The Haunting of Hotel LaBelle
The Hotel LaBelle Series Book 1
by Sharon Buchbinder
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Cursed by a medicine woman, “Love ‘em and Leave ‘em Lucius” Stewart is stuck between worlds until he finds his true love and gives her his heart. When he first sees Tallulah, he doesn’t know what he’s feeling. Yet, her stunning beauty, and feisty attitude pull him in.
With the fate of Hotel LaBelle on the line, Tallulah with the help of a powerful medicine woman turns Lucius back into a flesh and blood man. She and Lucius team up to save the hotel, but Tallulah can't help but wonder if he will ever let go of his past love and learn to love again.
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Hotel LaBelle, Billings, Montana, Present Day
The long, white flannel nightgown did little to hide the shapely figure of the woman with the wild blonde hair and wide blue eyes. Lucius Stewart found her womanly charms incredibly distracting but remained startled beyond belief—she could actually see him. Really see him. How was it possible?
“Is this some kind of joke? Hazing the hotel consultant? Tell Will it isn’t funny, and get out of my room. Now.”
She pointed toward the door, her white-tipped fingernail reminding him of the breath feather on the tip of Beautiful Blackfeather’s medicine stick. He inspected her face, his gaze traveling slowly over her pouty red lips and her cheekbones. He inspected her longer than any civilized woman would deem polite. She glared back at him, fists on her hips—just like someone else he’d known years ago.
Her mannerisms, regal bearing, and commanding presence sucker punched him, turning his limbs to jelly and his mouth to mush. If he believed in reincarnation like he’d heard some of the Alaskan tribes did, he’d say she was Mourning Dove reborn with blonde hair and blue eyes. He let out a long breath and managed to untie his tongue.
Her frown became deeper, her voice angrier. “Excuse me?”
Perhaps she didn’t understand him. He spoke slower and louder, “Your tribe. Are. You. Crow?”
“I. Am. Not. Deaf.” She patted her thigh. “Franny come. Get away from him.”
The little dog with the pushed-in face and bug eyes jumped and wagged its curly little tail harder as if in defiance of her owner’s orders. What’s with this so- ugly-it’s-cute creature, anyway?
“Franny! Come here.” The little dog plopped on its haunches and looked back and forth between the disturbingly familiar woman and him as if trying to decide which way to go.
Lucius stood and stretched, still trying to reconcile this woman’s ability to see him and her uncanny resemblance to the woman he’d loved and lost.
“Don’t you come near me.” She backed up to the desk, hands scrabbling on the mahogany surface. “Or I’ll, I’ll—”
“What? Hit me?” He laughed at her surprised expression—the mirror image of Mourning Dove’s wide-eyed, open-mouthed look when he’d proposed to her. “Throw something at me. Please.” He almost hoped he’d get smacked so he could feel something. Anything was better than this nothingness. A book flew at his head—and sailed through him, bouncing off the wall and landing on the floor.
Mouth agape, the woman stared from him to the book and back to him again. “You’re a ghost.”
“Not exactly. Shall we start over?” He leaned against the wall and folded his arms across his chest.
“After a hundred years of being invisible to everyone except you, I’d like to know who you are and what you’re doing here.”
“Of course. Why not? Could today get any weirder?” She sank into the desk chair, shook her head, and sighed. “My name is Tallulah Thompson. I’m a hotel inspector, hired by the current owner as a consultant to find out why the renovations are delayed and what he needs to do to fix it. He’s teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.”
“What tribe are you?”
She jerked her head up and those doggone lapis lazuli eyes of hers sparked as if she’d strike him with lightning and kill him with one look. “No one asks that. It’s not politically correct.”
“Well, I guess you haven’t been talking to the right people. And I don’t know what you mean by that last part. I’ve never been involved in politics.”
“Nowadays, it’s considered rude to ask about another person’s national origins.” She threw her hands up. “Why am I giving a ghost an etiquette lesson? What am I thinking?”
“The Crow gal who cleans this place can feel me but never hears or sees me. You can. How is that possible?”
Tallulah wrapped her arms around her shoulders and shuddered as if chilled. “I’m Choctaw. My grandmother is a Medicine Woman. I see…things.”
