Wild at Whiskey Creek
November 29, 2016

Everyone knows the Greenleaf family puts the “Hell” in Hellcat Canyon—legend has it the only way they ever leave is in a cop car or a casket. But Glory Greenleaf has a different getaway vehicle in mind: her guitar. She has a Texas-sized talent and the ambition (and attitude) to match, but only two people have ever believed in her: her brother, who’s in jail, and his best friend . . . who put him there.

Sheriff Eli Barlow has secretly been in love with Glory since he was twelve years old. Which is how he knows her head is as hard as her heart is soft—and why she can’t forgive him for fracturing her family . . . or forget that night they surrendered to an explosive, long-simmering passion. But when a betrayal threatens Glory’s big break, Eli will risk everything to make it right . . . because the best way to love the girl from Whiskey Creek might mean setting her free forever



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You could turn over any given rock and find a more appealing collection of organisms than the folks gathered in the Plugged Nickel tonight, Eli thought.

Or to put it another way, it was a pretty typical night at The Plugged Nickel.

Of course, they all looked as innocent as a black velvet painting of dogs playing poker. If he possessed x-ray vision, he knew he'd see the odd unregistered firearm strapped to a back, knives shoved into boots, drugs safely hidden in butt cracks or rushing through the pipes in the men's room. Much like actual dogs, they seemed to have heightened senses, at least for when the law was about to show up.

He hovered just inside the doorway and listened: Clink, hiss, slam, crash. The clink and hiss of bottle caps being yanked off, the bottles slammed on the bar for the customers, the empties hurled with gleeful violence into a big recycling bin. The mixed drinks here were strong, cheap and careless-you could order the same one again and again and it would never taste the same way twice. The music was usually loud enough to vibrate the molars clean out of your mouth.

He hadn't been inside the place for several months. Carl, the Plugged Nickel's owner and bartender, had been uncharacteristically circumspect on the phone about why he might need Eli tonight. The Plugged Nickel generally didn't invite the law to visit, which its customers appreciated.

"Well, there was an argument between four guys. And now there's a poker game going on, Eli."

"...and?" Eli could afford to be patient. Nothing was happening in Hellcat Canyon tonight. It was Tuesday. Though Bingo could get pretty cutthroat at the town hall, thanks to the rivalry between Elysian Acres and Heavenly Shores Mobile Estates. Given his clientele, Carl usually liked to police himself, though a surprise visit from a deputy now and again kept them all from relaxing completely.

Carl cleared his throat. "...and I think the prize is a woman."

Eli frowned. Nothing made ugliness go down faster than a drunken fight over a woman. Especially in a place like the Plugged Nickel, which in its storied history had primarily distinguished itself as a haven for people who had nothing to lose.

"Guess I can pay you a visit," he'd told Carl, dryly.

He took a step deeper in and paused and leaned against the wall, getting the lay of the place. The Wall. That had been Eli's nickname in high school. Because he was big and quiet and you couldn't get anything or anyone past him on the football field. But it had its advantages: it was how he'd honed a gift for swiftly noticing things, physical details and emotional nuances and minute anomalies, where Waldo was on a page or the perfect split-second gap on a football field to hurl a ball through to the receiver or how Glory Greenleaf's lashes were a sort of mahogany color at the very tips, where the sun got to them. His powers of observation were probably in his DNA. His dad had been a cop, too, and it kind of came with the territory. But life's vicissitudes had honed it.

He scanned the customers, mostly men, gathered at the scarred wood tables, and his eyes lingered on four guys seated at against the wall, heads close together. He knew three of them by name and reputation; the fourth was a stranger. Tension practically rose from them in a steam.

And then he saw the real danger-in more ways than one-standing behind the bar.

His heart flipped over hard.

What the hell was Glory doing here?

He had a hunch this was why Carl had called him.

Her sheet of straight black hair was thrown carelessly over one shoulder; her chin was propped in her hands. Her soft old jeans molded the unmistakable curve of her behind. Her expression was complicated. A little amused. A little sad. A little wicked. A jaded, wistful quirk at the corner of her mouth, which, he knew, was where a dimple lurked. As if she'd set something in motion an experiment and hadn't abandoned all hope of being surprised, but she wasn't holding her breath.

