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Shady Hill

Chapter Two

Sander’s mouth was hot, hotter than fire it seemed, like most pyros. His breath was hot and moist as he mouthed Jasper’s cock through the fabric of his boxers. Jasper made a sound in his throat, something he refused to name a whimper, and his hips jutted forward, pushing eagerly toward the familiar pleasure of Sander’s mouth.

Deft fingers reached into Jasper’s open jeans, pulling his arousal free of its confines. Cool air washed over heated flesh, quickly replaced with the wet damp of Sander’s mouth, and another strangled sound escaped Jasper’s lips.

Wary of being caught, he lifted his hand from Sander’s shoulders, shoving his knuckles to his lips. He’d rather chew on them then let his voice be heard.

Grey eyes looked up at him, amused and glinting behind his glasses, before Sander swallowed Jasper whole.

Jasper gasped. Sander was damn good, and it helped that his mouth was hot and so, so wet. Tongue slurping and sliding around Jasper’s cock, teasing the round head, tracing the throbbing vein. Jasper’s fingers scraped against the paneling of the door, his hips thrusting forward, wanting to be so much deeper.

Sander gripped his hips, fingers digging in, holding him still. Jasper wanted to protest, but words were impossible at this point. All he’d manage would be a desperate plea for more and deeper and by god, let me thrust.

Eyes sliding closed, Jasper swallowed thickly, tasting skin where he chewed on his own knuckles. Spittle slid from the corner of his mouth, down his chin, but he didn’t dare move his hand. He didn’t know what sort of sounds would emerge.

Sander worked him, swallowing around his cock, teeth scraping delicately and tongue swirling around the sensitive head. Jasper struggled to contain his cries, worried that someone might burst in on them at any moment. He was well aware that Mik was on the other side of the door, what if he was the one who came in? What would he think to find his two subordinates in such a position?

Jasper groaned, and Sander chuckled, the vibrations carrying onto Jasper’s cock. He gasped against his knuckles and arched, wanting to pushing deeper into Sander’s mouth. But the hands on his hips were restraining, maddening, and he could only shudder against the door. It rattled, a noticeable noise, and Jasper stilled.

Holding back became the last thing on his mind. Sander slurped and teased, swallowed him down, and Jasper shuddered. Thoughts of what else they could be doing, here or elsewhere, fueled his desire, twisting like a knife in his gut. Heat coiled and expanded, curling and curling, and had he an elemental magic, it would certainly react. But all Jasper had was Potential, and it couldn’t be seen or felt.

Jasper bowed forward, moaning around his knuckles, feeling as if the pleasure was being sucked out of him. Sander poked his tongue at the leaking slit, and swirled it around the sensitive crown, and Jasper lost it. He jerked, even against Sander’s restraining grip, and came, spilling over Sander’s tongue and down his throat. Sander didn’t hesitate to swallow, tongue stroking over Jasper’s cock and lapping up every last drop.

Jasper sagged against the door as Sander pulled away, kind enough to gently tuck Jasper’s spent cock back into his pants. Jasper tried to regain his ability to both see and focus, but found himself pressed back against the door, Sander’s mouth covering his, carrying the traces of salty musk. His body was hot, all muscle and sinew, and Jasper dragged him closer, deepening the kiss. There was something enticing about tasting himself on Sander’s tongue, like he’d staked a claim.

He could feel Sander against him, his erection digging into Jasper’s hip despite the layers of clothing. Jasper broke off the kiss, licked his lips pointedly, and reached for Sander's low-slung jeans.

Instead of eagerly leaning into Jasper’s touch, Sander slid out of Jasper’s reach, hands moving to plant on either side of Jasper’s head. “I’ll get mine later.”

Jasper warmed at the promise in that honey-rich voice. “Why wait?”

“Because the things I’d do to you require a bit more privacy,” Sander said with a lazy grin, blond hair sliding into his face. Grey eyes burned with heat.

“Cole!”

Jasper jumped at the shout carried through the door, thick with annoyance. Any minute now, Mik would yell for Sander as well, though with less force. Sander was known to wander off at his own discretion. Jasper, however, was supposed to be found at Mik’s side.

“Mik’s calling you,” Sander said, stepping back and dropping his hands from the door.

