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Author Francis Ray
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Francis Ray is the New York Times bestselling author of the Grayson novels, the Falcon books, the Taggart Brothers, and Twice the Temptation, among many other books. Her novel Incognito was made into a movie aired on BET. She has written forty-eight books to date.
A native Texan, she is a graduate of Texas Woman's University and has a degree in nursing. Besides a writer, she is a school nurse practitioner with the Dallas Independent School District. She lives in Dallas.
PRAISE: “Ray, a prolific storyteller in the mode of Nora Roberts, demonstrates a veteran’s skill for crafting fascinating, soulful characters.” –Publisher’s Weekly on If You Were My Man
BPM: Greetings! Mrs. Ray, tell us about your passion for writing.
Although writing is a challenge, I'm almost compelled to. It's wonderful being able to tell a story of love and triumph where the good guys wins and the bad guys get theirs. I began writing many years ago because I didn't see people of color as main characters in literature. I wanted to change this. I had a wonderful father, a loving family, a great husband, but I didn't see "us" on the pages of books I was reading. I wanted to show the world that black people have honor, integrity, intelligence, and love in abundance.
After 45 plus books, I receive mail from all over the world. In reading my books people come to know and understand what motivates people of color and learn that we're no different that any one else. We love and want the best for our family and children.
BPM: You are now a New York Times bestselling author, what makes your books stand out and would make a reader pick it up?
Tough question. I hope my books stand out because the main characters always have strong moral values. Readers tell me they continue to pick up and read my books because they feel connected with the characters, and feel a strong sense of place.
BPM: Ultimately, what do you want readers to gain from reading
all your books?
I want readers to walk away with a sense that, although life can knock you down, if you have the courage to stand up and fight, you'll emerge triumphant.
BPM: What do you like to do in your free time?
Readers familiar with my books will probably have guessed that I love flowers. In my free time, what little I have, you'll probably find me reading a book or working in my flower garden. This year I expanded my flower beds and put in new ones. As a matter of fact, I have two flats of white and pink begonias waiting for me to plant. I'm proud to say that in June we received Yard of The Month from our home-owners association.
BPM: What do you like best about being a writer?
What I like most about being a writer is the ability to create my own universe where good guys triumph and bad guys are always punished. It is also gratifying to show African-Americans as morally upright, productive, and responsible citizens.
BPM: What is the one most surprising thing you have learned in creating almost 50 books?
No character is ever minor. I found this out in my second book, FOREVER YOURS, when I casually wrote about Matt Taggart and his distrust of women. Readers demanded his story just as they have with Richard and Naomi, two characters from UNTIL THERE WAS YOU.
BPM: What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?
My most significant achievement as a writer would have to be the establishment of The Turning Point Legal Fund to assist women of domestic violence. While doing research for THE TURNING POINT, I was saddened to learn the high number of women in abusive relationships and was compelled to help.
BPM: What advice would you give a new writer? Would you change anything about your journey?
My advice would be to read widely in all genres, study the market, join a writing organization, write daily, be patient, don't compare yourself to anyone, and before you sign the contract, have a good agent or entertainment lawyer look it over for you.
If I could change one thing it would be that I wouldn't have given up each time I received a rejection letter. I would have taken it as one person's opinion and continued to write. Instead, I wouldn't write for months - until the desire to write would become stronger than my fear of being rejected again.
BPM: Finish this sentence- "My writing offers the legacy to future readers..."
My writing offers the legacy to future readers to learn that, as a race, African-American have contributed much to society, and continue to do so. In my book they'll find strong family values and men who stand up for women, their family and their country.
Bestselling author Francis Ray celebrates the lifelong bonds between the Grayson family and their friends—with a heartwarming love story years in the making…
YOU CAN ALWAYS COUNT ON FRIENDS
Dianna Harrington is known throughout the world as "The Face"-the stunningly beautiful
spokesmodel for her family's fashion empire. She could probably have her pick of any man she wants. But Dianna would rather kick back and relax with a good friend-namely Alex Stewart, who she's known, and harbored a crush on, her whole life...
BUT CAN YOU TRUST YOUR HEART?
Ever since they were kids, Alex has been Dianna's protector and pal, a shoulder to cry on. But as the brother of her best friend, Alex always seemed untouchable. Now a handsome, successful New York lawyer, Alex never realized how lonely Dianna's life has been-or how innocent she is in the ways of love. Alex wants more than anything to reach out to her, to heal her heart. But is his desire worth the risk? After a lifetime of longing building up between them,
something has gotta give. Maybe all it takes is just one kiss...
Excerpt from CHAPTER ONE
People thought Dianne Leigh Herrington had the world on her personal yo-yo string. Strikingly beautiful with an exquisite face the camera loved, she was known around the world as The Face, the only model for the House of Harrington’s print advertisement and lead model for their runway shows. She was on the A list, got into all the exclusive night spots, was voted one of beautiful people in People magazine, sought after by some of the richest men in the world.
Those who thought she lived a fairy tale life were wrong.
In a one-of-a-kind haute couture strapless blush pink evening gown created especially to show off her smooth bare shoulders, shapely curves, and long legs from the side-split to mid thigh, Dianne sipped her vintage champagne in a quiet corner of the lavish Plaza hotel suite, and fought not to sigh.
She was lonely. So, what else was new?
Dianne could recall few occasions in her life when she had truly felt happy and wanted. Tonight, with her two closest friends in the room, should have been one of those rare occasions. It wasn’t. She felt too much like the odd man out, just as she had always been.
So, she did what she always did when she felt left out, smiled, sipped her drink and pretended she didn’t have a care in the world. Too bad it wasn’t true.
She should be content for once to observe rather than be observed. But the more she watched the obviously in love couples circulate around the suite, the lonelier she became. Because, just like always, tonight when the party was over she’d go home alone.
While she enjoyed her glamorous career as a model and spokeswoman for the House of Herrington House, who visited some of the most fascinating cities in the world, she wanted more out of life. She was frequently in the company of other models or people in the fashion industry. They tended to go out in groups, but before the night was over, they usually paired up with someone in the group or with someone they’d met. Dianne wasn’t into casual affairs so she always ended up alone.
The couples in the room had what she’d longed for all of her life, unconditional love. She wasn’t jealous, she just wanted what they had, wondered what it felt like to be totally loved and wanted.
