HAWAIIAN HEAT: THE MARRIAGE TRAP

THE MARRIAGE TRAP

coming soon from the wild rose press

NEWSFLASH:  HAWAIIAN HEAT:  THE MARRIAGE TRAP was the winner of the Touch of Magic contest, as well as a finalist in the Melody of Love, Golden Gateway (2x), Gotcha, Winter Rose, The Catherine, Hot Prospects, and Golden Claddagh contests!

HAWAIIAN HEAT:  THE MARRIAGE TRAP is a completed 90,000-word, steamy, contemporary romance. This story is the first in the HAWAIIAN HEAT series.

Ginny Fitzgerald has always dreamed of marriage and motherhood. But when the wealthy divorce attorney escapes her domineering former fiancé to pursue her unexplored passion for writing, the HAWAIIAN HEAT and enigmatic Drew Morgan melt her reserved façade, exposing a repressed passion for carnal pleasures and independence. Now she fears that the only happily-ever-after ending in her future is the one she’s writing for her romance novel.

Drew Morgan believes marriage is a farce and has vowed to remain a bachelor forever. But the bartender and aspiring thriller writer discovers he must choose between his moral opposition to the chains of marriage and the possibility of a lifetime of happiness when the HAWAIIAN HEAT welds love and lust into his dream soul mate:  Ginny Fitzgerald.

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EXCERPT

 Chapter 1

“Virgin?”

Ginny Fitzgerald whipped her head around. “Excuse me?

“Virgin?” the man repeated. “Not you, sweetheart, your drink. You told your boyfriend no, but he ordered for you anyway before going to the john.” The bartender smiled and leaned closer. “I thought maybe you’d like to go virgin on this drink without him knowing.”

“Thanks, but I don’t want the drink at all,” she said. “And he’s not my boyfriend.”

“Just kidding.” He winked. “But whoever the guy is, he’s working damn hard to get lucky tonight.”

Ginny shrugged. “I know that. I’m not a moron. I’ve been trying to politely discourage him.”

“Need help?”

“No, thanks. I’m handling it.”

“Good to know. I hate to see slime sneak up on nice girls.”

He wiped a small towel across the bar in front of her, but still held her gaze. Even in the dim lighting, his eyes twinkled an amazing teal blue like the water over the coral reefs.

“How do you know I’m a ‘nice girl’?”

He stroked his chin. “Let me count the ways. One, you don’t let someone push you into drinking more than you want. Two, you flinch every time that guy touches you, which means you recognize the jerk for the player he is. Three, and most important, if that type appealed to you, you would’ve left with him already.” A cocky grin lit the man’s face. “Definitely a nice girl.” With another wink, he moved down the bar to take a couple’s order.

Sneaking a discreet peek, Ginny watched the bartender’s efficient, fluid movements as he mixed drinks and conversed amicably with the customers. And there was a lot more about him to admire. The sun had woven wheat-colored streaks through his wavy, chestnut hair and bronzed his face and arms, giving him a healthy, outdoorsman appearance. The short sleeves of his Hawaiian print shirt revealed taut muscles, and his khaki cargo shorts hugged narrow hips and a sweet ass.

Hot, hot, hot…

After a mental shake, she swiveled on the barstool, her gaze sweeping around the buzzing bar and reaching the crowded dance floor. Friday night was cranking up. The brilliant colors of the tropical motif added another layer of sensual heat to the already sizzling scene. Temperatures and decibels were on the rise. Upscale Club Lahaina vibrated with pulsing music. Uninhibited dancers pumped and gyrated, performing erotic mating rituals. Their wild abandon mesmerized Ginny and tugged at a longing she was reluctant to acknowledge.

With a heavy sigh, she swung back toward the bar, determined to keep the sadness swelling in her chest at bay. Hoping to boost her spirits, she’d stopped at the popular club in the lovely little tourist town of Lahaina to toast her newfound freedom only because she didn’t want to face her silent, empty condo. Even though she’d chosen an inconspicuous seat at the end of the bar, a jerk had still managed to intrude on her private celebration.

And now, the anxiety from temporarily abandoning her goals of marriage and motherhood overshadowed the joy of her recent liberation. The long day that had started back home in San Diego and ended on Maui had finally drained her of the first-day-of-the-rest-of-your-life excitement. Melancholy threatened with the onslaught of fatigue. Time for Ginger Fitzgerald to leave.

