The Beastly Duke's Convenient Bride
London, Ten Years Ago
The snow was pelting down outside. What had started as a wet flurry of snow only that morning had turned into something decidedly harsher and colder.
It was windy, too, an icy gale that howled around Blackburn Manor, getting it cold fingers through any gaps it could find. Sitting in the bare hallway outside his father’s rooms, Adam shivered.
He hadn’t moved for hours, expecting any minute to hear the news he’d been dreading.
Or looking forward to, although Adam wouldn’t let himself think that way.
He’d be proud of me if I did, though, he thought, smiling bitterly.
Shifting his feet, which seemed to be almost literally frozen to the stone floor, Adam wondered how much longer he should wait. The house was virtually in mourning already.
The door, heavy oak and scarred with age and use, creaked open. Adam flinched, sitting bolt upright, as though he expected his father to appear and bellow at him for hunching over.
Gentlemen don’t slouch, boy!
It was only the physician, though. Doctor Mulberry was a faded, colourless sort of man, with whitish-grey hair and a thin, pale face. He had a habit of wringing his hands together and tended to do it all the more when faced with an imposing person, or a troublesome patient.
The poor man had almost wrung his hands raw over the past week.
“How is he?” Adam asked. His voice sounded obscenely loud in the quiet hallway. Not a sound came from inside the bedroom. For a wild moment Adam thought that perhaps that Lord Hector Blackburn, the Duke of Brixham, had left the world already, without sparing a moment to say goodbye to his only child, his heir.
“Not good.” Doctor Mulberry said, his whispery voice sounding tired. “It won’t be long now, I’m afraid. There’s nothing further I can do for him. He wants to see you.”
Adam swallowed. “I see. Should I go in now? What should I do?”
Doctor Mulberry blinked, shrugging his thin shoulders. “Sit by his bedside, I suppose. I must say, young people don’t usually need to ask what to do when confronted by their dying parents.”
That was a rebuke, and Adam felt himself wanting to shrink back, to hunch his shoulders and apologise. He could only imagine how furious the Duke would be at his son behaving that way.
Remember your training, Adam told himself. He stood a little taller, squaring his shoulder and fixing Doctor Mulberry with a steely, ice-blue gaze. He had his father’s eyes, and knew from experience how penetrating that glare could be.
“I beg your pardon?” Adam said, and Doctor Mulberry visibly shrank back.
“I… I didn’t mean to imply…”
“But you did, didn’t you? Please do remember your place, Doctor. I don’t take kindly to implications.”
That was the sort of thing that the Duke would say. He’d be proud, Adam thought.
Doctor Mulberry swallowed, bobbing his head in what was either a vigorous nod or a shallow bow, and scurried away. Adam felt the familiar twinge of regret, speaking to someone else like that, but it was disappearing more and more quickly these days.
Then there was nothing left but to push open the bedroom door and go inside.
The Duke’s room was opulent, but not overwhelmingly so. With the thick curtains across the windows, very little light got into the room. Even so, Adam knew that the blocky shapes of furniture represented valuable antiques, even priceless ones.
A single candle burned beside the bed; a huge four-poster draped in red velvet to match the curtains.
It was easy to miss the man huddled inside. The illness had come suddenly, stripping away the layers of fat and muscle from the Duke. He was still taller than Adam, even at the end, but it was a shrunken husk of a man who greeted him now. A thin hand, covered in dry, papery skin, extended itself from the bedsheets. It took Adam a moment to realize that his father was holding out his hand, wanting his son to take it.
This was another first.
Adam took the grasping hand automatically, and the movement felt strange.
“My boy,” the Duke rasped. “It’s good to see you.”
Adam’s throat clenched. It’s good to see you. He didn’t think he’d ever heard his father say that to him. The man before him didn’t look like his father, not without the familiarly grim, set expression on his face. The sick man was almost smiling, face lit up with relief at the sight of his son. His voice had changed, too – it was a rasping, feeble warble now, not the deep, demanding tone that Adam was used to.
He cleared his throat, hoping that his father wouldn’t see the changing expression on his face.
“Yes, Father, I’m here. How are you feeling?”
The Duke gave a snort. “Let’s not waste time talking about that. I’m dying, and we all know it.”
Now here was the Duke of Brixham that Adam knew. Here was his father, sharp and dismissive.
