Genre = Paranormal Women's Fiction, Fantasy, Romance

Muse It or Lose It Cover, Donna McDonald

Muse It or Lose It

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My name is Goddess Atlanta and this is my Mortal Midlife Story.

Sometimes I just don’t understand my crazy life. On one hand, I can call lightning and save a trapped dragon when I need to. On the other, I need freaking reading glasses to read how many aspirins to take when my knee hurts. Despite being a foretold savior of my pantheon, nothing has spared me from my own mortal fate. I’m still aging, just like everyone else.

With two tasks out of nine finished, and no one dying from our misadventures yet, I admit I’ve been feeling pretty good about myself. The Fates have finally stopped popping in on me, so I’m hoping I’m on the right track. And none of my family has stabbed me in the back this week. See? Good times.

So I’m fine… mostly. Well, except my champion’s been a real pain to deal with lately. He’s sort of a dragon now and I’m afraid feeling special has gone to his head. Can anyone say entitlement issues? Anyone? I hope Cale gets a handle on his problems soon, because hey… I am the special one in our relationship. I’m the goddess.

Yes. Okay. I admit tasks three and four aren’t looking like a whole lot of fun, but I trust Cale and I will get through them. I have to because failing means death. Everyone in my pantheon is still counting on me to stop the doomsday prophecy from coming true.

All I can say is Gaia help me, because I’m going to need all the help I get.

WARNING:  This new story is both paranormal (think Fairies, Pegasi, and Dragons) and women’s fiction (think issues of aging). Many fantasy and romantic elements are also included. This is the second book in the Nine Heirs and a Spare series which has its roots in Greek mythology. You can count on the good guys winning some of their battles, but that’s the only promise I can make. As with all my work, there will be some good laughs along the way. 

Chapter 1

As dates went, it wasn’t the worst one I’d ever had. If I hadn’t gone to so much trouble getting ready, I wouldn’t have been mad. I couldn’t use goddess powers to iron out all my wrinkles and smooth my complexion. No, I had to use makeup primers and concealers, which were not easy to use. A couple hours ago Cale smiled at my clothes without commenting and called us a ride that took us somewhere nice. I fumed silently during our ride, but my distracted date didn’t notice that either.

The restaurant reeked of dating ambiance with its polished tables, crisp white napkins, and softly lit chandeliers. Given the special attention we received from the staff, I also suspected it was yet another restaurant Cale and his family owned. The Drakons seemed to love investing in great food.

“Sorry. I have a backlog of messages,” Cale said as he forced himself to put his phone into a jacket pocket.

I nodded, but my heart held no sympathy. I’d spent a long time getting dressed up and he hadn’t said a word about how great I looked.

And this was not an age thing. It was a woman thing.

Cal had been messaging on his phone the whole ride here and stayed on it even after we sat down. I was a whole glass of red wine ahead of him and had eaten half the bread our attentive waiter brought us as an appetizer.

Now he finally offered a lame apology so I gave him my faux sympathy expression. He hadn’t paid proper homage to my outfit or the trouble I’d gone to just to impress him, which in my book meant he didn’t deserve real sympathy. “If you’re so busy, maybe we should leave and get Chinese takeout on the way home.”

I made the offer hoping to annoy him, but judging from his smile, it didn’t work. Apparently, Cale and I weren’t residing in the same realm this evening. Cale only laughed.

“We’ll get take-out another time. I don’t want you to miss the food here. It’s wonderful,” he told me.

The shirtless hug I’d gotten after his dragon flight yesterday had been in my head as I dressed for our evening out. Thoughts of repeating it inspired me to wear one of my two sexy black dresses and not the black business-y one. Unfortunately, the girlie measures I’d taken evidently were for nothing. For all the attention Cale was paying to me a pair of jeans and a t-shirt would have sufficed.

My lips pressed together when my distracted dinner companion lifted his hands.

“Even with work issues coming in at the galactic rate, I can’t stop thinking about it. I try, but two minutes later, I’m thinking of it again. I’m a dragon, Atlanta. All the men in my family are dragons. How am I supposed to adjust to that?”

It was hard, but I summoned up a smile for him sharing his concerns. “I’m sure it’s…” Words—I needed the right words. I needed to offer moral support. “I’m sure it’s very exciting as well as confusing.” I mentally patted my own back for my mature answer. Maybe I’d found a real positive for mortal midlife. I’d successfully kept myself from responding like a ego shattered twenty-year-old.