While she reached for her purse, she stole a last glance at the friendly bartender. He must have sensed her gaze because his eyes flicked in her direction. He flashed a high-wattage smile, but it faded the second a large hand squeezed Ginny’s shoulder. She flinched. The bartender shot her a sympathetic look and turned back to his other customers.

“Whatcha lookin’ at, sweet cheeks?” the guy slurred in her ear, then spun the barstool around so she faced him.

“Uh, nothing. You know, Ron, I’m going to call it a night. Jet lag is catching up with me. It was nice meeting you and thanks for the drink.”

She scooted forward to slide off the stool, but he blocked her way by stepping in between her legs. He splayed a hand on her thigh and leaned in close with a lecherous smile. Ginny pulled back and grimaced.

“Yeah, let’s go have some real fun. This place is starting to suck. Why don’t we split to my place so you can, too?” His free hand rubbed his fly.

Ginny’s eyes narrowed as she brushed his fingers off her leg. “No, thanks,” she snapped loudly, drawing a few curious glances.

“Don’t worry, hot lips, I’ll do you, too.”

“Not a chance,” she said, the words dripping disgust. She planted a palm in the center of his chest and pushed.

Ron staggered backwards, eyes blinking in surprise. Gathering his machismo, he pumped his pelvis suggestively as he came back for more. “Honey, you owe me a good time.”

Ginny laid the purse in her lap and tamped down her simmering anger. “Listen, Ron. You bought me one drink, and we chatted for a while.” She kept her voice quiet, but firm. “I appreciate your attention, but I don’t owe you a damn thing. Now, back off.”

“C’mon, baby, lemme give you a personal Maui welcome. I’ll even do you first. Whadayasay?” Ron plopped a hand on her shoulder and slid it down toward her breast.

She slapped his hand away. Anger bubbled to a rolling boil. “Look, jerk,” she said above the din. “I wouldn’t ‘do’ you even if you were the last guy in the world and your dick was covered with chocolate. Get a clue. I’m not interested.” She rammed both hands into his chest and sent him stumbling backwards.

Ron scrambled to regain his balance and his composure as two burly bouncers closed in on him. They each grasped an arm and escorted the red-faced man to the exit.

Ginny self-consciously acknowledged the bar patrons’ applause with a slight nod. Then, she checked her watch, clutched her purse, and hopped off the stool.

As she straightened, a teasing voice spoke from beside her. “Sorry I couldn’t get out from behind the bar faster, but you obviously didn’t need my help getting rid of the SOB. Well done, by the way. Maybe he won’t be back after such a tongue-lashing.”

Ginny paused, hesitant to face those captivating eyes. “I hope he thinks twice before hitting on a nice girl again. You’re right, you know. I am a nice girl.”

“Yeah, but you’ve got a tongue like a whip.” The bartender smiled. “Let me walk you out to your car to be sure the jackass isn’t hanging around to hassle you.” Without waiting for a reply, he yanked the towel from his waistband, tossed it on the bar, and signaled the other bartender that he was leaving.

With a large, warm hand on the small of Ginny’s back, he guided her to the exit.

“This isn’t really necessary,” she insisted.

“Of course, it’s not.” He held the door open. “It’s only a ruse so I can talk to you.”

“Are you always so blunt?” she asked, passing close enough to smell his musky cologne.

“Usually. I don’t believe in playing games or hiding behind facades.” He caught her arm to stop her while he scrutinized the parking lot for any sign of the troublemaker. “I don’t see him, do you?”

She pulled free of his grasp. “No. I’m sure the loser’s gone.”

“Yeah, with his tail between his legs. Where’s your car?”

Ginny pointed to the red BMW convertible parked at the end of the nearest row.

“Nice wheels.” After several long strides, he glanced back. “Coming?” When she hesitated, he added, “Hey, gimme a break. I work here, and I’ll be in deep shit if I harass you.” Shaking his head, he sauntered toward the car without her.

She waited a moment, and then scurried to catch up.

He stood guard while she opened the door, dropped into the driver’s seat, and jammed the key into the ignition. “Thanks,” she said, tugging on the handle. When the car door didn’t budge, she looked up.

His fingers gripped the edge of the door, and his chin rested on top. “I didn’t catch your name.”