“We don’t know that.” Adam said, despite himself.
He received a steely glare for his troubles.
“We do know that. Don’t be stupid, boy. I’m not the sort of deny the plain facts of a thing, no matter how vexing they might be. I hadn’t intended to die for a good long while yet. God, you are barely eighteen, and far from ready. Oh well, there’s not a great deal we can do about that. There’s so much more you had to learn, and it’s not my concern anymore how you come to learn the rest. Time, in its irritating way, has evaded me. You’ll be the Duke of Brixham when I’m gone, today or tomorrow, and heaven only knows how you’ll manage.”
“I’ll manage.” Adam said, stung. “You’ve taught me how to manage.”
“Yes, I suppose you will.” the Duke said, with a raspy chuckle. “You’re a better man than I was at your age.”
Adam blinked. Was that… was it a compliment? After that sharp, unforgiving speech about how Adam wouldn’t be able to ‘manage’? Had his father just praised him?
Adam’s throat clenched, and tears pricked threateningly at his eyes. He ground his teeth, forcing himself to stay composed. He wouldn’t let his father down now. He’d show him that he was the staid, serious man he was meant to be.
I can do it.
The Duke coughed, a horrible rattling noise that almost sounded like bubbling in his lungs.
“I… I haven’t got long, boy. You remember what I told you, you hear me? You remember. You will, won’t you?”
“I will, Father, I will.” Adam promised, glad that it was too dark for his father to see the moisture glittering in his eyes. “I’ll be a good Duke. I promise. I’ll do whatever I have to. Whatever it takes. I’ll be whatever you wanted me to be.”
The light was fading out of the Duke’s eyes.
“Good,” he murmured, the words barely more than a breath. “Good.”
With that, the old Duke of Brixham faded away, his final exhale a long, drawn-out thing. The room seemed quieter without his rattling breaths.
Adam allowed himself no more than ten minutes to grieve. Even that felt excessive. A flurry of emotion that his father would not have approved of. The Duke hadn’t mourned his wife for that long, although of course Adam hadn’t been privy to most – or indeed, any – of his father’s feelings on the subject.
The ten minutes elapsed, and Adam of conscious of a guilty feeling of relief. No point wasting time now, was there? Suddenly decided, he placed his father’s hand back on the sheets and stood up. There was a lot of work to do, starting – but certainly not limited to – the funeral. It would need to be an elaborate affair, and Adam would need to figure out exactly how long he would need to wear black. Mourning was annoying – his father had said so, more than once – but it was mandatory. When it came to mourning one’s father, one ought to err on the side of caution. Society was eagle-eyed when it came to spotting faults, and it was notoriously unforgiving.
He wouldn’t go into half-mourning until it was absolutely safe for him to do so. It was a formality, and one that would hopefully pass quickly. Adam did not feel like mourning his father for too long. The old Duke would not have expected him to.
The new Duke of Brixham strode out into the hallway, never once looking back.
Present Day, London, Springtime
It was a good party. Everyone said so, even the snobby gossips and Society Beauties that made a point of being bored and disinterested with everything. Of course, they wouldn’t openly admit that they were enjoying themselves.
Marina could always tell, of course. She had a knack for sniffing out lies and other deceits – her Papa said so. He’d taught her how to read people, how to eye them subtly over a hand of cards and work out whether they planned to fold or up their bet. He’d taught her how to make them think that she was going to do one thing, and then react blandly to their shock when she did the opposite.
“Play the player, girl, not the cards,” he’d said once, grinning. “Every hand is a winning one, and every hand is a losing one. It all depends on who holds them, and how well they read the table. It’s a skill, make no mistake, but one that involves a heavy dose of luck.”
It wasn’t appropriate for ladies to learn those sorts of card games, but Marina didn’t mind. In her opinion, what she and her family did their own drawing rooms were nobody’s business but their own. It was better than painting watercolours or practising the same fashionable minuets over and over again.
Or worse, poring over an “improving” book for hours on end, pretending to be interested. Novels were fashionable but frowned upon at the same time, and no self-respecting young lady who aspired to Cleverness would admit reading them.
No, Marina would much rather play cards. She was good at cards, and it was like a little secret they all kept together. Even her Mama played a few hands now and then, although most of the time she just sat in her chair, sighing dramatically and shaking her head, trying not to laugh at her ridiculous family.