“I knew you had Indian blood.” The cheekbones sealed the deal for him.
“Native American.” “What?”
“The proper terminology these days is Native American. And it’s genes, not blood.”
“You just gotta correct everything I say, don’t you? Here’s another rude question for you. Why are you blonde? In my day, only the painted ladies changed their hair color.”
“Oh. My. God. You just don’t stop, do you? Okay, okay, you win.” She shook her head. “This is my real hair color. My grandfather was a German immigrant who went to Oklahoma for the land lotteries, met and married my grandmother, and had a mess of kids. My mother married a nice German man, then they both died in a car accident, and my grandmother raised me. Happy now?”
“Yes. Thank you. Was that so hard?”
She glared at him. “What about you? Why are you still hanging around here? Don’t you have a long, dark tunnel to go into and a light to follow?”
“What?” He had no idea what she was talking about. There were no tunnels in Hotel LaBelle, and the only lights were the ones he installed a century ago. “You sure do speak in riddles.”
“Since we’ve dispensed with being polite, I’m just going to lay it out for you. You’re dead. You don’t belong here. It’s time for you to move on.” She pointed to the ceiling. “Heaven awaits you. Or, whatever the alternative is.”
He sat down heavily on the bed, and the little dog yapped and jumped again. “Let me tell you how I got here.” He recounted his last evening in his office and the visit from Beautiful Blackfeather. “She didn’t kill me, Ms. Tallulah. She cursed me. I don’t know the exact words she used. I don’t speak Crow that well. For all I know, I’m stuck here for eternity.”
Legacy of Evil
The Hotel LaBelle Series Book 2
Emma's help roars into her life covered in tattoos and riding a Harley. Remote viewer Bronco Winchester takes the assignment because he is ordered to, but he wonders what type of assistance, his boss's sister needs. That is until he sees Emma, a valiant Warrior Woman proud of her Crow heritage.
Posing as a married couple, Emma and Bronco go undercover to infiltrate and stop a hate group. Both are anxious enough without the now growing attachment they feel for one another. When the lives of many are on the line, they are not sure if they will live or die—let alone have a chance at love.
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Crow Reservation, Montana
Brandon Winchester, aka Bronco, rapped at the door of the address his boss, Bert Blackfeather, had texted him that morning with instructions to get there pronto. Pushing the big bike as hard as he dared, it had taken him most of the day to get from Colorado to the Crow Reservation in Montana. Once there, he had to navigate his way through the maze of streets, pick-up trucks, SUVs, horseback riders, kids kicking a soccer ball, clusters of adults, and a yappy little dog determined to pursue him for the last mile. Saddle sore, tired, and hungry, he thought about his breakfast back in Denver, and his stomach growled.
Much earlier that day, he’d been sitting in a restaurant, the kind he preferred with three glass sides and the kitchen at his back. On a much needed break between cases, Bronco had been inhaling a mountain of sausages and pancakes dripping with syrup, occasionally slipping a link to his whining friend in his mesh-topped leather backpack. When his phone buzzed and Bert’s number popped up, he knew it was urgent. Sticky fingers smearing prints on the screen, he had finally gotten the phone up to his ear.
Bert’s voice boomed. “We’ve got a situation, and you’re the closest guy I’ve got in the region.”
“What’s the assignment?”
His boss barked, “When you get there you’ll find out.”
Bert never snapped at his agents. Calm and cool under pressure, the big man’s voice held a note of panic.
Something was wrong. Dreadfully wrong.
“Hey, man.” Bronco waved at the server for the check. “I’m not trying to give you a hard time. Just trying to figure out what you need me to take care of.”
“I’m texting you the address. Drop whatever you’re doing and get out there. Call me on my secure line when you arrive.”
Bronco licked his fingers and sighed. He’d been hoping to break the long dry spell created by his last two assignments. So much for asking that cute little blonde in the next booth who’d been flirting with him for the last thirty minutes if she wanted to go for a ride.
“Okay, boss, I’m on it.”
“Good. And by the way, don’t take no for an answer.”
He stared at the silent phone. Don’t take no for an answer? What was that supposed to mean? Mounting his bike and kicking it into high gear, he guessed he’d find out soon enough.