Uh oh. She pressed her lips together.

He cocked his head and frowned. “Ouch. That’s harsh. Well, I’m Drew Morgan if you want to complain to the club manager about me. Good night. Drive safe.” He pivoted on his heels and jogged back to the entrance where he waited.

Ginny tore her gaze away, slammed the car door, and hit the lock button. Peering straight ahead, she drove through the parking lot. A quick glance in the rearview mirror confirmed the bartender was still standing guard. Resolving not to look back again, she barreled out onto the street and whipped around the first corner.

***

Long, slender fingers covered Drew’s eyes as he watched the sporty BMW disappear.

“Guess who,” a soft, female voice whispered from behind him.

He lifted the hands from his face and turned around to scowl at the woman. “What are you doing here, Leilani? Did you forget we broke up last week?”

“No, silly, I changed my mind. I don’t want to break up now. Maybe next week.” She pushed her bottom lip out in a pout. “And I don’t want to sleep alone tonight.”

Drew exhaled, his impatience increasing. “Remember our talk? We agreed that I want a real relationship, and you don’t. That’s why we both need to move on.”

She glared at him. “You’re pissed because my career demands so much of my time and attention.”

“I’m not pissed. I just realize this isn’t going to work.”

Leilani changed strategies, resting her forehead against his chest and releasing a long sigh. “You’re right, Drew. I need to find someone new. I’m just too tired to deal with it right now. My schedule has been outrageous. Like tonight. The shoot ran way over. I hate night shoots because there are always problems.” She wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed her nubile body against him. “Can’t we pretend a little while longer? Please,” she coaxed.

Well, hell. How much difference would a few more days make? Drew slid his hands beneath her straight, waist-length, ebony hair and massaged her back. “How could I possibly deny a former Miss Hawaii and the state’s only super model?” he said, his amiable disposition undermining his resistance.

She punched his arm, and he chuckled.

“My work is tough. I’m exhausted, baby,” she said, peeking up at him.

“Yeah, your life is hell, Leilani.”

She pushed away. “It is.”

“Right.” He rolled his eyes and shook his head as he grasped her hand to lead her into the controlled chaos of the club.

A murmur swept through the crowd. Heads turned. The band interrupted its song for a dramatic drumroll. Enthusiastic applause filled the building.

Leilani dropped his hand and stepped forward. She raised her arms over her head, clapped a beat the band matched, and sashayed into the midst of the dancers. They closed around her, and the sexy dancing resumed.

Feeling invisible, Drew slipped away. Back behind the bar, he tucked a fresh towel into the waistband of his shorts. Everyone sitting at the bar had swiveled around to watch Leilani, so he and Matt, the other bartender, had a few minutes without drink orders.

A familiar disappointment filled Drew’s chest and erased his smile.

In contrast, Matt grinned and groaned as he focused on Leilani’s body in motion. He leaned his forearms on the bar and stretched his legs out behind him. “Damn. She is so hot.”

“Yeah,” Drew said. Hot, but hollow.

“What a body. I get a hard-on just watchin’ her. I’d sure like to—”

Drew scowled a warning. For Leilani’s sake, he could pretend he cared. “Hey man, you do remember she’s my girlfriend?”

“Sorry, dude.” Matt blew out a frustrated breath. “But, I mean, you can’t blame a guy for dreamin’, can ya?”

“Dreaming? No. Drooling? Yes.”

Matt laughed. “Ya gotta admit, Leilani is most guys’ idea of a perfect lay.”

Drew’s attention drifted back to the dance floor. “I guess.”

“Huh? Someone that damn hot has gotta be dynamite in bed.”

Drew shot him a silencing glare. “Cool it, Matt. Leilani’s sex life is none of your goddamn business.”

Matt straightened. “Man, I hope you appreciate what a good deal you’ve got. Every guy I know would like a piece of—”

“Shut up,” Drew growled, pointing down the bar. “We’ve got customers.” With a final glance at Leilani, he murmured, “Appearances can be deceiving.”

***

Ginny parked the BMW in the garage of the luxury condominium complex. Her parents owned the condo in Kaanapali, and the family had enjoyed many wonderful vacations over the past ten years. She and Spencer had even used the place for romantic getaways.

