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Saturday, December 15, 2018

A Historical Christmas Event with Sofie Darling


Sofie Darling is an award-winning author of historical romance. Her debut novel, THREE LESSONS IN SEDUCTION, won the Writers’ League of Texas’ Manuscript Contest in the Romance Category in 2016.

She spent much of her twenties raising two boys and reading every book she could get her hands on. Once she realized she simply had to write the books she loved, she finished her English degree and embarked on her writing career. Mr. Darling and the boys gave her their wholehearted blessing.

When she’s not writing heroes who make her swoon, she runs a marathon in a different state every year, visits crumbling medieval castles whenever she gets a chance, and enjoys a slightly codependent relationship with her beagle, Bosco.



The Truth About Mistletoe
Part One

Lord Stephan Yarborough must find the perfect gift, one that will impress the eccentric spinster who holds the keys to his future. When a too-opinionated, and altogether too-lovely, stranger sweeps into the shop and proclaims his choice utterly hideous, Stephan finds his day upended in the most unexpected of ways. Most confounding of all, however, he might not mind all that much . . .


London
December 22, 1870

“And you’re quite certain this platter will impress a lady?”

Stephan flipped the dish over a few times and tried to view it from a different angle, one that would render it remotely appealing. Mayhap the green and pink color palette was lively and unusual, instead of garish and abrasive. And mayhap the scene of cats frolicking with dogs, overlarge tongues lolling and wild eyes bulging, could be seen as playful and pleasing, rather than as both sickeningly sweet and strangely grotesque. Mayhap.

Samford replied with a successful shopkeeper’s knack for discretion. “In the price range you’ve indicated, ’tis your best option.”

Fair point, Stephan supposed. His profession as a man of science didn’t leave room for frivolous expenditures. This serving platter was an investment in his research, but only if it did its job and impressed a lady whom he’d never met, likely an eccentric spinster.

“Shall I have it wrapped for you?”

“Please, and”—Stephan dug inside his greatcoat for a calling card—“deliver it to this address.”

Samford nodded.

Of a sudden, a woman’s voice rang out from behind Stephan, “What is that hideous thing?”

Before he could turn around, a petite blonde drew abreast with him at the counter, distress writ across her face as she took in the platter at close range.

“It’s, erm,” Stephan found himself saying, as if he owed her an explanation, “a gift.”

Wide blue-green eyes flecked with amber met his. He’d never seen such eyes. “For whom?” she asked, clearly astonished at the very possibility.

“A lady.”

“Lawk’s no.” The woman reached inside her flax-flower blue, fur-trimmed cloak and pulled from its voluminous folds a gold watch, which she spared a flying glance. “I have time,” she spoke as if she’d made up her mind that very instant.

Stephan knew with gut certainty that statement didn’t bode well for him. “Time for what?”

“Twenty minutes, in fact.”

“To?” The word emerged halting and wary.

“To help you pick out a different gift,” the woman said, an of course in her tone.

“Now see here”—three words that, when firmly spoken, never failed to right a conversation—“you don’t need to—”

Up shot a staying hand, halting the flow of his words mid-stream. “You most definitely do need my help.”

“I’ve already purchased the item,” he stated. That should settle it.

Well, it would with any other woman, but Stephan had his doubts about this one. She might be petite and blonde, but within her unusual hazel eyes glinted forged steel. One would be a fool to underestimate her.

“Samford?” she asked. “I’m rather disappointed in your willingness to sell such dreck to this man”—she pointed at Stephan without looking at him—“or anyone, for that matter.”

The unfortunate proprietor nodded. “Your discerning eye is never wrong, my lady.”

My lady? Of course, she was a my lady. If her upper-class elocution and supreme display of confidence in both gaze and tone wasn’t enough to shout the fact from the rooftops, the fine quality and impeccable cut of her attire—fur-trimmed cloak, silk bonnet, and taffeta day dress constructed in carefully coordinated shades of blue—was.

“We shall put it behind us, but do better in the future. Oh, and do you have my item ready?”

Samford retrieved a tidy package from beneath the counter and handed it to the woman. She tucked it inside her cloak and returned her too-direct gaze to Stephan. Who in the heavens was this woman? And what had he done to deserve her?

“Before we can properly begin,” she began, “you must tell me what your lady is like.”

“I never said she was my lady.”

The woman blinked. She wasn’t accustomed to having her conclusions contradicted.