Jasper hastily adjusted his clothing, a steady burn building in his cheeks. There was little to be done for the flush to his skin. He looked like he’d just been molested. No way would Mik miss that.

“This is your fault,” he hissed.

“I’ll gladly take the blame.”

“Cole!”

Blond brows lifted. “He’s getting angry.”

Jasper whirled and grabbed the door handle, all but flinging it open. “I’m here,” he called out, knowing the burn in his cheeks wasn’t lessening for the fact that Sander was following him out the door. All eyes were on their exit, and Jasper could already see the whispers amongst Vespa’s crew.

He didn’t know why he cared so much. Playing for the same team wasn’t all that unusual and there were better things to focus on than someone’s sexuality, but Jasper had never cared to be the topic of discussion. And he especially didn’t want the boss to think any differently of him.

“What were you doing back there?” Vespa asked, and Jasper wasn’t sure if he was relieved Mik hadn’t asked the question or not.

Jasper paused, feeling his ears burn. “We…. Uh…”

“Snooping,” Sander said. He tapped out a cigarette, putting it between his lips, but he didn’t light it. “I like to stick my nose where it doesn’t belong.”

Vespa stared, her eyes darting between Jasper and Sander. “I noticed. Could you possibly refrain from doing that in the future? You could have just asked.”

Sander grinned as Jasper struggled not to meet Vespa’s eyes, avoiding Mik’s suspicious gaze as well. “Yes, ma’am. Happy to oblige.”

“Well, if you’re done snooping, we need to move on,” Mik said, his lips drawn into a thin line that spoke paragraphs of disapproval. Or, perhaps, Vespa had ill tidings that didn't speak well of the uneasy half-truce between the factions residing in what was left of Blacksburg.

“Yes, boss,” Jasper said, and headed for the stairwell, ignoring the titters in the back of the crowd.

Sander followed on his heels, and the sound of Jasper’s footsteps on the stairwell drowned out Mik’s parting words to Vespa. But not Sander’s chuckling.

“You idiot.” Jasper huffed. “That wasn’t the least bit professional.”

“Maybe not. But it was fun,” Sander said, hands in his pockets as he followed Jasper, steps quieter. For all that he was taller and heavier than Jasper, he walked like an assassin, barely a whisper of sound and a dancer’s grace.

Fun wasn’t the word Jasper would use. Humiliating perhaps, but definitely not fun. Jasper refrained from saying so, clamping his mouth shut.

On the first floor, clean up was already well underway. Runners swept up shattered glass under the direction of Vespa's second-in-command, while other underlings typed away on the computers. Someone was taking stock of what items were scavenged from the fallen.

Florian and Markel had come in from guarding the doors and both were leaning against the empty counter. Markel looked asleep on his feet, but Florian grinned and waved the moment he laid eyes on Sander and Jasper.

“We heading back to base now?” he asked.

Jasper nodded.

“Good. SIC’s probably muttering about all the work that’s not getting done.” Florian laughed.

“She’ll get over it,” Mik said, his voice preceding him. He walked as quietly as Sander, though Jasper figured that had something to do with his Pathy. Mik could mask his presence when he put thought to it.

Jasper had no reasoning for Sander, but then there was a lot about Sander that Jasper didn’t know. For all his openness and teasing, Sander was very much a closed book when it came to his past, though Jasper suspected Mik knew a lot more than he was letting on.

“Drop it, Cole,” Mik had said, when Jasper asked. “It’s no one’s business but Sander’s and he’ll share when he’s good and ready to.”

This, of course, being before Sander and Jasper had fallen into their… arrangement, or whatever it was Jasper wanted to name their relationship.

“Any new Intel, boss?” Sander asked as Mik swept by them, heading for the door.

“You’d know, if you hadn’t decided to play detective.” Mik pushed open the front doors with a protesting squeak of the hinges.

Outside, the early morning was heavy and warm and humid, the air smelling of smoke and battle, the bitter bite of blood a heavy tang. But the bodies had all been taken care of, leaving only the ravaged street behind, juts of concrete lingering proof of the small skirmish. Street lights buzzed noisily, their sickly yellow light illuminating the damage and Old Betty, waiting patiently for her master’s return.

Sander lifted his shoulders in a shrug. “Aw, boss. Don’t be like that. If you really want someone to blame, though, you can blame Cole. It was his idea.”