Bronco now stood squinting in the late afternoon sun, knocking at a door with no bell, and waiting for a response. Dogs barked and a window curtain twitched. Good. Someone was home. He adjusted his pack, leaned his head back, closed his eyes, and said, “Any time now.” As the words slid out of his mouth, he heard the unmistakable sound of a shotgun being pumped.
He raised his hands. “Don’t shoot. I’m unarmed.” Turning slowly to face his fate, his jaw fell open, and his heart rate kicked up a notch from being on the wrong end of a shotgun or from the weapon holder’s looks, he wasn’t sure. A raven haired Amazon in a tank top, jeans, and metal tipped cowboy boots held the Mossberg 500 in a perfect military stance. Long strands of hair blew across her face in the hot breeze. A large purple bruise bloomed on her left cheek. She squinted her dark brown eyes and gave him a laser-beam once over from his dusty black boots to his sweat soaked do- rag.
“Who are you, and what do you want?”
If he hadn’t been so intent on not getting killed, he would have spent more time staring at those full, luscious, kissable lips and thinking about how she would taste. As it was, he guessed he had less than a minute to respond before getting blasted into the next county.
“Bronco Winchester. Bert Blackfeather sent me.”
Shaking her head, she lowered her weapon, a grimace pulling those pretty lips downward. “Tell him I said no.”
“We have a problem. My boss specifically ordered me not to take no for an answer.”
She scowled, and he could have sworn sparks flew from her eyes. “Asshat.”
She pointed at the door. “Go ahead. It’s not locked. I don’t need a security system.”
Bronco stepped aside. “Ladies first.” Just as the woman passed him to enter the house, his backpack shifted and wiggled. Not a good time. The weight bounced up and down and paws thumped his back in response.
She stood in the doorway and waved him inside. Three large, mixed-breed dogs greeted them with howls and wagging tails.
He chuckled. “These are your watch dogs?” His laugh caught in his throat when she gestured and the pack stood and began to growl and raise their hackles. “Just kidding. Good doggies.”
Another hand signal and the snarling Cujo wannabes sat and wagged their tails. He could have sworn they were smirking at him. “I stand corrected.”
“Yes, you do. And yes, you will be.” After retrieving the chambered shells, she placed the weapon in a rack at the side of the door. “We’re going to call my darling brother and get this little misunderstanding straightened out.”
Bronco’s tongue untangled, “Your what?”
She snorted, “Let me guess. He didn’t tell you I’m his sister.”
He shook his head, and the backpack quaked and emitted a low growl.
The dogs took note, three heads swiveling in a choreographed move that would have broken the Internet, had he gotten it on video. The largest dog, a German shepherd mix, stood on his hind legs like a human and stared at the now dancing rucksack.
“Whatever you’ve got in your pack, you’d better let it out before my dogs knock you down.”
“Probably not a great idea.” The beast on his back yowled. Bad timing, my friend.
Hand on her hip, Amazon woman stared at him and waited in silence.
Bronco sighed. “Okay. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. You can come out now, Gaucho.” He set the pack on a chair and unzipped the mesh top. An enormous harness-wearing spotted cat with long tufts at the tips of his black ears launched himself out of the bag, landed on his shoulder, teetered for a nanosecond, and then wrapped himself around Bronco’s neck. The end of a long leash rested in Bronco’s hand. Loud purring commenced—and the dogs erupted in howling.
Eye of the Eagle
The Hotel LaBelle Series Book 3
But for both hearts, revenge can be deadly when it's nourished.
Anomaly Defense Director and shapeshifter Bert Blackfeather doesn't need a boss with no experience. So what if she's beautiful or gives him a jolt when she shakes his hand? He never plans to get seriously involved with another woman--not in this lifetime.
Phoebe Wagner, an empath with psychometric abilities and an advocate for the deaf, gets more than she bargained for with Bert. One touch and she relives his IED injuries. So what if he's handsome and hot? She doesn't need to add his secrets to her own. Phoebe's are bad enough.
When his niece goes missing from Hotel LaBelle, Bert goes to Montana to help--and Phoebe insists on going with him. Can these two hard-headed people share their darkest secrets in order to work together? It may be the only way to save an endangered child--and their own hearts when Bert's past rears its ugly head.