As an only child she’d been barely tolerated by her self-absorbed parents. Her mother, beautiful, elegant and always perfect, was a slave to fashion. Her handsome father’s unrelenting passion was golf. They looked good together, and freely enjoyed being the recipients of the Harrington’s fashion fortune. Neither would have dreamed of working. If they thought about Dianne at all it was when it was convenient or when it made them look like the loving, charitable couple they pretended to be in public.
What a bunch of crock, Dianne thought as she took another sip. Her parents only loved themselves. They even bought their own Christmas presents since they reasoned that they knew what they wanted better than anyone. Dianne seldom made their Christmas list unless they hoped to gain from it somehow.
No matter how many years had passed, Dianne still thought of the Christmas Eve when she was five years old. With TV cameras glaring, her parents had made a very public display of donating her toys to those less fortunate. There had been no cameras the next morning when her mother presented herself was a flawless diamond necklace and earrings to match. Her father’s gift to himself was an exclusive country club membership at one of the most renowned golf clubs in the country.
Dianne shook the memory away. She was her own woman now. She had her beloved grandfather to thank for that. A sharp pain lanced though her. She still found it difficult to believe he’d been gone for four months. He’d believed in her. He hadn’t thought she was too fat or too stupid for the D collection to be named after her. Both she and the line were instant hits. That had been fourteen long years ago. Modeling for Harrington was all she knew.
In the quiet of the night, that thought often frightened her. She should be able to do something beside strut down a runway, pose for a camera, and spout how fabulous their clothes made a woman look and feel.
Laughter brought her head up and around. Each woman there had accomplished something in her own right. The men were just as successful. Her parents would have forgone anything to be there. The women were beautiful, the men gorgeous, but it was the unmistakable love in their eyes when they looked at each other that drew Dianne’s attention, time and time again.
She was the only single woman there. She’d been invited by her best friend since childhood, Catherine Stewart Grayson, to help celebrate the successful closing of Sabra Raineau Grayson’s Broadway play. She was Catherine’s husband’s sister-in-law. There was already talk that she would win another Tony for her role. She could add it to her growing collection of awards, including an Oscar. There had been a cast party last night but Pierce Grayson, Sabra’s husband, wanted tonight to be just family and close friends.
In the room were Luke’s brothers and sisters, their spouses, Sabra’ sister, Laurel, and her new husband, Zach. Also in attendance were Shane Elliott and his wife, Paige, who was Zachary’s sister. Looking uncomfortable but resigned in a tuxedo was Trent Masters and his famous wife, Dominique, Luke’s cousin. They were all interrelated or friends. Luke’s mother, Ruth, her brother and his wife had already gone to their rooms. Dianne was the outsider as she’d always been,
Her slim fingers tightened on the stem of the flute, then eased. She wasn’t going to feel sorry for herself. She wasn’t the only single person there at least. Her gaze went to the silent man across the room. She met Rio’s unflinching gaze. He simply watched her. To another person his unblinking gaze might have been unnerving, but she had grown up with parents who looked through her.
“You’re all right?”
The sound of the rich baritone voice made her smile. Dianne turned, aware she’d see Alex Stewart, the only other unattached male in the room. Catherine’s big brother had been the extra special bonus of having her for a best friend. “Of course,” she said, still smiling up at him. It had always been easy to talk with Alex. He had also been her first crush.
“Good,” he said, starting down at her with his handsome, butterscotch-hued serious face. He had thick lashes her friends would kill for, a straight nose, and a mobile, sensual mouth she had been wondering how it would feel against her mouth entirely too much about lately. “You’re here to have fun.”
Dragging her gaze away from his lips, Dianne thought of the issue at hand. Alex had always looked after her. Somehow he’d always known what to do to make her feel better. She wondered if he could give her what she needed this time as well.
She wanted a man to look at her as if she were his world, as if she made his life better. She realized she wanted that man to be Alex. The realization didn’t surprise her. Somehow she knew he’d be a gentle, considerate lover. He was steady and dependable. He would also be discreet, another of her requirements.
Too many times she’d heard men brag about a conquest when the relationship ended. Some of her women associates shrugged it off. Dianne knew she wouldn’t be so blasé. It would wound her deeply. Outwardly she might look secure. She wasn’t. Growing up she’d been told too many times by her parents how utterly worthless she was.
Alex didn’t think so she thought as she gazed up at him through a sweep of her lashes. But was he the man who could ease the ache in her heart and soul?
With Just One Kiss
by Francis Ray
Bestselling author Francis Ray chronicles the lives and loves of the Grayson family and their friends—and friends-of-friends who just might have a change of heart…
IT'S NEVER TOO LATE
Cicely St. John is not impressed by her friend C.J. Callahan's so-called passion in life: running a New York City bar that he inherited from his uncle. So why can't Cicely stop thinking about the dance they shared at their mutual friend's wedding-or the mutual attraction she felt in C.J.'s arms?
TO GIVE LOVE A CHANCE
As far as C.J. is concerned, Cicely is a snob whose "passion" in life-writing for fashion magazines-is as pretentious as she is. So why can't he keep his eyes off her?
C.J. has a business to run. And Cicely has a job opportunity in Paris.
Neither of them even has time to think about romance right now. But maybe, just once, the two could test their friendship...with just one kiss.
This novel is two of three romances from the Grayson Friends Series, but will take a bit of a side trip with "friends" of the hero, Alex Stewart, older brother of Catherine Stewart Grayson from UNTIL THERE WAS YOU.
Dr. Cade Mathis learned early that he was not the son of the man who raised him. His adoptive father, a cruel, bitter man had always been quick to tell him that he was a bastard and an embarrassment to the rich society family whose daughter got pregnant with him. So when Cade received a full scholarship to college, he was only too happy to leave the only home he had ever known behind and never looked back.
Now a successful doctor and one of the best neurosurgeons in the state, the only thing he still wants are answers about where he came from. What he doesn't expect to find is
Sabrina Thomas, the new patient advocate at his hospital or how this woman will lead him to the family he has been searching for and a love he never expected to find.
Message From the Author
In this unforgettable new series, five men and women who grew up as orphans seek out their lost brothers and sisters, finding love and family along the way.
"It's a perfect contemporary romance that will have you believing in true love. When Morning Comes is so powerfully written, and I guarantee, you won't want to miss it." -- Sizzling Hot Book Reviews (5 stars!)
