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Falsely accused of murder and mute from a near-fatal beating, Apollo Greaves, Viscount Kilbourne has escaped from Bedlam. With the Crown’s soldiers at his heels, he finds refuge in the ruins of a pleasure garden, toiling as a simple gardener. But when a vivacious young woman moves in, he’s quickly driven to distraction . . .
A DESPERATE WOMAN . . .
London’s premier actress, Lily Stump, is down on her luck when she’s forced to move into a scorched theatre with her maid and small son. But she and her tiny family aren’t the only inhabitants-a silent, hulking beast of a man also calls the charred ruins home. Yet when she catches him reading her plays, Lily realizes there’s more to this man than meets the eye.
OUT OF ASH, DESIRE FLARES
Though scorching passion draws them together, Apollo knows that Lily is keeping secrets. When his past catches up with him, he’s forced to make a choice: his love for Lily . . . or the explosive truth that will set him free.
Table of Contents
A Preview of Dearest Rogue
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Now once there was a king who lived to wage war. His clothes were chain mail and boiled leather, his thoughts were strategy and conflict, and at night he dreamed of the screams of his enemies and in his sleep he smiled…
—From The Minotaur
As the mother of a seven-year-old boy, Lily Stump was used to odd topics of conversation. There was the debate on whether fish wore clothes. The deep and insightful discussion over where sugared plums came from and the subsequent lecture on why little boys were not allowed to break their fast with them every day. And, of course, the infamous controversy of Why Dogs Bark But Cats Do Not.
So truly it wasn't Lily's fault that she did not pay heed to her son's announcement at luncheon that there was a monster in the garden.
"Indio," Lily said with only a tiny bit of exasperation, "must you wipe your jammy fingers on Daffodil? I can't think she likes it."
Sadly, this was a blatant lie. Daffodil, a very young and very silly red Italian greyhound with a white blaze on her chest, was already happily twisting her slim body in a circle in order to lick the sticky patch on her back.
"Mama," Indio said with great patience as he put down his bread and jam, "didn't you hear me? There's a monster in the garden." He was kneeling on his chair and now he leaned forward over the table to emphasize his words, a lock of his dark, curly hair falling into his right, blue, eye. Indio's other eye was green, which some found disconcerting, although Lily had long ago grown used to the disparity.
"Did he have horns?" the third member of their little family asked very seriously.
"Maude!" Lily hissed.
Maude Ellis plonked a plate of cheese down on their only-slightly-singed table and set her hands on her skinny hips. Maude had seen five decades and despite her tiny stature—she only just came to Lily's shoulder—she never shied away from speaking her mind. "Well, and mightn't it be the Devil he saw?"
Lily narrowed her eyes in warning—Indio was prone to rather alarming nightmares and this conversation didn't seem the best idea. "Indio did not see the Devil—or a monster, for that matter."
"I did," Indio said. "But he hasn't horns. He has shoulders as big as this." And he demonstrated by throwing his arms as far apart as he could, nearly knocking his bowl of carrot soup to the floor in the process.
Lily caught the bowl deftly—much to the disappointment of Daffodil. "Do eat your soup, please, Indio, before it ends on the floor."
" 'Tisn't a dunnie, then," Maude said decisively as she took her own chair. "Quite small they are, 'cepting when they turn to a horse. Did it turn to a horse, deary?"
"No, Maude." Indio shoved a big spoonful of soup into his mouth and then regrettably continued talking. "He looks like a man, but bigger and scarier. His hands are as big as… as…" Indio's little brows drew together as he tried to think of an appropriate simile.
"Your head," Lily supplied helpfully. "A tricorn hat. A leg of lamb. Daffodil."
Daffodil barked at her name and spun in a happy circle.
"Was he dripping wet or all over green?" Maude demanded.
Lily sighed and watched as Indio attempted to describe his monster and Maude attempted to identify it from her long list of fairies, hobgoblins, and imaginary beasts. Maude had grown up in the north of England and apparently spent her formative years memorizing the most ghastly folktales. Lily herself had heard these stories from Maude when she was young—resulting in quite a few torturous nights. She was endeavoring—mostly without success—to keep Maude from imparting the same stories to Indio.
