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Born to Be Wild by Donna Kauffman

Genre: Contemporary Romance
Series: The Three Musketeers, Book 2
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 212 Pages
Formats: Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Loveswept publisher Random House Publishing Group via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.

Vive le Musketeers!

Dara Colbourne grew up chasing after her twin brother and his two best friends, always the fierce little firecracker, d'Artagnan to their Three Musketeers. But that was fifteen years ago, and she's no longer the fearless and feisty girl she once was. She's just lost too much, suffered too deeply because of high-risk jobs and thrill-seeking adrenaline junkies. Now she focuses all her passions on the job and calling she loves, working tirelessly to grant as many wishes as she can for sick and terminally ill children through the Dream A Little Dream Foundation.

As the foundation is funded entirely on private donations, Dara can't turn down the generous...if unfortunately specific...donation made by one of her brother's best friends. She doesn't have time to get Jarrett to change his mind about those specifics, either, even if she had access to him while he's on his honeymoon. That's why the bane of her childhood existence is in her office, spilling coffee all over her and generally sucking up all the air with his extreme hotness.

Zach Brogan, thrill seeker extraordinaire, owns and runs Great Escape, an outfitter that caters to the wildest and most dangerous challenges of man against nature - and against himself. If she had a choice, Dara wouldn't go anywhere near him or his outfitter business. Problem is, she doesn't have a choice. What she has is a deeply disturbing reaction to the one man she needs to avoid at all costs, and a fear that in granting the wishes of the children, she'll end up risking far more than she's willing to lose...again.


This second installment of Kauffman's The Three Musketeers series is a cute, sexy romance that's held up well in the years since its original release. Kauffman certainly creates interesting, diverse characters with highly individual personalities. It was a strength in the previous book and it's as significant a benefit here. Dara and Zach are original, solid, three-dimensional characters with great chemistry.

The plot of this classic romance doesn't pack much in the way of surprises, and it has a lighter, more traditional style and substance than its predecessor, but on the surface that's not necessarily a bad thing. Unfortunately, it was a detriment to me, but only because I was so pleasantly surprised with the unique elements in the first book. Kauffman set the bar there and I don't think this one quite matched it, even though the conclusion to this story felt much less abrupt and campy than in its predecessor.

The emotional baggage Dara lugged around from the loss of her father and fiance, and the ramifications from those losses, were realistically portrayed. In fact, I preferred her character to Zach, who struck me as a bit too much of a Peter Pan for me to fully embrace as a romantic lead. Maybe that says more about my own issues with thrill seekers and adrenaline junkies, but I have to admit, I was more sympathetic of Dara's reasons for not getting involved with Zach than I was impressed with Zach's assertions that he was careful with the risk-to-danger ratio in his lifestyle and occupation.

It's not that I disliked Zach; I don't mean to give that impression. He had several sterling qualities, and I enjoyed him quite a lot during his more serious, intense moments. He was an absolute doll with the children from the wish foundation. He's just not the sort of character that translates well to the long-haul, Happily Ever After guy in my mind, but again, that's probably more about my issues than in any way a criticism of the story.

Regardless of those thoughts and impressions, I have to admit I was most tickled by Zach's nickname for Dara. It's silly, I know, and I'm not even sure why it had such appeal, but I grinned every time he called her Dart (short for d'Artagnan). I'd love to take the high road, say the appeal was in the exemplary way it helped define Dara's personality and backstory with an economy of words, as the nickname in general and the manner in which Zach used it in particular said a lot about who she was before her losses and it set a framework around her childhood relationship with Zach. Truth is, I just liked the sound of it. It was peppy.

Hey, I said it was silly.

Had I read this book first, I may have felt more favorably towards the reading experience, because without a doubt, Kauffman creates a cute, fun, touching, and sizzling romance that holds its own in the modern world. In light of the first book, though, this one was just slightly less entertaining and had fewer perks and unique gems to make it stand out. That one was memorable for those facets. This one probably won't stick with me for long, but still kept me mostly entertained while reading it.