"Family dynamics are at the core of Ray's new series, along with plenty of heartwarming romance. The primary and secondary couples here are smart, caring people and readers will root for them, making this a compelling series starter." --Romantic Times on When Morning Comes (4 1/2 Stars!)
"When Morning Comes is an entertaining and touching tale about family secrets and the power of love and forgiveness." --Kimberla Lawson Roby New York Times Bestselling Author
Excerpt - When Morning Comes by Francis Ray
“It’s a boy.”
Carlton James heard his wife’s softly spoken voice, the tiredness, the regret. Somehow he’d known his first grandchild would be a boy.
His long fingers braced on the fireplace, trembled the tiniest bit as he stared into the flickering flames. In mid-March in Dallas, Texas it wasn’t cold enough for a fire, but he needed to keep busy once Christine’s labor started. That had been over sixteen long hours ago.
His hands fisted with anger, then unclenched. He had to be strong for his family. He’d failed once, never again.
“Christine?” he asked, knowing before his wife answered that if their only child and daughter had had any problems with the delivery, she would have come downstairs to tell him before now. It was her emotional state he inquired about and they both knew it.
Carlton felt every day of his forty-three years and then some. His first grandchild and he would never get to know him, to love him. Blowing out a breath, he slowly turned to see Lawanna. The joy and laughter that he was used to seeing on her pretty, open face wasn’t there. Her lips were pressed tightly together but they still trembled. There hadn’t been much to laugh about the past six months.
He opened his arms and his wife rushed across the room, burrowing against his chest, her hands gripping fistfuls of his shirt. He felt the dampness of her tears, blinked back his own.
“Carlton, I hurt for her. We were supposed to protect her.”
Carlton’s black eyes narrowed in anger. “I should have put a bullet in that no-good bastard the night she came crying to us.”
Lawanna sharply lifted her head, fear gleaming in her tear-drenched eyes. “No.”
Carlton’s thumb brushed away the moisture from her dark lashes, then cupped her soft cheek. “He’s taken enough from our family, he won’t take anymore.”
“You’re sure about what you’re going to do?”
He nodded. “I wish there was another way, but Christine has made it clear she wants the baby placed for adoption.”
Tears streamed down Lawanna’s cheeks. “Carlton, he’s beautiful with a full head of black hair and black eyes. He looks so much like your father. Maybe she’ll change her mind in a few days. We’ve kept to ourselves since we rented the house. The few friends we have in the area don’t know we’re here.”
They’d rented a house in Dallas in an exclusive neighborhood for the last month of Christine’s pregnancy. He’d taken a leave from his medical practice in Houston for the past three weeks, wanting Christine to know how important she was to them, how much they loved her. It hadn’t seemed to matter. She could barely look them in the eyes, and when she did, tears always followed.
“Did she even look at the baby, ask to hold him?” he asked, hoping against hope.
Lawanna lowered her gaze. “No. She wouldn’t even look at me.”
“She’s ashamed when it should be that bastard. He thinks taking advantage of naïve, unsuspecting women shows what a big man he is,” Carlton spat. “He doesn’t care about ruining their lives or about the child he refuses to claim. He won’t ruin Christine. She’s too gifted and has too much to live for. She just needs time and love.”
Lawanna nodded. “I just wish there was another way.”
There was, but Carlton wasn’t going to tell her. This was one burden he planned to carry by himself. “You go sit with Christine and send the nurse down with the baby. The social worker is waiting for my call.”
Lawanna bit her lower lip. “I don’t mind telling you that once you see him I’m hoping you’ll change your mind. We could tell everyone we decided to adopt.”
“If we did, we’d lose Christine. We don’t have a choice.”
Tears sparkled in his wife’s eyes. “We shouldn’t have to choose. I hope that man finds a hell on earth. He’s hurt too many people not to.”
Carlton kissed her on the cheek. “Send the baby down and I’ll make the call.”
His wife nodded and then left the study, closing the door softly behind her. Carlton picked up the receiver on the desk and called his lawyer. The call was answered on the first ring.
“Is everything ready?”
“They understand and agree to the terms?” Carlton asked.
There was a knock on the study door. “Sir?”
“Just a minute,” he said, loud enough for the woman to hear. “The nurse is here. I’ll bring him out.”
Disconnecting the phone call, Carlton opened the door. He told himself it would be best if he didn’t look at the child, but the temptation was too great. He reached for the baby, felt the slight weight, heard the soft cry and pulled back the soft blue blanket. His heart turned over. His chest felt tight. His wife was right. The baby did look like his father. He felt a fierce possessiveness, a fiercer love.
“If you don’t need me, I’ll go back up stairs.”
He shook his head, still staring down at the squirming bundle. “No. Thank you. You can go back upstairs with the midwife.” He heard the nurse move away, but his gaze remained on the now sleeping child. “I’m sorry. I wish there was another way.”
Stiffening his shoulders, Carlton quickly went to the front door and pulled it open. A slender woman in a black business suit stood on the porch. Before he could dwell on what he was doing, he thrust the baby into her arms, stepped back and closed the door.
It was done.
He just hoped and prayed for all of their sakes he had done the right thing.
Bestselling author Francis Ray will have fans cheering for the Grayson family's friends--when two perfectly-matched opponents go one-on-one...
Payton "Sin" Sinclair is a gorgeous sports consultant with a painful secret in A DANGEROUS KISS.
Sexy, single sports consultant Payton “Sin” Sinclair has tackled the world’s most valuable players—and most eligible women. But ever since his two best friends found love, despite his dangerous secret, he’s tempted to take a chance himself. And that temptation is a woman named
Summer is a self-made restaurant owner with a painful past. She has always counted on Sin. Beneath his smooth charm and hard body, lies a tender-hearted friend who always keeps her going when the going gets tough. But now, swept up in her cousin’s wedding plans, she’s trying not to let the champagne or Sin’s innocent passes go to her head. Because one dangerous kiss will only lead to another. And this time there might be a happy ending.
PRAISE FOR A DANGEROUS KISS, A Graysons Friends Novel #7
"The new Grayson Friends series is...told with such grace and affection...a treat to read."
--Romantic Times BOOKreviews
Excerpt - A Dangerous Kiss by Francis Ray
Payton “Sin” Sinclair was an unapologetic people-watcher. As a sports-consultant, working with some of the biggest and most recognizable athletes in the sports and the business industry, he had to be able to read the smallest nuances of the other person. That astute ability was just one of his unique attributes that set him apart from the competition and made him the go-to person when corporations wanted to align themselves with the top professional athletes in the country.