Her gaze drifted around the rather decrepit room they'd moved into just yesterday afternoon. A small fireplace was on one charred wall. Maude's bed and her chest were pushed against another. Their table and four chairs were in the middle of the room. A tiny writing table and a rickety dark-plum settee were near the hearth. To the side, a door led into a small room—a former dressing room—where Lily had her own bed and Indio his cot. These two rooms were all that remained of the backstage in what had once been a grand theater at Harte's Folly. The theater—and indeed the entire pleasure garden—had burned down the autumn before. The stink of smoke still lingered about the place like a ghost, though the majority of the wreckage had been hauled away.
Lily shivered. Perhaps the gloominess of the place was making Indio imagine monsters.
Indio swallowed a big bite of his bread and jam. "He has shaggy hair and he lives in the garden. Daff's seen him, too."
Both Lily and Maude glanced at the little greyhound. Daffodil was sitting by Indio's chair, chewing on a back paw. As they watched she overbalanced and rolled onto her back.
"Perhaps Daffodil ate something that disagreed with her tummy," Lily said diplomatically, "and the tummy ache made her think she'd seen a monster. I haven't seen a monster in the garden and neither has Maude."
"Well, there were that wherryman with the big nose, hanging about the dock suspicious-like yesterday," Maude muttered. Lily shot her a look and Maude hastily added, "Er, but no, never seen a real monster. Just wherrymen with big noses."
Indio considered that bit of information. "My monster has a big nose." His mismatched eyes widened as he looked up excitedly. "And a hook. Per'aps he cuts children into little bits with his hook and eats them!"
"Indio!" Lily exclaimed. "That's quite enough."
"No. Now why don't we discuss fish clothing or… or how to teach Daffodil to sit up and beg?"
Indio sighed gustily. "Yes, Mama." He slumped, the very picture of dejection, and Lily couldn't help but think that he'd someday make a fine dramatic actor. She darted a pleading glance at Maude.
But Maude only shook her head and bent to her own soup.
Lily cleared her throat. "I'm sure Daffodil would benefit from training," she said a little desperately.
"I suppose." Indio swallowed the last spoonful of his soup and clutched his bread in his hand. He looked at Lily with big eyes. "May I leave the table, please, Mama?"
"Oh, very well."
In a flurry he tumbled from his chair and ran toward the door. Daffodil scampered behind him, barking.
"Don't go near the pond!" Lily called.
The door to the garden banged shut.
Lily winced and looked at the older woman. "That didn't go well, did it?"
Maude shrugged. "Mayhap could've been better, but the lad is a sensitive one, he is. So were you at that age."
Maude had been her nursemaid—and rather more, truth be told. She might be superstitious, but Lily trusted Maude implicitly when it came to the rearing of children. And a good thing, too, since she'd been left to raise Indio alone. "Should I go after him, do you think?"
"Aye, in a bit. No point now. Give him a fair while to calm himself." Maude jerked her pointed chin at Lily's bowl. "Best get that inside you, hinney."
The corner of Lily's mouth curled at the old endearment. "I wish I could've found us somewhere else to stay. Somewhere not so…" She hesitated, loath to give the ruined pleasure garden's atmosphere a name.
"Uncanny," Maude said promptly, having no such trouble herself. "All them burnt trees and falling-down buildings and not a soul about for miles in the nights. I place a wee bag of garlic and sage under my pillow every evening, I do, and you ought as well."
"Mmm," Lily murmured noncommittally. She wasn't sure she wanted to wake up to the reek of garlic and sage. "At least the workmen are about during the day."
"And a right scruffy bunch, the lot of them," Maude said stoutly. "Don't know where Mr. Harte got these so-called gardeners, but I wouldn't be surprised if he found them in the street. Or worse"—she leaned forward to whisper hoarsely—"got them off a ship from Ireland."
"Oh, Maude," Lily chided gently. "I don't know why you have this dislike of the Irish—they're just looking for work like anyone else."
Maude snorted as she vigorously buttered a slice of bread.
"Besides," Lily said hastily, "we're only here until Mr. Harte produces a new play with a part for me."
"And where would he be doing that?" Maude asked, glancing at the charred beams over their heads. "He'll need a new theater first, and a garden to put it in afore that. It'll be at least a year—more, most like."
