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Reardon Lewis is a small-town lawyer in Cherry Springs, the place where he and his cousins grew up. With the body of a Viking and the heart of a geek, Reardon is loyal to his family and indispensable to his community. The only thing missing in his life is love, and it just so happens that the one woman he has always wanted but could never have has just moved to Cherry Springs.Chloe Zahn is a successful businesswoman, a city girl, and a single mom. The last thing she ever planned to do was move to a small town, but that’s the choice she’s made to bring her son closer to his dad. The only problem? The Lewis family and the obvious disdain they have for her. The more time Reardon and Chloe spend together, the harder it is to fight their growing feelings for each other. Things between them have always been Too Complicated, but Reardon knows this may be his last chance to win over the woman he's always dreamed of, complications be damned. Too Complicated is the second in an all-new small-town romance series by Bethany Lopez. Follow the Lewis cousins as they learn about love and loss in Cherry Springs, the kind of place where there are festivals for every occasion and everyone knows your business.
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Copyright 2017 Bethany Lopez
Published April 2017
ISBN - 978-1544199740
Cover Design by Makeready Designs
Cover Photo by Lindee Robinson Photography
Cover Model: Garrett Pentecost
Editing by Red Road Editing / Kristina Circelli
Proofreading by KMS Freelance Editing
Formatting by Bethany Lopez
Print Formatting by Type A Formatting
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All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please don’t participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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For sticking with me after all these years. I’m grateful to know you, to have you in my corner, and to be in yours. Can’t wait to see what happens next!
Chapter One ~ Reardon
Chapter Two ~ Chloe
Chapter Three ~ Reardon
Chapter Four ~ Chloe
Chapter Five ~ Reardon
Chapter Six ~ Chloe
Chapter Seven ~ Reardon
Chapter Eight ~ Chloe
Chapter Nine ~ Reardon
Chapter Ten ~ Chloe
Chapter Eleven ~ Reardon
Chapter Twelve ~ Chloe
Chapter Thirteen ~ Reardon
Chapter Fourteen ~ Chloe
Chapter Fifteen ~ Reardon
Chapter Sixteen ~ Chloe
Chapter Seventeen ~ Reardon
Chapter Eightteen ~ Chloe
Chapter Nineteen ~ Reardon
Chapter Twenty ~Chloe
Chapter Twenty-One ~ Reardon
Chapter Twenty-Two ~ Chloe
Chapter Twenty-Three ~ Reardon
Chapter Twenty-Four ~Chloe
Chapter Twenty-Five ~ Reardon
Chapter Twenty-Six ~ Chloe
Chapter Twenty-Seven ~ Reardon
Chapter Twenty-Eight ~ Chloe
Chapter Twenty-Nine ~ Reardon
Chapter Thirty ~ Chloe
Chapter Thirty-One ~ Reardon
Chapter Thirty-Two ~ Chloe
Chapter Thirty-Three ~ Reardon
Chapter Thirty-Four ~ Chloe
Chapter Thirty-Five ~ Reardon
Chapter Thirty-Six ~ Chloe
Chapter Thirty-Seven ~ Reardon
Chapter Thirty-Eight ~ Chloe
Chapter Thirty-Nine ~ Reardon
Chapter Forty ~ Chloe
Chapter Forty-One ~ Reardon
Epilogue – Chloe
Next Up, book 3 in The Lewis Cousins Series, Too Distracting
About the Author
Also by Bethany Lopez
I sighed as I watched the family of ducks waddle into the pond from my seat on the wooden bench at Cherry Springs Pond. I often crossed the street from my law office in the afternoon to eat lunch and enjoy some fresh air. It was good for me to get out from behind my desk, and look at something other than paperwork and my computer.
Usually, the pond had a calming effect and helped relieve any stress I might be feeling from work, but today, my shitty mood had nothing to do with work.
It was one-hundred percent due to Chloe Zahn.
Gorgeous, smart, independent, complicated, Chloe Zahn.
I’d first seen Chloe the night she hooked up with my cousin, Gabe, at his first Super Bowl party about fourteen years ago. Neither of us saw her again until last summer, when she came to Gabe’s summer camp to tell him that the boy who’d just spent a week at his camp, was actually his son.