At the unwanted thought of Spencer Radcliffe, her chin dropped to her chest. Oh, God, what had she done? She sat with her head bowed in the silence of the dark car. Had her confidence and determination so quickly seeped away in the hours since her escape?

Escape?

The word was harsh, and yet, it seemed the most accurate description of how she felt.

Sighing, Ginny dragged herself from the car and locked it. She pasted on a smile as she entered the elevator with a couple so consumed with their groping they didn’t even acknowledge her. A lump swelled in her throat.

Once inside the Fitzgerald condo, she set her purse on the foyer table and ambled dejectedly into the living room. Classy, but comfortable, rattan furniture sporting colorful cushions filled the spacious area. A vibrant theme of bird-of-paradise flowers and palm trees dominated the décor, but did nothing to brighten Ginny’s mood.

Drawn to the expansive living room windows, she peered out at the black velvet Pacific stretching to the horizon. Although she loved the ocean, it provided no comfort this time. Instead, the vastness produced cold, lonely feelings. Emptiness spread through her. The condo felt cavernous; her heart, heavy.

Taking a deep breath, she turned from the panoramic view and trudged down the hallway. As she passed, she glanced into her parents’ bedroom. Much nicer than her own, the huge master bedroom swallowed up the California-king bed and the Jacuzzi, which occupied a corner with an ocean-view, picture window.

Ginny stopped. What a waste to leave the fabulous bedroom unused for the two months she would be living here. Her mother and father were so angry with her there was no chance they would visit. She had the place all to herself, so why not indulge.

With a lighter step, she trotted to her bedroom and gathered her clothes and other personal items. When she had moved everything into the master bedroom, she ran water into the Jacuzzi, lit several fragrant candles, and disappeared into the kitchen to pour a glass of wine.

Finally, she eased into the hot water. “Aaahhh.”Sipping the chardonnay, she pushed the button to activate the jets. She leaned back, rested her head on a cushion, and closed her eyes. The lavender scent of the candles drifted through the room. Her muscles relaxed, and her head lolled to the side.

At last, a celebration worthy of her recent emancipation. So much better than her impromptu visit to the stupid club. What a disappointment it had been. A good idea ruined by a horny jerk and a friendly bartender.

Unexpectedly, a man’s image flashed in her mind. Flashed being the operative word. The man was naked, and he was not Spencer Radcliffe. Ginny floundered in the spa, spilling wine into the water. Oh, my God. The bartender. What was his name? Doug? Dave? Drew? That was it: Drew Morgan.

The crystal wine goblet clinked as she set it on the marble rim of the tub. She swallowed hard and slid deeper into the water until only her head was above the bubbles. Why had her brain conjured up a nude image of a man she’d just met? She shook her head before shutting her eyes. The enticing figure reappeared in an instant. Her eyelids popped open.

Then her lips curved into a wistful smile as she closed her eyes again. There he was. In all his glory—or at least in all his imagined glory. She moaned. The anatomy was definitely not Spencer’s. Her former fiancé was tall and trim, but this dream man was also muscular, broad-shouldered, narrow-hipped, and…very well…hung.

Dream Drew drifted closer, and she peered into his amazing teal eyes. His gaze lowered as though searching for her naked body beneath the bubbles. Ginny’s hand inched across her leg and settled between her thighs. Tentatively, she touched herself.

Virgin? His deep voice echoed in her brain. Nice girl. Yeah, way too nice. Only a ruse so I can talk to you. Well, he’d tried. Tongue like a whip. Attorney extraordinaire.

Ginny snorted in disgust and jerked her hand out of the water. What is wrong with me?

She sipped the wine and chastised herself. Wrestling the disturbing thoughts from her mind, she envisioned her brain as a gigantic whiteboard. Soon, thrilling plots, emotional characters, elaborate settings, and clever dialogue would cover the blank space. The story—her story, her book—would come to life.

After turning her real life upside down by coming to Maui to write about fictional lives, the pressure of potential failure exceeded the exhilaration of potential success. She’d temporarily deferred her fervent desire for marriage and motherhood to pursue another passion. She had to succeed.

Failure is not an option. Today is the first day of the rest of my life.

Ginny exhaled through pursed lips. She would need a lot more than a few inspirational phrases to achieve her lifelong dream in the next two months.