Lily winced and opened her mouth, but Maude had gotten the bit between her teeth. She shook her piece of bread at Lily, showering crumbs on the table. "Never trusted that man, not me. Too charming and chatty by half. Mr. Harte could sweet-talk a bird down from a tree, into the palm of his hand, and right into the oven, he could. Or"—she slapped a last daub of butter on the bread—"talk an actress with all of London at her feet to come play in his theater—and only his theater."
"Well, to be fair, Mr. Harte wasn't to know his pleasure garden and the theater would burn to the ground at the time."
"Nay, but he did know it'd put Mr. Sherwood's back up." Maude bit into her bread for emphasis.
Lily wrinkled her nose at the memory. Mr. Sherwood, the proprietor of the King's Theatre and her former employer, was a rather vindictive man. He'd promised Lily that he'd make sure she'd not find work anywhere else in London if she went with Mr. Harte and his offer of twice the salary Mr. Sherwood had been paying her.
That hadn't been a problem until Harte's Folly had burned, at which point Lily had found that Mr. Sherwood had made good on his promise: all the other theaters in London refused to let her play for them.
Now, after being out of work for over six months, she'd gone through what few savings she'd had, forcing her little family to vacate their stylish rented rooms.
"At least Mr. Harte let us stay here free of charge?" Lily offered rather feebly.
Fortunately, Maude's reply was nonverbal since she'd just taken a bite of the soup.
"Yes, well, I really ought to go after Indio," Lily said, rising.
"And what of your luncheon, then?" Maude demanded, nodding at Lily's half-finished soup.
"I'll have it later." Lily bit her lip. "I hate it when he's upset."
"You coddle the boy," Maude sniffed, but Lily noticed the older woman didn't make any further protest.
Lily hid a smile. If anyone coddled Indio it was Maude herself. "I'll be back in a bit."
Maude waved a hand as Lily turned to the door to the outside. The door screeched horribly as she pulled it open. One of the hinges was cracked from the heat of the fire and it hung askew. Outside, the day was overcast. Deep-gray clouds promised more rain and the wind whipped across the blackened ground. Lily shivered and wrapped her arms around herself. She should've brought her shawl.
"Indio!" Her shout was thinned by the wind.
Helplessly she looked around. What had once been an elegant pleasure garden had been reduced to sooty mud by the fire and the spring rains. The hedges that had outlined graveled walks were burnt and mostly dead, meandering away into the distance. To the left were the remains of the stone courtyard and boxes where musicians had played for guests: a line of broken pillars, supporting nothing but sky. To the right a copse of straggling trees stood with a bit of mirrored water peeking out from behind—what was left of an ornamental pond, now clogged with silt. Here and there green poked out among the gray and black, but she had to admit that, especially on an overcast day like this one, with wisps of fog slinking along the ground, the garden was ominous and rather frightening.
Lily grimaced. She should've never let Indio out to play by himself, but it was hard to keep an active young boy inside. She started down one of the paths, slipping a bit in the mud, wishing she'd stopped to put on her pattens before coming outside. If she didn't see her son soon, she'd ruin the frivolous embroidered slippers on her feet.
She rounded what once had been a small thicket of trimmed trees. Now the blackened branches rattled in the wind. "Indio!"
A grunt came from the thicket.
Lily stopped dead.
There it was again—almost an explosive snort. The noise was too loud, too deep for Indio. It almost sounded like… a big animal.
She glanced quickly around, but she was completely alone. Should she return to the ruined theater for Maude? But Indio was out here!
Another grunt, this one louder. A rustle.
Something was breathing heavily in the bushes.
Good Lord. Lily bunched her skirts in her fists in case she had to leg it, and crept forward.
A groan and a low, rumbling sound.
She gulped and peeked around a burned trunk.
At first what she saw looked like an enormous, moving, mud-covered mound, and then it straightened, revealing an endlessly broad back, huge shoulders, and a shaggy head.
Lily couldn't help it. She made a noise that was perilously close to a squeak.
The thing whirled—much faster than anything that big had a right to move—and a horrible, soot-stained face glared at her, one paw raised as if to strike her.
In it was a wickedly sharp, hooked knife.
Lily gulped. If she lived through the day she was going to have to apologize to Indio.
For there was a monster in the garden.
THE DAY HADN'T been going well to begin with, reflected Apollo Greaves, Viscount Kilbourne.