If that wasn’t shocking enough, Gabe had, fortunately, or unfortunately depending how you looked at it, fallen for her sister Zoey, and Chloe’s declaration caused a whole lot of confusion and turmoil.
Luckily, things had worked out between Gabe, Zoey, Chris, and Chloe, and now they were one big, but weird, happy family.
Things got even more complicated when they all decided to make Cherry Springs their home, Chloe included, and were moving quickly, so everyone would be settled and have plenty of time to plan Gabe and Zoey’s wedding, which was coming up in four short weeks.
Why was I in a bad mood over Chloe moving to town, when everything was obviously going well with the soon-to-be blended family? Because I’d wanted Chloe since the second I saw her across that smoky bar when I was a young, dorky law student, and she’d walked straight into the arms of my cousin.
In my mind, she’d always been the one who got away.
Little did I know, all the years I’d been remembering her and wondering what could have been, she was raising her and Gabe’s son alone, never thinking twice about me. I wasn’t even a blip on her radar.
Tossing the last of my corned beef on rye to the ducks, I stood tall and stretched, then turned to head back to my office, yelling hello to familiar faces along the way.
Cherry Springs was the kind of place where everyone knew not only your name, but who you had a crush on in elementary school, and how you got that cut on your upper lip. (Bike accident.)
I loved everything about it.
“How’s your momma, Reardon?”
I paused outside the door to my office and turned to see old Mrs. Dingle coming toward me from the coffee shop on the corner.
“She’s doing really good, Mrs. Dingle, all ready for the Easter Parade,” I replied with an easy smile. One of the great aspects of living here was the people, and as the only lawyer in town, I always thought it was part of my job to take the time to stay on friendly terms with everyone.
It had driven my ex, Becca, nuts, the way people were always stopping us to talk, expecting us to spend time catching up, when all she was worried about was getting back to the city and hitting up the hottest new restaurants and clubs. I must’ve been crazy to think she’d ever want to get married and settle down here, but I’d definitely considered asking her.
Thank God I came to my senses before I did.
“Wonderful,” the much smaller woman replied. At six foot six inches, I was used to towering over everyone, and Mrs. Dingle was probably a flat five foot. “I know Annabeth is over the moon about young Christopher, and now Zoey is pregnant, too. I’m sure your momma would like a grandbaby someday soon; what are you waiting for, son? A big strapping boy like you shouldn’t have a hard time finding a woman to settle down with.”
I felt my face redden, but this was a conversation I was used to having. Even more so now that Gabe had given his parents not one, but two grandbabies to fawn over. It was making the other Lewis matrons antsy.
“I’m doing my best, ma’am.”
“Well, don’t dawdle,” she said, then her face turned sly when she added, “Hmmm, she’s a nice prospect.”
I turned as Mrs. Dingle shuffled away, to see who she was looking at, then froze when I saw Chloe walking down the sidewalk, her gaze on the gazebo across the street.
Right before she could walk into me, I cleared my throat and she stopped, startled.
When Chloe recognized that it was me, she gave an unsure smile and said, “Oh, uh, hello, Reardon.”
“Chloe,” I replied with a stiff nod, cursing myself silently. I was always such a moron around her. First, I’d been resentful of the fact that she’d picked Gabe, then wary when she showed up with a teenaged son, saying it was his. The lawyer in me had taken over, and I’d come off pretty harsh until we knew she was telling the truth. I knew she thought I didn’t trust her, didn’t like her, and I’d done nothing to dissuade her from believing that. It was better than her knowing the way I really felt.
After an awkward pause, during which I noticed that her long, dark hair was hanging straight and shiny down her back, and her large, brown doe eyes were watching me warily, her smile dropped and she said, “I’m just looking around, acquainting myself with my new home … I’m sure you have to get back to work. Uh, see you tonight.”
“Tonight?” I asked dumbly. Apparently being in her presence made me a total idiot.
“Dinner at Zoey and Gabe’s…” she said slowly, and I remembered that they’d invited me over to help welcome Chloe to town, permanently. I knew Dillon and Jasmine were going, but I’d been planning on begging off for work, but now, if I didn’t show after talking with Chloe about it, she’d think I was avoiding her.
