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Authors: L A Cotton

Salvation and secrets

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Salvation and Secrets

 

L. A. COTTON  Titles by L. A. Cotton

 

Fate’s Love Series

Fate’s Love

Love’s Spark

 

Chastity Falls Series

Loyalty and Lies

Salvation and Secrets

 

Published by Delesty Books

 

First eBook Edition

Copyright © L. A. Cotton 2015

All rights reserved.

 

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and events are the product of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons or events is purely coincidental.

 

No part of this book may be reproduced or used in any manner without the written permission of the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages for review purposes only.

 

If you are reading a copy of this book that has not been purchased from a licensed retailer please destroy it. Thank you for your support.

 

Edited by Jenny Carlsrud Sims ofwww.editing4indies.com

Cover designed by Natasha Snow ofwww.natashasnow.com

Image: Mandy Hollis at MHPhotograpy

Models: Julio Elving and Amee Thompson

 

 

Contents

Titles by L. A. Cotton

Dedications

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Salvation and Secrets Playlist

About the Author

Acknowledgments

Sneak Peek from Tribulation and Truths

 

 

 

 

The knowledge of sin,

Is the beginning of salvation

 

               ~ Latin Proverb

 

Prologue

 

I watched him move into her path on purpose. Bastard. She looked like a deer caught in the headlights as she craned her neck up to see who she had walked into. If only she knew. He’d been the same during high school—preyed on the weak and decimated the strong. But she wasn’t weak—that much I could tell—she was just lost.

It wasn’t the first time that I’d seen her. I had seen her arrive on campus, watched as she climbed out of the yellow cab with one bag. What girl arrived at college in a taxi with only one fucking bag? There were only two possible explanations: she was either running… or hiding.

I almost snapped when Braiden pinned her against the wall, talking shit in her ear. Knowing that he was threatening her. My blood boiled underneath the surface, as it did every time I had to watch him pull one of his stunts. But what could I do? We were tied...bound. So I did the only thing I could.

"What the fuck, man. Leave her alone. Look at her, she's terrified," I called out, hoping he would hear me. Hoping that he would listen.

She didn’t see me, and I remained in the shadows. I didn’t want her to be scared of me, like everyone else. Braiden backed away from her, laughing with a smug grin on his face, but she remained pressed up against the wall like she wanted to disappear.

It only made me see her more.

She wanted to fight back—I saw it in her expression; squared jaw and gritted teeth. But something was holding her back. Something had taken away her fight. Now she was just a scared girl with a mark on her.Hismark. Braiden rarely forgot. I just hoped I had intervened soon enough.

I started walking after Braiden. My brother of sorts. My best friend. The thing I hated most about myself. Before I rounded the corner, I glanced back. She was looking in my direction, but I doubted that she could see me. There was something about her. Something that made me want to know more. Something that wouldn’t let me do the right thing. For her….for us.

Walk away.

Chapter 1

~ ANA ~

 

"My two favorite girls. Oh, how I've missed thee." Paul pulled Elena into a hug. He tried to reach for me as well, but I sidestepped him, making a beeline for the bench. "You wound me, Parry. A whole summer without seeing your face and that's what I get?" he called over his shoulder with a half-smile. "Wound. Me."

"Suck it up, big guy." Elena punched his arm lightly, breaking free of his grip, and came to join me on the bench. "I can't believe we're back already. Summer went by too fast."

"Speaking of, how was your summer, Elena?" Paul asked, a hint of something in his voice.

Elena flicked her head at Paul, opening her mouth, but someone behind us boomed, "Her summer was fucking awesome, douche." Tyson wrapped his arms around my roommate and lifted her off the bench, turning her in the process. I watched as Elena squealed, wrapped her legs around Tyson's waist, and crushed her lips to his.

I risked peeking across at Paul, who was watching them with a look of longing on his face, and a ball of guilt rippled in my stomach. Like I needed that on top of the already painful ache in my chest.

This year was going to be harder than I thought.

~

"So, how was it going back?" Elena flung herself onto the end of my bed and kicked off her sandals.