“In truth,” Stephan continued, “I haven’t the faintest idea what the lady is like.” He only knew her name, Lady Lydia Talbot, and the sway she held over his future as heir of the eccentric earl who had expressed a desire to fund his scientific expedition to Amazonia. But first Stephan must run the gauntlet of the lord’s daughter and win her approval. The platter was his opening parry.

The woman’s eyebrows met in befuddlement. “What do you know about her?”

“I appreciate you interest in my affairs”—he didn’t—“but this”—he tapped the dish for emphasis—“will be an acceptable gift.”

The woman’s head canted to the side. “If that’s how you feel, then you must ask yourself a question.”

“Yes?” There was very much a muchness about the woman.

“Is acceptable good enough?”

Stephan’s mouth opened and shut. How had the blasted woman known to ask that question? For it hit the nail square on the head: acceptable wasn’t good enough, not by any stretch. The impression he made on Lady Lydia meant more than funding. It meant opportunity. It meant the possibility of an illustrious career. It meant his future.

The woman consulted her watch again. “We’re down to eighteen minutes. Let’s begin by stating the facts clearly. No lady wants this”—porcelain tinged with the emphatic tap of her finger—“platter. Or any gift from a handsome beau—”

“I’m not her suitor,” Stephan cut in.

“—that could be deemed practical, especially during the Christmas season.”

“Then, pray tell, what does a lady want?” he asked, exasperated.

The woman’s face took on a particular superiority. “Jewelry.”

Every cell in Stephan’s body rebelled against the idea. “Jewelry is too personal.” And too expensive, he kept to himself.

The woman waved a dismissive hand. “Not a necklace or a ring. There is an item of jewelry that perfectly meets your needs.”

“Which is?”

“Samford, if you please, assemble a selection of your best brooches.” She caught the man’s eye. “The ones you would offer me.” Her gaze swung back to Stephan. “Every lady loves a brooch. It’s the perfect accessory to make an old garment new.”

Samford stepped around the counter and intoned, “If you will follow me.”

The woman fell in step behind the proprietor as if this was an everyday occurrence, which it likely was for her. Stephan found that his feet had begun to follow the pair, possibly to his doom. At the end of a short, dimly-lit corridor, Samford pushed a door open and stood aside, indicating they enter first.

Nothing on the outside of the nondescript door prepared Stephan for what lay on the other side. He found himself stepping into a small jewel of a room, walls papered in rich coral, two stuffed chairs covered in black silk damask facing a low table inlaid with walnut, glass cases displaying jewels constructed of diamonds, pearls, rubies, and every fine gemstone known to mankind. This was a room reserved for the loftiest of aristocrats, not the lowly ones, like him. By entering this room, Stephan had moved into a rarified world decidedly out of his experience.

“I shall be a few moments,” Samford said. “Can I have tea brought round?”

The woman glanced at her gold watch. “No time for that. We’re down to twelve minutes.”

On a nod, Samford exited the room.

No more than a foot between Stephan and this confounding woman, a sudden awkwardness stole into the air. Quite simply, they were an unmarried man and a, presumably, unmarried woman, alone. It wasn’t done in Society.

Stephan gestured toward a chair. “After you, my lady.” It was the only polite course in this decidedly impolite situation.

She gave a little butterfly of a laugh, but Stephan detected nerves floating within it. Interesting. He’d have wagered nothing rattled this woman. It was reassuring to know she was human.

When she made to step around him and take the proffered chair, however, Stephan moved in the same direction at the same moment and knocked into her, making her stumble backward. Her hand shot out and grabbed hold of his upper arm only in the nick of time to prevent her from crashing into a glass case. As he helped right her, he couldn’t help but notice she was more substantial beneath her cloak than her petite height suggested. He rather liked a woman with some substance to her.

Where had that come from? The substance of this woman had naught to do with him and never would.

Again, her nervous, little laugh sounded. “Me and my clumsy feet,” she said, squeezing his arm tighter as she regained her balance. Her eyes went wide. “Oh, my.”

Stephan braced himself, expecting her to chide him on the unfashionable roughness of his coat cloth or some such direct observation that one kept to oneself in a civilized society.

“What a lot of muscles you have under there.” Her fingers tightened around his arm again, as if testing her conclusion.

The observation stole any reply out of his mouth. How did one respond to such a comment?

“I didn’t believe gentlemen had quite so many.”

“And how do you know I’m a gentleman?” He should’ve resisted asking the question, especially with a single raised eyebrow, but the temptation to throw this too-certain woman off balance was too great.

Her hand fell from his arm. “Well,” she began, halting, “you’re here. I’ve never known Samford to serve anyone who doesn’t have or isn’t connected to a title.” Her brow furrowed. “Are you a gentleman?”