Either she hadn't yet seen him or she was deliberately ignoring him.

His money was on the latter. Given she'd managed to do that for going on a year now.

So while he practically sprained his neck with the effort to keep his eyes aimed at those men and not at her, he was conscious of the other customers shifting and rustling, either turning or straining not to turn to look at him as he wound his way through to the four men. His presence had the kind of weight that disturbed the atmosphere.

He paused next to the poker players.

The card players slowly, simultaneously leaned back in their chairs and put their cards down. Clearly someone with a badge had told them more than once to keep their hands where he could see them and it was a reflex now.

The guy Eli had never seen before kept a grip on his cards and looked up at him.

It was a long way up. Eli towered.

This guy had sulky lips and movie star cheekbones and a narrow white scar running from his cheekbone to his chin. But he was aging fast in a way that Eli recognized. It came from a hard life of doing bad things. He was wearing a leather vest, which struck Eli as frivolous, maybe even a little vain. Jeans, t-shirt, a gun, boots-what more did a guy need before he left the house in the morning?

"Evening Dale. Hey, Boomer. How's parole treating you?"

"Can't complain, Deputy," Boomer Clark said, politely as a boy scout. He was a blocky guy, a little dim, good-looking in a forgettable way and an unpredictable drunk whose first impulse was to shed what he apparently viewed as the terrible burden of wearing clothes. Eli had once been compelled to pin a naked Boomer to the sidewalk on Jamboree Street and cuff him, which hadn't been easy, since Boomer had been a wrestling champ in school. It was an intimacy Eli hoped never to repeat. Even if an audience had gathered audience and clapped at the conclusion, and The Hellcat Canyon Chronicle had printed a photo of the excitement, in which Eli looked triumphant if a trifle queasy, and they'd pixellated Boomer's penis.

"Put in a garden this year, Eli," Dale Dawber volunteered. "Got some squash, beans, artichokes. If you need tomatoes, I've got 'em coming out of my ears. Even built a trellis to train them. Working on building a greenhouse. For the tomatoes," he hurriedly added.

"Good to hear your green thumb isn't going to waste."

Dale had produced a nice little crop of marijuana some time back. Law enforcement took issue, and Dale did some time.

"Heh." Dale smiled at that. Albeit a little cautiously.

"Ramon," Eli continued evenly. "How are things?"

Ramon Barros had gone to high school with Eli, and he knew Jonah. He said nothing. Ever since the thing with Eli had gone down, Ramon wouldn't say a damn word to Eli if he could avoid it. He did nod, though. He didn't have enough nerve to freeze him out completely.

A brief taut silence was interrupted by The Black Crows bursting out of the speakers. One of which was buzzing and was due to blow soon, Eli reckoned. Speakers didn't have a long tenure here at the Plugged Nickel.

"We haven't met." Eli turned to Leather Vest.

The guy stared at him. "Ezekiel."

Oh, brother. If his real name was actually Ezekiel Eli would eat one of the pickled eggs that had sat on the bar since it opened in 1975.

"Your mama give you that biblical name in the hopes that you'll behave yourself?"

"Ha." Ezekiel's eyes were so dark it was hard to know where the pupil ended and the iris began.

The no-blinking thing was boring. For about a thousand reasons, Eli couldn't be intimidated.

"You all know you can't be betting in here, right?" Eli said it almost gently.

Not one of them were fooled by that tone.

They'd seen what Eli had done to Jonah Greenleaf, right here in the Plugged Nickel.

They all knew what Eli could do, in general.

No one replied.

"Not playing for money. Are we, boys?" Ezekiel, or whatever the hell his name was, was all sly bonhomie.

The other three guys looked every which way except for at Ezekiel, Eli or Glory. Who, Eli was certain, was watching all of this raptly.

Eli hovered over them a moment longer, like a threatening weather system that could break any second.

"Well, I'll let you get back to your game. Now that I'm sure you're not betting. The Misty Cat Tavern might be interested in buying your extra tomatoes, Dale. The profits might be a little modest compared to your last crop, but what the hey."

"Heh. Thanks for the tip, Deputy," Dale said with more than a little relief. He seized his cards up again.

Finally he moved over to bar.

He leaned with his back against it, rested his elbows on it.

He didn't look her in the eye. Not yet.