They didn’t gamble for real money, after all – just sweets or beads or something. They were always fun, too. Marina enjoyed those evenings the most, full of laughter and silly inside jokes and just enough pieces of really good advice.
“See, Rina, when someone glances up like this, it means that they’re lying.”
“Really? You can tell that just by where they put their eyes?”
“Oh yes, little one. That’s only the start of what you can learn about a person.”
Marina hid a smile in her champagne glass. She had no idea where her parents were now. The party was hosted by one of her mother’s friends – her mother, Letitia Cornish, Countess of Chelwood, seemed to know everyone – and that why they were invited. Lately, the Cornish star seemed to be on the decline. They’d once been one of the foremost families, but now the invitations were starting to dwindle away. Marina had no idea what was wrong. She was barely twenty, and this was only her second Season, so she was hardly a ridiculous spinster just yet. What was going on behind the scenes?
She was jerked out of her thoughts as the dance finished. The musicians ended the song with a flourish, and the dancers stopped whirling around, and broke out in applause. Marina smiled thinly, trying to tamp down the feelings of jealousy.
She wouldn’t have minded dancing, but so far there was only one name on her dance card, and that was her father’s. Samuel Cornish would never let his daughters go through a whole ball without dancing with anyone.
Not that it mattered for Josephine yet – she wasn’t Out, and wouldn’t come Out until Marina was respectably married.
That didn’t seem likely to be happening anytime soon. This was Marina’s second Season, and while she didn’t believe she was shockingly plain or entirely unsociable, nobody had yet arrived to make her heart skip a beat.
That was what Marina wanted. She wanted to marry a man she loved, and to have a happy, chaotic life like her parents. Scanning the ranks of assembled gentlemen in the ballroom, her heart sank. No hopes of finding her Prince Charming here. Some ladies had whispered eagerly about their hopes that the handsome, eligible Duke of Brixham would arrive, but that had come to nothing.
Marina wasn’t acquainted with the Duke and didn’t particularly wish to be. She knew him by reputation, and it seemed like he was a cold, ruthless gentlemen, and not somebody she’d care to meet.
None of it mattered, of course, since the elusive Duke had not arrived.
“Ah, Marina! There you are! There she is, you see. I told you she’d be here.”
Marina flinched, turning at the sound of Lord Chelwood, her father, ambling his way through the crowd towards her.
Samuel was a short gentleman, round-faced and decidedly portly in his later years. He had the same chestnut-brown hair and bright green eyes that he’d bequeathed to Marina, although the skin of his face was reddened with too much drinking and good living. He beamed at Marina, although there was a tightness in the corners of his eyes, as if the smile was entirely forced.
Her smile faded. Hadn’t he taught her to spot these tiny mannerisms in people, to work out their intentions?
She didn’t had time to think more on it, because Samuel was then in front of her, followed by a tall, starving-thin gentleman of about forty.
“Marina, my dear, you remember Lord Charles Ellersby, don’t you?” Samuel said, his voice entirely too bright.
Marina smiled politely, dropping a curtsey.
She did, indeed, remember Lord Ellersby. Aside from being tall and thin, Lord Ellersby had a strangely pale and gaunt face, skin stretched over his face tight enough to make him look like a skeleton. He had colourless grey hair that might once have been blond, thinning and plastered unflatteringly against his scalp. His nose was too large for his face, and his nostrils flared wide when he breathed in, as if he were trying to take in the scent of the person he was speaking to.
At the moment, he seemed to be trying to take in Marina’s scent. He extended a hand, fingers too long and white, and she reluctantly took it. His skin was clammy, and he bent over her hand with a flourish. She felt dry, thin lips brush her knuckles, and tried not to shiver.
Everything about Lord Ellersby sent her skin a-prickle. He was an occasional visitor at their house, and Letitia didn’t seem to like him any better than Marina. Why Samuel insisted on keeping his company, Marina did not know. Although at the moment, Samuel was flashing uncertain looks at Lord Ellersby, fidgeting as if he wanted to shuffle away.
That wasn’t at all how friends acted with each other.
“You are not dancing, Lady Cornish.” Lord Ellersby said smoothly. “It is a great pity to see a pretty young thing like you standing on the sidelines.”
Marina didn’t much like being called a pretty young thing, but she smiled politely again.
