.

The main thing to remember is that no matter what the new Poldark series or romance novel covers show, these gowns did NOT open in the back. They had a straight edge front opening that can be closed in several different ways.

1770s gown, Victoria and Albert Museum

The most common of which was to simply pin it shut. Yep, pins! Pins were probably the most common method of closing gowns for hundreds of years. You see it all the way back to the 14thC. This is the reason that women received "pin money". You had to constantly replace them as they bent and rusted. A friend was recently in London for a few months and took up mudlarking. She found thousands of pins in the Thames. Thousands and thousands. I've pinned a lot of gowns shut in my lifetime of re-enacting, and I can vouch for the method. It's easy and efficient (ok, it's easy for someone ELSE to pin you in; a bit harder to do yourself).

Another fairly common method is hook and eyes. Just like the ones you're familiar with. They would be set slightly inside so that when done up they'd be invisible. You will also see lacing on extant gowns (remember, no metal grommets, and my best guess is these are not fashionable gowns), and even buttons (though sometimes these are merely decorative).

21 August 2016

A :azy Sunday, Dolls, & Inspiration

After I was gone most of yesterday at a sublime Merola Grand Finale concert, the conclusion of this summer’s Merola Opera Program, my daughter Mélanie and I spent a lazy Sunday today.

I never got to the research I planned and I still haven’t got to my daily word count. One of the things we did was dress up her collection of dolls who live in a Regency-era American Girl doll parlor (which I couldn’t resist and fortunately Mélanie loves to play with ). I would have liked to put them in all the early 19th century dresses we have, but we ended up with a mix of eras (early 19th century, turn of the 20th century, modern).

The discussion, as we dressed them included “she’s getting ready for a ball” and “she’s having a sleepover” from Mélanie with comments from me about “this is like the dresses the characters wear in Mummy’s books” and “see this mantilla? my Mélanie character wore one in Spain.”

It’s those sort of bits and pieces that started my own historical framework as I grew up. And meanwhile, though I didn’t get any of my own research done, It got some historical inspiration dressing dolls.

Did your interest in history start in childhood? Do you remember what sparked it?

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25 July 2016

Queen Hortense's Secret

Hortense Bonaparte by François Gérard 
Readers of my Malcolm & Suzanne Rannoch books know that part of Suzanne’s backstory is that in 1811 she accompanied Hortense Bonaparte, the Empress Josephine’s daughter and Napoleon’s stepdaughter, on a secret journey into Switzerland. The reason for the journey was so that Hortense could give birth in secret to her child by her lover,  the Comte de Flahaut (who appears in my most recent book London Gambit). Suzanne’s involvement in this interlude is of course fictional, but Hortense Bonaparte did indeed go secretly into Switzerland in 1811 to give birth to her child by Flahaut (who joined her for the birth).

Hortense was born Hortense de Beauharnais on 10 April 17883, the daughter of Josephine and her first husband, Alexandre de Beauharnais. Her parents separated when she was very young, and she lived with Josephine. Her father was guillotined in 1794 and her mother was imprisoned in Les Carmes and nearly went to the guillotine as well. After the Terror, Josephine reigned over Directoire society as the mistress of Paul Barras, and later, in 1796, married Napoleon Bonaparte.

Napoleon was fond of Hortense and her brother Eugene and treated them as his children. But as he became more and more of a monarch, he became more and more concerned with having an heir, and he and Josephine had no biological children of their own. In 1802, Napoleon and Josephine pushed Hortense into a marriage with Napoleon’s younger brother Louis with the idea that one of their children could be Napoleon’s heir. Unfortunately, the cheerful, artistic Hortense and serious, intellectual Louis were not temperamentally suited and the marriage was strained from the start. But within a year of their marriage they had a son, Napoleon Louis Charles, who became Napoleon’s heir presumptive. (My fellow Hoyden Lauren beautifully captures Hortense as the mother of a toddler, organizing theatricals at her mother’s chateau at Malmaison, in her wonderful The Garden Intrigue).