On a beautiful Sunday afternoon, Sin was sipping a nice vintage wine and helping celebrate the recently announced engagement of C.J. Callahan, one of his two best friends, in the lavish East Hampton home of C.J.’s elated parents. Just because Sin was standing with C.J. and Alex Stewart, Sin’s other best friend, and enjoying himself didn’t mean he’d stopped noticing the people around him, especially those he cared deeply about.
Since he’d long ago developed the ability to listen with one ear while observing – it was critical with so much going on at sports games – Sin listened to C.J. go on and on about what a great woman Cicely was and how lucky he was, while Sin watched Summer Radcliffe chat with a beaming Cicely St. John, C.J.’s fiancé, in the elegant, French-inspired great room.
The other woman with them was Dianne Harrington Stewart, the new wife of Alex. Dianne, a stunning long-legged former international fashion model, looked as happy as Cicely. On the other hand, Summer’s usual smile and vibrancy were noticeably missing…at least to him.
He’d first noticed Summer’s pensiveness when Dianne and Alex were dating and had an argument outside of C.J.’s bar, Callahan’s. Summer had completely stunned Sin by musing that, when Dianne and Alex settled their disagreement and kissed they would later have make-up sex.
Sin couldn’t get her startling comment out of his mind. It bothered him that he hadn’t been able to tell if she’d been wistful or frustrated. Not once in their long friendship had he ever heard her mention sex. Truthfully, it stunned him a bit that she had. She wasn’t the type of woman to take intimacy lightly or talk about it openly. Afterwards, she’d ignored his attempts to find out if the comment had been off-hand or something more, and had gone inside the bar to play pool with Dianne.
Sin traveled a great deal, but he hadn’t heard about Summer being in a relationship. Her cousin, C.J., was as protective of Summer as he was of his younger sister, Arial. After Summer’s parents’ death, she had gone to live with her mother’s only sibling, C.J.’s mother.
C.J. certainly would have mentioned it if Summer was serious about a man…if he had known. Lately C.J. had a full plate with Callahan Software, Callahan’s Bar, and Cicely. It disturbed Sin that some idiot might have slipped past C.J. Worse, that the idiot didn’t appreciate what a wonderful woman he had. Sin’s eyes narrowed dangerously. If he found out that was the case, he would take care of it himself. No one, absolutely no one, took advantage of Summer while he breathed.
From the moment they met when she was just out of high school and dealing with the death of her parents, he’d felt protective of her. Despite her tragic loss, she’d worked her butt off to make her parents’ dream of owning a successful upscale restaurant in Manhattan a reality. He admired her determination, loyalty and tenacity.
She hadn’t had it easy in life. Perhaps because he’d lost his father when he was eighteen, and she’d lost her parents at the same age, he felt a certain empathy and closeness with her. If at all possible, he was going to figure out what was bothering her and fix it. He didn’t like seeing a forced smile on her beautiful face.
At least he knew her pensiveness wasn’t due to the unfortunate incident that could have damaged the reputation of Radcliffe’s. It still angered the hell out of him that a woman he’d rebuffed had tried to get back at him by spreading viscous rumors about her restaurant. The spiteful socialite had seen him in the newspaper with his arm around Summer while she was catering at his suite at Yankee’s Stadium and drawn the wrong conclusion. Once he’d learned of the woman’s lies, he’d confronted her at a high-profile social function and warned her to admit the lies or suffer the consequences.
She’d caved and became the one gossiped about. For a while Summer hadn’t been too pleased with him, blaming the incident on him dating so many women. It had taken weeks for her to fully forgive him and their easy camaraderie to return. He’d do anything for them never to be at odds again.
A broad hand clasped Sin on the shoulder, breaking into his thoughts. He looked up into C.J.’s handsome, clean-shaven face which had always made him extremely popular with the women. “Thanks for being my best man.”
With his dark eyes twinkling in his bearded face, Sin tipped his wine glass toward C.J. Both men were over six feet, but while C.J. had the broad shoulders of a line backer, Sin was lean and muscular. “Thank me when I drag you away from the blow-out bachelor party Alex and I are going to give you so you can be at your best for your wedding.”
C.J.’s laughter was pure wickedness. “I might leave before then. I can’t wait for Cicely to be completely mine. She gave up her dream for me.”
The words were barely out of his mouth when his attention shifted to where the women were standing. Sin could tell by the rapt expression on C.J.’s face, he and Cicely had gotten lost in each other’s gaze again as they had done off-and-on since their arrival two hours ago. For them, everyone else in the elegantly decorated room had ceased to exist.
“I think we lost him,” Alex said with a burst of laughter. “Again.”
Alex, a successful Manhattan lawyer with a list of Who’s Who clients, as well as the people no one ever heard of but whose cases he took because he hated to see people screwed over - stood at a trim six-foot-two.
“I seem to recall you being the same way,” Sin reminded Alex. When Dianne wasn’t working at her and Alex’s fashion design house, D & A of New York, or Alex at work, they were usually together. Placing his champagne flute on the tray of a nearby waiter, Sin caught C.J.’s arm. “Let’s put him out of his misery.”
“Let’s.” Alex caught C.J.’s other arm and they led him to his waiting fiancé.
They were barely there when C.J. reached out and tenderly pulled Cicely into his arms and kissed her. “Happy?” C.J. asked.
“I’ve never been happier.” Cicely leaned into the shelter of C.J.’s six-foot-four frame, her head against his broad chest.
“I plan to keep you that way.” C.J. gave her another kiss.
Dianne walked into her husband’s open arms. While the newly engaged snuggled and the newly married looked on approvingly and did the same thing, Sin watched Summer. There was a smile on her striking face that was serene and restful, but there was also a hint of sadness in her dark chocolate eyes. The sparkle of happiness and teasing warmth that had unknowingly gotten him through a couple of rough days in the last four months wasn’t there.
Sin didn’t think; he just stepped forward and curved his arm around Summer’s slim waist. Her arm went around him without hesitation. They’d done this a thousand times, but he’d never felt as he did now - that there was a barrier between them that he couldn’t break through to comfort her. He didn’t like the feeling. At the moment, there were too many things in his personal life that were out of his control. He didn’t want to add another.
