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Money Can't Buy Love
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Just when she thinks things can’t get worse, Lenora wins the jackpot in the Maryland lottery. In a heartbeat, all her dreams become possible. She quits her job and indulges her every desire-starting with a shiny, silver BMW and a million-dollar mansion. Gerald is finally ready to put a ring on her finger and the city’s most exclusive women’s group is dying for her to join, officially moving Lenora from behind the lens, into the limelight. But in Lenora’s lavish new world, all that glitters definitely isn’t gold. Her old friend’s are concerned about her sudden changes, and Ray, a sexy, young landscaper Lenora covered for the magazine is looking for more than a purely professional relationship.
As her life starts to come together, the things Lenora holds dear begin to fall apart. Has her world really changed for the better, or does fortune come with a heavy price?
Table of Contents
Reading Group Guide
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One Year Earlier
Lenora's eyes opened and shot toward the clock. "Oh, no!" she yelled, springing up from the bed. She had done it again, slept straight through the alarm going off at seven a.m. on a workday. What was wrong with her?
Paws, the one-year-old Lhasa apso she had rescued from the dog pound a few months earlier, ran to the bed and wagged her tail in anticipation as Lenora tossed the covers aside. She gave Paws a quick pat, stuck her feet into slippers, and raced across the floor of her two-room condominium. Her boss was going to kill her for being late to work again, she thought as she entered the bathroom and sat on the toilet. Why was she having so much trouble getting out of bed these days? Late-night drinks with her boyfriend Gerald were no excuse.
She grabbed her toothbrush from the holder and quickly applied toothpaste. There was a time when she would never have stayed out until two a.m. on a weeknight. Her job had been too important to her to allow that. But she was starting to get supremely frustrated with work, especially with Dawna Delaney, the new managing editor at the Baltimore Scene magazine, and a woman whose middle name should be "evil."
So she found herself needing more time to wind down in the evening, more time to chill with her boyfriend or hang out with her girlfriends. Still, she had a mortgage on the condo and a gazillion other bills to pay. She definitely could not afford to do idiotic things like making her boss angry by repeatedly being tardy for work.
She slipped in and out of the shower in two minutes. She had no time for makeup other than a dash of lipstick. That was just as well. She hated putting the stuff on anyway. It was only because she was thirty-seven years old and starting to see a few lines around her mouth that she bothered at all. Some women craved jewelry; others makeup, shoes, or clothes. Her thing was freedom from all of that nonsense.
And food, she thought as she quickly grabbed a pair of baggy cargo pants from the closet, one of only a few pairs that still fit. She muttered obscenities as she squeezed them over her hips. One of these days she was going to admit to herself that her five foot, four inch frame was no longer a size six or even an eight and buy clothes that fit properly, she thought as she tugged at the zipper and squeezed the snap. This was why she avoided shopping as much as possible. She hated looking at her short, roundish figure in a mirror. People often told her she had a cute face but rarely commented on anything below the neck, unless it was to suggest that she needed to lose a few pounds.
Slacks or jeans were customary for her, and not just because of her weight. As a photographer for a city magazine, she needed the freedom to bend over, climb, kneel, or do whatever a photo shoot demanded without snagging some nice designer fabric on a nail or having to worry about anyone's trying to sneak a peek up her skirt.
Today she added a loose-fitting berry-colored top to disguise her bulges. Then she glanced at her watch and muttered more obscenities at the late hour as she grabbed her black camera bag off the chair near the small desk in the living area. Her morning commute into Baltimore was at least a forty-minute drive during rush hour. She didn't have time for breakfast, not even a glass of juice, which was just as well, she thought, given that she should be on a diet anyway.
She ran to the door and was about to open it when she looked down and saw Paws staring up at her with those big brown puppy-dog eyes. "Dammit!" she said aloud. She had to walk the poor dog or Paws would pee all over the condo. Lenora dropped her camera bag on the couch and quickly put the leash on her dog. "C'mon, sweetie," she said as she opened the door. Paws followed happily as Lenora ran down the back stairs of the two-story building and across the parking lot to a grassy field.
