The Red Wolf of the Plains (Preview)

Chapter One

“Clara, put your bonnet back on. You’re thirteen now, not a child anymore. How many times have I told you?”

Ingrid Olafsdotter turned, took the pretty straw bonnet dangling from her daughter’s hands, and pulled it down tight over her bright blonde hair. The girl made a face and kicked the ground with her boot as they walked down the dirt road toward town.

“I hate this thing,” Clara complained with an impatient gesture toward the little cloth daisies circling the crown of her hat. “I feel like a fool in it. I might as well go out in public with a flowerpot on my head.”

“All the other girls in this town wear them at your age,” her mother fretted, waving the wicker basket she was holding. “Lord help me, how am I going to get you married if you won’t act like a young lady? Now, look there,” she added with a nod toward a farmhouse on the outskirts of town. 

A pair of gangly boys lounged against the trunk of a massive oak tree in the front yard. They were watching the road.

“There’s Ben Carter and his brother Joe, boys your own age! They might ask you to marry them one day. Stand up straight, Clara, and smile!”

Clara shot them a glance. Ben and Joe were almost twins: both tall, both sandy-haired, both wiry, and both worthless as wings on a fish. At the moment, they looked innocent enough. They were standing there with their hands jammed into their pants pockets and grins plastered on their faces as she and her mother neared. 

“I wouldn’t marry one of them squirrels if you put a gun to my head,” Clara grumbled.

Hush, Clara!” 

Ingrid marched past the house primly, smiling and nodding. The boys nodded back as nice as pie, but Joe slowly straightened up as she passed. When her back was finally turned, he dropped down and pumped his hips at Clara, like he was riding a bucking horse. Her eyes narrowed in exasperation, so he laughed at her and added some arm action.

Clara scowled at him and grumbled, “Pea-brained jacka—”

Her mother’s shocked voice slapped her down instantly. “Clara!”

Her mother half-turned to scowl at her and Joe straightened up and clasped his hands in front of him, like a choirboy about to sing a solo.

Clara grumbled under her breath as she passed the house, but when she looked again, Ben had joined his brother in the dance, the two of them grunting at her like pigs.

Her glance drifted up the tree. Little specks flitted here and there from the second branch over Joe and Ben’s heads. She dove down, scooped a rock from the road, and smoked it at a dark spot on that second branch.

There was a pop like a pistol shot, and Clara picked up her skirts and flew after her mother. Howls and curses chased her down the road, and when Clara turned her head, she saw Joe and Ben Carter streaking toward the farmhouse, arms flailing over their heads, as a hive of bees blackened the air behind them.

Clara smiled and twirled around in victory, only to be arrested by the sight of her mother’s horrified face. “Law,” she gasped, “look at those boys run! What on earth stirred up a hive of bees in that yard?”

Her mother’s eyes focused in on her face and understanding slowly dawned in them. “Clar-aaaa Olafsdotter, she gasped. “Did you do something bad to those boys?”

Clara looked down at the ground, shrugged one shoulder, and dug the dirt with the toe of her boot.

Her mother raised her hands to heaven and wailed, “Clara, what am I going to do with you? Your father and I raised you to be a young lady. Not a little hellion!”

Ingrid shook her head and grumbled under her breath, but finally started for town again, and Clara followed her down the dirt road. 

Sidney, Nebraska was a lonely little prairie town in the middle of nowhere. Grassland stretched in every direction for as far as the eye could see, and the countryside was so flat that rail passengers could spot Sidney from fifty miles away. It was inhabited by about three hundred families, mostly farmers and ranchers, and its main employer was the Granger Grain Mill—the place where Hans Olafsdotter had worked for ten years.

Clara trailed behind her mother on the way there, though it griped her to be so prim and prissy. It had rained the day before, and the main street was still filled with muddy pools that she would’ve splashed in only a few years before. But that was over. 

Her mother had just bought her a little corset, insisting that she was a young lady now.

Clara glanced up at the sky wistfully. It was a great day to go hunting rabbits with her father’s rifle. A few straggling clouds from the previous night were being blown to the south, and the sky was rain-washed and blue. It was April, and the wind that fluttered her bonnet ribbons was still chilly. 

Her eyes moved to the far horizon, a hundred miles away. It was dark as midnight out there on the edge of sight, and a tiny, barely perceptible flick of white told her that trouble was coming.