Which had definitely been my plan.
“Oh, yeah, right, see you there,” I replied, then turned before I stuttered anymore and let myself into my office.
I was a funny, confident, successful man. I’d dated a number of women, and could even be considered a catch. Why, then, did I always turn into my geeky high school alter ego whenever I was around Chloe?
I’d dated beautiful women before. What made her different?
I needed a distraction, something to get me through the night without making a complete ass of myself.
She’s just a girl … right?
Pulling my phone from my inside pocket, I scrolled down until I found the name I wanted and pressed send.
“Shauna, hey, how’s it going?” I asked when the whisper-soft voice answered. “Great, yeah, me too. Hey, I was wondering … I know it’s last minute, but are you busy tonight? Care to join me at a family dinner? Six o’clock? Perfect, see you then.”
Sexy, single, and always ready for a good time, Shauna was just who I needed to help get my mind off the fact that Chloe, the one woman I wanted but could never have, was in my life to stay.
Am I nuts?
My best friend and business partner certainly thought I was … To move from North Carolina to Cherry Springs, giving up my place in our business, leaving the life I’d established for Chris and myself after years of struggling. All to follow my sister and her fiancé, Chris’s father, so that Christopher could enjoy this new facet of his life.
Moving my son to Cherry Springs meant that he got to have an extended family unlike anything he’d ever known. He’d also get to experience life in a small town, and have his father close by.
Gabe had moved to North Carolina after he’d learned Chris was his son, giving up everything to get a chance to get to know him, but when Zoey had started a new book series about zombies in Cherry Springs, they’d decided to move back while she immersed herself in the community.
Of course, now that she was pregnant and they were getting married, they realized how much they wanted to stay in Cherry Springs and raise their family. Gabe had a great support system there, and all Zoey had in North Carolina was me.
Our parents, although they loved us in their way, weren’t really the nurturing type. They’d moved to Florida and enjoyed living the retired life, coming by for the occasional visit, but never really investing in our lives.
I didn’t want to be the one to hold Zoey back, and I didn’t want her to worry about me being left behind. I also didn’t want Chris to lose the relationship that he and Gabe had developed so quickly.
It was easiest for me to leave what I’d established behind and start over.
I had money to go back to school and get my MBA, could get a sweet house in their affordable community, and eventually find a job.
Would it be weird to constantly be surrounded by Gabe and his family, knowing that the man I’d had a random hookup with when I was young and stupid, which resulted in my beautiful son, was marrying my sister and starting a family of his own? Absolutely.
But I’d learn to live with it. I was resilient, if nothing else, and I actually enjoyed Cherry Springs, and the people in it. Gabe’s mother, Annabeth, hadn’t exactly warmed up to me yet, harboring anger over me keeping Christopher from them for so long, but everyone else was really nice.
Well, almost everyone, I thought, as I pictured the way Reardon had reacted on the sidewalk earlier.
I vaguely remembered meeting Reardon the night of the Super Bowl party. I’d seen him and Gabe across the bar, and the girls I’d been with had been going nuts over being in the same place as the newly championed football players.
It was rare that I ever went out and left my studies, so I’d been enjoying a night out with the girls, having no idea the way things would turn out that night. I’d had a few shots, and with the encouragement of my friends, had decided to do something out of character and approach the very young and good-looking Gabe. I’d barely spared Reardon a glance before Gabe had taken my hand and we’d gone into a back room. I doubt Gabe and I even said four words to each other before going at it.
It was hot, empowering, and over within minutes. We’d even thanked each other before going our separate ways, and that was it … my one wild night. I hadn’t regretted it; in fact, every time I thought about what I’d done, it brought a smile to my face. Then I found out I was pregnant and my entire life changed.
The next time I saw Reardon, he was glaring at me at Gabe’s football camp after I’d told them Christopher was Gabe’s son. I didn’t blame him, and when I found out he was a lawyer, I understood his unwillingness to accept my claims without proof. Still, his attitude toward me had rattled.