Jasper’s eyes narrowed, mouth opened in a harsh retort, but Mik beat him to it. “I know better than to believe that.”

“Like Cole would do anything to upset the boss,” Florian said, bumping Jasper with his shoulder.

Markel, silent as always, trailed after them.

Sander rolled his eyes, taking Old Betty’s keys out of his pocket and swirling them around so that they jangled. With the back window shot out, there had been no point in locking the doors. Florian and Markel clambered into the backseat, squeezing Jasper in between them and the SUV started with a low, angry rumble.

Sander patted the dashboard. “Don’t worry, girl. I’ll get you into the doctor soon.”

Mik’s hand dove into his pockets, emerging with a roll of chits that he handed over to Sander. “This should take care of the repairs. Courtesy of Nocturne.”

“Aww, they’re too sweet,” Sander drawled, and shoved the roll into his pocket. He shifted into reverse to get Old Betty back on the road and around the fractured concrete. “It’s nice of them to fix what they broke.”

“I doubt Utara would see it that way,” Florian said. “She’s probably fuming in her tower right now.”

Mik shook his head, leaning against the door and propping his chin on his knuckles, elbow braced against the window. “I don’t know. This skirmish was too small to have a purpose. It feels more like she was testing us. Or distracting us.”

“Nocturne’s been quiet… too quiet,” Sander agreed, finally lighting his cigarette with a snap of his fingers before returning his hand to the gear shift. The tobacco bounced on his lips, full-flavored menthol, which always tasted like sucking glass to Jasper. He had his own – berry blends, like tobacco only cleaner.

“Quiet?” Markel snorted, his raspy voice barely louder than the rumble of Betty’s engine. “Then what do you call tonight?”

“Prior to tonight,” Sander corrected, blowing out a small stream of smoke. “Don’t you think it’s strange that their first big offense in weeks is a small stab at the Twelfth Outpost?”

“Maybe they know something we don’t,” Florian said.

Sander glanced at the blond over his shoulder before returning his attention to the street. “That’s part of the problem, Florian. What don’t we know?”

Tires screeched as Betty whipped around a corner, the occupants swaying with the SUV’s movements. Jasper looked out the window at the buildings streaking by, and frowned.

“Sander, this isn’t the way back to base.”

Ashes tipped into the overflowing ash tray, Sander grinned. “I know. I’m taking a long cut.”

Jasper scowled. “There’s no such thing as a…” he trailed off, realization making him feel like a mother scolding her child. “Sander! Really?”

He shrugged. “I’m thirsty.”

Mik shook his head, catching on a lot quicker than Jasper had. “We really have to talk to someone about your addiction, Sander.”

“It’s only an addiction if you have no self-control. I can stop whenever I want,” Sander said. “I just don’t want to.”

Jasper pinched the bridge of his nose and tried to relax in the backseat, despite the fact it rose in the middle and was currently digging into his tailbone. There was no talking Sander out of a swing through a twenty-hour coffeeshop to quell his caffeine twitch. And knowing Sander, despite the double-shot espresso, he’d be in bed and out like a light within three hours.

Frankly, it never ceased to amaze Jasper. The world could go to pot, but if there was one thing that remained certain, it was the prevalence of a coffee shops, fast food, shopping centers, and some kind of church on every corner.

0o0o0


They arrived at the base without incident, with Sander sufficiently caffeinated and smart enough to bring back a caramel frappuchino for Sophia rather than face her wrath. Mik activated the garage door and it swung open to admit them, rattling back closed the moment Betty’s tail end had passed the threshold.

They were unconcerned with being followed. It was no secret where Rhapsody kept their base, just as they knew where to find Nocturne if needed. But security was much tighter here and neither gang had ever executed a full frontal assault.

It would be tantamount to suicide and Utara might be a ruthless bitch, but she wasn’t a fool.

Florian and Markel piled out, excused by Mik for the night though Florian would still have to check in with Sophia.

Jasper was left with Sander and Mik, following them back upstairs to where Sophia waited, anxious at a debrief. Here at base, Mik didn’t need Jasper to trail him like a shadow, but Jasper hadn't been dismissed. Whatever they discussed, Mik wanted Jasper to be included. Sander was the nosy sort who liked direction when it came to hacking into any of the computer servers, whether it belonged to Mareike’s finest or Nocturne’s “protected” database.