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Bert Blackfeather isn’t the only person who is taken aback by the encounter. Phoebe Wagner is an empath—and what she sees and feels leaves her shaken.
Chapter One (Continued)
Homeland Security Headquarters
“Something wrong?” he signed. “You okay?”
The Under Secretary brushed her hair away from her face. “I’m fine.” A slight tremble in her hand belied her assurance—but she continued, “One more question.”
His cell phone blared. The song indicated someone was calling from Hotel LaBelle, either Lucius or Tallulah. That wasn’t like them. They never called him during the day. He was busy and so were they. The country western music stopped after three rings, then started up with a second call, the song sounding more plaintive with each passing moment.
“I’m sorry. I have to take this.”
“I’ll wait.” She clutched her bag with the bouncing Bisou, tilted her head, and fixed him with a thoughtful gaze.
He pressed the talk button and put the phone to his ear. “Bert Blackfeather.”
On the other end of the line, someone sobbed, and Lucius spoke, his voice rough. “Bert—it’s our baby girl, Miriam. She’s gone. Out of her room. We were right upstairs. No idea what happened.” He broke down. “We need your help. Someone grabbed her, Bert. Took her right out from under our noses.”
Phoebe watched Bert’s handsome face melt from an all business expression, into one of concern and almost palpable fear. Whatever the call was about, whoever it was from, it was bad news. And he didn’t rattle easily, she could tell, and not just from her conversation with him. When they shook hands, the power and depth of the psychic link shook her. An empath, she experienced his most emotionally laden memories in a gut-wrenching burst. She’d almost doubled over in pain when they hit her.
It began as a normal day in his life as an Army Judge Advocate General, or JAG. His commanding officer, or CO, had asked him to come with him to an offsite interrogation to serve as legal counsel. A detainee suspected of masterminding the murder of a sheikh who had been friendly to U.S. troops was being held by the Iraqi in a remote area in the foothills. When they arrived at the outskirts of the village—just a few houses, really—Bert told his CO the place looked deserted. No kids playing in the square, no women drawing water from the ancient well, not even a goat— the national animal of Iraq—chewing its cud at the end of a tether. He opened the door of the armored vehicle, set one foot on the ground—and the world exploded in a flash of light, scorching heat—and pain. In the distance he heard screaming, realized it was him, and passed out. He woke up in a helicopter. Dazed, vision blurred, he looked down. Where his legs should have been, were shredded pants—and two bloody stumps. He lost consciousness and woke up in a field hospital, surrounded by moaning men.
Sucker punched, she marveled how this man was still alive, much less psychologically intact. Just as she began to jerk out of his firm grasp to escape the anguish of his memories, a sense of peace rolled over her. She glanced at his hand and instead of fingers, the tip of a wing appeared, and she trembled at the soft brush of feathers. The vision disappeared, leaving her shaken— and intrigued. Although she’d had many empathic experiences before and used her talent to do her own background checks on people, not once had she come away with such a sense of intimacy—and a bone-jarring attraction. The combination of the vision of his war injuries, the images of feathers, and the soft caresses on her hand shook her to the core, leaving her mind—and her body in a state of confusion. She struggled to regain control of her senses, and prayed her expression didn’t betray her.
Bert set his smart phone on the desk. “I have to leave immediately,” he signed. “I have an emergency. I’m sorry, your report will have to wait.”
Phoebe glanced at Jean. “Don’t you have an assistant who can do it for you?”
“No one has this information but me. The lives of my agents depend on keeping their secrets. They are all over the country—and the world.” He rolled his wheelchair from behind the desk. “Now, if you’ll please excuse me.” He nodded at the door. “I must go. Now.”
Was he hiding something? She dared not use her empathic conduit into his mind. A physical connection, another skin-to-skin contact at this point in the conversation would be completely inappropriate, not to mention dangerous to her composure.
Blocking his exit, Phoebe signed, “Why are you running away from me?”
“It’s personal.” He frowned. “Don’t you have Under Secretary duties to attend to?”
“What’s more important than your job?” The moment the words flew off her fingers, she regretted her harsh tone. On the other hand, she was his boss, and he worked for Homeland Security. Weren’t these people supposed to put their country before their personal lives?