I shrugged. "Okay, I guess. A little strange. I mostly hid out in my aunt and uncle's basement reading." And digging up every ounce of dirt on the Donohues I could find, but I swallowed those words. Elena didn't need to know that I was determined to get to the bottom of Chastity Falls’ most infamous family. She would freak out.

Elena looked at me with a frown etched across her head. "For the whole summer? Surely, things aren't that bad."

A strained laugh escaped my lips. My roommate really was clueless at times. "Trust me, people don't forget. I didn't want to spend the summer beingthatgirl. Not again. And after everything that had happened at the end of last semester..." I pulled at the sleeve of my cotton blouse and it caught on the infinity bracelet as I tried to cover the scar. It had faded some over the summer, the pink puckered skin turning a lighter shade, but it was still obvious. A constant reminder tattooed on my wrist. And now the bracelet was another reminder of what I had lost. But I couldn’t seem to part with it.

"Have you seen him yet?"

My eyes fluttered shut and I shook my head, allowing the memories to flood my mind. I spent the summer trying to forget all about Jackson Pierce and the Donohues, but how did you forget the one person who brought you back to life? The one person who gave you reason again? My mind might have shut him out since that night, but my heart refused to forget. Besides, forgetting wasn't an option when the person you wanted to forget shared a name with the town holding you captive for the whole summer break.

I muttered, "Not yet."

"Well, I hope that bastard stays away from you. And the rest of them." The venom in Elena's voice shocked me. "I will lose my Latina shit if they so much as look at you this year."

Just what I needed. Sure, Elena meant no harm, but it was inevitable our paths would cross theirs at some point. I couldn’t hide out in our dorm forever—which was exactly what I had been doing since arriving back at Chastity Falls two days ago, but I didn’t want any drama. Jackson chose them, and I needed to accept that and move on—without him.

“… I mean they might rule this town, and even this college, but no one, and I mean no one, messes with me and mine…”

My eyes watched Elena’s mouth move, but I heard nothing. Only white noise. Her words jumbled into one long mushed-up sound as my mind replayed being tied to that chair and Braiden forcing me to watch him taunt and beat Jackson. How could he choose them after that? Go back to them after they drugged and kidnapped me? He said it was to keep me safe, to protect me, but my heart couldn't comprehend that while it was too busy shattering again.

I didn’t doubt that he believed they would hurt me. I spent the whole summer uncovering the extent of the Donohue’s reign over Chastity Falls. The missing police informants, violent threats and messages, drug deals gone bad, and Jackson’s dad. I uncovered little about the accident that led to Michael Pierce's death, but I did stumble across one newspaper article from a local print out of Reibeckitt that reported suspicions around Marcus and Michael's friendship breaking down just before the accident. The article only hinted at Michael wanting out, but adding that to Otis Black’s disdain for the Donohues, and it was enough for me.

“Ready?” Elena’s voice cut through the room, and I shook my head trying to focus on her and not the details of my summer investigation. “Hmm, yeah. Let’s go.”

I followed her out of the room, still relieved that we had managed to keep the room in McGinley. “It’ll just be Tyson, Paul, and the guys, right?”

“Yeah, it’s just a quiet thing. Promise.” Elena clutched my hand in hers and yanked me gently off the step. “Baby steps. You can’t hide away all year. I refuse to let that happen on my watch.”

She was right. I couldn’t hide. I wouldn’t. Even if all I could think about was turning and running back up to the dorm room.

We walked in comfortable silence, my eyes scanning the path for any sign of him. I couldn’t help it. Seeing Jackson was going to be a huge test. One I would barely pass but, most likely, epically fail.

We hadn't even reached the door to the guys’ house and it swung open. "Welcome to heaven, ladies."

Elena rolled her eyes before launching herself at Tyson, and I ducked past them into the house, leaving them to their reunion.

True to her word, it was just the guys gathered in the games room and the ball of nerves in my stomach slowly unwound and melted away. This I could deal with. Well, as long as Paul kept his feelings under control. If I was going to survive the year, I needed people in my corner and these were the only ones I had.

"Don't just stand there, Parry, get your butt in here," Nate called over his shoulder, too focused on the video game to actually turn to look at me.

Paul patted the beanbag next to him, and I walked over to it and dropped down. "You came," he whispered. Unsure of whether it was meant as a thought or statement, I said nothing.