They climbed the stairs and emerged in the narrow hallway. Mik led them to the large boardroom filled to the brim with fold-out chairs and a massive whiteboard that served as the focal point of the room. At present, it held scrawls in various colors. Sophia was typing up a storm on her laptop and perched at a table tucked away in the corner by the window.

“I see you came back with all limbs intact,” she said without looking up from her computer. “Betty suffered a little, I hear.”

“A little?” Sander snorted. “No back window. Bullet damage. It’ll leave a scar you know,” he said, and swept into the room, one hand gesturing with a coffee cup. “Poor Betty will never impress the boys again.”

Sophia rolled her eyes, taking the cardboard cup. The rich smell of coffee flooded the room. “Is there anything you love more than that car?”

“I can think of a few things,” Sander said with a wink, and dropped down into one of the chairs, causing it to squeak as it slid a few inches across the floor.

“Aside from that we have a problem.” Mik slid into a seat of his own, with far more grace than Sander.

Jasper hovered near the door, leaning against the frame as he folded his arms over his chest. He listened, doubting he'd be asked to comment.

Sophia stopped typing, taking a delicate sip of her cup and leaving lipstick prints on the plastic rim. “What kind of problem?”

“The kind that results in death and no gain,” Mik said, rubbing at his eyes with his knuckles. “Utara’s plotting something. Something big.”

Sophia’s chair swiveled as she pushed out from behind the desk. “What makes you say that?”

“She didn’t put any effort into attacking the Twelfth Outpost,” Mik leaned forward, balancing his elbows on his knees. “It’s like she only did it to remind us that our truce is barely a truce. Utara’s too smart to waste her resources on such a small outpost.”

Sophia’s free hand tapped on the arm of her chair. “You think it was just a distraction?”

“I think that we’re going to have to be very careful from now on,” Mik said. “Tensions have risen. Altercations have increased. And this minor attack is the first sign of true disturbance. What that means, we don't know.”

Jasper shifted against the door. The truce had been laid amid all the factions, their concession to the Norms to prevent any more bloodshed. They were allowed their petty bickering, the occasional flareup of violence, but anything more and they risked repercussions. They risked the Norms deciding it was too much trouble to deal with Kinetics and killing the lot of them.

They risked reigniting the war and decimating the world, their people, even further.

Surely Utara wasn't mad enough to risk this peace? Surely she would rather rebuild and recover rather than return to those uncertain times?

Someone knocked on the door behind Jasper. He stepped away in surprise, wondering who would dare ignore the 'Do Not Disturb' hanging from the knob.

“Open the door, Cole,” Mik said.

Jasper nodded and obeyed, blinking at the sight of Florian on the other side. Florian grinned, bouncing on the balls of his feet, but it was the blond's companion that was the greater shock.

Jasper wouldn't have recognized Koldo if not for the unmistakable scar bisecting the left side of his face, running across his left eye, which was milky white and useless. Said scar was courtesy of Nielle, Utara's third in command. Combined with his dark crew-cut and dusky skin, Koldo sood out next to Florian.

Jasper tipped his head in greeting. “Koldo. We weren't expecting you.” He stepped aside, allowing Koldo to enter.

Florian winked at Jasper and took his leave, message delivered.

“There are a lot of things none of us could have expected,” Koldo replied, his dark eye scanning the room as he stepped inside. As he passed, Jasper caught a whiff of smoke and ash, like a recent fire doused. That didn’t make any sense. Koldo was a terrakinetic.

Jasper closed the door behind him.

Mik rose to his feet. “What brings you here, Koldo?” he asked as the two shook hands, on equal footing as only two men of rank could be.

Eleison, Koldo's clade, was not as large as Nocturne or Rhapsody, but that didn't lessen his standing. His clade worked on the fringe of their Norm-granted territory, considered itself neutral, and had a more congenial relationship with the Norms than any other clade.

“Bad tidings, Mikhael.” Koldo took a seat and only then did Jasper notice the bruising on the side of his neck. It looked like someone had tried to strangle him with fire-laced fingers. “No matter how neutral Eleison tries to remain, Nocturne is determined to drag us into the thick of things.”

Sander frowned. “Is that how you got the new necklace?”

Gloved fingers brushed his neck as though Koldo had forgotten abut the bruises. “Yes. Utara’s been picking off some of my more skilled kinetics one by one as of late. She’s not giving me much of a choice.”

