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Rue and the crew of the Spotted Custard return from India with revelations that shake the foundations of England’s scientific community. Queen Victoria is not amused, the vampires are tetchy, and something is wrong with the local werewolf pack. To top it all off, Rue’s best friend Primrose keeps getting engaged to the most unacceptable military types.
Rue has family problems as well. Her vampire father is angry, her werewolf father is crazy, and her obstreperous mother is both. Worst of all, Rue’s beginning to suspect what they really are. . . is frightened.
Table of Contents
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In Which Queen Victoria Is Not Amused
"We are not pleased, young lady. Not pleased at all."
Despite the acute sensation of being crushed under a hot fruitcake of embarrassment, Rue was impressed by Queen Victoria's ability to eviscerate in so few words. The Empress of India was short in stature, wide in girth, and wore a black silk dress positively drowning in ball fringe. She looked like an extraordinarily angry hassock. To the best of her knowledge, Rue had never before been scolded by a footstool.
"Imagine circumventing the Crown's authority in such a manner. Did we grant you any kind of diplomatic autonomy? No, we most certainly did not!"
Rue hadn't enough self-preservation to keep her mouth shut at that. "But you conferred sundowner status upon me. If a lady can kill supernaturals under legal sanction, isn't that a kind of diplomatic autonomy?"
Primrose, had she been present, would have fainted at the very idea of arguing with the Queen of England. But Rue was accustomed to quarrelling with powerful people. To be fair, when the most powerful woman on the planet looked like a hassock, it made quarrelling easier.
Said hassock, however, was having none of it. "Which was intended for you to clean up a supernatural mess, not cause more of one."
Rue thought that unfair. After all, she had prevented a major military action and saved a number of lives. Admittedly, she had sacrificed a great deal of tea. Unfortunately, if past record was anything to go on, Queen Victoria was a bloodthirsty little thing. She probably wouldn't have cared about the lives and was more upset over the tea.
The queen settled into her scolding. "So you establish an illegal concordance between the Shadow Council and a group of vagrant weremonkeys without any kind of by-your-leave? What sort of precedent does that set? A clandestine agreement between disparate groups of supernatural creatures – no government sanction, no proper treaty, no taxation! Young lady, may we remind you, we have ambassadors for this kind of thing, not" – Queen Victoria sputtered to a pause, taking in Rue's outfit with a critical eye – "round velveteen schoolgirls!"
Rue had thought her brown velvet and gold striped visiting dress most proper for a royal summons. It was sombre in coloration and striped. Queen Victoria was reputed to be fond of stripes. Or was that plaid?
But the "round" stung. Rue thought that insult quite ripe when coming from the queen, who was very round indeed. By comparison, Rue felt she was only moderately round.
"We are most seriously displeased," ranted her high-and-mighty roundness.
"I beg your pardon, Your Majesty." Rue resorted to placations.
Fortunately for Rue, Queen Victoria elected not to clap her in irons. Instead she took a more direct course. "We hereby strip you of sundowner status."
Rue swallowed her objection. I didn't even get to use it properly! "Yes, Your Majesty."
"And all other legal protections and rights previously granted unto you."
Rue frowned. What other protections had she enjoyed? And why had she needed them? She opened her mouth to ask and then shut it at a glare from her most royal of majesties.
"Now remove yourself from our presence, and if you know what's good for you, avoid royal notice for the foreseeable future."
Rue backed away a few steps, dropped a deep curtsey, and scuttled to the door.
She heard the queen say to one of her hovering advisers, "I did hope she would turn out more stable than her parents."
To which the gentleman answered, "A girl who can change into any supernatural creature she touches? Stability was never likely a companion personality trait."
"Well, she's no longer our concern." The queen sounded almost smug.
Rue straightened her back, standing as tall as her – round! – frame would allow and bit the inside of her cheek so as not to cry. It was one thing to be told off by a queen, quite another when some court nobody took against her.
Rue strode out of the palace in high dudgeon. Her long skirts swished. There was a shocking amount of leg outline visible with each step because she eschewed the requisite number of underskirts – even when visiting the queen. Society condemned this as a modern affectation brought about by her travels abroad, but Rue simply found it easier to change shape when she hadn't an overabundance of underthings.
She paused outside the gates, breathing the night air in angry pants like a perturbed bellows. It was a crisp evening, the gibbous moon illuminating a busy street. London was awake and bustling, for while the season was over, the supernatural set still carried the torch.