"Who's winning, bitches?" Tyson and Elena joined us, and I relaxed making myself a silent promise.

I can do this.

The guys chatted about their summers, and Elena had everyone howling at her stories of Tyson going all macho during their vacation. No one asked me any questions, and for once, I owed Elena and her big mouth for keeping quiet.

“Ana?”

I looked up to find Paul’s questioning eyes searching mine. “Huh?”

“You didn’t hear a word I just said, did you?”

Shifting uncomfortably on the seat, I murmured something about not hearing him. A sigh of relief escaped my lips when Elena deflected the heat from me to her. “Paul, of course, we’ll be there. First party back. Wouldn’t miss it, right, chica?”

My forehead creased as I narrowed my eyes at her. She had to be joking, right? There was no way on Earth I was going to a party. Especially a party at Dead Man's Cove.

“So we go?” Paul’s eye widened and a sloppy grin formed on his face, full of hope and excitement.

No. The word was on the tip of my tongue, but I choked it back. I shrugged my shoulders, knowing that Elena would make me go one way or another.

"Awesome. You won't be freshmen this year and the first party at Dead Man's Cove will be a whole new experience," Nate said, causing Tyson to grunt.

"Yeah, they won't be forced to drink Jell-O shots and get wasted, big fucking whoop.”

Elena snorted. "Tyson Manster, do you really think anyone could make me do something I didn't want to?"

The guys exploded with laughter, and even my lips curled up in a smile. Tyson sure had his hands full with her.

"What classes you taking this semester, Ana?"

My stomach flipped. Another cause of anxiety; the possibility of having a class with Jackson again. I knew it was likely, given our majors, but it didn't make it any easier.

"Women's literature and poetry."

"Peterson's class? It'll kick your ass."

Elena reached over and hit Jamie upside the head. "Do you even know how clever that girl is? She was set for Bro-"

Her eyes met mine, full of apology, and she swiftly covered her mistake. "She's set for big things, Jay. Ana would blow your IQ out of the water."

Jamie shrugged. If he noticed Elena's slip, he didn't let on.

"The class only kicked your ass because Peterson had it out for you after you pulled that prank," Nate said, and Jamie grinned.

"Yeah, that was pretty epic. Remember his face when-"

I pressed myself further into the beanbag, forcing it to mold around my body and shutting everything else out. Building up my walls ready to facethem.

~

I couldn't relax. We arrived at the cove over an hour ago and there was still no sign of the team. But the buzz in the air suggested that I wasn't the only one awaiting The Fallen's arrival. Only for very different reasons.

"Ana, you want a drink?" Paul shouted over the music, the alfresco dance floor in full swing.

I shook my head and stuffed my hands into my jeans pockets. It was warmer than it had been the previous year. My eyes watched the bodies grinding to the beat. Freshmen were easy to identify; their over-enthusiasm, fake smiles, and inhibited expressions. They just wanted to fit in. Last year, I had just wanted to blend, but that didn't happen. And now I wanted to be invisible.

"Aaannna, come dance." Elena swayed her hips as she spoke, trying to encourage a reaction from me. The frown scrunched across my forehead wasn't the one she hoped for, and she stuck her tongue out at me.

Part of me envied her. It was college. Sophomore year. We were no longer the new kids on campus, and it should have been our time to shine. Elena shone. Everything about her was warm like she was her own personal sun. Her hair glistened in the moonlight, and her eyes sparkled whenever she got excited about something. And she was totally working the pants and tank combo that molded to her petite figure. I felt more like a dark, wet, winter morning in my black jeans and gray hoodie. I hadn't even bothered doing my hair or make-up, much to Elena's disapproval.

"You should go dance with her." Paul leaned against the trunk next to me. "Lighten up, let loose... enjoy yourself."

The words hung in the wind between us. I knew Paul and Tyson weren't stupid. After witnessing my breakdown when Jackson got stabbed, they had pieced together some of the puzzle. But no one besides Elena knew about what went down at the cabin. And I wanted it to stay that way.