In 1804, Hortense and Louis had a second son, Napoleon Louis. In 1806, Napoleon made Louis King of Holland, and Hortense reluctantly left Paris for the Hague. She came to appreciate her life and role there, but her marriage to Louis continued to deteriorate. In May 1807, tragedy struck. Hortense and Louis’s eldest son died of croup before his fifth birthday. The loss of their child seems to have exacerbated the strains in an already strained marriage, though they did have a third son, Charles Louis Napoleon (who later became Emperor of France as Napoleon III) in 1808.

Hortense began to spend much of her time in France, theoretically for her own health and that of the children. Effectively separated from Louis, she began a love affair with Auguste-Charles-Joseph, Comte de Flahaut, a handsome and charismatic army officer, who already had a string of well-known love affairs in his past. He was officially the son of  his mother’s husband, the late Comte de Flahaut, but it was widely acknowledged that his real father was almost certainly his mother’s lover Prince Talleyrand, Napoleon’s longtime foreign minister (and another important ongoing character in the Malcolm & Suzanne series).

In 1811, Hortense found herself pregnant, and there was no way her husband could be the father. She managed to conceal her pregnancy through the celebrations around the baptism of Napoleon's son with his second wife, Marie Louise. Hortense was one of the godmothers and by then was five months pregnant (thinking back to my own pregnancy, I can only imagine Hortense must have been very thankful for the high-waisted gowns that were in vogue).

Shortly after the baptism, Hortense traveled secretly into Switzerland. On 21 October she gave birth to a son at an unnamed inn. Flahaut joined her for the birth. His mother, Adelaide de Souza, took the baby back to France with her and raised him (a deceptive birth certificate gave him the title of the Comte de Morny). He became an army officer and statesman and also wrote plays under a pseudonym. Many years later, his half-brother, then Napoleon III, made him Duc de Morny.

Hortense’s love affair with Flahaut continued until after Waterloo. Flahaut supported Napoleon’s bid to retake power and fought for him at Waterloo. Talleyrand saved Flahaut from arrest in the wake of Napoleon’s defeat, but Flahaut sought refuge in Britain where he married t he Scottish heiress Margaret Mercer Elphinstone in 1817. Hortense went into exile in d’Arenberg in Switzerland. Which is where Suzanne and Malcolm find her (and unexpected intrigue) in my WIP…

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13 July 2016

At Romance Writers of America's Annual Conference

Going to be quiet this week as I'm in San Diego enjoying the annual romance writers conference. I'll report in next week. So far it's lovely. Just enjoyed a wonderful workshop on codes, spies, & cipers.

26 June 2016

Turning 50

Please forgive this shamelessly self-indulgent post. I had a very busy weekend preparing for and enjoying my own 50th birthday party (my daughter Mélanie, with in the picture above, was a big help!).  With my time preoccupied by my own history, I had no time to formulate a post about the finer point of historical research. Though I have been thinking about my books and the history of my characters. In general I avoid dramatizing their birthdays, unless the celebrations play a major role in the story. Though in an ongoing series, one can get locked into dates. I needed to work the fifth birthday of Colin, Suzanne and Malcolm's son, into London Gambit, because I had set it as 14 June and the anniversary of Waterloo on 18 June was part of the plot. I ended up liking how it showed Malcolm and Suzanne juggling real life as parents in the midst of a murder investigation and a possible plot to free Napoleon.

When I started writing the series, I was the same age as Malcolm. His grand dame aunt, Lady Frances, seemed like an older woman to me. I remember turning 45 and realizing with a shock that I was now Lady Frances's age. And now, at 50, I'm the same age as spymaster Raoul O'Roarke, who also happens to be Malcolm's father. Though I still don't feel I have nearly the worldly wisdom of Frances or Raoul. I'm twice as old as 25-year-old Suzanne, but I still identify with her. Partly because, given the era and the life she'd led, she's grown up much faster. Partly because I think part of the fun of reading and writing is being any age we want mentally.

I may not dramatize many birthdays, but I like to imagine what my characters would give each other for birthdays and how they would celebrate them. I like to think they'd have parties as fun as the one I had last night, with good friends from lots of parts of my life.

What are some of your most memorable birthday celebrations, either ones you've had for yourself or ones you've read about in books?

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