Sweet Dreams


By Kristen Ashley

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She’s ready for the ride of her life . . .
Lauren Grahame is looking for her bit of peace. After leaving her cheating husband, Lauren moves to Carnal, Colorado, and gets a job as a waitress in a biker bar called Bubba’s. It’s a nothing job in a nowhere joint . . . until Tatum Jackson walks in. Lauren has never seen a man with such looks and attitude. But Tate does something Lauren doesn’t much like and she doesn’t want anything to do with him. Too bad for Lauren he’s also the bar’s part-owner and bartender.
When the rough-around-the-edges Tate meets the high-class Lauren, he thinks she won’t fit in at Bubba’s. Yet there’s more to Lauren than meets the eye, and Tate soon sets his mind on claiming her as his own. Before long, they can’t deny the attraction that’s pulling them together. But when violence strikes the town, threatening the women in it, their sweet dreams may come to an end.


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I SAT IN my parked car outside the bar.

It looked like a bar. It could be any bar anywhere, small town, big city, it didn't matter. It was just a bar. Bubba's bar, apparently, for it said "Bubba's" in blue lettering on a black background in a huge sign at the top.

I looked out the window to my left. There were two Harley-Davidson motorcycles parked there.

I looked back at the bar, which it would seem might be a bit of a biker bar.

I looked out my window to the right. There was a beat-up, old blue Chevy pickup parked at the edge of the parking lot.

I looked back at the bar, which would seem was not high-class and not highbrow. They probably didn't even have martini glasses.

I looked at the window of the bar. In it there was a sign that said "Help Wanted." In the little white space at the bottom of the sign was written, "Waitress."

I pulled breath in through my nose. Then I exhaled, got out of the car and walked right to the door, through the door, and into the bar.

I was right. Nothing special. Nothing high-class or highbrow. It could be any bar anywhere.

There was a man sitting on a corner stool at the long bar at the back of the room. He had a ball cap on. There were two other men playing pool at one of four pool tables. Two to the left, two to the right, the men were at one of the tables to the left. Evidently, bikers played pool. There was a woman behind the bar. She had a lot of platinum blonde hair. She also had a lot of flesh at her cleavage. I could see this because it was bursting out the top of her Harley tank as well as straining the material.

Her eyes came to the door the minute I walked in and didn't leave me as I walked to the bar.

"Hi," I started.

"Chantelle's about twenty miles down the road. Straight on," the blonde interrupted me. "Just turn right out the parking lot and keep goin'."

"Sorry?" I asked and felt the man with the ball cap turn to look at me.

"You lookin' for Chantelle?" the blonde asked.

"No, I'm—"

"Gnaw Bone?" she asked.

"Gnaw bone?" I repeated.

"Gnaw Bone. Not too far away from Chantelle," she told me. "That what you lookin' for?"

I didn't know what to say. Then I asked, "You mean Gnaw Bone is the name of a town?"

She didn't answer. She looked at the man with the ball cap. I looked too. When I did, I saw firstly that his ball cap had definitely seen better days and those days were about four hundred years ago. Secondly, I saw that he was staring at my breasts.

I looked back at the blonde.

"I'm here about the waitress position."

For a second there was loaded silence. Then the man with the ball cap burst into a loud guffaw.

The blonde's eyes narrowed.

"Did Bubba put you up to this?" she asked.

"Bubba?" I asked back, at this point confused.

"Bubba," she bit out, then glanced around before looking at me. "This ain't funny. I got things to do."

I glanced around too and saw that she actually didn't have much to do. The two guys were playing pool and didn't seem all that thirsty. The ball cap guy had nearly a full draft in front of him.

I looked again at the blonde.

"I'm not kidding," I told her.

"Bullshit," she replied irately, already at the end of her patience.

This was shocking. It wasn't like I'd never heard a curse word before, or used them myself, just that I didn't tend to blurt them out to strangers looking for jobs. Or strangers on the whole. And also I'd been there for about three minutes and hadn't done anything to strain anyone's patience, much less push them to the end of it.

"No, seriously. I'd like to apply for the position," I explained.

She didn't answer for a while and took the time she was silent to study me. I decided to do the same.