“Confusing is a good word,” he replied.

My accidental champion, Cale Drakon, recently discovered he was descended from real dragons and that he could fly when in his beast form. Long ago, my father locked Indar, the original Drakon and a real dragon, inside a dragon statue. Cale and I freed his ancestor. Now all the males in Cale’s family finally knew what they were. Cale wasn’t yet able to control taking his beast form when he chose, but he was determined to learn.

Okay, that probably was a lot to get used to. Gaia knew, the revelation that I was turning mortal and aging had hit me hard. Those first couple of years were traumatic, especially when I noticed wrinkles forming the same time I felt my power waning.

Maybe I was being too hard on Cale. How could my sparkly cleavage—thanks to sparkly pink dusting powder belonging to one of my sexy Muse sisters—ever compete with that sort of personal revelation? Never mind that I spent two freaking hours… no, no, I wasn’t going there again.

When Cale’s phone buzzed and buzzed without stopping, he whipped it out of his jacket again and started thumbing away. Bored with watching him ignore me, and now back to be full-on mad, I sighed and looked around.

A handsome man with silver at his temples was dining alone two tables over. He winked at me and then he raised his eyebrows as if to ask what a mature mortal woman like me was doing with someone who kept ignoring my awesomeness.

While Cale wasn’t looking, the man pointed to the empty chair across the table from him. I shook my head, but his offer did make me smile. His silent flirting, which Cale totally missed, reassured me that the short black dress and its matching three-inch heels indeed made me worthy of male appreciation every bit as much as I’d imagined being.

All this frustration meant I had to face some facts here. It wasn’t like tonight was the first time I’d ever lost a man’s interest.

The emotional disconnect that I’d once dreaded experiencing again had arrived. Only it wasn’t the difference in our ages making me question my agreement to dating him. No, it was happening because of his blindness to how I’d dressed to please him tonight. Being ignored so blatantly had me asking myself hard questions.

Oh, I knew Cale’s distractions had likely doubled since he found out he was a dragon, but mine were doubling every day as we worked through the tasks of the prophecy. My champion should be grateful that I was not a dragon, because if I had been one I’d have fried him in his seat until he was crispy.

Or at least I would have fried his freaking phone.

I sighed with relief when the waiter set our dinner on the table. I might as well have gone to dinner alone since Cale and I hadn’t exchanged more than a few words so far. As soon as we ate, I was shuffling us back home as quickly as I could. I wanted out of my wasted seduction gear and to forget my epic failure to gain my younger date’s full attention.

“The food smells wonderful,” I said aloud as I sent silent gratitude to the chef.

Cale tucked his phone away again and nodded. “This is a great restaurant. That’s why my family bought it.”

My distracted date looked at me across the table, but there was no appreciation in his eyes. His expression said his thoughts were far away from us and our dinner.

Despite being forty, I knew I looked good. I was still far from being a shriveled, old crone. Either I’d lost all appeal for Cale, which was possible even if not probable, since I was a goddess. Or Cale was still thinking of what it had been like to sail through the air with a freedom most mortals never got to experience.

And how could I be mad at him for feeling that? I’d felt the same riding on Wizard, my sister’s Pegasus. Wizard flew at speeds the largest of birds couldn’t replicate. But still… it had taken me more than two whole hours to get dressed tonight.

I put on makeup—real makeup—foundation and everything.

Gah… there was nothing worse than worrying about a man’s thoughts. I knew better than to dwell on this crap. Nothing good ever came of trying too hard when the other person wasn’t trying at all. This was exactly what the end of my relationship with Mark Antony had been like and I was not reliving that ego-battering crap again.

I shoved my frustration away and ate with relish. My six-foot-tall body required a lot of fuel. My ego might be slightly dented by Cale ignoring me, but I refused to allow anything to dull my enjoyment of our magnificently prepared food.

***

I slowed to make sure I hadn’t resorted to shoveling my food in when I noticed Cale wasn’t eating at all. My gaze lifted to find Cale frozen mid-lift with his fork about an inch from his lips. My own fork lowered to my plate as I looked around. Everyone in the restaurant was frozen but me. Great. Someone had used a time-stop device on all the mortals in the room.