Sin felt the slight trembling of Summer’s slim body, and pulled her just the tiniest bit closer as he glanced down at her.
He saw what she undoubtedly wanted everyone to see, a beautifully poised and stylish woman in a white sheath that accentuated her shapely five-foot-five slim body to perfection. The coal black wavy hair that usually hung free and reached to the middle of her back was in some kind of intricate twist on top of her head. The upsweep made her slender neck appear vulnerable, her heart-shaped face more alluring. Any man would be proud to call her his.
“Looks like we’re the odd ones out,” Sin said, trying to tease her into smiling for real.
“Yes,” she said without looking at him.
Sin wondered if anyone else heard the tiniest tremble in her voice. He’d take her for a walk on the beach behind the estate as they’d done so many times after she’d lost her parents and in the years since, if he thought he’d get an answer. He wouldn’t. Summer could be as tight-lipped as the clams she served in Radcliffe’s, her five-star restaurant in upper Manhattan.
Stepping away from Sin, Summer plucked a flute from a nearby waiter’s tray. “I’d like to propose a toast to my cousin, C.J. and his fiancé and my friend, Cicely.” Summer kept her flute raised as C.J.’s sister, his brother and his wife, joined them. “To C.J. and Cicely, wishing you every happiness on your journey of forever together. May each day bring your closer, make your love stronger.”
“To C.J. and Cicely.” People chorused as the distinct click of crystal flutes sounded.
Sin drank his wine, but he never took his gaze from Summer. Her hand was steady, the sparkle finally back in her incredible eyes. Whatever it was had passed. While he was glad, he intended to find out what had put the sadness in her lovely face.
Sin was watching her.
In the past the knowledge that he was always there had given Summer a certain amount of comfort. At the moment, it made her want to squirm and hang her head.
And, unlike in the past, he was the last person she could talk to about the reason. At least the party was over.
Bidding her family and Cicely good-bye, Summer climbed inside the limousine Sin had hired to drive him, Alex, Dianne and her up to the Hamptons from New York. Scooting over, Summer kept the practiced smile on her face. What was the matter with her that she couldn’t move past this...this feeling that kept circling her and coming back to nip her on the backside no matter how much she fought it.
How could this have happened to her? It made no sense, but that didn’t change it or make it go away.
It had just snuck up on her when she hadn’t been looking or expecting it. Sin was one of her best friends. He wasn’t supposed to make her skin tingle, her body have the strong desire to lean closer, to brush her lips across his, to feel the softness of his beard against her cheek.
About the Author
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author is a native Texan and lives in Dallas. INCOGNITO, her sixth title, was the first made-for-TV movie for BET. Her literary fiction series- Taggart and Falcon, the Invincible Women, Grayson Family of New Mexico, and Grayson Friends have consistently made bestseller's lists, and are enjoyed by readers world-wide.
She has written forty-five books to date. Awards include Romantic Times Career Achievement, EMMA, The Golden Pen, Atlantic Choice, Borders 2008 Romance Award for bestselling Multicultural Romance for NOBODY BUT YOU. IF YOU WERE MY MAN was selected as Written 2010 Book of the Year.
Trouble Don't Last Always
By Francis Ray
Desperate to escape her abusive marriage, Lilly Crawford files for divorce, then slips away from her small east Texas hometown with little more than the clothes on her back.
She points her twelve-year-old car east, hoping to find a new beginning. When her car breaks down in Louisiana, Lilly finds unexpected employment as the caregiver for a wealthy neurosurgeon named Adam Wakefield, who lost his sight in a recent carjacking.
At first, this handsome, brooding man reminds her too much of the angry husband she left behind and she reminds him of how far he has fallen from the self-assured man he once was. But as the two spend long days together, an unexpected bond develops—-one that will be deeply tested. For Lilly must confront her violent husband before she can ever hope to move on and truly discover a second chance at life and love.
This stunning story is gripping and unforgettable tale told with Francis Ray's trademark emotion and passion.
"Finalist for the prestigious HOLT Medallion Award."
-- Romance Writers of America
Note from author Francis Ray:
Trouble Don't Last Always
was my first foray into mainstream fiction. The book was also a result of my own medical scare with my vision, but that's another story.
Trouble Don’t Last Always is a story of hope and triumph, of self-discovery and second chances. I am very proud of this book which touches on a tough topic… domestic violence. However, rather than focusing on the abuse,
Trouble Don’t Last Always tells the story tells a story of hope and triumph for Lilly Crawford.
During the research on domestic abuse I was saddened and astounded to learn that domestic violence touched 3 in 10 woman. Hearing some of the women's stories left me in tears and so thankful that I had a warm, loving husband. I wanted to do something for the women who weren't so fortunate and established
The Turning Point Legal Fund to help women of domestic violence restructure their lives. The fund is overseen by
The Family Place, a women's shelter in Dallas. So, every time you purchase a Francis Ray book, you help a woman in need!
Excerpt: Chapter 1
“Death is inevitable. You can’t hide from it, run from it, bargain with it. Each one of us has to accept that sobering fact. The best thing you can do is be ready.”
Pastor Hezekiah Fowler’s deep bass voice reached every person within the packed frame church without the help of the failing PA system. In the front pew, Lilly Crawford sat with her long legs demurely crossed at the ankles. Her hands clutched a flowered, tear- stained handkerchief as she stared at the white casket draped with a spray of white gladiolus. More sprays were at the head and foot and clustered around the casket and podium.
So many flowers, Lilly thought, and so utterly useless. Mother Crawford couldn’t smell them now. She had loved flowers of any kind, loved to spend time in her garden, but she’d been bedridden for the past six months as her body fought a losing battle. Yet the only person who had thought to send her flowers while she could enjoy them was the one person who couldn’t be here for her home going. If Rafe had come, there might have been two caskets instead of one.
To Lilly’s left sat her husband, Myron, in his best black suit, his usually straight shoulders slumped, his callused hands clamped between his legs, his proud head bent in submission to a power greater than his. Next to him sat his daughter and Lilly’s stepdaughter, Shayla, draped in black and misery, sobbing loudly. To her right was David, her husband, a shy, earnest young man with a nervous eye tic but, according to Shayla, a computer genius. Since David had been to his in- laws’ house only a handful of times before their marriage three years ago and twice since, Lilly couldn’t be sure.