She'd be pretty, if she didn't tease her hair out so much and wear that much makeup and look clearly like she was in a bad mood and anyone could set her off. Though she really pulled off that tank top. I had serious cleavage too but it didn't come with a petite, slim but rounded body. It came with a big ass and a mini–Buddha belly and a hint of back fat. Not to mention somewhat flabby arms.

I decided to break the silence and announce, "I'm Lauren Grahame."

I stuck out my hand. She stared at my hand and didn't get the chance to speak because the ball cap man spoke.

"Jim-Billy," he said and I turned to him.


His hand was out to me, he was smiling and this time looking into my eyes. On the left side he'd lost the second tooth in and hadn't bothered to replace it. For some reason, instead of this making him look like a hillbilly with bad dental hygiene, it made him look a little goofy and a little sweet.

"Jim-Billy," he repeated. "That's my name."

I took his hand and shook it. "Nice to meet you, Jim-Billy."

I repeated his name because I learned a long time ago at a training seminar to do that when you met someone. It solidified their name in your mind so you wouldn't forget it. I was terrible with names and I found this worked and I figured a waitress in a small town needed to remember the names of the regulars at the bar. And Jim-Billy definitely looked like a regular.

It also worked that I chanted Jim-Billy, Jim-Billy, Jim-Billy in my head.

Then again, who'd forget the name Jim-Billy?

He gave me a squeeze, released my hand and his gaze swung to the blonde.

"Tate'll like her. Big time," he declared. "Bubba'll like her even better."

"Shut up, Jim-Billy," the blonde muttered.

"About the job…," I stated, bringing us back to the matter at hand and the blonde looked at me.

Then she leaned into me. "Girl, take this as me doin' you a favor. Boys around here"—she threw out a hand—"they'd eat you alive. Go to Chantelle. Gnaw Bone. Woman like you has got no business in Carnal."


That was one of the reasons I picked that town. Its name was Carnal. I thought that was funny and interesting but that was as interesting as I wanted to get.

I wanted to live in a Nowheresville town called Carnal. I wanted to work in an anywhere bar called Bubba's. There was nothing to either, except the names. Nothing memorable. Nothing special. Nothing.

"You don't understand," I told her. "I—"

She leaned back and stated, "Oh girl, I understand." Her eyes moved from the top of my head to my midriff, which was all she could see with the bar in her way then they came back to mine. "You're lookin' for a thrill. You're lookin' for adventure."

"I'm not. I'm—"

She threw her hands up. "You think I don't know it when I see it? Do I look like a woman who ain't been around? Do I look like a woman who feels like hirin' and trainin' and learnin' to put up with the new shit a new waitress is gonna feed me? Then when she realizes that she wants her old life back she ups and leaves and then I have to hire and train and learn to put up with new shit again?"

"I wouldn't give you… um…"

"Everyone shovels shit and I don't like the taste of it from my kind. I already know I really don't like the taste of it from yours."

I again didn't know what to say because it was dawning that she was discriminating against me.

"Not to be rude or anything," I said softly, "but you don't really know me. You don't know what kind I am."

"Right," she replied and there was derision heavy in her word.

"You don't," I asserted.

"Girl—" she started but I leaned forward and I did it for a reason.

I leaned forward because I needed her to hear me. I leaned forward because I'd been searching for Carnal a long time. I'd been searching for Bubba's a long time. I needed to be there and to be there I needed that job.

"Right," I repeated. "You think I'm some kind of lost woman like out of a book, traveling the globe on some idiot journey to find myself?" I asked and before she could answer, I continued, "Thinking I can go out there and find good food and experience interesting places while soul searching, wearing fabulous clothes and being gorgeous and making everyone I run into love me and, in the end, find a fantastic man who's really good at sex and adores me beyond reason?" I shook my head. "Well, I'm not. I know who I am and I know what I want and I know that isn't it because that doesn't exist. I also know what I'm looking for and I know I found it right here."

"Listen—" she began.

"No, you listen to me," I interrupted her. "All my life, or as long as I can remember, I thought something special was going to happen to me. I just had this feeling, deep in my bones. I didn't know what it was but it was going to be beautiful, spectacular, huge." I leaned in farther. "All… my… life." I shook my head again and put my hand on the bar. "It didn't. I waited and it didn't happen. I waited more and it didn't happen. I waited more and it still didn't happen. I tried to make it happen and it still didn't happen. Now I know it isn't going to. It's never going to happen because there isn't anything special out there to happen."