He finally spoke.

"Your TV broke, Glory? You were watching that poker game like it's Game of Thrones."

For a moment-that moment so like the one after you trip over something and you don't know whether you'll be able to break your fall-he thought she might keep freezing him out. God knows he'd never known her to do anything by halves.

"Watching men act like idiots is about the only thing there is to do on a Tuesday night in Hellcat Canyon," she said, finally.

"I hear knitting is another constructive way to pass the time."

Anybody strolling by would have thought this was a perfectly innocuous conversation.

But Eli's first memory of Glory Greenleaf was a blur and a splash: she'd hurtled past Eli and her brother Jonah on her plump five-year-old legs and threw herself right into the swimming hole at Whiskey Creek, just so she could say she'd done it first, just to impress her older brother and his friend, and just because it was something she hadn't yet done.

Glory didn't sit still for much, unless it was to play her guitar. Knitting would send her around the bend.

So that sentence was almost painfully intimate. It contained decades of memories.

And these were the first words they'd exchanged in nearly a year.

"Why?" she said finally. "You need a new Christmas sweater, Eli?"

When he was eleven, his aunt had sent him a Christmas sweater featuring three reindeer walking single file. He'd hated it until Glory pointed out that it looked like the reindeer were sniffing each other's butts. And then he'd worn it all the time.

Heartened, he finally turned around to look at her.

Damn. It was like spring on the heels of a bad winter, looking into her blue eyes.

She was smiling faintly, too.

"Maybe." He held her gaze.

Once he had talked to her more easily than almost anyone, Jonah included. But layer upon layer of unspoken things had created a nearly tangible barrier between them. Ironically, not unlike the glass that separates a prisoner from a visitor.

He suddenly felt just as much a prisoner as Jonah Greenleaf of his inability to say the words that would shatter that invisible barrier. He was trussed in a complicated knot of emotions, all of them volatile, none of them compatible.

And it was probably too late to learn eloquence. He'd spent a lifetime letting actions do most of the speaking for him.

Whereas Glory...Glory could sing a single word and make it sound like an entire story, full of nuance and ache. And she she could write a song and then pull you into it when she performed, like it was a whole word unto itself. Eli had football trophies, a law degree, a gun and a badge, but those felt like Muggle achievements compared to what she did, which was alchemy. She made it look easy. He knew it wasn't. Most people thought she was utterly fearless. He knew she wasn't. They'd grown up together, teasing and fighting and playing, but somewhere along the line he knew he'd be happy to just be Sir Walter Raleigh to her Queen Elizabeth. The person who laid his metaphorical cloak over mud puddles, making it safe for her to be her dazzling self.

He had a hunch it wouldn't matter. There were probably no right or safe words at the moment, even if he could come up with them.

Maybe there never would be.

He was proved correct when the faint smile dropped off her face and she turned from him abruptly. "Maybe you can use all that free time in your squad car to make yourself a new sweater, Eli. You know, in between getting hardened criminals off the street."

That sentence edged all around in little thorns.

A surge of impatience made his back teeth clamp down.

So be it.

He wasn't sorry about what he'd done to Jonah. Only that he'd had to do it.

"I just might do that," he said evenly. "Think I'd be good at it, in fact."

Once the very idea of Eli with knitting needles would have made her laugh.

Now her expression closed up again and she folded her arms across her chest. Then realized what she was doing it and lowered them, and plucked up a coaster from the bar and twiddled it in her fingers.

Her nails were cut short as usual and painted scarlet and she'd striped them, for some reason, in silver. Glory did a lot of things just because. He knew the fingertips of her left hand were callused from holding down the strings on her Martin acoustic guitar. They'd probably been tough since she was twelve. Unlike nearly every other member of her family, Glory was willing to put up with a little pain in the service of something beautiful.

He remembered how those fingertips had felt sliding up the back of his neck in the dark.

The bands of muscle across his stomach tensed to withstand an echo of that shocking pleasure, and everything else that came after that.

He'd been able to see the stars up through the branches of the pine she stood against before he'd closed his eyes.

She'd closed hers first.