But for the moment at least it was a sunny morning, the birds chattering in the trees and the current flowing into town off the plain smelling of sweetgrass. She turned her face into it to enjoy the taste on the breeze—fresh, rainy, and a little like vanilla.

That little taste was all the freedom her mother was going to let her have that day, so Clara stifled her impatience and resisted the temptation to slip away while Ingrid wasn’t looking.

The town they walked into was small, a knot of dreary clapboard and stone buildings that were as much windbreak as community: a faded general store, a grubby brick post office, the soot-stained railroad depot, the Lutheran church, the Methodist church, the city hall. 

Just beyond the little cluster of buildings, the massive grain mill reared up outside of town, gray, wooden, and towering, like a mountain dropped from the sky into the middle of nowhere. Its huge silo blocked the rising sun well into the morning, and the tons of grain inside coated her father’s blue jacket with fine yellow dust when he came home every night.

Her mother slowed as they passed the town mercantile, then stopped momentarily before sighing.

“We don’t have time now, but remind me to come back here when we’ve dropped your father’s lunch off. I need some turpentine and pickling salt.”

Clara’s eyes moved doubtfully to the shop’s dusty display window. It was full of farm tools.

Turpentine and pickling salt’s about right, she thought with a frown. This place has hardly got one blessed thing in it that ain’t about work. No candy jars, no fancy books or toys like they got in the cities.

I can’t wait to get out of here. And I will someday!

“Come along, Clara.”

She bowed her head, mumbling under her breath, and trailed her mother down the street. It was still fairly early, and busy by local standards. A few wagons rattled through town, a half-dozen women milled around store entrances, and old men sat down on benches outside the train depot and discussed the weather.

Clara watched them despondently as she and her mother trudged through town. That was pretty much all there was to do in Sidney. The strong had to work, and those too old for that sat around and talked about two things: corn and beef.

Stifling a sigh, Clara swept the little train depot with dissatisfied eyes. Most days, she thought she was going to die of boredom, and for the thousandth time, she consoled herself that one day she’d march down to that train station and ride right out of town.

Because nothing ever happened in Sidney, Nebraska.

The mill was a good half-mile beyond the western edge of town. Its massive entrance was crowned by the words Granger Grain Mill in painted red letters, followed by Authorized Personnel Only. It had been long enough that those words had faded to a dull rust color. There were two windows on either side of the office door, but they were so dusty that you couldn’t see inside—she had tried. Clara had given up, not because she wasn’t curious but because there probably wasn’t anything interesting to see inside if she did get a peek.

Her mother led the way across the graveled mill yard and right up to the office entrance. The wooden steps up to the front door were gray and faded, and they squeaked when her mother climbed them and opened the door.

Clara craned her neck to get a glimpse of the mill’s mysterious interior. Her parents had never once let her go inside. They always said it was dangerous, and told her a lot of boogeyman stories about grain dust and sparks, but that was just an excuse to keep her out of her father’s hair at work. 

“Why don’t I come in with you?” she offered quickly. Her mother paused in the opening and replied without turning around.

“You know the answer to that. This mill is a workplace, with dangerous equipment. It’s no place for a child.”

“I’m not a child!” Clara blurted, and at that, her mother turned around with one hand paused on the doorknob. She was smiling.

“Yes, you are, missy. Go back to the mercantile and wait for me there. I won’t be long. I’m just going to give your father his lunch.”

Clara pulled her mouth to one side in disappointment and turned back toward town. But as soon as her mother had disappeared inside the mill, she swiped the bonnet off her head and let her shining braids fall free. The breeze felt good after having that bonnet clapped on her head for more than half an hour, and she twirled around a time or two with her arms flung out.

“Trying to fly, Clara?”

Mr. Behrman, the mill manager, came walking by on his way inside, and he shot her a grin as he passed. 

“I wish I could fly,” Clara confessed, and her eyes moved to the distant train depot.

“Eh, you will.” Mr. Behrman nodded as he climbed the wooden steps. “Sooner than your folks’ll like.”

He climbed the entrance steps and disappeared inside, and the door swung shut with a snap. Clara stared after him, then sighed and drifted down the big dirt drive running a half-mile back to town.

