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Hat Trick (Harrisburg Railers #8)

Copyright © 2019 RJ Scott, Copyright © 2019 V.L. Locey

Cover design by Meredith Russell, Edited by Sue Laybourn

Published by Love Lane Books Limited

Smashwords Edition

ISBN - 978-1-78564-146-6

All Rights Reserved

This literary work may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including electronic or photographic reproduction, in whole or in part, without express written permission. This book cannot be copied in any format, sold, or otherwise transferred from your computer to another through upload to a file sharing peer-to-peer program, for free or for a fee. Such action is illegal and in violation of Copyright Law.

All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.

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Watching snowflakes flutter by the window, I was struck by how beautiful snow was and yet how deadly it could be. Like now, it was soft and fluffy and would blow off the wings as soon as the 747 I was seated in took off. But there were snows that could cripple an airplane, sticking and freezing on the wings. Such was how many things were. Such was how my homeland could be. Russia was a beautiful country, rich with history and stunning cathedrals. The people were proud and vibrant and loving. But there was a dangerous side to Russia, one that might make my return risky. It was not a good time for gay men in Russia. The government called us terrible names, jailed us, or worse… simply for loving someone of the same gender.

I glanced at the flight attendant helping the other first-class passengers find their seats and stow their carry-on bags. He’d told me his name was Howard. He was older, distinguished, slim, with salt-and-pepper hair. His accent was British, very pretty, and he fussed over his passengers like a mother goose does her goslings. He’d assured me that, once we were in the air, he would come with the drink cart. Generally, I did not drink much. On New Year’s Eve of course, but other than special occasions, athletes skipped alcohol. Erik was not much on boozing it up. We were happy homebodies.

I looked back out at the snowy airfield. Erik. I missed my beloved already, and the plane was still sitting at Harrisburg International Airport taking on passengers. I shifted in my seat, glad for the leg room that first class gave me. Also, the seat was plush, the blanket thick and warm, and the food and drinks would be above par. Sadly, I would be enjoying all of this luxury alone. Erik had to stay home with Noah. There were hockey games to play, a nanny to find, and paperwork to have in order when I returned with our new children. The team wasn’t happy to lose me for the time required to make this trip, but they had given me leave to go. My stomach flipped in excitement and apprehension yet again. Ever since the call had come during the night two weeks ago, all of us had been bouncing between terror, anxiety, and joy.

Funny how a man’s life can change with just one phone call.

I’d been sleeping soundly the night the news had come, Erik in my arms, our bodies tacky with sweat and semen. My eyes had felt as if they had just closed when Elvis started singing Hound Dog over and over. I had found a new ringtone app called ”Elvis Ringtones” and picked a new song every week. Elvis had released many, many songs, so I could have a new ringtone whenever I wished. That night, it was Hound Dog, and it played repeatedly. Erik had slid over me, mumbling, and grabbed my phone off my nightstand.

It’s for you. Someone saying something in Russian,” he’d grumbled.

I slung an arm over his back to keep his belly pressed to mine. He let his head drop to my shoulder and his leg shimmy between my thighs. Perfection, I remember thinking before I put the cell to my ear and everything went upside down and inside and out. Is there an ”and” in that saying? I shook my head. No, I didn’t think so. Inside out. Yes, inside out is right. So yes, the call had come through, the line raspy with static as the service in the small town I had grown up in wasn’t good.

It was bad news. My fourth cousin on my father’s side, Anatoli, had been killed in a terrible accident involving a truck and him on a motorcycle. The two children he had looked after, children of another cousin, had been left alone upon his death, as their parents had died several years earlier. Their father from cancer and their mother from alcohol poisoning. She had been just a young woman, but her drinking was bad, as it is for many in the backwoods of Russia. When I was a child, I would look at the people of my small village and see only gray faces filled with great hardships and bleak futures. Which was why I had worked so hard to get out and make sure my sister and mother did as well. I did not want my mother to die before her time, her life dreary and sad.

The children, it seemed, had now been left to me, or maybe the better explanation was that I had been named as their next-in-line guardian. The poor children had been passed from pillar to post and had never known a stable family. The message was clear—could I come now to Leskovo and fetch them before they went into the government system. It seemed no one in the family could afford two more mouths to feed. I had sat up, stunned and shaken, unable to think of the proper words to say back to one of my uncles. I’d had no knowledge of my cousin naming me as a second guardian of his children if anything should happen to Anatoli, and I had told Erik that, after I’d blurted out some reply to Uncle Maxim about giving me time to make plans and to not allow the little ones to go to the government.