At a rough estimate, fully half the woody plantings in the pleasure garden were dead—and another quarter might as well be. The ornamental pond's freshwater source had been blocked by the fire's debris and now it sat stagnant. The gardeners Asa had hired for him were an unskilled lot. To top it off, the spring rains had turned what remained of Harte's Folly into a muddy morass, making planting and earth moving impossible until the ground dried out.
And now there was a strange female in his garden.
Apollo stared into huge lichen-green eyes lined with lashes so dark and thick that they looked like smudged soot. The woman—girl? She wasn't that tall, but a swift glance at her bodice assured him she was quite mature, thank you—was only a slim bit of a thing, dressed foolishly in a green velvet gown, richly over-embroidered in red and gold. She hadn't even a bonnet on. Her dark hair slipped from a messy knot at the back of her neck, waving strands blowing against her pinkened cheeks. Actually, she was rather pretty in a gamine sort of way.
But that was beside the point.
Where in hell had she come from? As far as he knew, the only other people in the ruined pleasure garden were the brace of so-called gardeners presently working on the hedges behind the pond. He'd been taking out his frustration alone on the dead tree stump, trying to uproot the thing by hand since their only dray horse was at work with the other men, when he'd heard a feminine voice calling and she'd suddenly appeared.
The woman blinked and her gaze darted to his upraised arm.
Apollo's own eyes followed and he winced. He'd instinctively raised his hand as he turned to her, and the pruning knife he held might be construed as threatening.
Hastily he lowered his arm. Which left him standing in his mud-stained shirt and waistcoat, sweaty and stinking, and feeling like a dumb ox next to her delicate femininity.
But apparently his action reassured her. She drew herself up—not that it made much difference to her height. "Who are you?"
Well, he'd like to ask the same of her but, alas, he really couldn't, thanks to that last beating in Bedlam.
Belatedly he remembered that he was supposed to be a simple laborer. He tugged at a forelock and dropped his gaze—to elegantly embroidered slippers caked in mud.
Who was this woman?
"Tell me now," she said rather imperiously, considering she was standing in three inches of mud. "Who are you and what are you doing here?"
He glanced at her face—eyebrows arched, a plush rose lower lip caught between her teeth—and cast his eyes down again. He tapped his throat and shook his head. If she didn't get that message she was a lot stupider than she looked.
"Oh," he heard as he stared at her shoes. "Oh, I didn't realize." She had a husky voice, which gentled when he lowered his gaze. "Well, it doesn't matter. You can't stay here, you must understand."
Unseen, he rolled his eyes. What was she on about? He worked in the garden—surely she could see that. Who was she to order him out?
"You." She drew the word out, enunciating it clearly, as if she thought him hard of hearing. Some thought that since he couldn't speak he couldn't hear, either. He caught himself beginning to scowl and smoothed out his features. "Cannot. Stay. Here." A pause, and then, muttered, "Oh, for goodness' sakes. I can't even tell if he understands. I cannot believe Mr. Harte allowed…"
And it dawned on Apollo with a feeling of amused horror that his frustrating day had descended into the frankly ludicrous. This ridiculously clad woman thought him a lackwit.
One embroidered toe tapped in the mud. "Look at me, please."
He raised his gaze slowly, careful to keep his face blank.
Her brows had drawn together over those big eyes, in an expression that no doubt she thought stern, but that was, in reality, rather adorable. Like a small girl chiding a kitten. A streak of anger surged through him. She shouldn't be out by herself in the ruined garden. If he'd been another type of man—a brutal man, like the ones who'd run Bedlam—her dignity, perhaps even her life, might've been in danger. Didn't she have a husband, a brother, a father to keep her safe? Who was letting this slip of a woman wander into danger by herself?
He realized that her expression had gentled at his continued silence.
"You can't tell me, can you?" she asked softly.
He'd met pity in others since the loss of his voice. Usually it made him burn hot with rage and a sort of terrible despair—after nine months he wasn't sure he'd ever regain the use of his voice. But her inquiry didn't provoke his usual anger. Maybe it was her feminine charm—it'd been a while since any woman besides his sister had attempted to talk to him—or maybe it was simply her. This woman spoke with compassion, not contempt, and that made all the difference.
He shook his head, watching her, keeping his face dull and unresponsive.
She sighed and hugged herself, looking around. "What am I to do?" she muttered. "I can't leave Indio out here by himself."