“Technically.” Try as he might, Stephan couldn’t keep a sour note out of the confession.

Her eyes narrowed. “What sort of gentleman is a technical gentleman?”

He’d made a grave mistake and provoked the woman’s curiosity. Blast. Just as she opened her mouth, surely to follow her question with another, Samford returned, holding a black velvet tray, which he set on the low table. Five glittering brooches winked their glory in the light, each a sparkling masterpiece in miniature. Their combined splendor quite vanquished any more questions about Stephan’s technical status as a gentleman to the Outer Hebrides.

Samford quietly bowed himself out of the room.

All bustling business, the woman swept around Stephan and claimed a chair, while he took a seat on the other. Finger by finger, she tugged at her blue kidskin gloves until she’d removed one, then the other.

What was she—?

Next, she released the two cloak buttons at her neck and shrugged off the garment, allowing it to fall behind her.

Right. Stephan’s mouth went dry at the incontrovertible proof of her substance. She was as exquisite as any of the jewels before them.

“We have”—another consultation with her watch—“nine minutes. Let’s get to it, shall we?”

She reached for a brooch and pinned it to sapphire blue taffeta at the midway point of her V neckline. As magnificent as the finely filigreed jewel was, it didn’t come close to matching the magnificence of the creamy décolletage beside it.

Stephan kept his eye steadfastly trained on the brooch, even if the periphery of his vision had other ideas. “Not that one.” His voice had lowered by a revealing octave.

“No?” she asked, blithely unaware of her effect on him. “It’s quite exquisite, but you’re correct”—deft fingers released the latch—“with all these cold diamonds, it is a bit soulless.”

And with all those diamonds, it was also out of Stephan’s financial reach, astronomically so.

She tapped the next brooch in line. “This one with the rubies?”

Stephan shook his head.

“The sapphires?”

“No.”

“Here’s another with diamonds.”

“No.”

She glanced at her blasted watch again. “I’m down to five minutes.” Her hand hesitated above the last brooch. “That leaves us with this lovely beast.”

Lovely was too tame a descriptor for the gold jaguar, depicted in a low, crouching stride, black enameled spots, its eyes two otherworldly green emeralds. It was a gorgeous, striking piece, and the absolute perfect gift for tonight’s recipient. What better way to ask a lady to fund an expedition to Amazonia than with an emerald-eyed jungle cat?

“What do you think?” the woman asked, pinning the jaguar to her bodice.

As she averted her face to model the brooch, Stephan’s gaze fixed on something else entirely: the elegant length of her neck and the delicate bones of her clavicle. Had he ever beheld so delicate a collarbone? What would it be like to run his tongue along its fine ridge? How would she taste? Sweet, she would taste sweet, like sunshine and cherries.

Of a sudden, he didn’t want to give the brooch to any other woman, not even the one who held his future in her hands, but rather to this woman. A woman he’d never met before fifteen minutes ago. A woman whose name he didn’t know. A woman he would never see again after the next five minutes ticked by.

He leaned in, as if to inspect the brooch’s finer details, the truth more complicated. “This one is perfect.”

The changeable hazel of her eyes had gone green, a perfect match to that of the emeralds. “You’re sure to woo any lady lucky enough to receive this jaguar,” she murmured, a husky rasp scratched at the back of her words. Those words, the catch in her throat when she spoke them, stirred up a feeling, ineffable but strong, inside Stephan.

He’d opened his mouth to explore the edge of this conversation, where it could lead them, when the door creaked open and in stepped Samford. Stephan and the woman broke apart, the spell of a moment ago broken. How was such a moment possible? He wasn’t sure he even liked the woman.

“Lady Lydia”—Samford extended a small black box, lid flipped open—“a little something you might be interested in. I’ve been keeping it back ’specially for you.”

Stephan’s heart kicked a hard thud. “Lady Lydia?” he asked, even as the rational side of his brain asserted there could be more than one Lady Lydia in London.

“None other,” she said, holding up a delicate brooch to the light. Of course she was interested in a brooch.

Stephan spoke his next words because he must. “You’re Lady Lydia Talbot.”

Her eye hitched on his. “We haven’t been introduced, have we? I think I would’ve remembered.”

“We were to have met tonight.”

Her eyebrows drew together in confusion. “Which would mean”—her eyebrows released in understanding—“you’re—”

“Lord Yarborough.”

“The baron?”

“The same.”

She nodded. “That settles it, doesn’t it?”

“Settles what?”

“You are a gentleman. And a scientist?”

“A gentleman scientist,” he confirmed.