I do not know how the government treats little ones with no parents, but if they treat them as bad as they do gay people,” I mumbled as Erik hurried to dress and find me something to pull on. “I go now.”

Stan,” he said a moment later as I pulled a pair of jeans over my ass, “I’m sure they’ll be fine for a few days until we sort through all of this. You can’t just fly to Russia and toss the kids into a plane headed for America.”

Why not? I am chosen next guardian by father. I go now. Bring home. We adopt. Make them ours. We want more children; you say so too. Now we will have three!”

I padded to the closet to find a suitcase. Erik slid between the closet door and me. “Stan, you can’t go off halfcocked. This is going to be a tangled-up bureaucratic mess to wade through. We’ll need a lawyer, probably an adoption representative, maybe state and federal permission. Things between the US and Russia aren’t exactly stable right now. And there’s the fact that the Russian government knows you’re in a relationship with a man here in the States.”

Pah. I do not care. The Kremlin can suck my fat cock.”

Erik rolled his pretty eyes. “Stan, the point is you can’t just run over to Russia and expect to come home with two kids the next day. There’s protocol that we’re going to have to follow. And two kids? I mean, at once? Who don’t speak a lick of English? What are their names? How old are they? What sex are they? Are they healthy? Are they immunized? I don’t want any kids around Noah who haven’t been immunized. What if they’re mean to other kids or pets? What if you get over there and the government is waiting, and they lock you up to make a show of you, or they take you to the top of some high fucking office building in Moscow and throw you off just because you’re—”

Hush now, hush.” I pulled him into my arms and held him for a long, long time. He clung to me, fingers digging into the skin on my lower back, his nose buried in my throat. I kissed his golden curls as he sucked in a long breath, then slowly let it out. “Nothing bad happens to us. We are strong family. Much love. This will be good.” I ran a hand up and down his back. “We will make this good, you see. Big family means much more love and strength.”

The soft rumbling of the plane rolling out to taxi jarred me from the memory. I fastened my seatbelt and turned off my phone. Howard checked on me, smiling and patting my shoulder, and then went on to make sure the others were obeying the rules. The flight was long, over eleven hours, and would afford me plenty of time to dwell upon things. Such as my mother’s reaction the following day when she had learned of our fourth cousin’s death. She said she’d never liked him, but she had wept softly for the children, holding Noah on her lap. Then I’d had to tell her about me being the chosen adult to take them.

It made sense to me and to Erik once we’d returned to bed the next night and talked things out as best we could. I was the most successful one in our big family. My cousins all knew I played professional hockey, and that I was now studying to be an American citizen. They had seen the images of my house, my car, my family here in Pennsylvania. I’d not pushed my wealth under their noses, but even just sharing pictures on social media, my family back in Leskovo would comment on the luxuries they saw. So, me being listed to take Anatoli’s children if there was no one else made sense. Also, who didn’t want to immigrate to America? This was the country of opportunity! The Statue of Liberty said so. She called to the weak and frail of other countries to come to her shores. I loved her so much, Lady Liberty. Every time we played in New York City I went to see her, and I thanked her for taking me and my family into her country.

So, me being picked seemed reasonable. I had been chosen, and I would fulfill my obligation to my family and those children. Mama had broken down when I’d told her I was returning to Russia as soon as we could arrange the legal things. Erik had been tasked with the paperwork. He was well spoken, his English smooth, and his bearing that of a prince. I was big and scary, and while my English was wonderfully better, it was still bumpy sometimes.

I’d hushed her as I had Erik the night before, assuring her that I would be welcomed back to Russia with open arms. She’d not thought so, but she had quieted when I reminded her of those two children—a girl and a boy, we had learned—who had no one to love them.

“They will need much love. They never really knew their parents, and now they have lost a guardian. They need more even than Erik and I can give them,” I’d whispered to her in Russian as I’d knelt beside the rocking chair in Noah’s room and held her. “They will need a sweet gam to tuck them in when their pappa's are not to home and bake pryaniki for them.”