The Three Musketeers Series:

Litha's Constant Whim by Amy Lane

Genre: M/M Paranormal Romance; LGBT
Series: Green's Hill, Book 1
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 106 Pages
Formats: Kindle

Powerful Emotions in a Small Package

As unique and magically peculiar as the sidhe are, none are quite like Whim. Flighty, forgetful, adorably but perpetually inconsistent, Whim isn't a very powerful sidhe. Power struggles, dominance displays, and general strife just don't hold his attention. Nothing does, really. He's the freest of all free spirits.

Nudged by his prince to step beyond his Green's Hill home, Whim passes into the mortal realm on Litha, the night of the summer solstice. Whim had no idea that taking that one risk, slipping outside his comfort zone that one time, would change his life forever.

Charlie, a troubled young man on the cusp of a horrendous decision, is knocked sideways by the sheer presence of Whim. The chance meeting redefines Charlie's understanding of the world and sets the two men on a path that will span more than a decade, molding their lives year by year. It will define them. Remake them. And all of it will happen in one-night-a-year increments, when the magic of Litha allows them to come together in ways that both inflame their senses and alter their souls.

But when an immortal sidhe falls in love with an all-too-mortal human, the journey their relationship takes has one inevitable conclusion. The damnable irony of it all is that unless Whim can work magic far, far beyond his capabilities, he will lose Charlie for the very reason he first won his heart all those years ago.


While I think this Lane series debut might be slightly more entertaining for fans of Lane's Little Goddess series, with its concurrent timeline and character crossover, I enjoyed the characters so much, and felt so much for their relationship, that I still liked the read quite a lot despite having never read that series. It's a long novella-length romance; there isn't a lot of world definition for readers new to the world, nor any significant external plot conflicts, but there didn't really need to be.

Whim and Charlie really were enough for me. Their relationship was a sexy, angsty, wildly emotional quagmire that sucked me in and kept me locked in place. I loved Whim's character evolution throughout the book. He was the primary focus of the narrative, so I felt closer to him by default, but Charlie's growth from nearly-man to fully-man, seen in snippets and yearly summaries, was just as profound in its own way.

I wish there had been a bit more substance and detail in the read. Another fifty pages that further fleshed out Green's Hill and Whim's life there, or filled in more of the secondary and ancillary characters, would have been appreciated. What Lane does exceptionally well in this story, though, is offer readers a sweeping romantic epic in a tight, fresh, original package that's just a bit smaller than my greedy little heart wanted.

It would have been nice having the Little Goddess series as a background, but I didn't feel like the story suffered overly because of it. I just think it dimmed a bit of the emotional impact for me. Maybe that's not a bad thing, actually, as this little gem packed plenty of powerful emotion on its own. Enough to satisfy the romantic in me, for sure...and, okay, make me tear up more than once, too.

That's a testament to Lane's ability to make readers care about her characters.

Santuario by G.B. Gordon

Genre: M/M Science Fiction; LGBT
Series: Santuario, Book 1
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 258 Pages
Formats: Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Riptide Publishing via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.

A Slow-Building, Unique Surprise

It's called Santuario. Rocked by poverty, ruled by powerful and corrupt familias, the southern island is populated by a race of people who landed on the planet two hundred years ago. Santuario became their home...though reservation may be a more accurate term.

The Skanians, themselves long settled on the planet, banished them to Santuario out of fear and distrust. Two hundred years later, that decision has bred discontent and shame among the Skanians and change is in the air. The political climate is heated, and while there are Skanians who want to keep the walls raised high between the two cultures, none are as adamant about maintaining the status quo as the brutal heads of the familias.

They are, without a doubt, adamant enough to kill to get their way, but they wouldn't leave a corpse around for the police to stumble across. They are too well versed at disposing of their enemies, especially as crimes like murder are reported to the Skanians. None of the familias want that.

No, the dead body that police tentiente Alex Rukow is called to investigate is a victim of something else entirely. All he knows is the entire case feels like one huge, potentially deadly nightmare. One that will be bringing the Skanians to Santuario and putting Alex directly in their path, as he's one of the few on the island who can speak their language.