Mik leaned back in his chair. “So you came to me.”

Koldo laid a hand on the table, palm up, signaling that he'd had little option otherwise. “I have a request.”

Eleison and Rhapsody had always had a healthy respect for one another, which counted double for their respective leaders, but requests had never been made. Requests required negotiation and concession, it required submission, one clade leader bowing his head to the other. As friendly as Koldo and Mik were, neither were willing to bow to the other.

“What sort of request?” Sophia asked, sipping at her coffee. She sounded intrigued, but then, Sophia was the one with the head for business. No doubt she was already calculating the possible monetary benefits of whatever Koldo’s request might be.

“No matter what I do, Utara intends to swallow up Eleison,” Koldo said, his shoulders slumped. “I’ll die before that happens. At least with Rhapsody, I’ve a chance of survival.”

Mik’s brows rose to nearly his hairline. “You want to claim Rhapsody’s banner?”

“It’s better than the alternative. We don't want any part of what Utara is planning.” Koldo scrubbed a hand down his face. “If we're under your banner, she'll think twice. We hope.”

Sander reclined lazily in his chair. “That we’re a last resort doesn’t speak highly of your opinion of us. Practically anything’s better than Utara.”

Koldo ignored him. “I think Utara’s trying to build her forces. There’s something she’s after, and she’s determined to tear Eleison apart to get it. I’ve no doubt Fantasia and Requiem face the same fate.”

Fantasia and Requiem were much like Eleison, smaller clades that considered themselves neutral. They were groups of Kinetics that had no place with the Norms and had no interest in the larger disagreement between Nocturne and Rhapsody. They only wanted to survive in peace, have families, perhaps one day return to normal.

If Utara was looking to add to her army, she couldn’t hunt the Norms, she’d have to find more kinetics. The three smaller clades were the only hunting grounds left unless she went out of Mareike altogether, and that was forbidden by their treaty with the Norms.

But why she would want to increase her ranks was the most worrisome question.

Jasper frowned, uneasiness making his stomach clench. He'd heard stories of the war and he didn't want to see that madness for himself.

“How many of you are left?” Mik asked.

Koldo licked his lips, eye darkening with sorrow. “Two dozen. Less if the injured don’t make it.”

Two dozen? Jasper gaped. They had more than that manning the Twelfth Outpost. And Jasper knew that Eleison had once consisted of fourscore men.

Koldo’s revelation rang through the room like a cold wind. Sophia muttered a low curse. Sander pulled out another cigarette.

Mik's eyes narrowed and he pushed to his feet.

“You may keep command,” Mik said, one hand pressed to the table, palm down, fingers arched. It was agreement, acceptance of the request. The lights flickered and Jasper glanced at them nervously, at the shadows that twisted and danced on the wall. “You’ll be a sub, answering to me or Sophia alone. My fourth outpost needs to be restaffed.”

The fourth was the closest to Eleison’s territory. Jasper knew for a fact that it was overstaffed. Mik was being kind. He’d likely call half their own force back to base, giving Koldo the illusion of sovereignty.

Koldo stood, the stiffness of injury in his motions. His head dipped in fraction, offered hand now pressed to his solar plexus, his kinetic core. “Yes, sir.”

“Yes, boss,” Sander corrected. “He likes that better.”

“Mik is fine,” he said, inclining his head in perfect counterangle to Koldo's bow. “Sophia will draw up a contract. Bring your men to the Fourth Outpost, ensure their comfort, and we can come to an accord.”

Koldo had come with hands out. There would be no debate over the terms of the contract. He would accept whatever Mik offered or he would be left for Utara. It was perhaps unfair, but such were the results of a request.

“I'll send a Runner to Darian to inform him of the change in leadership.”

Koldo managed a tight smile, one lopsided thanks to the scar. “Don't be surprised if Leona or Jessid come to you with the same request.”

“And I’ll show them the same courtesy.” Mik gestured to the door and Jasper. “Cole will show you out.”

Jasper gestured for Koldo to precede him into the hall. No doubt Mik and Sophia would dive right into the potential complications and benefits of this new arrangement. This was unprecedented.

Outside, Koldo breathed a sigh of relief, some of the tension disappearing from his body. Mik wasn’t intimidating, but Jasper supposed that someone in Koldo’s position might find him unapproachable.