"Hurry and do your thing, girl. You want me to be able to buy your dog food, don't you? That means I gotta get to work." Paws seemed to understand and quickly carried out her business. Then they both ran back up the stairs. Lenora dashed into the kitchen, filled Paws's water bowl and scooped some dry dog food into her dish, patted the pooch on her furry little head, and ran back out. In the parking lot, she slipped behind the wheel of her ten-year-old Honda just as her cell phone rang. She dug into the side pocket of her camera bag, pulled out the phone, and saw from the number that it was Dawna.
She agonized over whether to answer for a second, then tossed the phone onto the passenger seat next to the bag. She knew what Dawna wanted—to know why the hell she was already more than an hour late for work. Again. And frankly, Lenora didn't want to hear all the snapping and cussing, which for Dawna went with having her morning cup of coffee.
Lenora would take her licks when she got to the office. Dawna wouldn't fire her—at least Lenora didn't think so. Good photographers were hard to come by, and Dawna, who started at the Baltimore Scene only six months ago, was eager to make her mark at the magazine. Lenora had been there for seven years now and Dawna needed her. Yet Lenora realized that she couldn't continue to press her luck.
She turned the key in the ignition and the worst thing possible happened. The crappy car didn't start. It made some strange noises, sputtered pitifully, and then died. Lenora held her breath and tried again. Same thing. She smacked the steering wheel. She couldn't believe this was happening to her. One of these days she was going to win the lottery. Or get that boyfriend of hers to marry her. With two incomes, she wouldn't have to freak out about losing her job and her only source of income.
The cell phone rang, and Lenora could see that it was the boss calling again. It took every ounce of her willpower not to grab the blasted phone and fling it out the window. Instead, Lenora closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and turned the key again.
Yes!" Lenora yelled when the engine turned over. One day real soon she wasn't going to be so lucky. Her commute between Columbia, Maryland, and Baltimore was over twenty miles each way. The clunker was more than ten years old, and she had already cranked out a hundred thousand miles on it. But there wasn't a whole lot she could afford to do about that right now. The payment on the adjustable rate mortgage for her condo had recently increased, and the last thing Lenora wanted was to lose her very first home after living in it for barely four years.
The condo wasn't all that much, just one large living area with a separate kitchen and bathroom. But it was hers. The minute she saw the units going up near the mall, Lenora knew she had to have one. She barely qualified, but with a little creativity, the loan officer had managed to set her up with an adjustable rate mortgage that she could afford.
Then the monthly payments shot up, the economy crashed, and reality came knocking at the door. The magazine was struggling to hold on, and Lenora didn't get the raises she had expected over the past couple of years. It was a struggle to make her monthly payments. The worst was that she couldn't sell. Because of the recent crash in the housing market, she now owed more on the condo than its current value.
She pulled onto the highway, headed for the office in downtown Baltimore, and ran through possible stories for Dawna. By the time she pulled up in front of her building, she still hadn't come up with a decent reason for being so late. She had already used every excuse known to womankind, some of which were really creative. Like Paws vomiting all over her clothes just as she was about to walk out the door or waking up to discover that her boyfriend had accidentally taken her car keys home with him the night before.
She grabbed her camera bag and phone and ran into the building. She tapped her foot impatiently while waiting for the slowpoke elevator. "C'mon, c'mon," she muttered. The thing finally appeared, and she hopped on and pressed the button for the fourth floor, praying that it would not stop before it got there. No such luck. It ground to a halt at the second floor, and a silver-haired woman using a walker smiled and stepped in slowly. Naturally, Lenora thought, gritting her teeth and rolling her eyes upward. It never failed. Whenever she was rushing about, a slower driver got in front of her on the road or an elderly person dragged his or her feet onto the elevator.
Then Lenora mentally shook her head at herself. Why was she acting like such a bitch? Her tardiness certainly wasn't this woman's fault. Lenora put her hand out to hold the doors open as the woman settled in. "What floor?" Lenora asked.
"Third," the woman said, smiling in appreciation.
Lenora smiled back and pressed three. When the elevator stopped, Lenora patiently held the doors open as the woman got off. Then Lenora took a deep breath as the doors shut and the elevator climbed to the fourth floor. As soon as the doors opened again, she darted across the foyer and through the double glass doors of the entry to the Baltimore Scene. She was about to turn down the hallway toward her office when Jenna, the orange-haired, multi-tattooed receptionist sitting in the foyer, looked up from her paperback horror novel and beckoned with a black-polished fingernail.