I sucked in breath, she opened her mouth but I kept talking.

"I had a husband. I had a home. I had a job. I had friends. Then I found out my husband was sleeping with my best friend. Not an affair, they'd been doing it for five years. When the cat was out of the bag, they decided to be together for real. He divorced me and I couldn't afford the house on my own so we sold it. Then, all of a sudden, after ten years of being with someone, I was alone. They got the friends who always thought behind my back they were perfect together. They all knew. For five years. And no one told me."

"Fuckin' shit, woman," Jim-Billy muttered.

"Yeah," I said to Jim-Billy and looked back at the blonde. "But, you know, after the shock of it wore off, I didn't care. I swear. I didn't. Because all of a sudden I realized that I had a shit marriage to a shit guy and I had a shit best friend and all sorts of other shit friends besides. And all that time I was living in a house I didn't want, it was too darned big and it was too darned everything. A house should be a home, not a house. And that house was in a town I didn't like because every house looked the same and every woman dressed the same and every man played around the same and every car was shiny and new and there was no personality anywhere. And in that town I had a job I didn't much care about even though it paid me good money."

My voice dropped as I went on.

"I realized I didn't have anything special. All of a sudden I realized that life didn't have anything special in store for me."

I took in a breath and finished.

"And I'm okay with that. I don't want special anymore. I waited and I tried to make it happen and it didn't. So be it. Now, I want to live someplace that is just a place. I want a job where I can do a good job while I'm doing it and then I can go home to a place that's a home and just be home. I don't want anything. I'm done wanting. I've been wanting and yearning for forty-two years. The only thing I want is peace."

"You think you'll find peace in a Harley bar?" Jim-Billy asked what was possibly a pertinent question and I looked at him.

"I think I can get to work on time, do a good job, feel good about myself because I worked hard and did my best and go home and not think about a Harley bar. I can think about myself or what I have a taste to eat for dinner or what might be good on TV. Then I'll go to sleep not thinking about anything and get up and get to work on time again." I turned to the blonde. "That's what I think. I'm not looking for a thrill. I'm not looking for adventure. I'm looking for nothing special because I can be content with that. That's what I'm looking for. Can you give me that?"

The blonde said nothing, just looked me in the eyes. Her face was blank and no less hard and it stayed blank and hard for a long time.

Then she said, "I'm Krystal. I'll get you an application."

*     *     *

I stood at the window of my hotel room holding the curtains back with a hand and staring at the pool.

Carnal Hotel wasn't much to write home about. A long block of building, two stories, all the doors facing the front, fourteen on top, fourteen on bottom. I was on the bottom in number thirteen. The rooms were clean, mine had a king-sized bed and a TV that had to have been purchased fifteen years ago suspended from the wall. The low four-drawer dresser and nightstands stuck out of the wall and had no legs. The closet had two extra pillows and an extra blanket. The bathtub and kitchen sink had rust stains but even so, they were clean too. The whole of it was below average but it would do.

That pool, though, that was something else. It wasn't big but it was pristine clean. The lounge chairs around it weren't top of the line but they were okay, in great repair, and obviously taken care of.

I looked from the pool to reception. It wasn't so much reception as a tiny house. A tiny well-kept house with a little upstairs. It also had big half barrels full of newly planted flowers out front. It wasn't quite summer but it was the end of spring so the flowers hadn't come close to filling out.

Carnal was in the Rocky Mountains. More precisely, it was in a small valley surrounded by hills that were surrounded by mountains. It was closing on May, there was a nip in the air, and I wondered if those flowers were hopeful.

If they were, whoever planted them had the capacity for a lot of hope. There were more flowers in window boxes in the front windows of the reception-slash-house. There were also more flowers in half barrels intermittently placed by the poles on the walk in front of the hotel rooms with more window boxes on the railing of the balcony in front of the rooms upstairs. And lastly there were more half barrels dotted around the pool area.

The parking lot was tidy and well kept and the hotel and reception/house both had a good paint job.

All of this indicated that Carnal Hotel might be below average but the people who owned it cared about it.

I had checked in with a nice lady at the front desk who said anything I needed, change for the vending machines or laundry room, Wi-Fi access, menus for restaurants and takeout in town, "just holler."