Clara stopped at the edge of the mill yard and looked back at it over her shoulder. Everyone had gone inside. There was no one to see her, so she ran to a solitary tree, shimmied up into it, and sat on the lowest branch. 

Settling in more comfortably, she dug an apple out of her dress pocket and munched on it as she glanced back toward town. It was now late morning, and most everybody was already where they were going to stay. The streets were quiet. She could only see a few women crossing the street on the way to the mercantile, and soon even they disappeared.

Time passed. Clara swung her booted feet in the air, slowly polished off the apple, and slipped down out of the tree to walk back to town. She was just about to see how far she could chuck the core when a faint, distant pop made her hand pause in mid-air. 

It sounded like a gun going off.

Clara slowed to a stop, frowned, and then slowly started walking again. Guns got fired around here for all kinds of reasons, and she’d just decided that somebody had gone hunting rabbits when a pair of riders burst into town from behind the distant post office and came roaring down the long, flat road toward the mill. They were whipping their horses with every breath, and the apple slipped from Clara’s hand as she watched them in round-eyed amazement.

She’d never seen anybody ride so fast or so scared. Both men were hunched low in the saddle, and they kept looking back over their shoulders like they expected somebody to be chasing them.

Thunderation, Clara thought in awe and moved far off the road to give them plenty of room. She watched, spellbound, as the riders came on, faster and faster, making straight for the mill. The hindermost twisted around and screamed something out.

Clara’s eyes moved past them. A third rider had appeared behind them, and he, too, was going like a bat out of a cave. The sight of him seemed to strike the first two with terror. They flashed past her, roared into the mill yard like a cyclone, vaulted down from their moving horses, and went tearing into the mill. 

One of them stumbled and fell on the wooden steps. He yelled out and his face twisted in pain; then he clapped a hand to his ribs, struggled up, and scrambled into the building and out of sight.

Clara watched in open-mouthed alarm. She’d never seen either of the men before, but it was plain as print that something was wrong. 

A few heartbeats passed. There was a sound inside the mill like voices raised in challenge, followed by a muffled pop, and Clara frowned. 

There was no other warning for what came next. Clara was still staring after the fleeing men when a white flash suddenly lit the world like the sun and a shattering boom swept her up off her feet. She threw her arms up to shield herself from the blast and was hurled backward through the air like a rag doll.

The next thing she knew, she was lying on the ground a hundred yards away with dirt on her teeth and burning planks raining down all around her. For a few seconds, the world went silent; then, for a few more, everything sounded muffled, like it was underwater. Then a loud ringing started to buzz in her head, and her hearing finally returned.

But it was her eyes that hurt most. Clara looked up through her hair to see the mill blasted to the ground and burning. 

She watched in disbelief as the horrible truth slowly settled over her. She searched over and over with her eyes, but there was no sign of her parents. No sign of any human life in the burning wreck that had been the Granger Mill, not even dead bodies. No sound except the roar of fire burning what little was left. 


Clara shook her head, back and forth. Her chest began to heave, in and out, slowly building to the unearthly scream that finally clawed her throat open.

“My mother’s in there!” 

Clara screamed again, then slumped to the ground and pressed her face into it, weeping. She beat the ground with one clenched fist, because there was no hope. Even she could see that. Everybody inside that place had just been blown to the moon. 


Just like that. 

Clara screamed, convulsed, dug the dirt with her fingernails, sobbed and beat the ground again, but none of it made any difference. It was already over. 

Her folks were dead, Mr. Behrman was dead, every man working at the mill was dead. Even the two strangers were dead, whoever they were.

There was nothing anybody could do, even though she could hear the church bells half a mile away faintly clanging out the fire alarm. Clara struggled up to sit on the ground, pulled a trembling hand across her mouth, and tried to still her racing heart. It was beating against her ribs like a bird trying to escape a cage. 

She tried to pull herself to her feet, but her legs were trembling and collapsed under her, so she slumped down again and watched in dazed horror as the ruins of the mill burned. The silo was blasted open and toppled on the ground, dust and smoke hung in the air like fog, and the mill office was now about a foot high and as ragged as a row of broken teeth. What little was left was black and charred.

“Oh, Lord.” Clara moaned and squeezed her eyes shut. “Lord, help me! My ma and pa are dead. They’re gone!”