Since then, Reardon’s demeanor toward me has thawed a little. He didn’t look at me with disdain, and he was always polite at the family functions I attended. Still, I could tell he didn’t like me, especially after moments like today, when he couldn’t get away from me fast enough. I didn’t know if I could change the way he viewed me, since he’d been there the night that started at all, but every time he acted like I was beneath him, it pissed me off.
Where did he get off? It wasn’t like I’d ever done anything to him. If Gabe could forgive me, why can’t he?
“You almost ready, Mom?” Christopher asked from the other side of my bedroom door. We were staying in a hotel until I found a place for us to live. Gabe and Zoey had asked us to stay with them again, but it was just too weird for me, and I was more comfortable having my own space.
“Yes, just one more minute.”
I heard Chris’s exaggerated sigh and smiled.
At thirteen, he was a bundle of conflicting emotions. One foot in childhood and the other in manhood, he was growing into the man he would become. He was beginning to shy away from physical contact with me, which broke my heart, and made me treasure any sign of affection he threw my way.
He’d been very angry with me when he found out that I knew Gabe was his father and lied about it, but after a few months, he’d finally forgiven me.
Now, even his show of frustration of my taking too long to get ready warmed my heart.
At least he wasn’t still ignoring me.
I buttoned up the final button on the flowing blouse with light-blue flowers adorning the bottom, and smoothed down my pencil skirt. My hair was down and straight, and I’d kept my makeup soft. I’d tried to talk Zoey out of having this welcome home party for me, but she was so excited and grateful that I’d decided to move that, in the end, I couldn’t talk her out of something that was making her so happy.
I opened my door and walked into the living space of our suite to find Christopher standing in the middle of the room looking at his phone.
“Ready,” I called.
He looked up and said, “Finally,” then gave me his sweet, little boy smile to show me he was only joking.
“Let’s go, Christopher Robin.”
“Gah, don’t call me that,” Chris grumbled, just like he always did when I called him the nickname I’d given him as a baby.
It was a ten-minute drive from our hotel in town to Gabe’s beautiful house just on the outskirts, but there were already cars all over the property, indicating we were one of the last to arrive.
“Big surprise,” Chris complained, “We’re late.”
Before I’d even had a chance to take off my seatbelt, he was out of the car and bounding up to the house, eager to get to his father and the new family he already loved so much.
I got out with a sigh, wishing I didn’t have to enter the house by myself, but resigned to the fact that this was the way things were now. Although I was unsure of my decision, and the selfish part of me wanted to hop back in the car and drive back to North Carolina, I knew this was the best thing for Christopher.
And that was really all that mattered.
I couldn’t stop looking at her.
So beautiful, yet distant. Confident on the exterior, but so obviously feeling out of place, wondering how long she had to stay before she could sneak out without offending anyone.
Over the last nine months, since Chloe had reappeared back in my life, I’d gotten to know everything I could about her. Not just by doing background checks and such for Gabe, but by observing her whenever we were near each other.
Shit, that makes me sound fucking creepy, I thought as I tore my gaze away from where Chloe was standing by herself on the deck, overlooking the dark backyard pensively.
I looked down to see Shauna watching me curiously, and mentally berated myself for being such an obvious dick.
“Do you need anything?” I asked. “Another drink?”
“Why don’t you just go talk to her?” my date asked, perfectly comfortable calling me on my bullshit.
“Huh? No…” I stammered. “I don’t want to talk to her.”
Shauna rolled her eyes, then squeezed my bicep.
“I think you like her,” she whispered, leaning in so no one could hear. “You’re different with her than I’ve ever seen you.”
Shauna had been my plus one, and I hers, whenever either of us needed one for as long as I could remember. We’d both had serious relationships, her even a short stint of marriage, but we were always there for each other if we were single.
“Nah, she’s like family,” I replied lamely, sneaking another glance at Chloe and not feeling the least bit familial about the way she looked in that skirt.
Shauna snorted, indicating she didn’t believe me in the least.
“Whatever you say, hot shot, I’m not gonna make you talk to her,” Shauna said, then effectively changed the subject when she added, “Oh, and my roommate is out of town this weekend, so, if you want to come by after this, I’m game.”
Shauna winked, then walked over to where Dillon was piling a mound of shrimp cocktail on his plate and said something that made him laugh.