Something cold glinted in his obsidian eyes. Internally she shrank from his glare. She’d gone too far. Externally she shifted her stance and lifted her chin as if daring him to strike back.
Bert leaned back, anger reflected in his thin lips and jerky hand movements. “My niece has disappeared—taken out of her room.” He paused. “This is much more important than my job. I need to catch the next flight to Billings, Montana to be with my family. If you want my resignation, you’ll have it.”
Phoebe’s stomach plummeted. Shit. Shit. Shit. What had she done? Her mother was wrong. She wasn’t perfect for this position. She was terrible. If only she’d stood up to her mother, like she had when she insisted on going to Gallaudet instead of an Ivy League school. Her mother had approved of her choice of law school, but not a Fulbright Scholarship in crime-ridden, smog- choked, overcrowded Mexico City.
Dear God in Heaven. Mexico City.
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I fell in love with Frank Linderman’s work and became fascinated with the Crows or Apsaalooké Nation when I wrote my first jinni hunter novella, Kiss of the Silver Wolf, a paranormal romance that involved the handsome and mysterious director of a clandestine division within a powerful government agency. Bert Blackfeather, a hero of the Gulf War with both a Purple Heart and a Silver Star, runs Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate’s Anomaly Defense Division. His agents vary in talents and skills, all paranormal, all outside the bureaucratic box. The Haunting of Hotel LaBelle, takes place in Billings, Montana and on the Crow Reservation, Bert’s home which he returns to from time to time. I hope the following very brief introduction to the Crow culture and history piques your curiosity and gives you a sense of the wonder I felt as I researched and wrote my latest book.
The Name and Language
Although the origins of the name have been argued about by scholars over time, the designation of “Raven” and “Crow” people has been “used interchangeably since the 18th century” (Voget, 2001). The Crow name for their tribe is Absaroke, or Apsaalooké translated variously as bird, children of the large beaked bird, sparrow hawk, crow, raven, or anything that flies, depending on the author and the century. The majority (85%) of the tribe speaks Crow as their first language. Don’t be daunted! There’s an app to learn about the Crow culture and language and it can even be downloaded to your smart phone.
The Reservation and Little Bighorn
Like many Native American peoples, the Crow have experienced loss of territory and lands since Europeans arrived. Treaties were signed, broken, renegotiated and broken again—by the White men. According to the Crow Reservation Timeline, 38 million acres of land over which the Plains people rode and hunted buffalo shrank to its present size of 2.3 million acres. The Crow Reservation sits on breathtaking lands and waterways. South of the city of Billings, the reservation borders on Wyoming. Within its boundaries is the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument at Crow Agency. Crow warriors served as scouts and soldiers in this battle, alongside General Custer’s troops in the fight against their old enemies, the Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho. According to Pretty Shield, a Medicine Woman, at least two Crow women served as warriors in this battle, Finds-them-and-kills-them and The-other-magpie.
A matrilineal society, the woman owned the tipi (teepee) or lodge tent and all the household goods. They skinned the animals, prepared food, gathered water and wood. The men owned the horses and their weapons. If parents proposed a match to their daughter (outside of the clan, to prevent in-breeding) based on what they thought was a good fit, if she didn’t like the man, she could say no. There was no formal marriage ceremony. The man offered a horse (or two) and a rifle (or two) in exchange for his love and, if accepted, they moved in together—into the woman’s home. Men could take more than one wife, usually the sisters of his first wife. Men were not permitted to speak to their mother-in-law, but had to make public announcements or talk through their wives, which in my opinion, probably avoided a lot of conflict (Linderman, 2003; Vogt, 2001).
Men were hunters and warriors, although there were some exceptions, as noted above. Another Woman Warrior, whom some thought was not real until further research by Denig indicated she truly existed is Pine Leaf. Captured in a raid on the Gros Ventre as a ten-year-old child by the Crow, Woman Chief Pine Leaf grew up to be a powerful warrior and chief. To become a chief a Crow warrior had to “count coup”, by doing one of the following four things: striking an enemy with a bare hand or stick without killing him, leading a successful raid, stealing horses from an enemy camp, or grabbing a bow or gun in hand-to-hand combat.