“Only two dozen?” Jasper asked, hoping he wasn’t tearing open a jagged wound.

Koldo raked a hand through his dusty hair, appearing in desperate need of a warm bath, a hot meal, and a good night’s sleep. Who knew how long he was under siege before surrendering his pride and coming to Mik for help? “And they’re the lucky ones.”

Jasper shuddered in agreement. Servitude under Utara was a fate worse than death. He didn’t understand why people would do so willingly. What on Earth did Utara have to offer that would be worth her bitch fits and tendency to send her minions to their death?

Jasper headed downstairs, knowing Koldo would follow him. Jasper would have one of the Runners take one of the other vehicles – not Betty of course, Sander would throw a fit – and drive Koldo back to his base. One could never be too careful when it came to Utara.

“You really think Utara’s trying to build her forces?”

“She’s never been this aggressive before. That’s the only logical explanation. Unless…” Here he trailed off, brow furrowing as though a sudden thought had occurred to him. “No, that would be giving her too much credit.”

Jasper paused. “What?”

The other boss shook his head firmly. “Nothing. She would not be that much of a fool.”

“You give her too much credit.”

“Pah.” Koldo's frown deepened. “Maybe. But riling the Norms? That's a death sentence.”

Jasper made a noncommittal noise. Koldo was right. But whether or not Utara was thinking logically was up for debate.

They hit the landing, the main room coming into view. The common space was a central hub that connected to all of the other hallways. Couches and chairs scattered over the carpeted floor and one wall held a flat screen TV and a video game console, currently occupied by a racing game.

Jasper scanned the crowd, looking for a trustworthy face. It wasn’t hard to spot Florian’s curls as he celebrated winning the race with a childish whoop and holler.

“Florian!”

The blond turned at the sound of his name, cheer dying on his lips. “What’s up, Cole?” he asked, handing his controller over to the girl at his side and vaulting over the back of the couch. He bounced on his feet, sweeping loosened hair behind his ear.

Jasper jerked a finger toward Eleison’s boss. “Take Koldo home, please.”

“Sure thing.”

“You don’t have to--”

Jasper shook his head. “Utara probably already knows you’re here. The last thing you need to do is walk back to Eleison’s base.”

“Don’t worry,” Florian said with a twinkling grin that would do little to assuage Jasper’s own concern. “I’m an excellent driver. I’ve not had a wreck in weeks.”

Jasper rolled his eyes. “He's Sophia's third if that gives you any comfort.” Sophia had a knack for being a good judge of character.

“Some,” Koldo admitted, but hesitated before following Florian. “Relate to Mik, I mean, the boss, my gratitude once again.”

“I will.”

Koldo left with Florian, shoulders slumping as though defeated. It had taken a bite out of his pride to come here, but for the sake of his clade, Jasper could understand. Mik would have done the same to protect his own.

Jasper ignored the calls of the others in the common room, waving them off with a flick of his wrist, and climbed the stairs again. This particular floor was for the upper echelon of Rhapsody only which was a welcome relief. He had no interest in games today. Perhaps another time.

Jasper turned back toward the conference room, only to blink when he found Sander leaning against the door. A cigarette burned between his lips, eyes closed as though asleep and arms crossed over his chest.

“Am I missing something?” Jasper asked.

One gray eye popped open. Sander’s lips curled with a lazy grin. “Just Mik and Sophia talking shop. Boring shit, you know.”

“Oh.” Jasper moved to slide around Sander, return to Mik’s side as he was supposed to do. Except Sander wouldn’t move and his glasses did little to hide the mischievous glint in his eyes. “What are you doing?”

One hand slid around Jasper’s right arm. “You owe me, remember?” Sander said, tugging Jasper into step beside him as he pushed off the door.

“But--”

“SIC will make sure Mik sleeps,” Sander said, and there was a hint of testiness in his tone.

Jasper nibbled on his bottom lip but allowed Sander to tug him along. His initial protest had been but a token. If Mik didn't want him there, then Jasper didn't need to be there. He had no issues spending that time with Sander instead.

He did owe Sander one, after all, and Jasper had an established habit of repaying his debts. Whatever they might be.

***

Cassandra Smith writing as Nicole Wilkinson
Copyright 2006-2016
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