***

     Naked except for boxers, Drew Morgan balanced the laptop computer on his thighs as his hands hovered over the keys. He growled through clenched teeth. The word—the perfect word—refused to come. Pressing the back of his head against the carved teak headboard of Leilani’s bed, he scrunched his eyes shut and searched for the verb he needed. Damn. Why couldn’t he concentrate?

“You shouldn’t do that with your face, baby. You’ll get wrinkles,” Leilani warned.

With his eyes opened only a slit, Drew watched her waltz across the bedroom. She wore an oversized T-shirt and baggy boxers. Green cream covered her face. A clear plastic shower cap prevented her mass of black hair from sticking to the goop on her skin.

Hot? Drew managed a lopsided grin. Not so much. He exhaled a sigh of frustration, only partially sexual. He straightened away from the headboard and fully opened his eyes. “Guess you’re not in the mood again tonight.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Leilani asked, scowling.

“Just what it sounds like. You invited me to spend the night, remember?”

“Look, I’m tired. Okay?”

“You weren’t too tired to dance until the club closed.”

“Those people are my fans. I have a public persona to maintain. You know that.”

“But at what price to your private life? We hadn’t had sex in weeks before we broke up.”

“You were keeping track?”

“It wasn’t hard when we averaged only a few times a month. I want you, Leilani. That’s never been the problem.” He snapped the laptop closed with a sharp click. “But obviously, the feeling isn’t mutual.”

“You know how I feel about sex,” she hissed as she plopped onto her side of the bed.

“I understand you’re paranoid about getting pregnant. God knows, I do my part. I always wear a condom. Why the hell don’t you get on the Pill instead of using an outdated I.U.D.?”

“How many times have I explained it to you? The Pill makes me gain weight. My modeling career would suffer.”

“Well, our…relationship has suffered.”

“So, to you, our relationship is all about sex?” Disdain dripped from her words.

Drew slammed his hand down so hard on the bed she flinched. “Goddammit, Leilani. Of course, it’s not all about sex. I’m twenty-nine, and you’re twenty-six. Sex should be an enjoyable and important part of our relationship.”

“Nothing is as important as my career,” she spat. “Nothing!” Her eyes widened as if the significance of her statement shocked even her.

Beneath a stoic exterior, Drew cringed. Her words hurt, but they certainly weren’t a surprise. Several seconds passed. He stared, expressionless, at the woman beside him. Shallow didn’t begin to describe her. Finally, he whispered, “Good to know.” Then, he swung his legs off the bed and stood.

“Wait, Drew. What are you doing?” Leilani asked, rising onto her knees and reaching across the bed for him.

He ignored her outstretched hand. “I’m stuck on a scene in my manuscript, and I’m going home to work on it.”

She watched in silence while he yanked on his shorts and Club Lahaina shirt. After slipping on his leather sandals, he stashed the laptop in the computer bag.

Their eyes met as he straightened.

“Don’t go, baby. You know I hate to sleep alone.”

The whine in her voice grated on his nerves. He couldn’t hide his exasperation and disappointment. “Yeah, I know. I just didn’t understand my role was to be your big teddy bear. Good night, Leilani.” He slung the bag over his shoulder and stomped out.

“Drew, don’t…”

Her annoying pleas faded as he passed through the plush condo. His jaw set, he jerked the front door shut behind him and stepped into the tenth-floor hallway of the exclusive residential tower. Thankful for the empty elevator, he slouched against a mirrored wall for the ride to the first floor, and then nodded to the security guard while trudging across the lobby and out into the balmy night air.

Minutes later, Drew’s Jeep hurtled north on the Honoapiilani   Highway, past Kaanapali toward Napili. Salty air blasted his face, but he relished it.

Why had he been such a dumb ass? He laughed mirthlessly at the stupid question because the answer was easy. When Leilani had first flirted with him six months ago, he’d been thinking with his cock instead of his brain. He could still remember her wiggling an index finger at him, coaxing him from behind the bar to come dance with her. Her erotic dance moves had practically been a sexual assault. And he’d morphed from an intelligent male into a lust-driven idiot in a matter of minutes.

The Jeep swept around a slow-moving sedan and roared down the road. Drew’s fingers gripped the steering wheel with unnecessary tightness. He drove on autopilot, his eyes hardly seeing the highway.