That was the moment he'd realized with epiphany clarity that even when they'd seemed to be moving in entirely different directions-when he was a jock dating the cheerleader who was always on top of the pyramid, and Glory was dating that stoner idiot Mick Macklemore who had a really enviable GTO, even when he left Hellcat Canyon for the police academy and law school and other girlfriends and she'd stayed behind working one crap job after another and was still with that dip Mick Macklemore-somehow it felt like like they were still moving toward each other. If life was essentially a big Rubix cube, then every twist and turn, every meeting and parting, everything they'd ever said and done, was necessary to get them to that moment at that party outside in the backyard up against that Ponderosa Pine eight months ago.

She'd broken up with her boyfriend. He'd broken up with his girlfriend. He was returning to Hellcat Canyon for good. And she was finally leaving Hellcat Canyon for good.
Suddenly it was perfectly simple. The risk in making a move that could end their friendship suddenly seemed to evaporate in light of the fact that he might be losing her forever. And as they'd talked, they'd moved closer, and closer, and he'd reached up to pull a tiny leaf from her hair. That was a signal.

She knew it.

And she'd closed her eyes first.

As if she'd been waiting for that moment all along, too.

About two minutes later their tongues were twined and his hands were down the back of her jeans and her hands were up the front of his shirt and hot on his skin and they were just about climbing each other when a loud, tipsy cluster of friends poured into the backyard.

They sprang apart, got swept off into different cliques, and then a half hour later Eli left to work the late shift and he couldn't find her to say good bye.

Two nights later, he'd arrested Jonah Greenleaf for meth transportation about five feet from where they both stood now.

And BAM!

Glory had brought the full force of her stubbornness down, guillotining Eli out of her life.

She wouldn't return his calls. No one ever answered the door at their house.

She stopped showing up at Open Mics at The Misty Cat.

And as the months went on, he figured she'd finally left for San Francisco.

He was left to feel like a cut live wire, arcing and sparking. Haunted by that "click" of the cuffs as his own hands had trapped Jonah's familiar hands in them and by the expression on Glory's face when he dragged his best friend out of there. She'd been sitting across from Jonah, nursing a beer, because she didn't drink all that much.

But then...Eli had popped into the Misty Cat a month ago on an Open Mic night on a hunch when he was duty. And there she was on stage.

He'd tried calling her one more time.

No answer.

Fuck it. He knew she was hurt. He knew she was furious.

But so was he, and he had every right to be.

Maybe, in fact, more or a right than she did.

That stiffened his spine. He was here on business, so he might as well get on with it.

"Carl was a little concerned those four gentleman believe they're playing poker for your...let's get Victorian about it and say 'favors', Glory. Which could get ugly. Know anything about that?"

She stopped fidgeting with the coaster. "Huh." She sounded faintly surprised.

"Where do you suppose they got that notion?"

She shot him a sidelong glance, clearly contemplating hedging. Glory was stubborn as hell, but she also knew his nickname was The Wall for more than one reason. There really was no sense in trying to get around him.

She heaved a sigh. "Well, it's like this. They got to arguing over who could buy me a drink..."

This was a day in the life for Glory, for the most part. Men arguing over who got to do something for her.

"...and for starters, I'm the bar back tonight. I can't drink with them when I'm working, even if I wanted to."

"You're working here? You're working here?"

He shouldn't have betrayed any emotion at all.

Her chin went up. She met his eyes coolly. "Have to make a living somehow."

He only realized he was frowning when her gaze slid away from his his.

An unworthy cinder of hope flared hot in him: had she stayed because of him?

It was both the best thing and the worst thing he could hope for.

"Thought you were leaving town for good, Glory," he said shortly.

"Though you were here at the Plugged Nickel business, Eli," she countered tersely. "And what I do or don't do is none of your business."

It would have felt like a slap. But he knew her. And he heard the hurt threaded through the anger.

A silent stalemate ensued. Silent, that was, except for the staticky sound of "Iron Man" attempting to battle its way out of a fried speaker.

"OK," he said evenly. "Did you tell those gentlemen you couldn't drink with them when you were on duty?"

"Mmm...Not in so many words. But I...well, I might have asked them to make their case in two sentences or less."

"Why did you...you made them answer essay questions?"

God help him, of all the things he ought to be feeling right now, he thought this was pretty damn funny. A bored Glory Greenleaf was a dangerous Glory Greenleaf.