It was beginning to dawn on her, dimly, that she was now alone in the world. She had no other family, no one else to take care of her. Shock still numbed her, but grief was burning holes in its merciful veil, and fear was there at her elbow, waiting its turn.

As Clara stared listlessly at the wreckage, there came a new sound, a sound other than the pop and crackle of fire—the slow sound of boots crunching on gravel. Someone was walking toward her, but Clara sat there leaning to one side and didn’t even turn around to see who it was.

It didn’t matter who it was.

There was a hushed sound, a faint creaking, like a booted man crouching down on his haunches. A soft voice murmured, “Are you all right?”

A hysterical bubble of laughter rose up in Clara’s throat, because it was the biggest fool question anybody had ever asked her. But the voice was an adult man’s voice, and so she didn’t cuss him like she would’ve a boy her own age.

She just shook her head.


Chapter Two

Eight years later

Lincoln, Nebraska

Clara Olafsdotter carefully smoothed her glossy blonde hair and scanned the crowd milling around Lincoln’s busy train station. She was wearing or holding everything she owned in the world: a cleverly patched navy blue skirt of polished cotton, a blue velvet jacket, a white linen shirt with a lace ruffle at the throat, and a battered leather suitcase full of her underwear and ten dollars in cash.

It wasn’t enough to get her on the train.

She scanned the crowd, looking for a likely mark. There were lots of men there, but she was looking for a particular kind of man, and she’d learned to know him when she saw him. She wanted a wolf who had enough money to buy a train ticket, and whose dirty mind made him easy to distract with a smile and flirty talk.

She only needed a few seconds. Just long enough for her to slip that little ticket right out of his coat. 

That sunny summer morning, it appeared she had a lot of choices. A portly banker type with a gold watch glanced at her from across the platform, then glanced again. He smiled and raised his bowler, and Clara smiled back big and bright. 

Down the way, a knot of young farmers were talking to one another, but enough of them glanced her way and laughed for her to know they were discussing her. It was probably only a matter of time before one dared the other to come over and say hello.

Over by the ticket window, a harried-looking family man glanced up and let his gaze rest on her with an expression that suggested he was revisiting his past. There were two kids pulling on his coat, so Clara broke eye contact and turned away. She didn’t grift a man with a family. The last eight years of her life might’ve forced her to work like a slave, borrow from everyone else in Sidney, cut her hair short and pretend to be a boy to get jobs in neighboring towns, and occasionally pick pockets, but she still had her standards.

Her attention shifted to the uniformed porter stationed at the steps to the first passenger car. She’d been watching him for ten minutes, and he was alert. He never turned away, never let himself be distracted, and never let anyone get on the train without coughing up a ticket. There was no hope there.

Clara drifted closer to the ticket counter, waiting to snag someone walking from the window to the train. There was a line four deep, and it was unlucky for her that there were women there, because they looked at her and raised their brows in surprise. Clara turned away and scanned the road as if she was waiting for someone. She didn’t like to attract attention from other women. Many of the older ones were suspicious of her solitude, and the younger ones frowned at her and put a hand on their husbands’ arms.

Clara strolled toward the busy road facing the entrance to the station. Wagons and carriages rattled past, or occasionally deposited newcomers on the curb. It had cost her every cent she had, but she’d finally gotten on that train and ridden out of Sidney. She was never going back, and even if she’d only had enough money to get to Lincoln, she wasn’t going to let herself get stuck there. Lincoln might be bigger, but it was still a cow town, a farm town stuck out in the middle of nowhere.

She was going all the way out to San Francisco, where there were people, all kinds of people, and tall hills and cable cars and blue ocean, and ships, ships going to other places all over the world. She didn’t know what she was going to do once she got there, but she’d figure it out. 

She always did.

The sound of a new carriage pulling up to the curb made Clara straighten and tilt her head in curiosity. It was a closed carriage, a fancy rig with two matched blacks in fancy harness pulling it. The coach was black too, as glossy as a pool of ink and tricked out in gold trim. 

It was by far the prettiest rig she’d seen all day, though in a town like Lincoln, it didn’t have much competition.

The door popped open and a dark and very handsome man climbed out. He was young and dressed sharply, and as soon as his gleaming boots touched the ground, he turned around to offer his lips to the flossy redhead leaning down to kiss them. 