During the first weeks, he had followed the former Miss Hawaii around like a lovesick puppy. But their feelings for each other had never developed into love, and even the lust had been a bust. Drew snickered at Matt’s inaccurate assessment of Leilani’s sexuality. It was all for show. Her obsession with her modeling career had destroyed every bit of her libido. Looking and acting sexy served a purpose, but since actually having sex wasn’t a stepping-stone to success, she’d lost interest in it.

Drew almost felt sorry for her. Almost.

If he’d been smarter, he wouldn’t have wasted six months of his life on a relationship with no future. If he’d been smarter, he would have realized sooner why Leilani went through men faster than face cream. If he’d been smarter, he would’ve understood she was only using him as “arm candy” to wear in public and as a security blanket to snuggle with in bed.

 Shit. Now what?

He wanted out. Immediately. Permanently. He thought he’d achieved that goal last week, but Leilani wasn’t taking the breakup seriously. Even though she was about as sensitive as a coconut, he knew her ego would be bruised if the gossipmongers learned he had initiated the split. However, making the breakup seem like her idea could be a slow process.

Well, crap. He didn’t want to wait. Hopefully, tonight’s argument would convince her to end…whatever it was they had. He hated calling it a relationship because it felt more like an arrangement. Hell, he wasn’t looking to get married. Marriage was a farce, and he’d vowed never to make that mistake. In fact, he and his brother had made a pact not to marry, and Mike had lost the love of his life because of it. No, Drew would never renege on his promise, but that didn’t keep him from longing for a loving, committed, and meaningful relationship with a woman. The right woman.

He cut across the highway onto the gravel road running through the overgrown bushes and palms to the secluded bungalow he rented. He slowed to a crawl as the Jeep bounced along the rutted path. The tiny residence came into view, and his tension drained away. God, he loved this little bit of heaven hidden from the rest of the world.

After parking the Jeep, he grabbed the computer bag and climbed out. He stopped for a moment to listen to the waves rushing onto the sand behind the house. The Pacific was his backyard. He sighed with contentment and unlocked the front door.

In the modest kitchen, he grabbed a cold beer before heading out the sliding glass door to the patio with the laptop tucked under his arm. He lowered himself onto the torn cushion of an old chaise lounge and set the beer on a small, plastic table. While the computer booted up, Drew scanned the waves. Who needed a fitness club when he could work out against Mother Nature? Besides, he couldn’t afford a gym membership or any other luxuries on his bartender’s wages. The money barely paid the bills, but it was enough to allow him to write.

 Yeah, write.

He opened the computer file containing the latest chapter of his novel. Stroking his chin, he read the paragraphs he’d written earlier while sitting on Leilani’s bed. He highlighted the entire section and hit the delete key. Cursing, he raked his fingers through his hair.

The luminous screen blurred before his eyes. The blinking cursor taunted him. “C’mon moron, write,” it seemed to say.

 Moron?

Cascading waves of flaming red hair and flashing green eyes filled his mind. I’m not a moron. He closed his eyes and rested his head back against the cushion. What a firecracker the woman in the bar had been. And beyond stubborn. When was the last time a woman had refused to tell Drew her name? Uh, never.

He chuckled at the memory of how she’d dealt with the pushy jerk who was hitting on her. What a tongue-lashing she’d given him. Maybe that tongue was multi-talented. No doubt. His cock twitched in agreement.

Crap. What was wrong with him? The woman was most likely a tourist. Here today, gone tomorrow. On the other hand, her expensive BMW was hardly standard rental fare. Maybe she did live on Maui, but what were the chances of their paths accidentally crossing again? And after the harassment she’d endured at the club, he doubted she would return.

Well, hell. The pretty lady had totally denied him, and he’d probably never see her again anyway. However, feeling so much interest in a complete stranger confirmed he no longer felt any emotional attachment to Leilani. Not that his interest had accomplished anything, not even learning the woman’s name. The only lasting benefit of the brief encounter with the intriguing redhead was his renewed resolution to move on.

Drew opened his eyes and stared again at the glowing screen. Without writing a word and with a heavy sense of resignation, he clicked the commands to shut down the computer.

Perhaps, once he was free of Leilani, his muse would return. His writing had suffered big time over the last six months. Soon, hopefully, he could clear his mind of all women-related issues and rekindle the joy of writing.

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