Paul nudged me, waiting for my response. I gave him my best attempt at a half-smile and said, "I don't dance; not unless Elena refuses to take no for an answer. Besides, she has Cassie and Lydia."

Paul regarded me for a second, his eyes narrowing, searching mine. "Ana, listen, I, hmm..." He shifted nervously, his eyes darting to the ground and back up again, and I gripped the rough bark anticipating what he could possibly be about to say. "I like you. It's no secret, and I'm not sure what went down with you and Pierce last year, but I'm here. If you ever need someone to talk to, I'm here."

My body sagged with relief, and without realizing it, my hand found Paul's and gave it a gentle squeeze. "Thank you."

I realized my mistake instantly. A hint of hope sparkled in Paul's eyes and I withdrew my hand.

His face fell, and he stuttered out, "Hey, no hard feelings. I know you don't feel the same, and it's cool. I'm here as a fr-" Something over my shoulder caught Paul's attention and he frowned, his mouth still agape. My pulse spiked and my eyes fluttered shut as I swayed slightly from the sensation. I didn't need to turn around to know what, or who, Paul was looking at.

Everything slowed as my body twisted and my eyes found him. I knew it would be hard seeing Jackson again, but I didn't expect to feel so... so gutted. All my scars ripped open and my emotions laid bare.

My body slumped down against the trunk until I was seated. I wanted to run—to get the hell out of there, but I couldn't move. Everyone watched them stalk toward the party with Braiden and Jackson leading the team. A chorus of cheers broke out around me, but it all became background noise. Everything disappeared except for him.

Dark wash jeans hugged his muscular legs, hanging low on his trim waist. The white, green, and black jersey fit snug across his chest and broad shoulders, with his defined biceps obvious underneath the short sleeves. My eyes drank him in. His once short dark hair was longer, falling over his eyes slightly. It looked good on him. I gulped as a familiar flutter started low in my stomach, and I clamped my legs together. This was not good. I was supposed to hate him. Ineededto hate him. But my body was betraying me.

Jackson didn't look over in my direction. It was as if he knew I was there and he didn't want to make eye contact. The way he positioned himself to have his back to me burned through me like acid on an open wound. The guy I had let in and trusted with my heart couldn’t even look at me.

That feeling didn't compare to the one storming through me as I watched Braiden clasp his arm around Jackson's shoulders and pull him in for a guy hug. Braiden looked totally at ease, a huge smile painted on his face. He either played the part well or believed everything was okay because to the untrained eye, Braiden and Jackson looked every bit the best friends. But that had to be wrong. It had to be. Didn't it?

Chapter 2

~JACKSON~

 

“Pierce, you in here?” Braiden kicked the door open and thundered into my room. Dropping the free weights, I glanced up at him. “Come in, why don’t you.”

“That dipshit of a cousin of mine fucked up. Again. Fuck.” Braiden’s fist slammed against the desk and it shook. “I told him to back off Reibeckitt. I need to handle that shit my own way.” He paced up and down, scraping a hand over his square jaw.

He was pissed. I had seen that look a hundred times before. Wiping the beads of sweat off my forehead with the back of my hand, I straightened and said, “Talk to me. How bad is it?”

“Bad. Roman got into it with a couple of Calder’s guys. He smashed up one of them pretty bad, and Calder is out for blood. Fuck. Dad is going to lose it. He’s smoothed things over once with Declan; he won’t do it again.”

I pulled out two waters from the cooler and handed one to Braiden, saving one for myself. “Uncle Marcus doesn’t need to know. We can handle it.”

We always did.

I spent the summer handling it. Shit went bad, and I handled it. I had been covering Braiden’s tracks since we were just two scrawny kids thinking we could rule the school and get away with anything.

Braiden’s eyes softened as he waited for me to reveal my plan, and I slumped into the La-Z-Boy tucked in the corner of my room. “We reach out to Calder, mayb-”

“No fucking way. He almost killed you. Not happening. I’ll end that bastard myself before reaching out to him. Dad might have smoothed things over with Declan, but things are not okay with us and that fuck! Your plan sucks.” Braiden’s face hardened, the vein in his neck pulsating, and I knew I had lost him.

“Okay, we regroup. Stay alert. Expect payback. I’ll give the guys a heads up.”