Then I'd unpacked my car. All of it. I unpacked it for the first time in four and a half months. Then I cleaned it out. All the junk food wrappers, discarded pop cans, fallen mints, lost pieces of candy, bits of paper. The flotsam and jetsam of a killer road trip. I lugged my suitcases (there were five) and boxes (there were two) into the hotel room and took a plastic bag I'd found and filled full of trash to the big outdoor bin tucked close to the side of the hotel not facing any streets.

Then I unpacked my clothes.

Over the past four and a half months, I'd been in tons of hotel rooms but I'd never unpacked. I'd never stayed beyond three days. I'd only stayed long enough to do laundry, take a breather, and decide where I'd head next in my search, zigzagging across so many states I'd lost count in my search for Nowheresville.

After I unpacked, I'd walked into town, which amounted to me walking by room number fourteen and turning the corner. Carnal Hotel was on the edge of town right before the road opened up to nothing again. I'd found a deli, bought a pastrami on rye and ate it on the sidewalk, chasing it with a diet pop. Then I'd walked the town up one side and down the other.

Bubba's was in the middle, five blocks from the hotel, and it was definitely a biker bar because Carnal was a biker town. There were two bike shops and one bike mechanic at the opposite end from Carnal Hotel and it had a sign that said "We Take Cars Too." There were also three motorcycle paraphernalia shops that I could see, looking in the windows, sold a lot of leather bike accessories and more leather biker clothing.

There was also the deli, a diner, an Italian restaurant, a pizza delivery place and a coffee house, which was strangely called La-La Land Coffee. Again looking in the windows of La-La Land, I saw it was not run by bikers but hippies that were so hippie they wore tie-dyed shirts with peace signs on front and had long hair. One of the two behind the counter had on round, blue-tinted sunglasses even though he was inside and the other had a thin braided headband wrapped around her forehead. They looked in danger of dropping cross-legged on the floor and singing "Kumbaya."

This all was intermingled with a discount tobacco store that sold all types of smoker delights for all types of things you could smoke. There were two discount liquor stores, a drugstore, and a tailor who seemed to specialize in stitching biker patches into leather (or at least that was what the sign in the window said).

The town also had two convenience stores, one opposite the hotel, one at the other end of town opposite the mechanic. It had a busy grocery store about a quarter the size of the mega–grocery stores that every other town in the nation seemed to have and it looked like it'd been there since 1967.

All this was rounded out by a bakery, a hardware store, a flower shop, a gas station, and a variety of other Nowheresville places to fill a Nowheresville town.

There were people on the street and I knew they were friendly because most of them smiled at me.

After I checked out the Main Street (called Main Street and it was also the only street with businesses, the rest was residential) of my new home, I went back to reception at the hotel. I bought a week's worth of Wi-Fi from the nice lady who took that opportunity to share with me that her name was Betty. I shared my name too and decided to go ahead and pay a week in advance on my room when I got the Wi-Fi. This decision overjoyed Betty and I knew that because she told me.

"Sweetie! A week! I'm overjoyed!" she'd shouted.

She would be. Mine was the only car in the lot and she had a flower and pool habit and those weren't exactly cheap.

Nevertheless, she was friendly and open and I decided I liked Betty.

After telling her I was glad I'd brought her joy, I went back to number thirteen and dragged out my laptop. Then I logged in.

I ignored all my e-mail and sent a message to my parents and my baby sister that all was well, I was fine, and I'd check in with more information later. I saw that they'd sent e-mails to me but I didn't read them. I didn't read them because I knew they would freak me out because I knew my mom and dad and sister Caroline were freaked out. They weren't big on me upping stakes and roaming the country looking for nothing special. They were bigger on me moving home, sorting myself out, finding a decent man and starting over (in that order).

I shut down my computer, sat on the big, soft bed, stared at the wall and thought about the next day when I was supposed to be at Bubba's at eleven to train to be a waitress and start my new life.

Then I smiled.

After that, I watched TV until it got dark and the pool beckoned me.

Now I was standing and looking outside to see the pool was clean and enticing and it was all lit up. In fact, the parking lot was all lit up. Seeing it, I knew four things about Reception Betty. She was friendly, she liked flowers, she was proud of her below-average hotel and small but clean pool, and she wanted her guests to feel safe.