Yeah, so Shauna and I also had sex, in addition to being each other’s plus ones, whenever we were both single.
We’d never been serious, had never even hinted at it. It was a weird relationship, one Jasmine never understood, but Dillon wished he could have. We didn’t want anything from each other, other than to be there to lend occasional support and fuck like bunnies when the need arose.
I enjoyed Shauna, but I was getting tired of being in relationships that didn’t go anywhere.
I looked over to where Gabe and Zoey were talking with Gabe’s parents. Gabe had his hand around her shoulder, a huge smile on his face, and Zoey was absently rubbing her baby bump.
As usual, my cousin was one lucky bastard, and I couldn’t help but feel a little bit jealous over his good fortune. Once again, he and I had been together when a woman had come wandering up to us, and once again, she’d gone for him. First Chloe, then Zoey … and they were sisters. Maybe something in their DNA was attracted to large, built, rich football players…
No, that was in every woman’sDNA.
Not liking the direction of my thoughts, which were heading into self-pity land, I turned from my happy cousin, my gaze catching on Chloe once more. I could see her sigh deeply, her shoulders hunching slightly, making her seem sad or upset, and before I could tell them to stop, my feet started in her direction.
The noise from my loud family’s raised voices dimmed as I stepped outside and closed the glass door quietly behind me. Hearing the door latch, Chloe looked over at me, her face betraying that she wasn’t very excited to see me approaching.
I couldn’t blame her; I had been kind of an ass every time she’d seen me.
“Hey, I was, uh, just coming to check and see if you’re okay,” I stuttered awkwardly as I walked toward her.
Chloe tilted her head in a manner that I found endearing, and gave me an uncertain smile.
“Oh,” she started, a nervous laugh escaping her lips. “Yeah, I’m fine, just wanted to get some fresh air. I love it out here.”
Chloe gestured out in to the abyss that was Gabe’s yard.
“Yeah, they’ve got a great setup here. Have you, ah, thought about where you want to live?”
Chloe shook her head and replied, “A little, but I’m still doing research. I did stop by the realtor’s office on Main Street today and got a list of houses, plus I have an app on my phone that shows houses available in the local area.”
“Well, the good thing is, we’re small enough that you can live pretty much anywhere and be close to downtown. It just depends if you want a gated community, a place on the lake, or something downtown.”
“Chris and I have been checking the different areas out. Of course, he wants to be close to here, but I’m not sure if that’s what I want…” her voice trailed off, and by the look on her face, I could tell she thought she’d talked out of turn.
“Hey,” I said, hoping my voice was gentle and understanding. “It’s an awkward situation, everyone knows that. You moved here so that Chris could be by Gabe and our family, and you by Zoey, which is pretty amazing. I think everyone would understand if you didn’t also want to be Gabe’s neighbor. Find a place that suits you and will make youhappy.”
Chloe turned toward me, her face showing her surprise at my words of support.
“Thanks, Reardon,” she said softly, and my name on her lips caused my insides to light up. “I know you haven’t been exactly thrilled about me, and everything I’ve done, so it means a lot to me to hear you say that.”
My brows furrowed at her words, and I wondered just how big of a dick I’d been to her since she came back.
“That’s not…” I began, wanting to clear the air and let her know that I didn’t feel any ill will toward her at all, quite the opposite, but Shauna chose that minute to seek me out and interrupted before I could explain.
“Hey, there you are,” Shauna said brightly as she opened the door.
I turned to her, confused at her sudden appearance. Hadn’t she been the one who told me I should talk to Chloe? Why, then, was she stopping me from doing just that?
“You ready to go?” Shauna asked when I didn’t acknowledge her appearance.
“I’d better get going myself,” Chloe said from beside me, then added, “Thanks, Reardon,” before brushing past me and saying goodbye to Shauna as she went inside.
“What was that?” I asked as I moved toward Shauna.
“What?” she asked, the picture of innocence.
“You said I should talk to her, and then you interrupted us when I did.”
“You can’t come off too eager, now can you, hot shot? You gotta show her that you’re a sought-after eligible bachelor. You can’t just roll over at her feet and beg her to scratch your belly. Women like a challenge.”