Clara raised an eyebrow. Well, look at that, she thought, well-pleased. It’s a ladies’ man.

She waited patiently as the two strangers laughed and kissed again, and the man lifted a hand to wave before the coach door closed. The fellow stood at the curb as the rig pulled away, gazing after it for a moment. Then he sighed, reached into his pants pocket, and turned for the station.

Clara walked toward him briskly; the newcomer was made to order and this was her moment. He was pulling out his wallet, preparing to produce a ticket or the money to pay for it. He was looking down, not at where he was going.

Clara focused on his hand as it fumbled with the wallet, and smiled to see that it was holding a little slip of yellow paper. She quickened her pace, and just before she plowed into the stranger, she turned her head away as if she had been looking at something else.

She almost knocked him down. He staggered sideways from the collision, righted himself, then looked up with a scowl that quickly changed to shock when he saw her trip, fall down, and crumple on the brick pavement. Clara tossed her suitcase to one side for dramatic effect and looked up wildly.

“Oh!” she cried, and put a hand to her brow. “Oh, mister, my head!”

His dark, expressive eyes moved from the crown of her head to the soles of her boots, and he leaned down quickly to offer his arm.

“A thousand apologies, señorita! How could I have been so clumsy? With your permission.”

Clara reached out to take his arm and let him help her to her feet. She put her hand to her chest and gasped a bit for effect, then lifted her eyes to his face with an expression of helpless dismay.

“Thank you.” She nodded. “I looked back to see if my brother had gotten our tickets, and I didn’t see you until it was too late.”

The dark man leaned down to get her suitcase and presented it to her with a smile. He was a good-looking devil, she had to admit, with his head of shining black hair and his lashes like a girl’s. Clara dimpled at him as she took her case back.

The man bowed slightly and flashed a beautiful row of perfect white teeth. “Allow me to introduce myself, señorita. I am Ernesto Gomez, and completely at your service.”

“Mr. Gomez. I’m Nellie Templeton, and pleased to meet you.” She glanced down, as if she was shy, and ventured, “Going anyplace particular?”

He shot her a quick, smiling look. “Ah, yes. I am traveling all the way to San Francisco with my business partner. We were supposed to meet here.” He glanced back toward the street and brightened. “Well, better late than never! There he is now.”

Clara followed the direction of his gaze, and to her dismay, a big ginger man was climbing down out of a horse cab. He was six feet tall, his hair was as red as if it was on fire, and both his jaw and his shoulders were as wide and square as a barn door. 

What was more, that son of a gun was wearing a long duster and two honking Colts on his hips. He had “trouble” stamped all over him.

But it was the look on his face that made Clara change her plans. He might be a handsome devil, and he might be carved out of rock, but he was wearing a look she’d learned to recognize—the look of an outlaw. They were wary, they scanned every face they saw, and the big stranger was doing it as she watched.

It was time to go. Clara pressed a hand to her head and moaned pitifully.

“Wish the world would stop spinning! Oh, how it rolls!”

Ernesto frowned. “Are you hurt, miss? Perhaps I should seek out a porter.”

Clara gave him a faint, martyred smile and glanced sideways at the redheaded man, who had paused on the sidewalk to shrug out of his long black coat. 

“Well, I am a little bit dizzy, sure enough,” she confessed in a small voice. “My brother went to the baggage car to see that our trunks got on safely. At the back of the train,” she added, with a nod toward the caboose, far down the train yard. “If it wouldn’t be too much trouble, you could get him for me. He’s a tall fellow, blonde like me, wearing a brown coat and dungarees. Bart Templeton.”

Ernesto smiled and tilted his head in assent. “Of course, Miss Templeton. See, there’s a bench up ahead. If you’ll sit down and rest, I will fetch your brother.”

“Thanks, Mr. Gomez.”

Her chevalier squired her to the bench, helped her to sink down onto it, and patted her hand a bit more warmly than was necessary.

De nada, bella dama. I’ll be back soon.”

“You’re a real nice man,” she murmured and gave him a bit more of a mischievous smile than she had so far. He brightened, then turned to stride across the station in the way a young man did when he knew a beautiful woman was watching him go.