Dama's carriage was waiting for her. Her father had insisted she travel to the palace in style, although his aesthetic – one of gilt and ribbons and plush velvets – was not to Rue's particular taste. Dama was peeved with her over the loss of his tea but refused to let that affect standards in conveyance arrangements.
"Don't trouble yourself, Winkle." Rue waved off the drone on the driving box when he made to hop down and help her inside. She swung herself up easily; fewer skirts and a lack of corset improved one's mobility in a marked manner.
Winkle made an affronted noise but it was too late to insist. He whipped the horses up and they set forth at a brisk clip.
Inside the cab, Rue slouched into her lace collar, feeling sorry for herself.
Sooner than they ought, Winkle drew the carriage to a halt. There was no way they had traversed all of Mayfair. Rue leaned dangerously far out the window and craned her neck to see the box. There was some kind of commotion going on in the middle of Oxford Circus near the recently reopened Claret's.
"Turn back and go around, Winkle, do."
"Everyone seems to have the same idea, miss."
There was quite the ruckus surrounding them. Conveyances of all types were circling and trapping each other at odd angles as they jockeyed for position.
"Has there been an accident? Should I get out and see?"
Winkle had a much superior vantage point. "I don't think that particularly wise, miss."
Which, naturally, caused Rue to pop open the carriage door and swing down.
The first thing she noticed was that there was a great deal of yipping and some growling. Someone was also singing a bawdy song, off-key, at the top of his not-inconsiderable lungs.
"What the devil?"
Rue pushed through the confused mess of carriages, steam-powered Coccinellidae, monowheels, and assorted bicycles. She then forced her way to the front of a jeering crowd. It surrounded the dramatically carved marble entryway of Claret's Gentleman's Club, out the mahogany door from which oozed a stumbling mass of masculine rabble composed of several officers of Her Royal Majesty's service, a handful of tight-trouser-wearing thespians, and one or two large dogs in top hats and cravats.
Ah, not dogs, wolves.
There were only eleven members of Paw's werewolf pack, but as they tended to be rather large dramatic specimens, there always seemed to be more of them than there actually were.
Most of them were now in front of her and, much to Rue's horror, at their cups. Now, far be it for Rue to object on principle to the consumption of the divine pip: even werewolves should be allowed a snootful on occasion. No, it was the fact that, ordinarily, werewolves did not get soused in the way of mortal men. They required a great deal of formaldehyde, of the type used to embalm human remains, not surprising since they were technically undead. Yet the pack before her was so very juicy that they had taken to, and there was no nicer way of putting it – troubling a group of beautiful and beautifully dressed ladies and gentlemen.
The beautiful group was not amused by this attention. There was something to their quick movements and very high collars that spoke of training and the covering of neck bites.
These were not the highly dressed pinks of the type her dear Dama collected. These drones must belong to one of the London hive queens.
One of the werewolves was harrying them, darting in and out like a sheepdog, only bigger and meaner. It had to be Channing; none of the others had a pure white coat. He was a beautiful wolf, if not very friendly with teeth bared and tail lashing.
"What in heaven's name is going on?" Rue demanded of no one in particular.
Channing ignored her.
One of the other uncles, Rafe, still in human form, looked up. "Infant! What are you doing here? No place for a chit."
Rue planted her hands on her hips. "You are no longer inside your club, you do realise? This is a respectable thoroughfare and I'm perfectly within my rights to be— Wait a moment. Stop distracting me. What is wrong with the pack? Corned beef, the lot of you. Oh, do stop it, Uncle Channing! You can't go around growling at someone's drones in public. It's not done."
They ignored her. Although Hemming, who made for a handsome wolf with his black and gold markings on creamy white, lurched in her direction – possibly operating under some latent need to protect.
Rue took that as permission and pulled off her gloves.
From behind her, Winkle said, "Miss, I don't think—" but it was too late.
Rue buried her hand in Hemming's thick coat, seeking his skin. That was all it took. There she went, bones breaking and re-forming, eyesight and hearing shifting, sense of smell increasing. Rue the brindled wolf stood among the tatters of a lovely striped gold and brown velvet visiting dress. And Hemming lay quite naked and somewhat less handsome as a confused man.
Winkle scooped up Rue's dress and draped it over the now-mortal werewolf. The drone was quite brainy enough to know, at this juncture, there was no way he could safely interfere.
Rue leapt to protect the frightened huddle of drones. In actuality, they weren't that pathetic, but she liked to think of herself as coming to the heroic defence of the innocent.