She’d patted my cheeks and sniffled, her chin coming up a bit. “I will do whatever they need, but you must promise to come home to me, Stanislav.” She’d stared at me with eyes the same stormy color as mine. “You bring the babies home. Safe. All three of you. I will work hard with Erik to make the house ready for them.”

“You are a good woman.” I’d pulled her to my chest and kissed her damp cheek.

“And you, my son, are a good man.”

The plane began to roll down the runway. I felt the pressure against my chest as we lifted off. Turning my head to the left, I looked out of the window and watched Harrisburg slowly get smaller and smaller.

“I will be back soon,” I whispered to Erik, then pulled the shade down and patted my passport and the packet of legal papers riding in the interior pocket of my winter coat. Never had mere paper felt so heavy.


“How hard can it be?” I thumbed through the searches randomly and found an agency in London that specialized in finding the right Russian-speaking nanny. Okay, so it wasn’t the US, but apparently they placed nannies in all different countries, and the US was on the list. It didn’t escape me that I would be contacting an English company to talk about a Russian nanny for an American family. None of this had been easy so far. Why would finding a nanny be any different?

“We offer a full search and selection program, with all interviews, reference checks, and paperwork completed before we recommend a candidate to you,” I read out loud, and waited for a comment. I had an audience. Stan’s mom, Stan’s sister, Galina, and Noah all sat on the sofa in a judgmental line. Stan’s mom was in a major sulk because we were even contemplating bringing another Russian harlot into our house. I wasn’t entirely sure she meant harlot, but it was difficult to understand her sometimes. Actually, most of the time. There was no denying that she was a doting grandma and mother, but she wasn’t a young woman, and Noah was… at an interesting age is all I can say. He seemed hell-bent on pushing every limit we put in place, hence why he had a clump of hair missing from the right side of his head. How the hell had he managed to climb up to the vanity in our bathroom, I didn’t know. I suspected it was a combination of using the bathtub, a box of jerseys ready to sign that he’d somehow pushed from our office, and sheer willpower.

Unfortunately, one experiment later and somehow our son had managed to shave some of his hair off. He’d been in trouble, and this was why he was part of the group all staring me down because I’d told him off. Apparently, he wanted Stan because Stan was the best dad, and I was useless. I mean, he didn’t actually say that in so many words, but I could sense it from his mutinous expression and his pout.

Then there was Galina, who Arvy had dropped off at ass o’clock this morning. She’d wanted to help. Arvy had wanted to come in, but I think my glare had scared him away. He was the lucky one; there was no sense in two of us being stared at with such frustration.

I’m doing my best, okay? I didn’t know Stan’s cousin was going to die. I didn’t know we were suddenly going to have three children in the house. A hat trick of kids that we would call our family.

“I can help,” Galina said. This was the fifth or tenth or twentieth time she’d said the same thing, but she wasn’t listening to me any more than Stan’s mom was.

“We need someone at the house, on a semi-permanent basis, Galina. I explained that as much as we want your help, we also have to think long term.”

Galina shook her head, as if she was disappointed in me for that statement. Stan’s mom tutted, and as for Noah, he was still at the pouting stage. When I say thinking long term, I don’t actually know what I meant by that. Weeks? Months? Years? Stan had said his cousin’s children would know a little English, and that we needed a nanny who spoke Russian. Otherwise they would feel at a loss in the US. That was my job here. I wasn’t the one returning to a country that judged our love as wrong, I wasn’t the one who was facing red tape and danger, but he’d assured me he knew people who would help. I’d stopped asking him what he meant after I’d met the man outside Ten’s room in the hospital.

Yep, clearly my lover knew people, and not outwardly friendly people but big guys with tattoos and scars and fixed expressions. Stan would be safe.

He has to be safe.

What would I do without Stan? What would my life be like without him? What would Noah do? Would Stan’s mama and Galina have to go home? How would I get a nanny? Would I have to go to London? Would Stan come back to me? What if he gets stuck there? What could I do? Would I have to—?

“Dadda?” Noah clambered down from the sofa and held his hands up. “Carry,” he demanded.