"I didn't make them do anything," she pointed out quite reasonably, with a queenly little gesture of her hand. "Things were a little dull in here, and..." she shrugged with one shoulder. "I guess I got curious about what they'd say."

He hesitated. "What did they say?" Now he was curious.

"Turns out Boomer is a Capricorn who just read a good book about the Lord he wants to tell me about and he got a cat named Daphne to look out for the gophers in his garden, Dale is excited about his succulents and he likes to tinker with vintage automobiles, I guess when he's not stealing them, and he says he'll take me for a ride in one on the back roads because he knows some great views, Ramon's uncle just kicked and left him a little money he wants to spend on me after he puts a new roof on his house."

He took this in, bemused. In truth, these little tidbits about guys he'd known for most of his professional life, usually on the adversarial end of it, were kind of touching. But then people had always seemed to want to tell Glory things. They lay them down trustingly, like little offerings, at her feet.

But only people who had the patience or nerve to let their vision adjust to the sparks she threw off caught glimpses of how bone-deep kind she was.

He realized he was smiling. All of it was so her and just hearing it made the world feel righter.

She dropped her eyes. Funny, even though the lighting in that bar was hardly optimal, he could have sworn she was blushing.

A beat of silence went by.

"What about Leather Vest?"

Her head shot up. "Oh, you mean Cheekbones?" she said breezily, and just like that, Eli's spine stiffened against a shocking rogue wave of black jealousy. "He's God's gift, and he told me in all seriousness that I should know from just looking at him that he's the best thing that will ever happen to me and he can show me fifty ways to have a good time, wink, wink. I guess he thought bravado would make him stand out a little from the crowd. The knife scar kind of highlights his bone structure, wouldn't you say?"

She met his eyes.

Challenging. Curious.

Glory being Glory.

"No," he said, slowly, to let her know he knew exactly why she'd said it. "That's not how I'd put it."

She held his gaze a moment longer, then turned away and rubbed a rag on the bar, which didn't need cleaning. The surface glowed her reflection back at her. That caressing motion made Eli restless.

"So...I guess it got a little out of hand there for a while," Glory she conceded finally, ruefully.

If Glory had a coat of arms, it would say "It Got a Little out of Hand There for a While." And right above that it would read, "I got curious."

In the middle would be an image of her holding a guitar over her head like Joan of Arc carrying her battle standard to war. Because Eli was certain that if the world could hear her sing and play, it would be hers to command.

"So what happened after the guys answered your essay questions?"

"I told them they all sounded so fascinating I didn't know how a girl could choose, and if they were feeling competitive maybe they ought to play a game together. At least now they have an occupation and their hands are full of cards so they aren't arguing."

She sounded like a pre-school teacher who'd just passed out paste and construction paper to unruly toddlers, not combustible men.

"Glory....I'm pretty sure they still believe you're going to be the prize. Whether or not that was your intent."

She went still.


He almost rolled his eyes. He believed her. She might not be "his business," but that didn't mean he didn't still know her really, really well.

"Glory, do you remember when you were in the chemistry lab in high school, and you added the wrong chemical to the experiment, and it foamed all over hell and you had to stay after to clean it up and it took all night?"

A swift succession of emotions flashed over her face: surprise, wicked amusement, something like yearning. Maybe pain. She was realizing, maybe, that he had all the same memories she did, from different angles.

"I remember. It's actually called Elephant Toothpaste. I added the right chemical...if you wanted it to foam." Her mouth tipped up at the corner.

"Yeah, well, I think Leather Vest is like that little extra chemical in that mundane mix. Except I think he can blow up the lab. Don't play with that guy."

Damn. He shouldn't have issued it as an order.

She froze. Her face went dark. "You sure love to lay down the law, don't you, Eli? But you don't get a say in who I play with."

She shoved away from the bar as if she were pushing him bodily away and with a flick of her hair over her shoulder, headed toward the back of the bar without another word.

"Dammit, Glory-"

Heads turned at his raised voice.

Glory was as good at exits as she was at entrances. The eyes of all those men followed the switch of her hips and the sway of her hair until she was gone.


He knew how they felt.

And worse-or better-than that, he knew how she felt. He knew he weight of her whole self when he'd grabbed her by the belt loops just in time from skipping out into oncoming traffic, when he was ten and she was seven.