When the Skanian investigator Bengt shows up, surly and huge and sick from the heat, Alex has every intention of washing his hands of the whole of the investigation and leaving it to the huge blond man. Then a second victim is discovered, and with it, a whole new range of far-reaching implications and deadly danger. Investigating what is fast becoming a complex and complicated case is definitely bad for his life expectancy, but the longer Alex and Bengt work together, the more Alex likes the man he's working with and the more determined he becomes to see this through to the end.

In ways, perhaps, that could bring more danger to both men than all the familias' fury combined.


I liked this book very much, but to be honest, it wasn't exactly love-at-first-sight. I had to work at it. In fact, there were several times in the first quarter of the book that I debated leaving it unfinished. The world was very sparsely defined and confusing, the murder investigation didn't do much for me from the beginning because I was missing so much of the context, and the overwhelming presence of Santuarian words (obviously heavy on the Spanish influence) in the narrative made it very difficult to fully grasp what I was reading and killed any chance of a smooth, flowing reading experience.

Not to mention it gave my embarrassingly shoddy high school-level Spanish comprehension a workout.

There really was only one reason I kept muddling through the tough spots until the story picked up for me, but it was a very good reason: Alex Rukow. He was an insular, solitary main character, that's for sure; an intriguing mix of jaded cynicism, hopeless ambivalence, tense apprehension, and wary doggedness. I just couldn't seem to stop reading about him. Intelligent, painfully resigned, surprisingly kind and generous...but so bruised by life and world-weary in a way that painted its own layer of complexity on his character, I found him utterly compelling.

For all that optimism left Alex behind a long, long time ago, there was a long-suffering sense of justice, fairness, and honesty about him that appealed. And kept appealing long enough for me to meet the other reason I didn't put the book down.

Bengt. He is light to Alex's dark, and I'm not talking about skin tone. From the moment Bengt stepped onto Santuario, he was the perfect compliment to the other man. His slightly superior attitude, the disdain he has for the heat and accommodations, his temper, and the frustration he feels with Alex's apparent apathy to life in general and the case in particular all combined to make him stand out like a vibrant, Viking-esque bastion of all things Alex doesn't have it in him to be.

There is an veritable cornucopia of problems between the two men from the very moment of their introduction. Their differences were profound and absolute, and watching them bridge the distance first to work together, then to forge the bonds that lead to the slowly-evolving relationship between them proved, for me, to be the most captivating and entertaining aspect of the entire book.

I was especially fascinated by the differences in their sexuality. The openly gay Bengt comes from a place where there is no stigma at all to being so, and Alex was raised in a place where it is considered such an unspeakable sin that he hadn't once even pondered the merest possibility that he was anything but a vaguely disinterested heterosexual. Which, really, spoke for itself in all sorts of deliciously subtle and foreshadowy ways from very early in the story.

The evolution of their characters and the slow, sometimes painful process of two such disparate personalities finding common ground and working together, then coming together, is where I felt the core power of the book really lies. I did enjoy seeing Santuario slowly expose its dark, corrupt, gritty underbelly as the investigation proceeded, though. Those elements gained greater and greater appeal as I gleaned enough information about the world the characters inhabit to better put things in perspective.

Romance lovers should be warned that a romance between Alex and Bengt is never the focus of the book and those plot threads are ancillary at best. Though there is sex in the book, it's by no means plentiful and what there is is mostly brushed over and written in carefully euphemistic ways. As a result, this book struck me more as an intriguing, complex journey of two very different men who come to realize they offer each other far more than either one of them knew they needed, as opposed to a more traditional-style romance novel.

Surrender the Dark by Donna Kauffman

Genre: Romantic Suspense
Series: The Three Musketeers, Book 1
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 240 Pages
Formats: Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Loveswept publisher Random House Publishing Group via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.

Great Characters

Two years wasn't long enough. It's been that long since the last time Rae Gannon saw her former boss Jarrett McCullough, since she returned home after being freed from the captives who had tortured and nearly broken her only to realize that the man who had hired her and groomed her into one of his top covert couriers had blacklisted her. He couldn't risk the chance that either she or the information she carried was compromised, so she was out.

It was worse than the torture and captivity combined.

For the two years since, Rae has struggled to put her life back together. She retreated from the world, settled into a private home deep in the mountains, and worked through her issues with her art - something she'd picked up during the long months of therapy. It worked for her...most of the time.