That's when I saw the car pull in. It was a convertible, an old model something. It looked like a Chrysler, not great condition but also not a junker.

It parked outside reception, the door opened and a woman folded out.

I stared at the woman.

She had thick, long dark hair and long legs most of which I could see coming out the bottom of her very short, frayed-hemmed jean skirt. She had a tight tank top and more cleavage than Krystal (but as much as me). She wasn't petite or slim. She was long and very rounded but it was clear she didn't care. A mini–Buddha belly and a hint of back fat didn't bother her. Not in the slightest. In fact, she worked it.

She sashayed into reception and I saw a man was there.

He was Betty's upper-middle-age. He smiled at her like he knew her and she waved and smiled back giving the same impression. I knew this was the truth when he handed her a key without doing any of the usual checking in business.

She took the key, put both her hands on the counter, lifted herself up, booty pointed up in the air, feet in high-heeled stiletto sandals on tiptoe. She kicked back one foot and leaned toward him, giving him an across-the-counter air kiss. Then she strutted back out to her convertible, got in and drove through the parking lot to park three spots down from my Lexus. She got out, didn't grab a suitcase, and walked toward a door where I lost sight of her.

I had a feeling I was going to have to buy some tank tops to fit in in Carnal.

I dropped the curtain and went to the dresser. Most of my clothes were folded and sitting on top, there wasn't enough room for them all in the drawers and closet. But at least they'd been released from their suitcase captivity. In the drawers I'd put my underwear, socks and pajamas. I'd also put my bathing suit in there.

Seeing my clothes laid out I thought it wasn't much but it was more home than I'd had in a good long while and it made me feel weirdly settled.

It had been a warm day but it couldn't be over sixty-five degrees outside. Still, I loved pools, I loved to be in water, and for some reason I really wanted a swim so I figured it would be like any time you got in cold water. Once you were in, you'd get used to it. At least I hoped so. If not, so what? I'd just drag my carcass out and come back to my room.

I changed into my swimsuit, put on a pair of track pants, a sweatshirt and some flip-flops. Before I could chicken out, I grabbed a towel and my room key and headed to the pool.

I slipped off my shoes and sweats and decided to dive right in. Better to get it over with all at once. I moved to the side of the pool, braced for impact and dove.

The pool was heated.


I swam five laps of the short pool and had to stop because I couldn't breathe. This, I told myself, had to do with the fact that I was in the Rocky Mountains, at altitude, and it did not have to do with the fact that I was seriously out of shape.

I forced out four more laps and had to stop again.

Then I forced out one more lap and put a hand to the edge to turn back for another lap when I heard the roar of bike pipes.

Stopped at the edge of the pool, holding on and peering over the side, my eyes followed the black and chrome Harley gleaming in Reception Betty's parking lot lights as it glided along, pulled in and parked next to the convertible. Then my eyes watched the man shove the stand down with his booted foot and swing his leg off the bike.

His back was to me so all I could see was that he was tall and he had a great behind. He also had on faded jeans and a long-sleeved black thermal shirt and he had a head of thick dark hair that also shone in the lights, just like his Harley.

One of the hotel room doors opened and the woman in the jean miniskirt ran out and threw herself at the tall man. Her arms wrapped around his neck and I couldn't see it but I could tell her lips latched on to his.

He didn't even go back on a foot when her body impacted his. He just curved his arms around her and leaned into her kiss.

That's something special.

The thought just popped into my head and I didn't know why. I didn't know what was happening. I didn't know these two people. All I knew was that it looked special. So special, all I could do was stare.

They stopped kissing and she tipped her head back and laughed with pure delight, the sound ringing through the air, filling it with music.

I decided I hated her and I didn't know why. I didn't know who she was or what was happening. I just knew she had something special and I didn't and never would and that sucked. It wasn't a nice thought, which was unusual because I was normally a nice person. But it was the one I had.

She disengaged from him and came to his side, wrapping her arm around his waist and propelling him forward.

He looked down at her and I saw his profile in Reception Betty's bright parking lot lights and when I did I held my breath.

If he was that handsome in profile, so handsome he was breathtaking, he'd be sensational full-on.

That's when I decided I really hated her.