Two-Spirit People are those individuals who don’t fit into a neatly assigned gender role, but instead are on a continuum of gender. Native Americans have a more fluid approach to gender, with some tribes describing four or more genders. Europeans used the term “Berdache” to describe the Native American men who dressed as women. Some find the term derogatory and others use it as an umbrella term for discussing LGBT Native American issues and concerns. Based on Pretty Shield’s description (noted above), Finds-them-and-kills-them was probably a two-spirit person or Berdache, a male who dressed as woman. Berdache were considered highly spiritual and were accepted by the Crows.
Contrary to early European settlers’ misperceptions, the Crow believe in a Supreme Power who is responsible for all life. Since the Crow worshipped and pray in a different manner from the Europeans, this monotheistic belief was lost in translation. A young man or woman will seek guidance from the spirit world by fasting and going out alone in the wilderness to sacred spaces. A successful vision quest will provide the seeker medicine dreams. Animals, birds, or persons are often part of these dreams. In the case of Chief Plenty Coup, the Chief of Chiefs, The Dwarfs, or Little People, appeared to guide him when he was nine years old. They adopted him and instead of giving him a medicine bundle, gave him advice which made him wise and helped him to become a great leader (Linderman, 2002).
Death and Mourning
Historically, when someone died, the Crow women and men cut themselves, lacerating arms, legs, even puncturing their heads. They cut their long hair, one of the Crow people’s greatest pride, to reflect their suffering and loss. Once someone has died, his or her name was not spoken, and they were Beings without Bodies. The departed move to the hereafter, or the “camp beyond.” Historically, Crow burial customs included wrapping the deceased in his finest clothing and blankets and placing them on Hulishoopiio or scaffolds. When the body fell from the scaffold, it would be covered with rocks. Or the body was placed in an Ashalaxxo, or lodge, which is closed up with all their belongings inside and their animals let loose. After the Crow were placed on the reservation, scaffolds on the plains were not an option, so a Balaxoo, or a Tree-Resting Place was used. Again, if the body fell, it was covered with boulders and rock. And, bodies were placed on Rock Ledges and in Crevices during the Smallpox Epidemic of 1843, after the US Army knowingly distributed blankets and rations contaminated with the contagious disease.
Animals, Patrons, Spirits and Shapeshifting
The Crow have sacred and spiritual connections to the animals in their lives. They are seen in vision quests and visitations and have special significance when they appear as patrons with special powers. The most sacred animal is the buffalo, the beautiful creature that gave the tribe everything from food to shelter. Like the buffalo, the eagle is the most sacred bird and along with falcons and hawks they are considered spirit patrons. As an aside, because of the spiritual association with these birds, eagle and hawk feathers can only be owned by Native Americans. Wolves were domesticated as pups, but were not treated as common dogs. They were respected, and human scouts were called “wolves” in honor of this animal. Coyotes were considered friends and the coyote’s call was used to communicate among warriors on a raid. The elk gave food, but were also mystical and could transform themselves into women, as could white tail deer. Mink were considered treacherous and could transform into women, bewitching and leading men astray. This is a short list of the animals in Crow life. For a longer list with a description of roles, go to the Crow Indian Tribe Culture and History Resources Report of 2002.
Thanks to the hard work of Frank B. Linderman in the late 1920s, the world has a written history of the Apsaalooké, or Crow Nation, a traditionally oral culture. As a young man, Linderman became entranced with the West and moved out there to become a hunter and trapper. Over time, Native Americans befriended him and began to tell their stories to him in sign language and through interpreters. The Crows called him the Great Sign Talker and Pretty Shield said he made books speak. Almost a century later, his work crackles with life and takes the reader on breathtaking journeys into another world and another time. If you have not read his books and are interested in Native American stories, biographies, and autobiographies, please see my list of resources below. I recommend beginning with Pretty Shield: Medicine Woman of the Crows and Plenty-Coups: Chief of the Crows. Pretty Shield’s granddaughter, Alma Hogan Snell, offers us more contemporary perspectives with her books, Grandmother’s Grandchild: My Crow Indian Life and A Taste of Heritage: Crow Indian Recipes and Herbal Medicines.
Do you have a Native American Tribe that you feel connected with? If so, is it via your family or by reading? Let us know to be eligible to win a $5 Amazon Gift Certificate!
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