“Hear me now; I said you can’t run from it, hide from it, bargain with it,” Pastor Fowler continued, and Lilly respectfully gave him her attention. “Each one of us in God’s appointed time is gonna have to give an accounting of our sins and look God and death in the face. The best thing you can do is be ready.”
Pastor Fowler’s hands, work- worn from thirty years at the bottle plant lifting twenty- pound crates of beverages, clamped around the scarred wooden pulpit. Out of his mudbrown, heavily lined face his brown eyes sparkled with the fervency of his message as he leaned his robust torso over the worn, open Bible.
Shouts of “Amen” came from around the church. Lilly knew if she were to turn around she’d see heads nodding in agreement as well. The pastor was in top form. Mother Crawford would have been pleased, but a little sad as well. She had always said no one preached more earnestly than Pastor Fowler when trying to win lost souls; his fervent prayers could wrench tears from the eyes of the boldest sinner. Too bad, she’d once commented after a particularly powerful Wednesday night prayer meeting, that he didn’t seem to be able to save himself.
Lilly hadn’t asked for an explanation. She had lost faith in too much to add Pastor Fowler’s sins, real or imagined, to the list. Besides, she knew how frightening and helpless it felt not to be able to save yourself.
“Our faithful sister, Minnie Faye Crawford, was ready,” Pastor Fowler said, assurance in every syllable of his voice. “At eighty- one she had lived a long time. Was blessed with a loving husband who preceded her in death, a loving son and granddaughter who gave her countless moments of joy and blessings in her declining years. The Lord saw fi t to take her first daughter- in- law, but He blessed her with another fine Christian woman in Sister Lilly.”
“Amen” flared up again. Lilly closed her eyes against the looks she knew would be cast upon her. No one except Mother Crawford and Rafe ever let her forget she hadn’t been the first Mrs. Crawford. To everyone else Lilly was still trying to measure up, still failing. Just as Rafe had failed.
“So, brothers and sisters, I come to you today asking this question.” Pastor Fowler paused, his hard, piercing brown gaze sweeping over the gathered crowd again. “When it’s your time to lie in the arms of death as our beloved Sister Minnie Faye Crawford now rests, when it’s your time to close your eyes and wake no more, when it’s your time to lie in front of the pulpit, when it’s your time to take that last final ride, will you be ready?
“Will you be able to look back on your life with no regrets as this sister did, to count your blessings instead of your woes, or will you bow your head and weep for all that is lost, for all that should have been done and wasn’t?”
Lilly’s head snapped up. Wide- eyed, she stared at Pastor Fowler. Had he guessed? No, he wasn’t looking at her. He didn’t know that she lived with regrets, that her blessings were few, her tears many.
Lilly didn’t know she was sobbing until she felt the brush of wind on her face and opened her eyes.
Standing in front of her, in her starched white usher’s uniform and black armband, was Sister Lawrence waving her fan. “Mother Crawford wouldn’t want you to weep for her.”
Tears rolled faster down Lilly’s amber cheeks. She shut her eyes again. Guilt pressed against her chest like a heavy weight.
If only they knew.
Stepping back from the pulpit, Pastor Fowler lifted his hands and beckoned. “Undertakers in charge.”
Lilly shut her eyes tighter against the wailing sound of her twenty-one-year-old stepdaughter. No matter how unchristian it was, Lilly couldn’t help thinking that Shayla should have come to see her sick grandmother. Houston was only a three- hour drive away from Little Elm, but Shayla always had an excuse.
The wail grew more plaintive, more demanding. As in the past, Shayla’s father drew his only daughter and favorite child into his arms, murmuring words of comfort and reassurance.
“Hush, baby girl. Daddy’s here.”
“She’s gone! Grandma’s gone!” Shayla refused to be comforted.
Lilly turned to see Shayla being physically restrained by her father and her husband. David’s eyes were wide behind his gold wire- frame glasses. He was as lost as Myron in his attempts to comfort Shayla, and just as concerned. No surprise there.
Shayla wouldn’t have married a man who wouldn’t meet her many demands and go soft at her frequent emotional outbursts.
“Daddy! Daddy!” Shayla shouted as the spray of gladiolus was removed, the upper half of the coffin lid lifted.
Lilly faced forward thinking this was one time that Myron wouldn’t be able to give Shayla what she wanted or what he thought she needed as he had done so many times in the past. The pain and heartache he had caused others hadn’t mattered. No price was too high for Shayla to be happy. No one knew this better than Lilly . . . or felt the burden of it more.
Originally published April 2001 under the title THE TURNING POINT and then January 2004 in trade paperback under TROUBLE DON'T LAST ALWAYS.
Purchase Trouble Don't Last Always by Francis Ray
Available in Paperback, Nook ebook and Kindle Edition
The Wish: A Bonus Holiday Short Story
by Francis Ray
The Wish--never before released as a standalone novella! Previously published in the anthology
And don't miss the teaser chapter of A Seductive Kiss
(on sale February 2012) at the end of the short story!
Excerpt from THE WISH
by Francis Ray Be careful what you wish for. That's the lesson a fine brother with a wounded heart learns when an eccentric old woman grants him a wish for true love--if he's not too blind to see it.
Nicholas Darling hefted a head of iceberg lettuce in the palm of his right hand, then plopped it unceremoniously into his shopping basket. Next came tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, baby carrots. By the time he left the produce aisle of the grocery store the bottom of his cart was loaded with vegetables and looked as colorful as the Christmas decorations hanging in the grocery store.
"Jingle Bell Rock" blaring over the loudspeaker did nothing to smooth out his bunched brows. With a resigned sigh he stared at the jumble and wished his younger brother, Ronald, had wanted to eat out instead of staying in. Small towns like Jubilee, Texas, might not have much to offer in the way of restaurants, but at least Nicholas wouldn't have had to struggle with preparing a huge meal. Ronald ate like a bear right out of hibernation.
"Stop frowning, Nick," Ronald said, dropping several red and golden apples in a plastic bag into the cart. "How hard can this be?"
Nicholas lifted a dark brow and stared at his brother. Twenty-four years old, self-assured, and unflappable. "Then you can cook."
Ronald grinned and shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans. "I'm your guest."
"An uninvited guest," Nicholas reminded him.
Ronald didn't appear the least disturbed by the comment. "You know you're glad to see me. Especially since you won't be home for Thanksgiving next week. Let's go check out the meat department." Whistling, he strolled off.