Unsure if whether what she said made sense or if Shauna was playing some sort of game, I followed her inside, just in time to see Chloe sneaking out the front door.
Over the years I’d gotten used to either doing things by myself, with Chris, or with Zoey. Since both Zoey and Chris were over the moon in love with Gabe, I’d been doing a lot more stuff by myself. Not because they didn’t invite me along, but because I was not the fourth wheel in their happy little family.
Not to sound bitter … at least, not much. I was happy for all of them, truly, but I realized that this was now my reality.
So, since I’d said no when they invited me along with them, I was now heading into the local Cineplex by myself to watch the new Star Warsmovie.
Zoey was the one who’d actually gotten me into Star Wars. Even before she’d become a successful writer, Zoey had always been into comics, movies, and anything that took her mind away on an adventure. At first, I’d been reluctant to watch, but she’d literally sat on me until I’d agreed to at least give the first movie a shot.
We’d been kids, and since I was the oldest, and our parents were never that involved, hence Zoey’s need to disappear into fictional worlds, I’d usually been more interested in hanging out with my friends than my weird little sister. But that day I’d agreed, and it had become a thing we did together. Any time a movie based on a comic book, graphic novel, or basically anything with a fandom, came out, we’d go and see it together. First, the two of us, then the three of us.
As I took the popcorn from the movie theater employee, I thought that maybe it had been childish of me to refuse to go with them to see the movie with Gabe, but it was our tradition, so I’d said no, then sulked about it.
The movie had been out for a while now, so the theater wasn’t that packed.
I selected a seat near the back, in the center, and put my Icee in the cup holder as I leaned back into the seat and prepared to watch the previews.
I saw someone sitting down the aisle in my peripheral and turned my head slightly, then tried to sink farther into my seat when I noticed it was Reardon.
God, how pathetic is he going to think I am, going to a movie by myself?
“Chloe?” I heard him whisper/shout from down the aisle, and knew I’d been spotted and there was no getting out of it, so I sat up in my seat and turned with what I hope looked like a genuine smile.
“Oh, hey, Reardon,” I replied lamely, then my heart pounded nervously when he stood up and came down the aisle toward me.
“Hey,” he said, looking around me at the empty seat next to me, then around the theater. “You here alone?”
I swallowed, then gave a slight nod.
“Me too,” Reardon admitted, and I swear it looked like he swallowed nervously too, before asking, “You mind if I join you?”
“Oh, ah, sure,” I replied, wondering where his girlfriend was and why he always seemed to make me so nervous.
Then I thought back to how sweet he’d been at the party the other night, and decided, maybe he was becoming more of an ally than a foe.
“I didn’t peg you for a Star Wars fan,” he said quietly as he unfurled his long legs as much as he could in the small space of the movie theater.
Reardon was seriously huge.
Zoey had jokingly called him a Viking, but looking at him trying to fit that long body into this regular-sized space had me thinking she was right on the money.
Crazy tall, with blond, perfectly styled hair and bright-blue eyes, Reardon Lewis was not a hard man to look at. In fact, sometimes I would catch sight of him and my body would react in a completely unexpected way.
Kind of like it is now…
I was aware of the heat coming off his body, his shoulders so large that they were barely a centimeter away from mine, as he slouched into the seat, probably trying to reach some level of comfort. His hands were palm down on his thighs, and were so very large that just looking at them seemed to cause something inside of me to start twitching.
Then there was his smell.
Good Lord on earth, it was heavenly.
I’d caught a whiff every now and then, but at this proximity the bright, clean smell of him seemed to wrap around me in a warm hug.
“Chloe?” he asked, and I snapped out of my scent-induced stupor, and realized he’d asked me something.
“I’m sorry, what?” I asked, hoping he didn’t suspect that I was having a physical reaction to his presence. I clenched my thighs together and started counting to twenty, hoping to make the tingle go away.
“I asked if this is the first time you’re seeing it.”
“Seeing what?” I asked dumbly.
“Star Wars,” he replied with a chuckle, then narrowed his eyes at me. “Are you okay?”
Giving a nervous giggle, I tried to play it off.
“Oh, yeah, sorry, my mind just wandered for a minute. No, I haven’t seen it yet. You?”
“Yeah, a couple times.”
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