“I’m sure there’ll be opportunities to dance later in the evening.” She said, which seemed like a suitably vague thing to say. Marina was no fool, and she could already tell what Lord Ellersby intended to ask. She could see it in the twitch of his long fingers, and the predatory glint in his eyes.
She wished that she could say no. Judging by the anxious way Samuel kept looking at her, he was afraid that she might say no.
“Perhaps there may be an opportunity to dance now. Would you care to join me for the next set, Lady Cornish?”
There it was. The invitation she had been dreading.
Marina smothered a sigh. She couldn’t very well refuse his offer to dance. Gentlemen did the asking, and of course wouldn’t ask any lady they didn’t like to dance with them, but there was no provision for a lady to refuse a dance.
Of course, she could plead a twisted ankle or tiredness, but then there must be no dancing for the rest of the evening. Even then, it was shockingly impolite.
“Of course.” Marina said, as if there was anything else she could have said in reply. “I should like that.”
Lord Ellersby’s smile widened.
Matthew dropped the heavy tome onto the desk in front of Adam, raising a huge cloud of dust.
“The debtors’ book, your Grace.” Matthew intoned. “Or rather, the latest copy of it. I believe this book covers this year, from January to now. If you wish to see earlier copies, then I can…”
“No, no, thank you, Matthew.” Adam coughed, ineffectually waving away the dust. “This is the one I wanted.”
Matthew slunk back against the wall, watching in that intent, impassive way of his. The man scarcely seemed to blink.
It didn’t bother Adam. He’d long since ceased to be unsettled by his estate steward. Matthew was around fifty and was a stick-thin man with a completely bald head and unsettlingly deep-set eyes. He’d been the estate steward here for as long as Adam could remember, and it seemed entirely natural for Adam to keep him on once the old Duke was dead.
They didn’t particularly like each other. Matthew unsettled Adam, and he was fairly sure that Matthew thought him a spoilt upstart, still a boy even at the age of twenty-eight. Still, Matthew knew that he wouldn’t be unceremoniously removed from his post in favour of someone younger, and Adam could recognize a clever, efficient person when he saw one, and Matthew was certainly an exceptional estate steward.
Adam opened the book, turning to the page he wanted. He mumbled to himself under his breath, eye skipping down the long columns of debtors on one side, the sums owing on the other. Some people had all but paid off their debts, and others still had thousands more to pay. Plus interest, of course. Some names appeared over and over again, others just once. Adam was familiar with all of them.
He paused at one particularly entry, tapping the name.
“Have we heard from the Earl of Chelwood, Matthew?” Adam asked. “I sent him a message a full week ago, asking to meet up.”
“No, your Grace.”
“Hm. Has he paid any of what he owes?”
“No, your Grace.”
Adam frowned, leaning back in his seat. Without any payments, the figure on the right column would only grow, until it became such a sickeningly large number that only total bankruptcy would repay the debt.
“I hope he doesn’t think I’m a soft touch.” Adam muttered. “I’ll send him to Marshalsea, and good riddance to him. I’ve sent members of the ton there before, and never thought twice about it.”
The Earl of Chelwood was one of the nicer clients Adam had done business with. He was a jovial, friendly man, who didn’t seem to understand that walking into a money-lender’s house was not unlike walking into a lion’s den. Adam had liked him, as well as he could like the greedy fools who borrowed his money at such high rates.
Lord Chelwood’s business idea had been sound – breeding stallions had the potential to be a lucrative venture, and Lord Chelwood had a notable knack for spying out good horseflesh. If Adam did not see a return on his investment soon, he would do whatever it took to recover his money.
I’m no fainting dandy, Adam thought grimly. I’ll take my pound of flesh.
“Matthew, what is the gossip like about the earl’s financial situation at the moment? Is it possible he’s simply missed a payment?”
Matthew shot Adam a pitying look.
“Not good, your Grace. Word has it that he is struggling financially. People are beginning to notice, and he is making increasingly more desperate efforts to collect money together.”
Adam sighed, closing his eyes. He’d heard this story before. A gentleman, having fallen upon difficult times, borrows too much money at too high an interest rate. His business plan, for whatever reason, fails. He panics and tries to resort to gambling and cards to scrape the money together to repay the moneylender.
It never worked.