A reluctant smile tugged the corner of Nicholas's beautifully shaped mouth. Ronald had been sure of himself since he started talking. In this case he was right. Nicholas was glad to see him. This would be the first Thanksgiving he wouldn't spend with his family. He'd been delighted when Ronald called and said his business meeting had wrapped up earlier than anticipated and he was driving from Austin, an hour away, to spend the night with him.
Nicholas hadn't seen his brother or their parents since he'd left Philadelphia four months ago to take a position as administrator of Memorial Hospital in Jubilee. His employer at his old job had given Nicholas a going-away party only after their considerable efforts failed to get Nicholas to stay.
Nicholas thrived on challenges, and the Middleton General Hospital in Philadelphia ran beautifully after being under his direction for four years. He planned the same thing for Memorial Hospital here in Jubilee. In a year the red ink would have turned to black.
From twenty feet away Ronald held up a package of red meat in one hand and one of fish in the other. Twisted strands of silver and gold garland hung from the counter behind him. "Which?"
Considering Nicholas's plan to eat the rest of his leftover lasagna tonight, both looked appealing. The problem was, he realized, he burned water. He was working his way through a family-sized frozen lasagna dinner because of it. Ronald cooked worse. Their mother had refused to let any of the men in her family near her spotless kitchen.
In Philadelphia it had not been unusual for them to go by their parents' house to eat dinner. Both lived nearby. And if the brothers didn't have time to sit down, their mother would put it in microwavable dishes. What Nicholas wouldn't give for some of her cooking right now.
"Toss them both in and we'll decide later."
The meat plopped on top of the vegetables. "D.J. loves to cook."
Nicholas sighed and refrained from glancing at his watch. Ronald didn't appear capable of going over ten minutes without mentioning his latest girlfriend. "Unfortunately, she isn't here."
Ronald's long-suffering sigh matched his brother's. "Don't remind me. If she hadn't been out of town on a business trip, I would have flown home tonight."
"It's nice to know how I rank," Nicholas said dryly, picking up a pound of sausage for breakfast, then a pound of bacon for good measure.
Unrepentant, Ronald grinned. "She adores me and has certain other appeals you can't match."
"So you keep repeating."
"Nick, she's gorgeous. I think I'm in love this time."
"Uh-huh," Nicholas replied, giving his brother's statement all the attention he thought it deserved. Ronald fell in and out of love regularly. For someone who worked with concrete data--Ronald was a systems analyst--he was as fanciful as they came. Nicholas was more pragmatic and less emotional.
Old-fashioned, lasting love like their parents had was rare these days. Nicholas didn't even plan on trying to look. Too many of his friends and associates were divorced or going through a divorce, and it was seldom amicable. As a kid he might have wished for a wife and family, but no more. He had better things to do with his time. Stopping the cart in the dairy aisle, draped this time with red and blue garland, he placed a gallon of milk in the small basket near the handle.
"Mom and Dad like her."
"Uh-huh." Nothing unusual there. His parents liked all the young women Ronald brought over. They were fun-loving, energetic, and intelligent, just like Ronald. Nicholas picked up a can of country-style biscuits and sighed. He'd burned the last biscuits he'd tried to bake. He hadn't heard the timer in the shower. His hand flexed on the can. His mother's biscuits were light and fluffy. He could almost smell them, taste them.
"I'm going over to D.J.'s house tomorrow night for dinner. We're having veal."
The vision burst. Nicholas's breakfast had been toast and stale coffee. Lunch was a dry tuna sandwich from one of the vending machines in the hospital. He'd had back-to-back meetings or inspections and hadn't had time to go to the cafeteria. Veal. His mouth watered. "Too bad she's not here to cook for us. I wish she was your wife."
"Don't worry, young man; you'll be married soon."
Nicholas jerked around at the soft-spoken Southern voice and saw an elderly black woman smiling serenely up at him. Small and fragile, she barely came to the middle of his chest. "I beg your pardon?"
Reaching over, she patted his arm with her small white-gloved hand as if to reassure him. "I said you'll be married soon. Your wish has been granted."
Having worked in hospitals for the past twelve years, since he was twenty-one, Nicholas remained calm. Unfortunately, the elderly often suffered from dementia or Alzheimer's. He looked around to see if there might be someone with her and only saw two other women nearby. Both looked vaguely familiar, probably people from the hospital. They were openly watching the interaction, but neither moved toward him and the woman. His attention switched back to the woman, who appeared to be patiently waiting for something.
She wore a yellow straw hat with a little bouquet of flowers on the brim. The dress she wore had flowers on it, too. Her arm was hooked through an empty blue plastic shopping basket. Unobtrusively he tried to see if she was wearing a hearing aid, but he couldn't detect one. He shot a glance at the watchful women and said, "Thank you." There was no reason to embarrass the elderly woman by telling her she'd made a mistake.
"You're welcome. You'll be engaged by Christmas." Smiling at him again, she walked away, disappearing down the next aisle.
Laughing, Ronald slapped Nicholas on the back. "You don't even have to ask. I'll be happy to be your best man."
Nick lifted a heavy brow. "Very funny. Let's go to the bakery and get a chess pie for dessert."
Still chuckling, Ronald fell into step beside Nicholas. Neither noticed the excited chatter of Nicholas's coworkers as they hurried to check out.
Nicholas pushed open the double glass doors of Memorial Hospital at a quarter to nine the next morning. He felt as if he could conquer the world. After the overcooked steak and undercooked fish last night, he and Ronald had decided against trying to prepare another meal. Instead they'd gotten up early and gone out to breakfast and stuffed themselves. Afterward Ronald had left in his rental car for the airport in Austin. His last comment had been a teasing remark that he was going to start looking for a tuxedo because he wanted to look good as Nicholas's best man.
"Hello, Mr. Darling."
"Morning, Mr. Darling."
"Good morning," Nicholas returned to the two smiling nurses who had greeted him, then hastened his steps to catch the elevator.
"Morning, Mr. Darling," an attractive woman in a stylish red suit said as he got on. "You didn't have to rush. I would have held the door for you."
"Thank you," Nicholas said, stepping aside to make room for three other passengers, all women.
"I don't think we've had a chance to meet," another woman in a white uniform said, extending her hand. "My name is Gwen Stradford. I'm the charge nurse on the west wing of the med-surg floor from seven till three."