Braiden nodded and moved to the door. “Party at Dead Man’s tonight, don’t be late and don’t do anything stupid. Don’t fuck this year up. I’m counting on you,Brother.”

My fists clenched and I felt like the knife was being plunged into me all over again. Only this time, it was by my own family. Braiden Donohue owned me, and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it.

~

“I fucking love this shit.” Travis pumped his fist into the night sky and grinned. “All that freshman pussy for the taking. It’s good to be alive, gentlemen.” The rest of the guys laughed, but I just nodded. I wasn’t into all that. I had bigger things to think about.

We rounded the cove and wound our way through the craziness that was the first party of the semester. The music filled the air but did little to drown out the cheers and applause at our arrival. Gods. That was how the rest of the college saw us. I didn’t know who was the biggest dick—them for believing that or us for acting like it.

Girls swarmed around us, flashing their fuck-me eyes, and guys muscled in trying to be one of us. Braiden dropped his arm around me and grinned, but his body told a different story. It was tense and his grip on me was a little too tight. “Remember, don’t fuck things up. Family first.”

He didn’t need to say anything else; I knew exactly what he was talking about. After releasing me, he joined the party, but I stalked closer to the bonfire, staring at the flames as they licked the sky. I had never been into the parties or girls. Sure, I hooked up occasionally but that was it. I had witnessed Braiden do some awful things. But he was untouchable. His name meant something in Chastity Falls. HewasChastity Falls.

He could do whatever in the hell he wanted to with little consequence.

"Hey, Pierce." A cute blonde strolled seemingly confident toward me, her friends watching through wide eyes. But the slight tremor in her hands and the way her chest was rising and falling at double speed gave her away. She was fucking terrified.

She stood right in front of me, pushing her tits up with her folded arms. Her long blond hair framed them perfectly. "You want to dance, or go somewhere a little quieter?"

I had to give the girl props; her voice was unwavering as she batted her lashes at me, propositioning me. Raking a hand through my hair, I shook my head. "I don't think so, not tonight.”

Her eyes sparkled and I instantly realized my error. Now she thought there was a glimmer of hope for another time.

Fuck.

"Hey, I mean I'm not interested. Period."

Disappointment flooded her face, quickly followed by embarrassment, and she turned and hurried back to her friends.

They were so quick to throw themselves at us. It didn't matter if you were short, goofy, or covered in zits like Nicky. If you wore a Fallen jersey, you were a prize to be won. Although, the morning after was a different story.

Last year, too many naive freshmen girls left the basement or one of the guys’ rooms with tearstained eyes and the regret of the night before. Things never looked as good in the morning. I hated what went on down there, but what Braiden wanted, Braiden got, and most of the team was all too happy to oblige.

The fire hypnotized all of the crap away, leaving me with nothing but empty thoughts and meaningless swirls of color. But then I felt it. That feeling of someone watching you. My body tensed, prepared for a threat. Although Calder would have been crazy to retaliate on Chastity soil, we hadn't ruled it out. Braiden had called in a favor, and a couple of patrol cars were on point along the ridge just in case.

Not wanting to out whoever was watching me, I inched my way around the fire, remaining disguised by its blaze. I had probably moved a quarter circle when my eyes found hers; eyes still trained on my position, only now they would struggle to see me properly through the angry flames. But it gave me perfect vantage point and I could see her perfectly.

Longing replaced the alert I had felt only seconds earlier. I wanted to go to her, to wrap her in my arms and just hold her. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen her since the semester had started. I had been watching her. She never saw me—I made sure of that. I just had to know she was okay. Watching her break in front of me after I told her that we couldn’t see each other anymore was the hardest thing I had ever done. But Braiden had me, and I knew if I didn’t walk away, he would make Ana’s life hell.

Both of our lives.

So I watched from the shadows. The couple of times I saw her, either Elena and Manster or that douche, Paul, flanked her. He seemed like an okay guy, but he had a boner for Ana and made no effort to hide it. Even last year, on the odd occasion I hung out with Ana and her friends, he would sit and make puppy dog eyes at her or storm off like a sulky child. The guy had it bad, and I had probably pushed her straight into his fucking arms.