"Dawna is looking for you," Jenna said. "She wants to see you, like, yesterday."
Lenora nodded and backtracked. She licked her forefinger and held it in the air, a signal that much of the staff used to get a reading of the boss's mood from Jenna.
"Hot," was all Jenna said before she jumped back into her novel. Lenora squared her shoulders and walked down the hallway toward Dawna's office. She had a good idea what was coming and it was going to be ugly.
Lenora approached the office, and Dawna looked up from her big glass desk, a scowl on her face. Lenora froze in the doorway. She was always amazed at how such a gorgeous woman—with a flawless tan complexion, beautiful hazel eyes, long dark hair, and a tall, slender size six figure—could make herself look so mean. Dawna reminded Lenora of Wilhelmina Slater and Cruella de Vil wrapped into one terrifying being.
"Sorry to be late," Lenora said as she inched toward the desk.
"Don't be fucking sorry," Dawna snapped. "Just be on time. We've got a magazine to get out here. I can't have my key staff late all the damn time. Where the hell have you been?"
Lenora stood stiffly in front of the desk and swallowed hard. All the lies she had prepared were stuck in her throat. "Uh, my alarm never went off. Last night I had to go—"
Lenora paused as Dawna held up a hand adorned with thick gold rings. "Save the drama for your mama," Dawna said. "I'm running a business here. Do you think I care about your fucking alarm and what you did last night?"
Lenora swallowed harder.
"Whatever is going on in your personal life, I don't give a damn," Dawna continued. "Just come in here on time. That's all I ask. Do you think you can manage that?"
"Yes," Lenora said. "I can manage that." Sometimes she thought her single, overworked boss just needed to get laid. Or to have some other kind of fun. All the woman did was work and yell at everybody all day long.
"I damn sure hope so, Lenora," Dawna said firmly. "This lateness has gone on too long. Don't make me have to fire your ass. I will, you know. If you weren't so damn good at what you do, I would have fired you a long time ago."
Lenora bit her bottom lip and broke out into a sweat. That was the first time Dawna had used the word "fire," and it made Lenora nervous. "It… it won't happen again. I'll make—"
"Here, take this," Dawna snapped before Lenora could finish. Lenora eased her camera bag onto the floor and took the slips of paper from Dawna.
"The address is for a park-like setting in front of a new luxury condo on the waterfront. You're going to see Raymond Shearer, a young hot landscaper in the area. We're planning to run a feature on his work in the August issue. The other slip is the shot list. We want him and his crew getting in and out of their pickup trucks, digging holes, trimming trees. All that good stuff. Now hurry. He was expecting you at the site an hour ago, and I need those shots tomorrow morning for the layout. We go to print next week."
Lenora knew this meant she would likely be working late tonight reviewing and organizing the photographs on her computer. And that meant she'd have to cancel her dinner date with Gerald. She had planned to shop and cook a big meal for him, one that she saw prepared on her favorite cooking show, Down Home with the Neelys, on the Food Network. Spicy crab cakes, gazpacho salad, and ice cream with an orange liqueur flambé. This menu wasn't exactly diet food, but the way Gerald had smacked his lips in anticipation when she cited the menu had convinced her to skip the diet for one night. Now he was going to have to wait and her diet was back on. Frustrating, but what could she do?
She placed the paper in a side pocket of her camera bag. "Should I focus on the landscaper and his crew or the grounds around the project he's working on? I ask because if it's a new building—"
"Didn't I just say he was a hot young landscaper? Of course it's about him. But get photos of the grounds, too. And the crew! All of it! Now, scram! Go do your job and get the hell out of my office. I have a million things to do." Dawna shooed Lenora out the door. Lenora bent down and quickly grabbed her camera bag, all too happy to oblige.
She went to her office to retrieve a couple of extra lenses and filters that were good for close-ups of flowers and plants then headed back down to the parking lot. She hated rushing about, preferring to talk to the writer of the piece and to plan her shots before going on location. But that wasn't how it worked with this new managing editor, although she was partly to blame for being late.