Apollo struggled not to let surprise show on his face. Who or what was Indio?
"Go!" she said forcefully, suddenly enough that he blinked. She pointed a commanding finger behind him.
Apollo fought back a grin. She wasn't giving up, was she? He slowly turned, looking in the direction she indicated, and then swiveled back even more slowly, letting his mouth hang half open.
"Oh!" Her little hands balled into fists as she cast her eyes heavenward. "This is maddening."
She took two swift steps forward and placed her palms against his chest, pushing.
He allowed himself to sway an inch backward with her thrust before righting himself. She stilled, staring up at him. The top of her head barely came to his mid-chest. He could feel the brush of her breath on his lips. The warmth of her hands seemed to burn through the rough fabric of his waistcoat. This close her green eyes were enormous, and he could see shards of gold surrounding her pupils.
Her lips parted and his gaze dropped to her mouth.
The hissed word made them both start.
Apollo swung around. A small boy was poised on the muddy path just outside the thicket. He had shoulder-length curly dark hair and wore a red coat and a fierce expression. Beside him was the silliest-looking dog Apollo had ever seen: a delicate little red greyhound, both ears flopped to the left, head erect on a narrow neck, pink tongue peeping from one side of its mouth. The dog's entire demeanor could be labeled startled.
The dog froze at Apollo's movement, then spun and raced off down the path.
The boy's face crumpled at the desertion before he squared his little shoulders and glared at Apollo. "You get away from her!"
At last: her defender—although Apollo had been hoping for someone a bit more imposing.
"Indio." The woman stepped away from Apollo hastily, brushing her skirts. "There you are. I've been calling for you."
"I'm sorry, Mama." Apollo noticed the child didn't take his eyes from him—an attitude he approved of. "Daff an' me were 'sploring."
"Well, explore nearer the theater next time. I don't want you meeting anyone who might be…" She trailed away, glancing nervously at Apollo. "Erm. Dangerous."
Apollo widened his eyes, trying to look harmless—sadly, nearly impossible. He'd hit six feet at age fifteen and topped that by several inches in the fourteen years since. Add to that the width of his shoulders, his massive hands, and a face that his sister had once affectionately compared to a gargoyle's, and trying to appear harmless became something of a lost cause.
His apprehension was borne out when the woman backed farther away from him and caught her young son's hand. "Come. Let's go find where Daffodil has run off to."
"But, Mama," the boy whispered loudly. "What about the monster?"
It didn't take a genius to understand that the child was referring to him. Apollo nearly sighed.
"Don't you worry," the woman said firmly. "I'm going to talk to Mr. Harte as soon as I can about your monster. He'll be gone by tomorrow."
With a last nervous glance at him, she turned and led the boy away.
Apollo narrowed his eyes on her retreating back, slim and confident. Green Eyes was going to be in for a shock when she found out which of the two of them was tossed from the garden.
The king had a great army and with it he marched across field and mountain, subjugating all the peoples he met until at last he came to an island that lay in an azure sea like a pearl in an oyster shell. This he conquered at once and, seeing how beautiful the island was, sent for his queen, and caused a golden castle to be built there for their home. But on the first night he slept in that place a black bull came to him in a dream…
—From The Minotaur
For a man who owned a pleasure garden, Asa Makepeace certainly didn't live in luxury—if anything, he sailed perilously close to squalor.
Apollo finished climbing the three flights of rickety stairs to Makepeace's rented rooms the next morning. Makepeace lived in Southwark, which was on the south bank of the River Thames, not terribly far from Harte's Folly itself. The landing held two doors, one to the right, one to the left.
Apollo pounded on the right-hand door, then paused and placed his ear to it. He heard a faint rustling and then a groan. He reared back and thumped the wood again.
"D'you mind?" The left door popped open to reveal a shriveled elderly man, a soft red velvet cap on his head. "Some like to sleep of a morning!"
Apollo turned his shoulder, shielding his face behind his broad-brimmed hat, and waved an apologetic hand at the man.
The old man slammed his door shut just as Makepeace opened his own.
"What?" Makepeace stood in his doorway, swaying slightly as if in a breeze. "What?" His tawny hair stood out all around his head like a lion's mane—assuming the lion had been in a recent cyclone—and his shirt was unbuttoned, baring a heavily furred barrel chest.