Allowing myself a couple more minutes to watch her before I got made, I memorized everything. The way she tried to mask her feelings but still had sadness in her eyes. How her hair flicked out at the ends, doing whatever in the hell it wanted. Curves that were in all the right places, even though she was skinnier than average. And those perfectly shaped lips that were once mine to kiss. She sat rooted to the spot, staring into the flames, swamped in a hoodie that couldn’t possibly belong to her. Just the idea of her being wrapped in another guy’s clothes made my blood boil, and I clenched my fist at my side.

“Pierce, get the fuck over here,” Braiden’s voice called, and I flinched.

This was my life.

He was my life.

I had to let her go... for both our sakes.

~

“So, Calder’s gone quiet?” Travis leaned up against one of the wooden beams and blew out smoke rings from off his joint.

“Yeah, he has to be planning something. I don’t like it.” Braiden sat in the corner of the room, rocking back and forth in one of the few chairs. After Roman’s stunt, he had insisted on closing ranks.

The Fallen was a close-knit team, but only a handful had more than need-to-know privileges where Donohue business was concerned. Kyler, Shaun, Dennis, and Travis were all considered as good as family and would do anything Braiden demanded, no questions asked. The rest of the team understood how it worked. Everyone knew that Marcus Donohue owned the town and everyone in it, and that included the majority of students at CFA. Although, most of them didn’t understand it, not really. As long as students kept their heads down and their nose out of places it didn’t belong, they could enjoy a carefree four years at the Academy. You only became a problem if you asked too many questions or ended up mixed up in business that didn’t concern you.

“I say we go in and fuck him up, Braid. Payback for Pierce.” Travis folded his arms over his solid chest and scowled. He was the kind of guy you didn’t mess with unless you wanted to end up in the ER.

“It’s out of my hands, for now,” Braiden replied, not saying the words. He hadn’t taken it well when Uncle Marcus told him to drop the feud with Calder. “But he’ll get what’s coming to him. No one touches a Donohue and gets away with it.”

Braiden’s eyes snapped to mine, just for a split second, but I saw it. And I heard the inflection in his voice. He wasn’t referring to himself—he was warning me.

“What’s up with that chick from the party anyway, dude? She’s been hanging around the house like a bad smell.” Kyler inhaled on the joint and handed it back to Travis before blowing out the smoke. “Didn’t you break her enough yet?”

I tuned out. Things were still strained between Kyler and me after he had held me down and let Braiden beat the shit out of me. He apologized the minute Braiden left the room, spouting some shit about boss’ orders. At least I knew where his loyalties lay. Not that I expected any different. Braiden might have put emphasis on me being his best friend, his brother, his second in command, but when it came down to it, I was still expendable.

“Yo, Pierce, did you hear that?” Braiden’s voice called across the room. “Travis wants to know he if can take that pretty piece of ass you were tapping last semester for a ride?”

I saw red and was off the wall in a second, storming toward Travis.

“He looks angry. Shit, Braiden, what did you have to go and say that f-” I slammed Travis into the wall, my hand clasped around his throat. “Don’t ever speak about her like that again, got it?”

“PIERCE.” Braiden’s hand crashed into the wooden chair. “Back the fuck off. I was just pushing your buttons. Making sure you hadn’t gone all soft on us.”

My teeth ground together as I tried to get my breathing under control. Braiden was testing me. It was a test—and I walked straight into it. Forcing my lips into a curl, I released Travis and slapped him upside the head. “You should see the look on your face, bro.” My laugh came out strained, but Travis blinked and then exploded with laughter. “Shit, man. You had me there for a second.”

“You can have her. She was shit in the sack,” I called out, as I headed outside for a breather. Barreling through the door, I jumped off the rickety steps, dropping my hands to my knees. My breath was coming hard and fast as I tried to calm the fury coursing through me. I didn’t know who I was angrier at. Braiden for testing me or myself for failing.

The door creaked behind me, and someone moved beside me. “You might have them fooled, but you don’t fool me. I won’t tell you again, Jackson. This. Ends. Now. Forget her.” Braiden squeezed my shoulder and brushed past me, disappearing into the forest.

 

 

 

 

 

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