Lenora just hoped her lousy car would be kind to her. Her job likely depended on its cooperation. She hopped in and hugged the steering wheel for a second, crossed herself and said a silent prayer, and turned the key in the ignition. The engine started right up. "Yes!" she said aloud, pumping her fist in the air. She pulled away from the building and headed toward the waterfront.
It was impossible to find the luxury condominium on the waterfront, even using the trusty portable GPS sitting on the dashboard. Lenora drove around and around until she realized that Dawna had likely given her the wrong address. She finally pulled into a filling station and asked for directions.
An hour after leaving the office, she pulled into a parking lot on the side of the condominium and spotted a crew working on a magnificently landscaped hillside. They were smoothing mulch around the shrubbery and flower beds near a fountain. A few guys toted tools and wheelbarrows back to pickup trucks. As Lenora stood for moment taking the scene in, she suddenly realized with horror that the crew was actually wrapping things up.
She dashed around to the passenger side of her car, removed her Nikon from the camera bag, and draped it around her neck. Then she gathered the bag from the seat, slung it over her shoulder, and scanned the scene looking for Raymond Shearer. She saw some jeans-clad men loading gear into trucks and tried to figure out which one was Raymond. She had imagined that someone with the name Raymond Shearer would be white, but most of these men were Hispanic.
She was about to head toward the fountain when she spotted a black man, probably in his late twenties, crossing the parking lot. He was lugging a sack of mulch and wearing blue jeans and work boots. He signaled for one of the workers near the trucks to get another sack from the base of the fountain and follow him to the truck.
Maybe that's Raymond, Lenora thought, and she walked toward the trucks. A couple of the guys stared at her as she approached, and you would have thought the space shuttle had just landed in the parking lot. Evidently a woman in their midst was unusual. Lenora shrugged it off. Such attention was an occupational hazard when she was out taking photos for her job. Guys on construction sites would stop and stare at anything with boobs, even a woman as casual and undone up as she was at that moment.
"Excuse me," she said to one of the guys. "Which one of you is Raymond Shearer?"
He pointed to the black man dumping a sack onto the truck bed. Lenora approached. "Hi," she said, holding out her business card. "I'm Lenora Stone from the Baltimore Scene magazine. I'm here to get a few shots of you all while you work, for the feature we're doing on you."
Raymond didn't even bother to look at her. He continued to stack bags of mulch on the truck bed as his workers brought them to him. Even from the side, Lenora could see that the expression on the young man's face was none too pleased.
"I'm afraid you blew it, Miss Stone," he said icily. "You were supposed to be here two hours ago. We have to move on to the next job now."
"Oh, gosh," she said. "My boss gave me the wrong address. That's why I'm so late." Partly true at least, Lenora thought.
He paused and turned to stare directly at Lenora and her stomach flipped. Dawna had described Raymond as a hot young landscaper, meaning much in demand for his work. Now Lenora could see that the "hot" could also apply to his looks. Raymond was heart-stoppingly handsome, with chiseled chocolate features and a perfect build—not too bulky, not too thin. It was a physique borne of hard outdoor work, not from spending a lot of time with machines in a gym.
"You trying to tell me that you been wandering around looking for us for more than two hours?" Raymond's voice was so full of agitation and doubt that Lenora quickly forgot how attractive he was. All she could think of was defending herself and getting some shots for the magazine.
"You're right, not exactly," she said. "I got a late start. But, um, can you give me maybe twenty minutes of your time? All I need to get is—"
Raymond shook his head adamantly. "That's not happening," he said, interrupting her. "We can't just run back over to the fountain and pose for you. We'd have to lug all this equipment back up there. No way, sweetheart."
"I'm not your sweetheart," Lenora muttered, ticked off at his stubbornness.
"Excuse me?" he asked.
"Nothing." She decided to keep her thoughts to herself. She was already on his bad side. Her pride would have to take a backseat for now, in the interests of her job. "You don't have to take all of your things back over there, just—"
Raymond held a hand up in her face. "Sorry. Maybe you didn't hear me right the first time so I'll repeat. Not happening. I'm a busy man. I don't have that kinda time."
What an arrogant prick, Lenora thought as she lowered the camera bag from her shoulder to the pavement in agonizing defeat. He might be drop-dead gorgeous, but he was also an asshole. "Do you have to be so damn difficult?" she countered as she placed her hands on her hips. "You ought to be glad someone wants to feature you and your work."