Clara reached down into her blouse, pulled the train ticket out of her cleavage, and checked it. To her delight, it read: Burlington, Lincoln to San Francisco.

She sprang to her feet and trailed after her unsuspecting mark. He was a hundred feet ahead of her, and she kept as many people between them as she could, but she didn’t have a second to lose. Any minute, he was going to figure out what happened. She was pretty sure the redheaded man would, if he didn’t. 

She needed to be safely on the train when they met.

Clara hiked up her skirts and half-ran across the station courtyard. She made a beeline to the porter standing guard at the steps to the first carriage and handed over the little yellow ticket. He lowered his eyes to glance at it. 

“First class, Row 5, Seat A. To the left,” he told her with a nod toward the gleaming car just behind the tender. “Watch your step, miss, and enjoy your trip.”

He offered his hand, and Clara took it as she climbed up the steep metal steps, turned left, and opened a glossy wooden door with a beveled glass window. She stepped through and froze on the threshold in spite of herself. She hadn’t been on any train before that week, and she sure hadn’t ever been in first class. The luxurious accommodations inside took her breath.

When she took her first, hesitant step inside, her boots sank deep into the plush Oriental carpet on the floor. Every seat was upholstered in red velvet and the walls were lined with gleaming oak paneling. Her eyes rose to the ceiling. It was covered in stamped tin, and the three chandeliers hanging from the ceiling made the carriage look more like a fancy bank lobby than a train car.

Clara drifted down toward the front. Row 5, Seat A was a window spot, and she sank down into the velvet seat with a shiver of pure delight. 

The window was high up in the train car and Clara glanced out to see if she was still safe. She had a wonderful view of the station courtyard and the ticket office. To her relief, there was no sign of Ernesto, and the redheaded man was looking around like he couldn’t understand why. Clara smiled to see him sink down onto the bench she’d just left.

She closed her eyes and luxuriated in that little stolen moment. She couldn’t stay in Ernesto’s seat; it was the first place he’d come looking. But she had to sit in it at least once, not to look odd to the porter. Even so, she couldn’t resist just a few minutes of pretending she belonged there. She probably had about ten minutes before old Ernesto realized he’d been had and came hurrying back. 

There was a little pocket on the back of the seat ahead of her, and Clara pulled a large brochure out of it. It was a meal menu, and her eyes moved over it in wonder. 

Meals served in dining car at 9 a.m to 10 a.m, noon to 1 p.m., and 6 p.m to 7 p.m. Appetizers available from the tea cart from 3 p.m to 4 p.m.

Clara’s stomach grumbled, and she pressed a hand to it as she read:

Lunch menu:

Beef consommé soup

Cream of tomato soup with dill

Turkey sandwich with rosemary, gruyère, and cranberry compote

Beef tartare on toasted French bread with mustard, watercress, and fried tomatoes

Clara closed her eyes and conjured up that lunch tray in her imagination. Her stomach growled again, but the wheels in her mind were already turning, trying to dream up a way to snitch some of it.

“The Red Wolf of the Plains” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Eight years ago, Clara’s life took a harrowing turn when tragedy struck her family after an explosion at the Granger Mill. Now she’s on a train to San Francisco, with nothing but a suitcase and a stolen train ticket. Among carriages, eluding pursuers and her haunted past, she crosses paths with Ethan, a mysterious red-haired businessman with secrets of his own. Drawn together, they form an unlikely friendship as the ride towards the frontier slowly turns into a perilous journey…

A quest for freedom that might lead Clara to confront her past and shape her destiny…

Ethan wants to finalize a lucrative business deal, but his past looms ever present. His guns may be holstered but his quick draw and sharp aim remain as danger lurks in the shadows. Pinkerton agents, vengeful adversaries, and a relentless pursuit of justice converge on the train’s path, with Ethan sticking by Clara’s side.

Soon, alliances are tested and betrayals are revealed…

From the rugged peaks of the Rockies to the dusty plains of the West, Clara and Ethan must confront their scars and secrets, forging newfound alliances to survive. Amidst the chaos of the frontier, they find solace in each other’s company, but danger follows them in every step. Will Ethan’s past awaken his wild spirit, leaving no trace of hope for a new beginning? Will Ethan and Clara manage to win over this deadly ride?

“The Red Wolf of the Plains” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 60,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

Get your copy from Amazon!

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