Stumbling over the bloody body of a seriously wounded and unconscious McCullough not even a stone's throw from her mountain sanctuary was not one of those times.

Saving the life of a man she hated bred enough resentment to fuel her art for years to come, but Rae had no intention of letting him die in her home. Patch him up, get him out. That was the plan. Problem is, a conscious but vulnerable McCullough is a far more dangerous beast than she'd ever dreamed. She hates her body's traitorous response to the sheer approachable masculinity of the man almost as much as she hates what he asks her to do.

Two years wasn't nearly long enough.


Another solid re-release of a Kauffman classic from Loveswept! I love finding previously released authors who have slipped under my radar, and Kauffman impressed me on a lot of different levels with this one. The characters' backstory was truly excellent and I love how deftly Kauffman fit their complex and emotional history into the tapestry of their story.

I loved Rae and Jarrett. Rae was a hard core survivor, and her reaction to having Jarrett in her home, being forced to nurse him back to health out of common decency, was maybe my favorite part of the book. I love how she faced him, called him on the roll he took in their past, and challenged him at every turn. She was fairly awesome. And even when she started to soften, when she started to feel attraction for him, the conflict of her emotions added a layer of depth to the story I appreciated.

Jarrett was a bit harder to warm up to for me, in large part because of a scene in the very beginning of the book. I started to appreciate him more and more as the story progressed. He was unflinching in his acknowledgement of the sins and omissions of his past, but shaken by the effect it had on Rae. It sparks a metamorphosis in him that felt very organic to his character, as if he's slowly waking up to the human element that had bled from his life as a byproduct of his commitment to his cause.

The enemies-to-lovers storyline here was powerful, and though it happens over a short span of time, usually one of my bugaboos, the history between them muted that issue enough that I was able to enjoy their romance. The secondary storyline, a thread of suspense that wends its way through the book, provided the impetus behind the majority of the characters' actions, but it lacked the sort of detail and description necessary to really sustain itself consistently.

My only serious issue with the book was, unfortunately, the end. Up until the climax and subsequent resolution, I was enjoying the read quite a lot, but then the characters' romance thread intersected with the suspense thread and things went a little wonky for me. Suddenly it was like Rae and Jarrett were on a relationship fast-forward, and their HEA took on a sort of forced, cheesy, chick flick tone that didn't appeal to me at all. Or make much sense. I just couldn't figure out why the rush to the end point in the book, given everything.

Though this Kauffman re-release was shorter than I'd expected, ending at the 82% mark on my Kindle, and I had some problems with the end of the story, this was still a fun read with a more complex emotional landscape than I was expecting. Rae and Jarrett were great characters, and Kauffman, new-to-me before I started this book, detailed their evolving relationship with aplomb.

Until There Was You by Jessica Scott

Genre: Contemporary Romance
Series: Coming Home, Book 2
Rating: 3 Stars
Length: 230 Pages
Formats: Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Loveswept publisher Random House Publishing Group via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.

Left Me Confused

It started with a kiss. Claire Montoya is a woman who fought her way out of a hardscrabble life and kept right on fighting through her enlistment and into a commission. She's a woman who follows only those rules she deems valid. Evan Loehr is a West Point grad, a by-the-book poster boy for the elite military man. He lives for and by all the rules, no questions, no evasions.

From the moment they kissed they knew, absolutely knew, how incendiary their attraction was. And how completely unsuited they were for each other.

Their professional relationship has grown more and more contentious as the years passed. Claire and Evan do not get along. Neither has forgotten that one moment of passion three years ago, but now that they're working together, they can't afford to dwell on it. It's a pity that knowing that and living it are two very different things.

Colorado in winter is Claire's version of hell, but dealing with Army bureaucracy while trying to train a company for Iraqi deployment is definitely one of the lower levels. Nothing about the Army's focus for this training session makes sense to Claire, and nothing she says or does sways Evan in the least. It's enough to drive her out of her mind. It's enough to scare her senseless, too, because poorly trained soldiers are dead soldiers.