"Come again?" he said, blinking with surprise at her sudden change of tone.
Lenora shifted heavily from one foot to the other. Now where the hell did that outburst come from? Was she trying to ruin any smidgen of a chance she might have with him? Had she forgotten that her boss had threatened to fire her if she kept screwing up?
"Sorry," she said, tightening her lips. "It's been a rough morning."
"Tell me about it," he said curtly as he opened the door to his truck.
"Do you mind telling me where you're headed next?" she asked timidly.
He shook his head at her in disbelief. "You don't take no for an answer, do you, Ms. Stone?" She could see him turning her question over in his mind. "The Moss Building over by Johns Hopkins," he finally said. "It's not a nice location on the waterfront like this one here, but they need some landscaping out in back of the building."
Lenora nodded. It didn't sound nearly as attractive a site as this, but she didn't have much choice at this point. She had to get some images of Raymond and his crew on this camera. "I'll find it. Mind if I meet you there and get a few shots? I promise not to take long and I'll stay out of your way."
Raymond smiled reluctantly. "Normally I'd say no. But I'm starting to take pity on you, you seem so desperate. Meet us over there and we'll see if the owners will give you the okay, but I can't promise you nothing."
Lenora cleared her throat and resisted the urge to say something sarcastic. She didn't need a lecture or pity. But she had screwed up badly with him, not to mention her boss. "I appreciate it."
Raymond nodded. "Sure thing. Just don't get too excited. You got to get permission, and there's a good chance they won't give it to you on such short notice."
She wanted to tell him that she realized all of that. She had done this kind of thing countless times before. Instead, she quietly made her way back to her car.
As fine as Raymond was, he was annoying as hell. Like a lot of real attractive men, he was not only arrogant but cocky as well. Thank goodness her boyfriend Gerald was more the intellectual type. Some would consider him geeky. Gerald wasn't strikingly handsome like Raymond, but he was pleasing enough to the eye and clean-cut, preferring suits and open-collared shirts.
She picked her cell phone out of the side pocket of her camera bag and dialed Gerald's number. She needed to let him know that she would not be able to cook for him that evening since she would likely have to work late. She and Gerald had dated now for nearly three years, and Lenora was more than ready to take the relationship to the next level. She just needed to convince Gerald that it was time. She hadn't pressed him to commit up to now. But the big four-zero was on the horizon, and she was starting to think that she needed to insist that it was time for them to jump the broom.
Almost all of her girlfriends were hitched or at least had been at one time. Her close college girlfriend Alise was married to a dentist and had children in high school. And even though her old college roommate Monica was single now, she had been married once. Lenora was one of the few who had never walked down the aisle.
Alise kept telling Lenora not to waste another year with Gerald. If he wasn't ready to get married after all this time, Lenora needed to move on. But Lenora didn't want to give up on Gerald. She loved him and knew that he loved her. He had a little commitment phobia, but Lenora was sure it was temporary. He worked as an accountant at a public relations firm that he started with two partners. The firm had been doing very well, with clients in Maryland and Washington, D.C., until the recent economic downturn. Now it was struggling, and Gerald and his partners had to put in more and more hours to keep the business afloat. He said he wanted to wait until the business was more secure before taking their relationship to the next level, and Lenora believed him.
Besides, she would have a hard time finding anyone better than Gerald. A man as good-looking or exciting as Raymond, for example, would never look at her romantically. She wasn't beautiful or rich or famous. What she lacked in looks she thought she made up for in personality, but she wasn't going to kid herself that she was a super catch. She figured she was lucky to have Gerald, and she intended to hold on to him.
As soon as she pulled up into the rear parking lot of the Moss Building, Lenora knew she was in trouble. It was in a rough neighborhood of Baltimore and not nearly as photogenic as the fountains and gardens near the waterfront. In fact, the place looked downright depressing, with overgrown shrubbery, grass nearly a foot tall, and weeds sprouting everywhere. Still, she exited the car, her Nikon poised and ready to shoot as Raymond and his crew began to climb out of their trucks. The minute she put the viewfinder up to her eye, Raymond lifted a hand and walked toward her.
"Hold up," he said impatiently. "I think you need to get permission first." Lenora lowered the camera. "And good to see you again, too, Raymond," she said sarcastically. "Nice day, isn't it?"