Adam raked a hand through his dark hair, suddenly feeling as if every limb was weighed down with something heavy. He felt bone tired. The clock on the wall read a quarter to twelve at night. To think that he’d hoped to have an early finish today.
“Well, we’ll need to set up a meeting with the earl.” Adam said. “One way or another. I’m running out of patience with him. For now, you’d better get yourself to bed. It’s late.”
Matthew gave a shallow bow, and slipped noiselessly out of the door, closing it softly behind him. Maybe he was tired – it was hard to spot emotions on that cadaverous face.
Adam stayed where he was, staring at the entry in the debtor’s book, tapping the end of his pencil on the desk. He hoped that the earl wouldn’t find himself in the book of bad debts.
He didn’t particularly like sending his debtors to Marshalsea. That prison was infamous, and unnecessarily cruel. But what was he meant to do? Adam had little to no patience with those who borrowed what they could not repay. The old Duke had felt exactly the same, and carefully instilled those values in his son.
“For every action, there is consequence.” Adam muttered. “Everyone that borrows must repay, one way or another.”
Still, he’d rather be repaid with the money he was owed, rather than throwing the debtor in question into prison. Then the money would never be repaid.
That is not the point, stated a voice in the back of Adam’s head, sounding strangely like his father’s voice, back when he was in good, firm health. The point is to make an example. It is the principle of the thing.
And Adam had already sent men to prison or the depths of bankruptcy on the basis of principle.
The clock in the corner struck midnight, making Adam jump. He stared at it, a little bewildered.
Where had the day gone?
On cue, the door flew open with a crash. Only one person would enter his study without knocking, and in such a dramatic fashion.
“Hello, Mother.” Adam said. “And how are you this evening?”
Evelyn Blackburn, the Dowager Duchess, was an exceptionally handsome woman, even at the age of forty-six. Sometimes, she attracted more attention than the younger ladies. She had thick black hair, only just beginning to streak with silver, brown eyes, and olive skin that tanned deeply in summer. Tanned skin was unfashionable, of course, but somehow Evelyn had always managed to look beautiful anyway. Adam often wondered what had possessed her to marry his father.
Money, probably. And family pressure.
They hadn’t been a happy couple, he knew that. Evelyn had barely been eighteen when she was married, and Adam was born only a few weeks before her nineteenth birthday. The old Duke was considerably older, and quickly lost interest in his wife once his son appeared. From a young age, Adam had noticed the disparity between his parents, the abject disinterest they showed in each other. Now, of course, he knew that many marriages were like that. It was silly to believe that a marriage among the ton would end otherwise.
“I am not happy, Adam. Not happy at all.” Evelyn stated. “Can you guess why?”
“I’m sure that you are about to tell me.”
Evelyn pressed her lips together, obviously displeased. Adam laced his fingers together on top of the debtor’s book and tried to look innocent.
Of course, he knew why she was upset. There’d been some party or soiree tonight that he apparently must not miss. Adam disagreed. He could miss any or all of those dreadful events and suffer no consequences. Not to mention that it was an absolute waste of an evening. He’d much rather sit with a book and a glass of brandy by his fireplace, than cram into an overcrowded ballroom and make inane small talk all evening.
“You promised you would come.” Evelyn said. Now she didn’t sound angry, just disappointed, and the first waves of guilt rolled over him.
“I’m sorry, Mother. I didn’t say that I would come, by the way. I said I might come.”
“Oh, tosh! You led me to believe that you would be there.”
Adam sighed, twirling his pencil in his fingers.
“Somehow, I don’t think I would be well-received at an event like that. Half of the people there owe me money.”
“I am sorry to disappoint you, Mother. There was just so much work to be done.”
“There is always ‘so much work to be done’. It never ends.” Evelyn responded tartly. She pulled out a chair opposite Adam’s desk and threw herself down. She was wearing a dark blue satin dress, well-fitted and pretty, that glistened in the candlelight. She must have looked splendid at the party.
She shouldn’t have come back for me, Adam thought with a pang. She could have been out there, enjoying herself. Goodness know that she enjoys socialising.
“I’m worried about you, Adam.” Evelyn stated.
He raised his eyebrows. “About me? Why?”
“Why do you think? You spend all day and most of the night poring over those wretched books, shut up in here with that awful steward of your father’s. You’re pale and tired, and you seem more and more discontented with each passing day.”