Her nervous, little laugh made a reappearance. “I’m not sure who I expected to meet tonight, but it wasn’t”—she waved in his general direction—“you.”

“Is it so difficult to believe?”

“But you’re—and this is empirically speaking, which as a scientist you should be able to appreciate—so very handsome, and you have so very many—” Her mouth snapped shut.

“Muscles?” he finished for her. “We do come in all shapes and sizes.”

What a teeter-totter conversation they were having. He had a feeling he wasn’t the first to make that observation about a talk with Lady Lydia Talbot.

“Sir?”

Blasted Samford. Stephan tore his gaze away from Lady Lydia. “Yes?”

“Does a brooch meet your satisfaction?”

“The jaguar is quite acceptable. Isn’t that so, Lady Lydia?” Her gaze darted away, the glimmer of knowledge in its depths. The quite acceptable jaguar was for her.

“Shall I have it delivered to the address you indicated earlier?”

“I’ll take it now.” Stephan palmed the piece and tucked it into a pocket.

“As you wish, my lord.” Samford discreetly faded out of the room.

Lady Lydia consulted her watch and rose that instant. “We’ve gone over time.” She crossed the room in a rush, her skirts a swirling shoosh-shoosh about her ankles, and was out the door in a blink. Stephan noticed her blue kidskin gloves, forgotten on the table. He snatched them up and shot to his feet. “Lady Lydia,” he called to her back once he reached the short corridor.

She stopped, but didn’t turn.

“Your gloves.”

One heave of her shoulders, and she pivoted to face him. “Thank you, my lord.” She reached out to accept her gloves when the unexpected happened: a small round object landed in her palm. As one, they looked up.

“Is that mistletoe?” Stephan asked.

A wry smile curved about her mouth “Oh, that Samford, ever the romantic.”

“Truly?” Stephan found the characterization difficult to square with the rather dour man he’d encountered today.

“I never met anyone who so believes in love.”

Stephan detected a distinct tone in her voice, hard, even cynical. “Don’t you believe in love?”

“I believe in its power, for both good and ill.”

It didn’t seem fitting that this woman didn’t believe in love. This petite, substantial confection of a woman looked made for it. How was it possible? His irrational side had him saying, “Well, we are standing beneath the mistletoe.”

Her nervous, little laugh couldn’t help itself. “That doesn’t mean we must—” She hesitated.

“Of course not,” he said, reason reasserting itself. He rather wished it wouldn’t. Her rose red lips were that delectable.

Still, she didn’t move, and neither did he.

“However,” he began, his voice a raw scrape against his throat.

“Yes?” she asked. Was that breathlessness he detected?

“If we don’t, erm, you know—” Kiss, he didn’t say. “Legend has it that you won’t marry for the next year.”

This got a laugh from her, not the nervous, little one, but a full-throated laugh that reached eyes sparkling with humor. “I shall find a way to survive it.” Her head cocked to the side. “You’re a botanist, if memory serves?”

“I am.”

“Mayhap you can tell me the truth about mistletoe at tonight’s soiree.”

With that, she pivoted on her heel, and Stephan found himself, yet again, trailing in her wake until they reached the exterior of the shop. Her breath puffing white in the cold, her eyes scanned the street, presumably searching for her carriage. She turned and started as if surprised to find him still hanging about. “You don’t need to stay.”

“I’m not pressed for time. Besides”—oh, he couldn’t resist—“it’s the gentlemanly course of action.”

The corners of her mouth quirked up at his tease and released the instant her eye caught on an object beyond his shoulder. He half-pivoted and spied a shiny green barouche speeding up the lane. “Yours?”

She nodded and stepped to the edge of the sidewalk. When the vehicle stopped, Stephan gestured to the driver to keep his perch and grabbed the door handle, his other arm held out to assist in her ascent. She released another of her nervous, little laughs before placing a light palm on his forearm. More pressure was applied when she took the single step. He couldn’t help hoping she was again taking stock of his many muscles.

Once inside, her hand lifted off his arm, and he couldn’t help feeling the weight of loss. A small weight for a small loss, surely, but there, confoundingly.

“Until tonight,” she said in a voice that conveyed all the bewilderment of the last twenty minutes.

“Tonight,” he confirmed.

Lady Lydia set her gaze forward and tapped the roof twice in quick succession. The carriage lurched into motion.