But why had it worked on Cale if he was now a dragon? Huh… that was strange. I needed to ask Indar about how mortal his dragon side had become. I could ask my father, but who knew what witch or wizard he’d paid to help him grant Indar’s shifting ability. Most granted wishes came with a catch.

I twisted in my seat, then spoke into the air around. “Duffinnia, did you do this?”

A portal opened next to our waiter who looked like he was heading back to our table. I sighed as Duff exited the portal, noticed how close she was to the waiter, and then patted his back. Guess I should be grateful she hadn’t given his butt a Leprechaun love tap.

I defiantly took another bite of my dinner before reluctantly setting down my fork to glare at her. “Why the grand entrance? You could have texted and I would have answered, Duff. My date’s been doing it all night. Apparently, mortals don’t consider being on their phone during a real dinner date to be rude,” I said with a frown.

“There’s no time for mortal niceties. I have a real emergency,” Duff said. She winced as her gaze dropped to my plate. “I’m real sorry about yer dinner, though.” She glanced at Cale and grinned. “Nice work with that one. Yer date’s not hard on the eyes. Is this handsome fella yer champion?”

I kept my gaze on the Leprechaun I hadn’t yet forgiven. “He’s mostly a client… or at least, he was a client. After this is over, I don’t think he’ll be needing me or the Muses again.”

I turned and frowned at a frozen Cale, before looking back at Duff and sighing in resignation. The way Cale had been behaving I should be happy she froze him, but oddly, I wasn’t. “So, what’s up?”

Duff tugged on her red curls. “I need a favor from ya.”

I lifted a hand. “I’m only two tasks into nine of the prophecy, and I’m not sure we’re back to being friends enough for you to be asking for a favor.”

Duff glared at me. “Does the word of a goddess mean so little? We drank to forgiveness, Atlanta. Ya wouldn’t renege on yer word, would ya?”

I picked up my wine and drained half the glass before speaking. Crap—she had me. “I make no promises, but what’s the favor?”

Duff’s answering glare was for an absent person. She shook her head. “Someone cast a spell and preserved my parents in amber. I don’t think they’re dead, but rather in some sort of limbo. The favor I need is to help me bust them out.”

I chuckled. “Duff, you can open portals. Plus, I know being sneaky is listed as a top skill on your magical resume. Why in all the realms do you need me to help you?”

Duff snorted as her eyes darkened with anger. “Because I’m fairly sure my younger brother is the one who did this to them. As I told ya, my parents announced to our entire pantheon that I wouldn’t be ruling them anytime soon. Knowing that, Hamlin’s gleefully taken it on himself to name himself as ruler. When I asked him what happened, the bloody arse smiled and said our parents had many enemies. Then he shoo-ed me away from the throne where he now sits and gloats.”

I lifted my shoulders in a big shrug. I had enough problems with my own pantheon. Saving Duff’s was not anywhere on my list. “Still don’t see how I can help.”

Duff shoved her hands in to her jacket pockets. “Ya have a combination of traits I don’t possess. I think ya could reason out a solution that my irrational disgust of my brother is preventing me from seeing. If I kill my brother, I’ll have to take over for sure, which would be in direct violation of the promise I extracted from my parents. It would leave my right to rule open to challenge. Fending off challengers would become my full-time job. But if I don’t save my parents, I’ll have to take over for sure because Hamlin will destroy everyone if I don’t. There’s no scenario that ends well for me except the one where my parents get out of the amber and go back to ruling.”

The restaurant around us resumed activity again. My gaze jerked to Cale whose fork finished the trip to his mouth. I turned back to hear Duff swearing under her breath. That sure was a fast ten minutes. Or Duff was losing her touch.

“Meeting you here is so unexpected, Duff. Have you met my friend and champion, Cale Drakon?” I said, narrowing my eyes at her in warning.

I didn’t know if Cale realized Duff had frozen him. Indar did that to him once and he’d been aware the whole time. I hadn’t seen any signs of temper in Cale yet, but who knew what his dragon side was like? I had enough to deal with. Duff and her problems needed to go away.

Duff turned to Cale and smiled. She pulled one hand from the pocket of her jacket and extended it. “It’s a pleasure, Cale. Atlanta didn’t tell me she was dating you. I doubt that means she’s ashamed of ya, but consider yerself warned. She’s a woman of many attitudes.”