"I just want to be sure we do this right." He paused in front of her and placed his hands firmly on his hips, daring her to take a shot.
"You don't have to freak out," she said. "I'm going to get permission in a minute. I'm just taking some test shots first to get a feel for the lighting."
She put the camera back up to her eye, and he reached up and covered the lens with his palm. "Test shot or whatever. You still need to get permission first. I don't want to jeopardize my work around here."
The nerve of this guy, Lenora thought as she lowered the camera once again. She stared at him angrily.
"Look, we do this the right way or we don't do it at all," he said.
"I think I know how to do my job," she snapped.
"I'm beginning to wonder," he snarled.
She abruptly threw her camera over her shoulder with the strap. What a complete asshole, she thought. But the last thing she wanted was to get into a full-blown argument with a subject, especially one she had already messed up badly with. "Fine," she said. "Where do I go to get permission? Who do I talk to?"
"The building manager," he said. "Dude named Steve Odell. He's in Room 199 right off the back entrance there."
"Be right back." She marched off in the direction he'd indicated.
"Sure. And I need to see something in writing from him before you start," Raymond shouted after her as he and his work crew began to remove tools and equipment from the trucks.
"Pompous bastard," Lenora cursed under her breath and made her way up the path toward the building's rear entrance. As she approached the back door, a balding, middle-aged man in slacks and a wrinkled cotton shirt exited a side door and walked toward Raymond. Lenora paused, wondering if that could be the building manager. She looked toward Raymond and noticed that he was signaling for her to return to the parking lot.
As she approached the men, Steve handed Raymond a paper to sign, and then Raymond introduced her to Steve. They shook hands and Lenora handed him her business card and explained why she was there. "It shouldn't take much time to get what I need," she said. "Thirty minutes to an hour at the most. I want to…"
Lenora paused in midsentence when Steve started to shake his head vehemently. "Out of the question," Steve said. "I doubt the new owners would want anyone taking pictures of the grounds in this deplorable state. In fact I'm sure they wouldn't."
"Let me explain how this would work," Lenora said. "I can take before shots now and return later for the after shots. So there will also be some photographs of the grounds after Raymond's work is completed. We'll show how Raymond transforms the property."
Steve was still shaking his head. "Doesn't matter. I have to get permission from the owners first."
"How soon can you do that?" Lenora asked.
Steve sputtered. "Not now, that's for sure. I'm busy with other things."
Lenora took out her cell phone. "If you give me the name and number of the owner, I can call."
Raymond folded his arms and watched in fascination. Lenora knew she was acting desperate, but now she was desperate.
- "Money Can't Buy Love grabs the reader's interest and won't let go."—http://sweetsoulsisters.weebly.com/ on MONEY CAN'T BUY LOVE
- "It is an entertaining story that leaves you feeling pretty good about your cash-strapped existence."—The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on MONEY CAN'T BUY LOVE
- "Fans of Briscoe, frothy chick lit, and African American pop fiction will enjoy this as a quick summer read."—Library Journal on MONEY CAN'T BUY LOVE
- "One of the spiciest novels of the summer... A talented storyteller on matters of the heart, Briscoe taunts us with the convincing and complex character, Lenora Stone."—Examiner.com on MONEY CAN'T BUY LOVE
"Known for her skill in developing realistic characters, Briscoe has outdone herself in her depiction of Lenora...Money Can't Buy Love is an excellent summer read."
—Philadelphia Inquirer on MONEY CAN'T BUY LOVE
- "Riveting...lively...hilarious...three sisters who are remarkably different except in one respect: their men are driving them crazy."—Mademoiselle on SISTERS & LOVERS
- "Humorous, poignant, realistic, and romantic...finely crafted...[SISTERS & LOVERS] skillfully uses witty but realistic dialogue to keep the story moving along...recommended."—Library Journal on SISTERS & LOVERS
- "Entirely readable...Briscoe's message is a warm one."—The Washington Post Book World on SISTERS & LOVERS
- "Briscoe uses her skill as a talented storyteller to deliver just the right touch of intrigue."—Publishers Weekly on SISTERS & LOVERS
- On Sale
- Jul 17, 2012
- Page Count
- 304 pages
- Grand Central Publishing