Stephan stood, glued to his spot of sidewalk, that small sense of loss refusing to subside as he watched her carriage join the hustle-bustle fracas of London’s streets. He’d just lifted the collar of his greatcoat to guard against a blast of north wind when hazel eyes met his through the back carriage window. Time held still for a trio of heartbeats that might’ve wobbled in his chest. Then the carriage rounded the corner at the end of the block, and she was gone. Time resumed its steady tick-tock.

She was the eccentric spinster who he was supposed to woo with a gift tonight? Strangely, he suspected this Lady Lydia would present a sight more difficult challenge.

But he’d be a blasted liar if he couldn’t admit to rather relishing the prospect.

Tonight.



London, April 1825

Lord Jakob Radclyffe left his past behind in the Far East. Or so he thinks until a ruthless thief surfaces in London, threatening to ruin his daughter’s reputation. With the clock ticking, Jake needs the scandalous Lady Olivia Montfort’s connections in the art world to protect his daughter’s future.

Olivia, too, has a past she’d like to escape. By purchasing her very own Mayfair townhouse, she’ll be able to start a new life independent from all men. There’s one problem: she needs a powerful man’s name to do so. The Viscount St. Alban is the perfect name.

A bargain is struck.

What Olivia doesn’t anticipate is the temptation of the viscount. The undeniable spark of awareness that races between them undermines her vow to leave love behind. Soon, she has no choice but to rid her system of Jake by surrendering to her craving for a single scorching encounter.

But is once enough? Sometimes once only stokes the flame of desire higher and hotter. And sometimes once is all the heart needs to risk all and follow a mad passion wherever it may lead.

Purchase: | Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Kobo |





Up For Grabs:
  • 1 eBook copy of Tempted by the Viscount

To Enter: 
  • Please leave a comment or question for the author.
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Special thanks to Sofie Darling for sponsoring this giveaway.
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62 comments :

  1. That was a fun Part I. I just adore Lady Lydia...what a sassy gal!

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  2. Thanks for sharing your contest with us all! So excited to start reading your newest novel!

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  3. Loved Lady Lydia. What fun her story will be with her botonist. My email address isbhrn54@yahoo.com.

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    1. I'm happy to hear you loved Lydia. I can't wait to start writing her and Stephan's full story. :)

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  4. What fun Already!
    Want to read where these two end up!!😉

    My email
    cynben6@gmail.com

    MERRY CHRISTMAS!

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    1. I'm so glad you enjoyed Stephan and Lydia. And a Merry Christmas to you!

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  5. Thank you for the chance to win your book!!
    Loved your story!!

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  6. Thank you for the story and the chance to win the book! I look forward to reading more of your work.

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  7. Thank you for the chance, I love finding new historical romance authors! :)

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  8. I love Lady Lydia. Thanks so much for the giveaway

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  9. What a great start to the book. Stephan is such a typical Scientist, not caring much for Society, that to meet Lady Lydia in such a fashion, will certainly make the dinner party very interesting. I look forward to reading the entire book when it is finished. Thank you for the opportunity to watch this one grow from the beginning.

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    1. I'm so happy to share it and can't wait to dig deeper into Stephan and Lydia's story in the coming year.

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  10. Please, Lydia and Stephan must have their story! What a splendid short story! You have a new fan!

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    Replies
    1. That is a really lovely thing to hear. Thank you. Definitely more to come from Stephan and Lydia... :)

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  11. Awesome start to the story loved it.

    Jean60212atgmail.com

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  12. Great start can't wait to read this.

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  13. I loved this story!!! Cannot wait for your next stroy!!

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  14. Lovely start. Can only hope you’ll bring us more.

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  15. And another book is added to my wish list... ;)

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  16. What a great teaser!! Can't wait to read it!!

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  17. Replies
    1. Since it's impossible for me to have just one favorite book, I have categories. My favorite romance is Black Silk by Judith Ivory. I reread it every year. Thanks for your question!

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  18. Loved the story and can't wait to read the full book when it is done!! Thanks for the chance to win! Have a Merry Christmas!

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    1. So glad to hear it! And a Merry Christmas to you!

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  19. What a teaser! I can't wait to read the rest. It promises to be another rousing adventure.

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  20. Exquisite! Another hit on your hands--I can't wait to read the entirety of it. Happy holidays to you and yours, Sofie. :-)

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    1. Thank you so much. I can't wait to write this one. A wonderful holiday season and new year to you! ❤️

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  21. Lady Lydia is charming and an interesting foil for the baron. Hope he can keep up!

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  22. Now I can't wait to read the rest of their story!!!! Thank you so much for the chance, Sofie:) Merry Christmas to you and yours. xo

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    Replies
    1. Coming in 2019... And a very Merry Christmas to you! ❤️

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