I opened my mouth to say this wasn’t a date, but shut it when I realized the Fates might be listening. I’d promised Cale nine dates in exchange for his help. This was date two. Lousy or not, I wanted tonight to count toward my promise.

“We’re still new,” I said, lifting my chin when Duff laughed at my careful wording.

Cale shook Duff’s hand and smiled at her. “Nice to meet you, Duff. Are you a goddess too?”

I felt sure Cale asked Duff that to test her. He’d been so clever when dealing with my new Troll bestie, Shengis. I wondered if some quiet instinct warned Cale that he was talking to someone of a similar paranormal type. Leprechauns, Trolls, and Sprites were all in the same pantheon.

“Me a goddess?” Duff repeated before she laughed. “Goodness no, Cale. I’m a Leprechaun princess. And what are yer paranormal leanings, if I might ask?”

Cale blinked at her for a moment and then grinned. “I’m the mortal Champion of the Doomsday Prophecy… and of Goddess Atlanta.”

My head jerked around to stare at him. Cale’s sudden discretion surprised me after all the talking he’d done about how cool it was to be a dragon. We might not be heading to bed tonight—or ever—but his loyalty boded well for us staying friends for a good long while.

Duff giggled at his answer. “Well played, Champion.”

I rolled my eyes at them. It was just like Duff to ask me for a favor then bat her princess eyes at my date. My gaze moved back and forth between them. They were smiling at each other in a way that made me feel like squirming in my chair—not that I would ever do that.

Goddesses never squirmed.

I let my gaze finally land back on Duff. “I don’t know when I can get to your favor, but if I do it, I’m going to need two from you in trade. That’s my best deal.”

“Done. Ya know I’m desperate if I’m willing to make a two for one deal,” Duff said, looking more hopeful.

I smirked at Leprechaun logic. “Meet me at the office tomorrow morning. Let’s say around 10:00, alright? We’ll discuss the details of our trade.”

“I can do that. I go into the bar around 11:00. I’ll come by before work,” Duff promised. Then she turned to Cale again. “Well, I’ll let ya both get back to yer dinner. Nice to meet ya, Cale.”

“Nice to meet you, too,” Cale answered.

We watched Duff walk through the restaurant toward the lobby. She disappeared the moment just before she reached the place to turn. I glanced around the restaurant, but no one had seemed to notice her magical exit.

Tonight was a total bust. I’d made a Leprechaun deal, which I knew better than to do, and I let my dinner date ignore me without suffering any consequences.

And now my delicious dinner was cold too.

“Does she do what you do to travel from place to place?” Cale asked.

I lifted a shoulder as I picked up my fork and ate it anyway.

“Similar, I guess—but not the same. Duff has all her power so it’s easier for her to vanish into thin air. I’m getting by on a fraction of what I used to have, so my transporting is a clunky process. The only reason we were able to transport together to Ares’s Grove was the extra power Zeus gave me. The trip across the globe wore me out which is why I had to rest.”

“How long did it take you to fly to the Sea of Hell on Athena’s winged-horse?”

I ate a bit more before responding. The food was cold, but it was still tasty. “I didn’t time it, but Wizard was fast. I now envy Athena her winged-horse.”

Cale nodded. “Once I can control my shifting, maybe I could fly us where we need to go.”

Cale’s offer made me smile. I did like him most of the time. His eagerness for our adventures always pleased me. The bottom line was that I needed to think of my accidental champion as simply another trainee soldier. I needed to stop thinking of what Cale might be like in bed. That would solve all my problems and tonight would never be repeated again.

I shook my head as I smiled. “None of the dragons I knew ever had riders. You might want to talk to Indar about the rules of his kind. It might be against dragon code or something to carry a non-dragon rider. Great Beasts are apex predators here in the mortal world.”

“We are?” Cale asked with a chuckle.

“Dragons once were the ultimate beast in any realm, but remember that my pantheon killed your kind to the point of extinction. Indar got tricked into not fighting back, but the others were simply caught.”

“Yes. That is something to keep in mind,” Cale said.