I dropped the phone and instead picked up my son. He seemed warm, but I wasn’t sure if that was because of the post-haircut tantrum or that he wasn’t feeling well. I wasn’t sure I could handle him being ill on top of everything else. I slumped into the nearest comfy chair and inhaled the scent of Noah as he snuggled into me. He really did feel warm, but I held him close and rested my chin on his blond curls before closing my eyes briefly.

“I’m to wash,” Stan’s mom announced with a dramatic sigh and headed for her room, which left me with Galina.

“What will you do today?” she asked and looked pointedly at her watch. I knew she didn’t mean what would I do with Noah. He had a place at the day care right next to the arena, sharing play time with Connor’s children and always coming out with a grin on his face.

“Try and get hold of someone,” I said and felt for my phone, which was just out of reach.

She picked it up and passed it to me.

“I didn’t mean that. I meant, how will you concentrate on practice, on playing, when Stan is…?” Her eyes filled with tears, and my chest tightened. She was probably as scared as I was, and so was Stan’s mama. We were all frightened that Stan wouldn’t come home.

“He knows people,” I said, and really that was the only thing I could cling to.

Leaving Noah at Squirrels Nursery was hard. He didn’t want to let go of me, and God help me, I didn’t want to let go of him. Connor was there dropping off his children, and he must have seen the panic in my face. He managed to peel Noah off me and set him down.

“He’s warm,” I warned, and Connor checked his forehead, frowned, then shook his head.

“He feels okay to me.” The look he gave me was one of sympathy, and I was mortified that he could see through me to the idiot dad inside, who didn’t want to let go of his child.

“I don’t want to…” let him go.

“You have to,” Connor explained as if I was a child.

He was right. I had a job to do, one I got paid good money for, enough to have Noah at this private and expensive nursery and to be able to hire the best Russian nanny of all Russian nannies. Enough between us that Stan and I didn’t hesitate to say we’d take the children who had been orphaned in Russia.

“I don’t even know their names,” I said as we walked out. I’d had an entire conversation in my head about the children and announced my findings as if Connor had been part of the head-talking. No wonder Connor was confused, but then his expression cleared.

“You mean the children from Russia, Stan’s family. You don’t know their names.”

We reached the door— showed our passes to get in, the warmth of the practice arena in sharp contrast to the bitterness of the wind outside.

“I know Stan’s cousin is Dusan, was Dusan, that’s all. I know that Dusan and his wife died young, that the children didn’t know them much, and that they were taken in by another cousin called Anatoli, who has now died.” Poor kids haven’t had much of a life so far.

We walked in silence for a short while. Then Connor stopped me with a gentle touch to my arm. “We’re all here for you, Erik, you know that.”

I sensed a ”but” coming and waited patiently for the proviso to that sweeping statement.

He cleared his throat. “With my captain head on, you need to tell us if you’re not up to playing. I don’t want you out there not concentrating, not keeping your head up, getting hurt. You depend on the team, and they depend on you, and if there’s anything in your head you can’t shake, we can bench you for the Dallas game. I don’t want you or any Railer hurt because your head isn’t right. On the other hand, we’re already down with Ten, and we need your style of scrappiness around the net, but if your head isn’t in it…”

I wanted to be offended that Connor would even think that I wouldn’t give the team one hundred percent, but even as I worked my way up to argue, my defensiveness vanished.

“I need the team; I need to play,” I admitted. That wasn’t exactly saying I could play, but it was close.

Connor studied my face for a moment and then nodded. “Okay.”

That was it. He didn’t ask me if I was sure. He took my response as the gospel truth, and we carried on to the locker room. Bryan, our starting goalie in Stan’s absence, was already suited up, his head bent. He was staring at the floor, utterly still. There were a couple of missing faces at this practice, which was optional, but nearly everyone was there, all staring at me when I walked into the room. The questions began immediately, but I held up a hand to stop them.

“Stan is on his way. I should know more by this evening, and I’ll message the group chat.”

Then I turned my back on everyone, deliberately not looking at the empty space where Stan normally sat, and tried my hardest to get into the hockey zone before we went out.

Practice was odd man rushes, and for the life of me, I couldn’t get the puck anywhere near the net, ringing every single one of them off the damn pipes. I could see Bryan’s moves, watched him observing me with concern, and all I wanted was one freaking disc to get past him, but he didn’t even have to try, I was messing up the shots myself.

Stop thinking about Stan. About Noah. About two children I don’t even know and Russian nannies.