Adam considered arguing the point about spending all day and most of the night working, but considering the fact it was now just past midnight, he felt that he could not win that argument.
“And you think that going to these inane parties will make me more contented, will it?”
She shrugged. “At any rate, it’ll get you away from those books.”
“I’m quite happy here, Mother. I have work to do.”
“You always have work to do. Besides,” she hesitated, leaning forward. “You won’t find a wife in those debtor’s columns, will you?”
He let out a bark of laughter. “What on earth makes you think I’m shopping for a wife?”
Evelyn flashed a tight-lipped smile. “Because you are dangerously close to thirty, and you still have no heir. Do you want the estate and title to go to your cousin?”
Adam winced. “I certainly do not.”
“You’re running out of time to secure a legacy, Adam. You’re not a fool, I know that you must have considered that.”
Adam stared at the pencil, still twisting and spinning in his fingers.
“Look, Mother, you’ve seen the young ladies in Society today. They’re just… well, there’s nothing there. They’re pretty, and people say that they’re accomplished, but that’s all. I’ve never felt drawn to any of them. I felt like a fool, doggedly attending all those ridiculous balls and soirees, waiting for some sort of connection with someone or other. It’s never arrived, and I now believe that it never will.”
Evelyn bit her lip. “I’m sorry, darling. I wanted to marry for love too, but… well, it didn’t happen. You know that. sometimes these things just don’t work out. Perhaps you just need to abandon this notion of a connection and just pick someone suitable. Perhaps love will come later.”
Adam leaned forward, resting his elbows on his desk.
“Mother, you know that people hate me, don’t you? Everyone knows someone who borrowed money from me and then was shocked when I had the audacity to force them to pay it back. They don’t like him. They’re afraid of me. And to be frank, I like that. I don’t care to have these people’s respect. I have your respect, and your affection, and that is all I care about.”
Evelyn reached across the desk, taking his hand in hers.
“You might one day meet a woman who inspires your respect. And your affection, perhaps.”
“Perhaps.” He echoed, but it was hollow. “I don’t want to marry for the sake of it.”
Evelyn’s face hardened. “You are not marrying for the sake of it. Really, Adam, you can be selfish at times. Is there to be no legacy? Are you really so short-sighted? Dukes marry, and they have children. That is the way it’s always been, because we have a tradition to carry on. We have estates and titles that must be passed onto the next generation. Time is running out for you, Adam. Already you’re something of a black sheep in Society. I want to see you happy, and I believe that doing your duty here will give you a measure of contentment.”
Adam sat back, withdrawing his hand.
“I’m not a child, Mother. I will do what I see fit, and I don’t believe that forcing myself into a pointless marriage is the best thing for me. Or for anyone, for that matter. It’s hardly fair, in any case. Please, I’d be obliged if you’d keep your advice to yourself in this matter.”
He’s spoken too harshly. Adam could have bitten of his tongue the moment the words left his lips, but of course it was far too late. Evelyn turned scarlet, flinching back as if he’d struck her.
“Of course.” she said, her voice cold and tight. “How foolish of me to think that I, your mother, could possibly have anything worthwhile to suggest. Sometimes, Adam, you are so much like your father it is quite shocking.”
Adam knew his mother well enough to know what an insult that was. He was still reeling when she got to her feet, pushing back to the chair with a screech, and hurried to the door.
“Mother, wait!” he called. “Please, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have…”
He was cut off by the door slamming. Adam let out a sigh, sinking down in his seat. The clock merrily chimed half-past twelve.
He’d never sleep now.
I hope you enjoyed the preview of my new novel “The Beastly Duke’s Convenient Bride”. It will be live soon!
This Post Has 6 Comments
Looking forward to reading this new novel. Caught my interest right away. Can’t wait to see how Marina uses her ability to ” read ” people.
Enjoyed this , can’t wait for the next chapter
Arghhhh! 😵💫 You have hooked me into the story already! Can’t wait to finish the new book and series. I enjoy your work to the max. ☺️
The beginning has a Sweet twist close to that of [Beauty and the Beast. The two main Characters are very smart, close too like two peas in a pod.
Loved it. I can’t wait for your book to come out.
I can’t wait for this book to come out! I am hooked and am interested in how they meet and what will happen with Marina’s father. 🙂