If Claire takes matters into her own hands, she'll be forced to wage a personal war on the one man in all of Colorado who could keep her warm during the snowy nights, because for all his many, many...many faults, the fact is that Captain Evan Loehr is both a hell of a soldier and a hell of a man. She's left with no good options and a troubling bottom line: if she risks her career she could potentially save lives, but she'll definitely lose her heart.


I'm so confused. It's been a few months since I read series (and Scott's authorial) debut, Because of You, but I haven't forgotten that the expectations and assumptions I'd made about that book prior to reading it affected my impression of it. It was a much weightier, emotionally intense read than I was expecting, so I prepared myself for this one. Expected angst. Had tissues standing by. I was ready.

Yeah, well, Scott threw me again. This time, though, I feel a little lost. On the bright side, I liked the characters well enough, and I was much fonder of Evan than I was of Shane in the first book. There wasn't an overload of angsty emotional landmines in the characters' personal lives or relationship, either. Some might consider that a bad thing, but I was happy about it. The first book was just too heavy for me, especially as I was expecting a sexy, light read (the cover of that book did me no favors in that regard).

Problem is, for all that I liked the characters in this book, they weren't the characters I was expecting, nor was the storyline what I'd thought it was going to be. The first book left several plot threads dangling and posed a very grim glimpse into the lives of two secondary characters whose marriage was crumbling. At the conclusion of that book, I figured that was going to be a storyline that was carried over to serve as a cohesive element in the series.

I was wrong, because unless I'm mistaken or have forgotten something, there was not one single character crossover between book one and two and no story threads that were picked up and continued from there into this one. There was, however, an opening sequence that was startlingly similar to the beginning of the previous book, and not in a good way. Small details were changed, but the entire dynamic was far too similar and put this book on a shaky foundation for me from the start.

You will get no argument from me about the fact that Scott can write. She paints a cohesive, detailed picture of military life that is intriguing and disturbing at turns, and as often frustrating and perplexing as humbling and amazing. The psychology of career military personnel is captured perfectly as her stories unfold. The Army itself is portrayed as having a few...idiosyncrasies that are completely realistic and utterly believable. And more than a little scary.

I do wish there had been less emphasis placed on the scheduling snafu as the main conflict in this book. I absolutely believe it's an accurate representation of similar real-life situations, but it was belabored throughout the first half of the book to the point that character discussion and arguments over the issue became repetitive, and as a main plot conflict I felt it lacked complexity and depth.

The issue with Claire's best friend's alcoholism was also emphasized a little too much for me. Initially I was bothered because the character seemed a little too similar to a secondary character in the first book, but as his drinking problem became a larger issue, that became less of a point. It astounded me that so little was done to address what was a massive problem, especially for a soldier facing time in the sandbox. So many rules were broken to protect him that I couldn't fathom the "friendship" justification.

Not only was his character hugely unsympathetic to me through most of the book, but more troubling was my dissatisfaction with Claire's hypocritical reactions to his alcohol abuse. I would think that a man that messed up is no less deadly to himself and surrounding soldiers than one who is poorly trained. It didn't speak well of her character that she hadn't addressed that fact at any point.

As far as romantic arcs go, the one between Claire and Evan was handled well. It felt more like what I consider a traditional romance than the arc in the previous book. Sometimes Claire's prickly personality annoyed me, and sometimes Evan's frustratingly rigid stance made me want to kick his shin, but overall, their relationship was satisfying, sexy, and entertaining. It was probably the highlight of the read for me.

I don't know what to make of this series at this point. I'm disappointed that the threads left dangling in the first book weren't picked up, and because they weren't, I don't know that they ever will be. That cast a pall over both reads for me. If the series continues along with each book as disconnected as the first two, and the emotional tone of the series continues to vacillate so wildly with such unpredictability, then it won't matter how pleasant the main characters' romance is or how realistic the portrayal of military life, I will be disinclined to soldier along with it.

The Coming Home Series:


Beyond Shame by Kit Rocha

Genre: Dystopian Erotic Romance
Series: Beyond, Book 1
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 351 Pages
Formats: Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.

Dark and Seductive

Noelle Cunningham broke the rules, and punishment for her crime meant banishment from the city of Eden. It had been the only home she'd ever known. Now lost, alone, and deep in the slums that surround the walled Eden, she is at the mercy of the brutal thugs that rule the dark, decaying landscape.