Or when he was eighteen and she was sixteen, the weight of her arm she'd slid to wrap around him when she'd found him outside alone on the day of his father's funeral, leaning against on the back porch railing. His hand a visor over his eyes, as if he could hide the world from him and himself from the world. She'd tipped her head against his shoulder; there was no way she couldn't feel him shaking. She didn't say a word, though. He was everybody's rock, hers included, his mother's, his sister's. Everyone knew football heroes didn't cry.

She'd stayed with him until he could draw a steady breath again. And then she'd gone back into the house without a word.

In truth, her weight was no more a burden to him than wings were a burden to a bird.

His instinct right now was to lunge after her and pull her back by the belt loops again.

But she was right: he didn't have the right to do it. It would have been more of a capture than a rescue. An attempt to hold onto something that was doing its damnedest to pull away.

For a disorienting moment he felt utterly blank. As if the very laws of physics had changed.

And then he got a grip. Because she was right about another thing: He did love laws. He loved their structure and certainty and they were his refuge when life got a little too painful or messy or ambiguous.

And for God's sake, he had his pride. A lot of it. Well-earned.

That's what got him moving again. So nodded to Carl, and Carl nodded back, and then Eli nodded once more to the poker players and accompanied it with a meaningful glare to drive his point home, and went back out the way he came and got in his cruiser. He radioed his location to his Deputy Owen Haggerty and told him everything was fine at the Plugged Nickel, which felt like such a lie.

Then he pressed his head back against his car seat.

Citizens were in a law abiding mood tonight. The radio stayed quiet. His thoughts sure weren't. His stomach seemed to have tied itself into a Cat's Paw Knot, one of the more complicated knots he and Jonah had learned in Boy Scouts. Jonah could get out of those. There was no getting out of handcuffs, or a jail cell, though.

He sighed.


Eli looked out over the inky dark of the hills. The Plugged Nickel was roughly situated between Whiskey Creek and Coyote Creek. One was for pissing in, the other for swimming in, his dad had once said. Though he and Jonah had done both in both, grossing Glory out thoroughly..

It was so dark you'd have to stare for a long time some time to even make out the shapes of individual trees, though the hillside was carpeted with them. Imagining a life without Glory in it was a bit like that. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't make out its outlines.

He breathed in again and swiped his hands down his face.

He'd decided to start his cruiser and back out, drive up Main Street, check on the storefronts, the usual.

Which was why he was faintly surprised to find himself flinging the door open and crunching off over the dirt and gravel into the dark, toward the back of the Plugged Nickel, compelled by instinct and by a natural law that superseded all his logic and will and training. It was the same compulsion, he guessed, that had driven him to carve a set of initials on The Eternity Oak the day after his seventeenth birthday.

He wasn't much for superstition, but that was another moment where the need to do something had outweighed sense. And what he'd done then, if you believed local legend, was seal his fate.

{End of Excerpt}

Want to read more? It'll be here November 29th! And You can preorder now if the spirit moves you!







A STARRED review from Kirkus:

"Historical favorite Long's (Hot in Hellcat Canyon, 2016, etc.) second foray into contemporary romance is a study in longing and angst, with Eli and Glory awash in emotional confusion yet so perfectly attuned to each other that there's no question they'll figure it out, despite the taut conflict. The journey, however, is exquisite, combining humor and intensity with consummate writing and storytelling and a musical leitmotif that ratchets up the sexual tension as effectively as Bolero. A splendid, delectable romance."

A STARRED review from Publishers Weekly:

"Long’s second foray into contemporary romance (after Hot in Hellcat Canyon) continues to impress with sparkling prose, witty scenes of small-town California, and meaningful romantic conflict. "

“Julie Anne Long’s books are sexy and adorable!” (New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Jill Shalvis)

“Julie Anne long is a fantastic writer.” (New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Jayne Ann Krentz)

“Julie Anne Long’s writing glows with emotional intensity and strong, passionate characterization.” (New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Jayne Ann Krentz)

Funny, sexy, heartwarming, Long moves seamlessly into the contemporary market. (New York Times bestselling author Lori Wilde)

Sizzlingly smart! Long’s fresh new contemporary voice rocks! (NYT bestselling author Susan Andersen)



You can preorder now if the spirit moves you!



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