I nodded. Cale probably thought I was joking, but I wasn’t. “And being a Pegasus, Wizard has his own magical abilities. He cloaks him and his rider so planes in the air and people on the ground don’t see him flying by. I felt his magic the whole time I was on his back. He’s a magnificent creature.”

“Okay,” Cale said. “I’ll ask Indar about dragon riders… and if I can cloak my flight.”

I blew out a breath. “Not to be the bearer of only bad news, but I’m not sure dragons can cloak themselves, Cale. I cloaked the four of you when you shifted and flew. I didn’t want your family having to explain it to all their neighbors.”

“Oh,” Cale said and sighed. “Maybe you should get a Pegasus then.”

That made me laugh. “Oh, for sure I’d love to have one, but Pegasi are free agents. They choose their riders when they want to or when they owe them a favor. Getting a Pegasus to commit means you’re very special. I would love to know what Athena did for Wizard. They’re very close.”

“Interesting,” Cale said.

I laughed because he might as well have said “cool” because that was the tone he was using. “Maybe I’ll ask Wizard next time I see him.”

Cale chuckled. “Does a Pegasus talk?” he asked before eating.

“It’s more like they send pictures into your mind. They prefer to show you what they’re thinking. Communication goes both ways, but they do understand words so long as you think about what you’re saying while you’re talking to them.” I ate a few more bites. “Question—why didn’t you tell Duff what you are? She told you the truth about who she was.”

Cale paused. “I didn’t say because she let your father into her house without warning you. I knew you no longer trusted her because of it.”

I nodded as I stared at my plate. Sometimes Cale humbled me. I hated that feeling. “Thanks for the loyalty. Tomorrow we’ll have to tell Duff the truth, though, because I want her to ward your family’s land. I also want her to reinforce the wards at the office and the mega-Muse-mansion. To make the wards work, Duff has to know who to allow inside and keep out. We don’t want her keeping out dragons at your place.”

“Who are you worried about trying to get in?”

I lifted a shoulder. “Mostly it’s to prevent the unknown threats that we can’t anticipate. But I don’t want someone like Ares breaking free from the hold of your magical weapon. He’s the sort who wouldn’t hesitate to cause your family problems. Dragons won’t worry him. He and my father chained Indar to the tree to guard the golden fleece.”

Cale nodded as he continued to eat. After a bit, he set down his fork. “When Duff did that thing to freeze everyone, I could still see and hear everything, but I couldn’t physically move.”

“Just like when Indar did it,” I said as I pondered the ramifications. “Guess hearing while you’re frozen is a good thing. Most mortals never know time stopped. Duff’s reach is confined to a small space like the size of her bar or this place. She stopped it the day Eros and his brothers came to try and collect me.”

“Why are you immune to her time stopping effects?” Cale asked.

“Because I’m a goddess,” I said with as much attitude as possible, and then I spoiled my brag by laughing. “Or it may be because Duff has a way to program the time stop for only those she wants to. The effects last for about ten minutes max, but just now it ended in less than that. I would say more like five minutes.”

Cale grunted. “Even one minute is a long time when you’re frozen and can’t move.”

I lifted an eyebrow. “I’ll take your word for it.”

***

We finished the rest of our dinner in silence. Cale started to get a clue about how bad the evening had gone when I didn’t bother ordering dessert. I didn’t really want to get into it, but I’d learned long ago that the truth couldn’t be put off forever, no matter how unpleasant.

“Let’s go home, Cale. I get the feeling tomorrow is going to be a big day,” I said.

Cale ordered a ride for us and then paid our check. We walked to the lobby together, but I felt like I was miles away from him in nearly every way.

Finally, I looked at him. “Thank you for dinner. The food was amazing. Let me buy dinner once in a while. I promise no one’s going to pull your man card for letting your date pay, especially when everyone can see she’s older than you.”

Cale chuckled before releasing a long breath. “No, I don’t think I want to do that. I somehow made you mad tonight without intending to. That’s bad enough.”

“What finally clued you in to my feelings, Junior? Other than the fact I can’t wait to get home and call this evening done.”

Cale hung his head and sighed. “Was it the phone? I know I should have turned it off and answered those messages later.”

I rolled my eyes again. “You’re not sixteen, Cale. If you don’t know why you were a lousy date tonight, then you don’t need to be dating. You’re a good-looking guy, but no man is that cute. Be grateful I’m cutting you some slack by not making a big deal about it.”