Just as Noelle is about to fall victim of one such thug, she runs into a man unlike any she's ever seen. Inked up, grim, muscular, he could be her worst nightmare. Instead, as she falls into the unknown gang member's arms, drugged to the gills and barely conscious, she has only hope that he can be her savior.

Jasper McCray, right hand man to Sector Four's gang leader, is more devil than angel, but something about the helpless and innocent Noelle stirs every one of his protective instincts. She is elegance and refinement in a world that has lost both, and he wants her. Life in the slums is dangerous, though, even deadly, and the O'Kane gang runs the sector with an iron fist. They work hard, and they sure as hell play hard. Sex is frequent and varied and far darker than anything anyone in Eden could comprehend.

He may want the soft, beautiful Noelle, but she may not be able to handle living the life he lives, the sort of life everyone in the gang embraces. And if she doesn't give herself, if she can't give over to the sexuality he senses brimming in her, she will be no better off than if he'd not rescued her. Only time will tell if, when she's told what's expected of her, her initial survival will become permanent membership into the gang. Or death.


I wasn't sure this book was going to be my cuppa when I started it. I'm not crazy about post-apocalyptic/dystopian fiction to begin with and I was aware it had BDSM and D/s overtones, as well as F/F and ménage à trois/quatre sex scenes (MFM, FMF, MFFM), none of which are really my thing, but several friends suggested I give it a try regardless. I was admittedly surprised that it worked for me as well as it did.

The BDSM and D/s elements were relatively low key, and stuck more towards kinky sex scenes that were both erotic and hot as opposed to characters deep into the lifestyle or any Master/slave leanings. And I found the dystopian world rather interesting, with the briefly-explained but terrifying and puritanical Eden standing in sharp contrast to the freer but far earthier and dangerous slums.

The highlight of the book for me was the characters. Complex and layered, with their own issues, faults, and strengths, they were colorful and entertaining. Well...except for Noelle. I understood her nature, easily grasped the impetus that drove her to violate Eden's laws and join with the O'Kane gang. Her timidity in all things as she started to recognize and embrace her sexual desires, however, bored me. She's just not the sort of female lead character I enjoy reading about.

Lex, on the other hand, rocked my world. Strong, smart, independent, wicked, powerful...with a soft, nurturing side just as significant, she was almost perfect for me. And her relationship with Dallas is definitely one of the more complex I've read lately. I enjoyed her quite a lot. Unfortunately she wasn't the heroine of this book.

I was both impressed with and entertained by the plot of the story. For me, the success or failure of an erotic romance read falls to how well the story wends around the sex scenes and if the sex scenes enhance or inhibit the external plot threads. There is a lot of sex in this book, and when there isn't actual sex going on, the characters are often talking about it, thinking about it, or planning the next time they'll be having it. But it fits in the world, it fits with the characters and the story going on around them, and maybe most importantly (for me, anyway), despite the orgiastic nature of O'Kane parties and the highly sexualized nature of the gang members, it didn't hit the same sort of negative buttons that cold and impersonal sex clubs or sex parties have in other similarly-themed erotic novels I've read.

It wasn't my favorite read of the year, nor am I certain at this point as to whether I would continue the series if given the opportunity. I think it would depend on who is featured as the main characters. I have to say, though...and maybe I'm damning the book with faint praise, but given how many elements of the book are in almost direct opposition of my personal reading preferences, the fact that I enjoyed it as much as I did is really a testament to the book and the pair of best friends who wrote it. I would absolutely recommend it for readers who favor those elements I don't.

Ratings Guide

Here is a rundown of what the star ratings mean to me! It's not a perfect system, so you may see me add in a .5 star here and there if my impression of the book falls somewhere between these:

5 Stars - Loved it
4 Stars - Liked it
3 Stars - It's okay
2 Stars - Didn't like it
1 Star - Hated it

2014 Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge
Tracy has read 22 books toward her goal of 175 books.


Tracy's bookshelf: read

Zero at the BoneHead Over HeelsLord of the WolfynIn Total SurrenderA Win-Win PropositionNorth of Need

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