They got close to the door and he moved suddenly and quickly. Swinging her up in front of him, she wrapped her legs around his hips, her arms around his shoulders and tipped her head down to look at him. But he seemed to be peering in the room like he expected to see something or someone, something or someone important, something or someone he was looking forward to seeing. But before he found that something or someone, she fisted a hand in his hair, tilting his back, her mouth went down on his and they entered the room necking.

He closed the door with his booted foot.

Yes, sensational. If he could pick her up like that and carry her anywhere, he was beyond sensational.

"Like the pool?"

I jumped and pushed off the side with my foot, my head jerking around as I stared at the Reception Guy who checked in Lucky as Hell Girl that I hated. He was standing at the side of the pool and looking down at me. I was so engrossed in Handsome Harley Guy and Lucky as Hell Girl I hadn't heard him coming.

"Sorry?" I asked.

"The pool," he answered. "Like it?"

"Um…," I mumbled, staring up at him. "Yes."

"It's heated," he informed me.

"Um…," I mumbled again. "I can tell."

"Betty 'n' me got it relined last year. One or t'other of us clean it every day. Best pool in the county."

I couldn't disagree. It was a fantastic pool, clean, heated, and everything.

Therefore I said, "It's really nice."

He rocked back on his heels and took in the pool with his eyes before he looked back at me.

"Thanks. Ned," he said.

"Uh, my name is Lauren," I said back and he laughed.

"No, pretty lady. Name's Ned." He jerked a thumb at himself. "I'm Ned."

"Oh," I replied, feeling like an idiot. "Hey, Ned."

"Hey back atcha, Lauren." He grinned. "Betty tells me you're stayin' awhile."

"Yeah," I told him thinking he seemed friendly enough but not certain how much to share because, well, I didn't know him and every girl in a pool in the parking lot of a hotel on the edge of Nowheresville should be smart and not tell their story, current or past, to some random man who snuck up on them. In fact, girls like that should get out of the pool, get into their room, and lock the danged door.


On Sale
Jun 20, 2017
Page Count
656 pages

Kristen Ashley

About the Author

Kristen Ashley is the New York Times bestselling author of over sixty romance novels including the Rock Chick, Colorado Mountain, Dream Man, Chaos, Unfinished Heroes, The ’Burg, Magdalene, Fantasyland, The Three, Ghost and Reincarnation and Honey series along with several standalone novels. She’s a hybrid author, publishing titles both independently and traditionally, her books have been translated in thirteen languages and she’s sold nearly three million books.

Kristen’s novel, Law Man, won the RT Book ReviewsReviewer’s Choice Award for best Romantic Suspense, her independently published title Hold On was nominated for RT Book Reviews best Independent Contemporary Romance and her traditionally published title Breathe was nominated for best Contemporary Romance. Kristen’s titles Motorcycle Man, The Will, and Ride Steady (which won the Reader’s Choice award fromRomance Reviews) all made the final rounds for Goodreads Choice Awards in the Romance category.

Kristen, born in Gary and raised in Brownsburg, Indiana, was a fourth generation graduate of Purdue University. Since, she has lived in Denver, the West Country of England, and she now resides in Phoenix. She worked as a charity executive for eighteen years prior to beginning her independent publishing career. She now writes full-time.

Although romance is her genre, the prevailing themes running through all of Kristen’s novels are friendship, family and a strong sisterhood. To this end, and as a way to thank her readers for their support, Kristen has created the Rock Chick Nation, a series of programs that are designed to give back to her readers and promote a strong female community.

The mission of the Rock Chick Nation is to live your best life, be true to your true self, recognize your beauty, and last but definitely not least, take your sister’s back whether they’re at your side as friends and family or if they’re thousands of miles away and you don’t even know who they are. The programs of the RC Nation include Rock Chick Rendezvous, weekends Kristen organizes full of parties and get-togethers to bring the sisterhood together, Rock Chick Recharges, evenings Kristen arranges for women who have been nominated to receive a special night, and Rock Chick Rewards, an ongoing program that raises funds for nonprofit women’s organizations Kristen’s readers nominate. Kristen’s Rock Chick Rewards have donated over $125,000 to charity and this number continues to rise.

You can read more about Kristen, her titles and the Rock Chick Nation at KristenAshley.net.

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