We went from shooting to corner drills, a sweaty-messy fight to get pucks out of blocks behind the net, up against Adler, who was being a fucking asshole and making my life hard. He was all over me, hazing me, pushing me into the boards, cursing at me, getting the damn puck away from me so fucking easy that I lost my shit. I cross-checked him hard, but at the last minute, he sidestepped, and I crashed into the plexi, side on. The breath left me, and I rounded on him, knowing this was him taking advantage of me not being on form.

Get your head on straight.

Adler winked at me, grinning as we went head-to-head in the corner again.

“You want some?” he kept shouting. I shook off my gloves, ready to go at him. He skated right up in my face.

“Fuck you!” I shouted at him and punched him, catching him on the chin.

“You hit like Noah!” he said and ducked as I swung at him again.


Then he danced away, still grinning, and I chased him down, both of us rolling on the ice, grabbing at jerseys and skin until he managed to pin me. “Better?” he asked, and I could see the compassion in his expression.

It was what I needed to pull me out of my funk, but I wasn’t entirely over him pushing me as we switched places, and I ground shavings of ice into his face. When we both lay back, him laughing like a loon, me staring up at the rafters, he shoved my arm, hard enough that it moved me on the ice.

But at least for whole periods of time at practice, I’d forgotten about everything except hockey.

Connor cornered me after practice, and I stopped him before he could ask me. “It’s all good.” When he walked away, I saw him fist-bump Adler, and all I could do was shake my head.


When we landed at Grozny Airport in Chechnya, my stomach flipped over on itself. Not from the descent, but from anxiety. Hand resting over the wad of official and expensive paperwork, I rose from my plush seat, thanked Howard the flight attendant, took a deep breath, and stepped off the plane onto Russian soil. Actually, I stepped off the plane into a jet chute, but it was sitting on Russian soil. Carry-on bag on my shoulder, I took maybe five steps before a man in an old suit pushed away from the wall of the sky bridge. He was stocky, bald, but with a bold gray mustache and wild eyebrows. His eyes were dark and serious. I could tell he was from the government. Government people all had an aura. I’d seen it with American government workers too, especially those dealing with immigration and Russian immigrants. I’d seen distrust in many eyes, some warranted and much not.

“Mr. Lyamin,” the burly man said as he approached me. I nodded respectfully, letting others behind me hurry around us. “I am Agent Mikhailov of the Ministry of Education for the Russian Federation. It is my honor to meet you.”

“And I you, Agent Mikhailov.” We shook. His hand was dry and cold, much like his gaze. “Is this normal procedure for a person coming to our country to be greeted by the government?”

“Well, you are not a normal person. Shall I speak in English, or do you still understand your native tongue?”

“No, Russian is and always will be my first language.” I glanced at a couple scurrying past. They darted looks at the government man and me, then dropped their gazes quickly. “Perhaps we should go through customs and then talk?”

“Ah, you have been cleared already. But yes, come and let us go to a small office that has been set aside for us.” Heart skipping wildly, I gave him a short smile and followed him. I was led to a small room with a table and two chairs, not so much an office, but rather a tiny space where suspicious people coming into the airport would be detained and questioned a bit more thoroughly. “Please, have a seat.”

I sat on one side of the table, he on the other. “I am expected in Leskovo within the hour. The children await me.”

“Yes, of course, the children.” He sat down with a weary grunt. “Such a tragedy, orphaned and with no Russian kin willing or able to take them in. You are aware that Americans are no longer allowed to adopt Russian children?”

“I’m not an American. I’m Russian.” I spoke plainly and with no anger. Our lawyers had told me that I must be respectful, and I must tell anyone who was with the government what they wished to hear, even if I had to lie. “Embellishment is bad in hockey but good in this case,” our attorney had told me. “I will always be a Russian.” And that was true. I would also be American, and while I loved Russia, my life was now in America, where I could be me, and my children could grow up healthy and free to be what and who they wished.

“That is good to hear. Please, with your permission, may I see your passport, your visa, the adoption paperwork, and the visas for the children, Eva and Pavel?”

I passed over the neatly folded paperwork and looked at the closed door. There were no windows in this room. “You will see all is in order.”