At least he was wearing breeches.
Apollo pushed past his friend into the room—although not far. There simply wasn't much space to move. The room was swarming, teeming, breeding with things: towers of stacked books stood on the floor, a table, and even the big four-poster bed in the corner, a life-size portrait of a bearded man leaned against one wall, next to a stuffed raven, which stood next to a teetering pile of chipped, dirty dishes, and next to that was a four-foot-tall model of a ship, rigging and all. Colorful costumes were piled haphazardly in one corner and papers were scattered messily on top of nearly everything.
Makepeace shut his door and a few sheets fluttered to the floor. "What time is it?"
Apollo pointed to a large pink china clock sitting on top of a stack of books on the table before looking closer and realizing the timepiece had stopped. Oh, for God's sake. He chose a more direct way to show the time by dodging around the table, crossing to the only window, and yanking the heavy velvet curtains open.
A cloud of dust burst from the fabric, dancing prettily in the early morning sunlight streaming into the room.
"Ahhh!" Makepeace reacted as if skewered. He staggered and flung himself back on the bed. "Have you no mercy? It can't be noon yet."
Apollo sighed and crossed to his friend. He pushed one leg over ungently and perched on the side of the bed. Then he took out his ever-present notebook and a pencil stub.
He wrote, Who is the woman in the garden? and shoved the notebook in front of Makepeace's eyes.
Makepeace went cross-eyed for a second before focusing on the writing. "What woman? You're mad, man, there isn't any woman in any garden unless you're talking about Eve and that garden, which would make you Adam and that I'd pay to see, especially if you wore a girdle of oak leaves—"
During this ramble Apollo had taken back the notebook and written more. Now he showed it to the other man, cutting him off mid-rant: Green eyes, overdressed, pretty. Has a little boy named Indio.
"Oh, that woman," Makepeace said without any show of embarrassment. "Lily Stump. Best comic actress in this generation—perhaps any generation, come to think of it. She's impossibly good—it's almost as if she casts a spell over the audience, well certainly the male members. Uses the name Robin Goodfellow on the stage. Wonderful thing, made-up names. Quite useful."
- "Hoyt's exquisitely nuanced characters, vividly detailed setting, and seemingly effortless and elegant writing provide the splendid material from which she fashions yet another ravishingly romantic love story."—Booklist (starred review)
- "4 1/2 Stars! Top Pick! Darling Beast is wondrous, magical and joyous -- a read to remember."—RT Book Reviews
- "Richly drawn characters fill the pages of this emotionally charged mix of mystery and romance."—Publishers Weekly on Duke of Midnight
- "4 1/2 Stars! Top Pick! There is enchantment in the Maiden Lane series, not just the fairy tales Hoyt infuses into the memorable romances, but the wonder of love combined with passion, unique plotlines and unforgettable characters. In Duke of Midnight, Hoyt takes a stiff, cold duke - think Batman - and turns him into a vulnerable hero, then pairs him with a bold, unconventional tigress of a heroine so they can fight together. If the end is any indication, Hoyt's ready to gift us with more."—RT Book Reviews
- "Lord of Darkness...illuminates Hoyt's boundless imagination... readers will adore this story."—RT Book Reviews
- "Hoyt's writing is imbued with great depth of emotion ...Heartbreaking ... an edgy tension-filled plot."—Publishers Weekly
- "I adore the Maiden Lane series, and this fifth book is a very welcome addition to the series . . . [It's] sexy and sweet all at the same time . . . This can be read as a standalone, but I adore each book in this series and encourage you to start from the beginning."—USA Today's Happy Ever After Blog
- "Lord of Darkness is classic Elizabeth Hoyt, meaning it's unique, engaging, and leaves readers on the edge of their seats, waiting for the next book . . . an incredible addition to the fantastic Maiden Lane series. I Joyfully Recommend Godric and Megs's tale, for it's an amazing, well-crafted story with an intriguing plot and a lovely, touching romance that I want to enjoy again and again and again . . . simply enchanting!"—JoyfullyReviewed.com
- "Beautifully written . . . a truly fine piece of storytelling and a novel that deserves to be read and enjoyed."—TheBookBinge.com
- On Sale
- Oct 14, 2014
- Page Count
- 352 pages
- Grand Central Publishing