Cale grunted. “Women always say things that. Like I should automatically know what I did wrong. Why do women never directly tell you in specifics what ticked them off?”

I snorted. “Why should she bother when the guy is too busy on his phone to hear her?”

The guy who’d flirted with me earlier chose that moment to walk by us. He was leaving too. I could see now that he was indeed older, probably a little more than my mortal age, but he sure looked great.

He swung close and handed me a business card, then winked when I met his gaze. At the exit door, he blew me a smoochy kiss before he pushed it open and left smiling.

Cale frowned at his back. “Who the hell was that and why did he do that all stuff?”

I snorted. Was Cale’s youth making him dense? Or was he just spoiled by dating women who let their rich date get by with crap? His youth appealed to me, but I was so tired of making allowances. Next time I went out on a ‘real’ date that made me want to woman up like I had tonight, it would be with someone more my equal—maybe someone older.

“It was nothing,” I said.

Cale studied me. “It sure looked like something to me.”

I turned to glare. “Fine… he did all that because he knew he was the only man who paid any real attention to me tonight. Unfortunately, he wasn’t the one I was having dinner with. My real date was too busy for me and should have cancelled.”

Cale huffed before replying. “We cancelled last night. I didn’t want to cancel again.”

I laughed. “And I didn’t want to spend two long hours getting super dressed up for dinner only to be ignored all evening by the man I did all that preparing for. When I go home, it’s going to take me at least an hour to undo all the woman magic I’ve got going on. Since I’m a midlife mortal woman, and not a freaking fairy, I have to work at being glamorous.”

Cale sighed and looked at my short black dress as if he’d just noticed I even had clothes on. “Point made,” he muttered.

“Not yet, but it will be. I’m just getting started with giving you specifics,” I told him with a deeper chuckle.

Cale walked to our ride and held the back door open for me. I swept around him and let my sexy dress ride up my thighs as I climbed inside. His gaze slid up my legs and he tugged at his tie. I huffed and slid across the seat to put a healthy distance between us.

Cale slid in next to me and turned to look at my face. “You look beautiful. I’m sorry about tonight.”

“The evening is ending. It’s too late for a weak apology to save you,” I said sweetly. “You insisted we do real dates so I gave it my all tonight to show you how serious I took your request.”

“Okay. Ouch…” Cale said with a chuckle.

I sighed and shook my head. “There’s a reason Gaia made me forty and not your age in this realm. I’m too old to train a man to treat me right. My date has to come equipped with what it takes to make me his top priority for the evening, especially when he calls our time together a date. A date is by definition a time when your attention needs to be one hundred percent present with the person across the dinner table.”

I paused in my rant to sigh again before finishing. “All women hate being ignored for any reason. Multiply that hate by a factor of a hundred and you might get close to what a goddess feels like when she gets ignored. You’re lucky I didn’t call down a lightning bolt to take out your phone. It would have cost me some power, but the look on your face would have been worth it to me.”

Cale winced. “Okay, then… I think I’m simply going to go with a humble promise to do better next time.”

“Apology accepted this time, but you don’t get off that easy. I’m not dressing sexy for you again. You’re going to get business Atlanta, not sexy Atlanta next time. And no more kissing. Tonight didn’t remotely live up to that passionate, shirtless hug you gave me after dragon flying. You’re acting like a tease, so stop it.”

“And now I’m back to thinking of you as a dominatrix,” Cale said with a boyish grin.

He was playing down my assertiveness. Better men than him tried that tactic and failed. I laughed at his weak attempt to charm me out of being upset. Outside the car, I made thunder rumble overhead. When lightning flashed, our driver swore.

I turned and looked at Cale with sparks still in my eyes. I smiled when he scooted against the door.

“One day you’re going to learn who I really am, Cale. Until then, I suggest you don’t make assumptions that I’m the same kind of woman your mother or your grandmother is. They’re mortal in body and mind. Each plots behind her husband’s back and quietly manipulates him into doing what she wants. I’m not like them and my mind doesn’t work like that. While I may be a midlife mortal in body, I possess a goddess mind. So next time you ask me out and ignore me, all our dates after that will be popcorn and a chick flick at my mother’s. Am I being clear?”

“Crystal,” Cale said and stared out the window for the remainder of our ride home.

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