He glanced up from the papers he had placed on the steel table. “Yes, everything looks to be in order. Even the usual protocol for all orphaned children to be in the government’s database for three months before they are considered eligible for international adoption has been waived.”

“We have been fortunate,” I replied.

He stared at me, his eyes narrowing a bit, his tongue tied because of the names listed on the paperwork before him. Important names. Friends of mine in high-ranking positions. I knew people.

“Yes, quite fortunate.” He folded the papers slowly and carefully, tucking them and all the visas and my passport back into the thick legal envelope they’d ridden to Chechnya in. “Just a few more questions, and then we’ll leave for Leskovo.”


“Yes, I am to be at your side throughout. You have been granted four hours to pick up the orphans and return to America. Is there any reason why an agent of the Ministry should not be at your side?”

“None at all. Your company will be most pleasant.” The lie tasted quite bad, like a bite of those tart candies that Adler passed out under the guise of sweet treats.

He smiled, but there was no warmth in the gesture. “So, you are living in America with your husband, Erik Gunnarsson.”

“We are not wed, yet.” There was no point in lying to the man. He had all my information in front of him, Erik’s as well, and probably information on everyone in my house, my family, the Railers, and the two dogs we’d adopted.

He probably knows that we’d found BB, the brown one, behind the dumpsters at the rink, shivering in the snow. They could even have known that Mama had looked at his paws and told us he was going to be the size of a “buryy medved” or a brown bear.

I bet he knew that Wolfdog, or Wolfie for short, was a small Maltese mix who thought he was a big dog. He was the first one to bark at noises outside and bared his sharp teeth and growled at anyone who tried to touch our family.

I’d realized I’d lost myself in my thoughts when he pointedly coughed at me.

“Pardon me,” I was polite.

“Mm, so this is a homosexual arrangement. You are aware that the presbyter of your church in Leskovo, Father Vladimir, is strongly against you taking these innocents to America and exposing them to such a reviled and repugnant way of life. He fears, as all our beloved church elders do, that if they live in America, they will not have a true Christian upbringing and will fall from the love of God. Add in that you are exposing these children to such a disgusting lifestyle…no offense of course.”

“No, of course no offense was taken,” I lied again. I wanted to reach over the table, grab his head, and drive his face into my fist numerous times. But I did not. I’d been coached on this. I had known this was coming. The hatred still hurt my soul though, even if it was expected. “I can assure you and the presbyter that these children will be raised in a Christian church. I attend services every Sunday with Erik and our son, Noah.”

“Yes, a Baptist church with a predominately black congregation.” He sat back and assessed me closely. “That is not wholly acceptable to the Orthodox Church, but it does show us that your sinful choices may not corrupt the children we are handing over to you.”

“I thank you for your gracious acceptance of our lifestyle.” He smiled that dead smile, and I checked my wristwatch. “If there is nothing else, perhaps we should go fetch the children so that we do not miss our plane back to America?”

“Yes, it would be a shame for a Russian man with your skills to be stuck in his homeland. Tell me, Mr. Lyamin, who will you play for in the next Olympics?”

If the NHL let the players go unlike last Olympics, I thought.

“It would be my honor and my duty to play for Russia.” I met his stare with one of my own.

“I’m sure the president will be most happy to hear that. He does so enjoy ice hockey.”

With that, we rose and walked out of the airport, no baggage check—although I was sure they had gone through my one suitcase with every manner of X-ray and sniffing dogs available—no customs, and no stamp on my passport. Several men in suits hovered just a few steps away, all with that dead-eyed look, staring at me, judging me. It seemed I was to hustle in, grab the children, and then placed on a plane under the cover of darkness. That suited me fine. The sooner I had Eva and Pavel back in America, the easier we would all sleep. Sleep sounded nice. It had eluded me for over twenty-nine hours, but I was too energized to feel the jet lag yet.

The car that awaited us was a sturdy gray sedan. Nondescript in every way, and in truth, I had a moment of worry when I crawled into the backseat. If they were going to hold me, it would be now, with a long drive to a detention center that I would never be released from. Thankfully, that did not happen. Agent Mikhailov drove me to Leskovo in complete silence, but I did notice the car behind us, with the same agents I’d seen at the airport. I knew they would be armed. I was aware things could go badly, but I had to stay focused. The night hugged the countryside, and in a way, I was sad not to see the land where I had grown up.

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