No sooner had the woman finished speaking than all the other women on the elevator introduced themselves. Puzzled, Nicholas shook their hands, almost glad when the door opened on the second floor and he could get out. Wishes for a good day followed him down the hall, but he also heard the distinct sounds of giggles. Shaking his head, he kept walking.
"Morning, Mr. Darling."
"Good morning," Nicholas replied to a tall woman in green scrubs who looked at him as if he were the last piece of birthday cake and she intended to have it. His pace quickened. He didn't relax completely until he opened the outer door to his secretary's office.
"Good morning, Mr. Darling." Michelle Rhodes, his secretary, glanced up at him from digging in the file cabinet.
"Morning." Continuing to his connecting office, Nicholas covertly watched her pull out a file and flip through it. She hadn't acted any differently toward him. With each decisive step across the room, the uneasiness he'd felt faded more and more.
In his office he saw the stack of files he'd left on his desk when Ronald arrived unexpected Monday afternoon. Loosening his tie, Nicholas promptly forgot about the women and set to work.
By eleven he'd made a decent dent in the records for the last quarter. Stretching, he tightened the tie he'd loosened earlier and then pulled on the navy blue double-breasted jacket to his suit. He was meeting with the head of radiology in five minutes. She wanted a new MRI machine. They cost upward of a million and a half dollars, but if it would help with early detection or diagnosis he'd certainly see if there was a way for the hospital's overtaxed budget to obtain one.
He was barely in the hallway before it started again.
"Hello, Mr. Darling. Have you eaten lunch yet?"
"We're going out; do want us to get you anything?"
"It'll be our treat."
"They have fantastic stuffed baked potatoes."
Nicholas looked from one smiling woman to the other. They worked in the administrative offices on his floor. Until now they'd been cordial, but not overly so. Now they were acting as if he and they were old friends. Something wasn't right. "Hello. Thanks for the offer, but I'll pick up a bite later."
"If you change your mind, I'm two doors down from your office. I'm Carolyn Johnson."
"Thank you," Nicholas said, and hurried away. He stopped and turned when he heard what sounded suspiciously like giggling again. Yet when he turned, the women were simply staring innocently at him. Rubbing the back of his neck, he continued to the elevator. Perhaps he was working too hard.
Nicholas kept the thought until he stepped off the elevator on the ground floor where radiology was located. Every step he made, women were saying hello, introducing themselves. It was so bad, he was late for his meeting with Dr. Bradford and two of her staff members. Nicholas relaxed on seeing they were men. Thirty minutes later, when he was the first to leave her office, he paused briefly, hand on the doorknob. Then, feeling foolish, he opened the door and strode down the hall.
He made it ten feet before it began again. Women were everywhere. He couldn't seem to get away from them. Any men he saw just shook their heads as if they felt sorry for him.
Opening the door to Michelle's office, he strode across the room to her desk and planted both hands on top. "What is going on? Why is there a woman smiling at me everywhere I go?"
Her hands left the computer keyboard and she swirled in her chair toward him, tucking her long braided hair behind her ear. "Don't you know?"
"If I knew I wouldn't be asking," he said tightly. He sighed and made an effort to relax. This wasn't her fault. Michelle was hard-working and ran his office efficiently. And, as his predecessor had informed Nicholas, she was privy to all the latest gossip in the hospital. Until now, he hadn't availed himself of that particular talent of hers. "Please, tell me."
She sighed dreamily. "You've been granted a wish."
"A wish." Nicholas straightened, a strange foreboding sweeping through him.
"Yes," she said. "Mrs. Augusta granted you your wish to be married. Isn't it wonderful?"
Nicholas's jaw dropped. "Mrs. Augusta . . . ? You mean that little old lady in the grocery store who was hard of hearing? She got it all wrong. I did not wish to be married."
"You didn't?" Michelle's large eyes rounded in uncertainty.
"I most definitely did not," Nicholas said, beginning to pace in front of her desk. "I was teasing Ronald, and that woman . . . Mrs. Augusta or whoever she is . . . well, she simply misunderstood what I said. You know how elderly people get things mixed up."
Michelle shook her head. "Despite being up in age, Mrs. Augusta is still as sharp as they come."
Nicholas spun and pinned his secretary with his fierce gaze. "If you mean an elderly black lady wearing gloves and a hat in a grocery store at five in the afternoon, I think the way she dresses says otherwise."
"She always dresses that way. She's a real Southern lady," Michelle said as if that explained everything.
"She's a kook." Nicholas started pacing again. "Spouting off about my wish being granted and that I'd be married soon. I should have walked away from her instead of thanking her."
"Oh, Mr. Darling."
Nicholas spun around and saw the distress in Michelle's face. "What?"
"You thanked her."
"I was being polite."
Michelle shook her head again. "In thanking her you accepted the gift of your wish being granted. I told you, Mrs. Augusta is a real lady. She wouldn't bestow a gift on someone who didn't want it."
Nicholas rolled his eyes. "Look, I don't know how you know her and why you believe any of this nonsense, but the simple truth is, I did not wish for a wife."
Michelle brightened. "That's what makes Mrs. Augusta so unique and magical. She has this uncanny ability to grant unspoken wishes. Did you ever wish for a wife?"
Nicholas opened his mouth to emphatically tell his secretary that he hadn't, then recalled his wish as a young boy, a wish he had thought about only moments before Mrs. Augusta had appeared. He scoffed at the absurdity of it all. "Maybe when I was a kid and believed in fairy tales and happily ever after," he admitted reluctantly, then quickly added, "but after watching so many marriages go bust, I've come to realize that lasting happiness seldom happens in marriages these days."
"Simon and I are very happy and we plan to remain that way," Michelle told him, her face glowing.
Not wanting to point out that a year was hardly enough time to test a marriage, Nicholas said, "I'm glad you and Simon are the exception." He took a calming breath. "I can't believe I'm getting worked up about this. By tomorrow, it will all be forgotten." He waited for his secretary to confirm his words, and when she didn't he plopped down in the chair in front of her desk. "Drop the other shoe."
She twisted uneasily in her seat. "Mrs. Augusta's predictions and wishes have always come true. Since she's a Christian lady and the wishes are welcome, people usually want her to grant them a wish."
"No one can grant wishes," Nicholas scoffed.
Read the full first chapter excerpt at Macmillan/St. Martin's Press,
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