Hackles up, she bared her teeth at Uncle Channing, backing him away, challenging him.
Channing was not the kind of wolf to resist a challenge. As a major in the British Army, there had even been several duels, much more messy than a wolf brawl. Duels were illegal and had to be stuffed under carpets at great expense to avoid scandal. Channing had a vast collection of lumpy carpets. Rue usually allowed him some leeway because he was obviously a wounded soul of some sullen Shakespearian ilk, plus he wore angry petulance so beautifully. But tonight he was drunk, and she wasn't going to put up with any of his nonsense.
Uncle Channing, unfortunately, was so far gone into the pickle that he either didn't care or didn't recognise that Rue was Rue and not some male werewolf actually challenging him.
He growled and crouched to leap.
Rue was loosely aware that the drones had taken Uncle Channing's distraction as an opportunity to get away but that other pack members were corralling them. It wasn't only Uncle Channing acting irrationally; it was the entire pack. Even Uncle Bluebutton who was practically civilised – he owned a smoking jacket and everything – was participating.
What had gotten into them? Certainly Rue noticed that the pack was generally more rowdy since she returned from India, but she hadn't thought it would come to brawling in the street. Where was their restraint? Where was Paw? Paw was Alpha and he was supposed to have them under control. This was outrageous! They should all be disciplined. Paw was always one for a good fight. He was positively cheerful about it. When Dama and Mother weren't looking, he even encouraged Rue to train with the pack.
Which is how Rue knew to fluff up her ruff in an attempt to look bigger. If someone had to fight for their sobriety, she would do what must be done.
Look at me, she thought. I'm joining the Teatotal Abstinence Society.
Uncle Channing tensed.
Rue, never one to back down from a challenge either, reared up. She was under no delusion as to her chances. Uncle Channing was the pack Gamma, not to mention a professional soldier. He was a tall rangy fellow who made for a big rangy wolf, but any leanness was deceptive, as in both forms he was composed mainly of muscle. Rue, on the other hand, made a tough-looking scrappy sort of wolf, but she wasn't big, vicious, or muscly. This was not going to be a fair fight. But she might distract the pack long enough for the drones to get away.
Uncle Channing leapt, teeth bared.
And was knocked out of the way by another wolf, slighter than Channing, with dark brown colouring and blood-red chest fur.
Uncle Rabiffano was – technically – pack Beta, although he never much acted like it physically. He ran a very well-regarded hat shop not too far down the street from Claret's.
Rue had never seen Rabiffano fight. In fact, if anyone asked, she would have said he couldn't. He was more the type to shame a fellow into doing what he wanted. A few slow blinks of disapproval from those sad eyes and perhaps a cutting remark, and nearly any werewolf would do as Uncle Rabiffano suggested, even Paw.
However, it turned out he could fight.
He might be smaller than Uncle Channing, but he was also sober, and quick. Really, very quick!
Rue sat back on her haunches in shock, watching as the most urbane and sweet-natured of her uncles turned into a whirling dervish of teeth and claws.
Channing, surprised by the attack and by its ferocity, whined and whimpered as his tender nose and ears were savaged. He wobbled to his side and then flopped on his back, presenting his stomach as quickly as possible.
Rabiffano took this as his due with one final nip of reproach.
Channing subdued, the oxblood wolf turned his angry yellow glare on the rest of the pack.
The ones sober enough to have realised what had just happened were already backing away from the drones. Hemming, whose form Rue had stolen, was sitting at Winkle's feet, wrapped in her striped dress like a bathing towel and looking thoroughly ashamed. Channing remained lying on his back. Which, given Rabiffano's expression of annoyance, was a good decision.
Two of the pack, Ulric and Quinn, in human form, were too far gone on the formaldehyde. Oblivious to the fight, they were actually pushing at the drones – male ones, thank heavens; at least they weren't so stupid as to shove a lady. But still… pushing… in public!
Rabiffano attacked them. He leapt against Ulric, teeth going for his neck and fortunately getting only shoulder. He took a bite out of the meaty part of the man's upper arm, ruining Ulric's coat and leaving him surprised and bloody, lying in the street.
Then Rabiffano went for Quinn. The simpleton met him head-on, without bothering to shift. Rabiffano sliced for the man's face. When Quinn flinched away, showing his neck in sudden realisation of who had attacked, Rabiffano veered off, only to chomp Quinn's thigh. Again he was gnawing at a meaty part that wouldn't cause any real damage.
It must hurt Rabiffano terribly to have to enact justice. Not only because he liked his fellow pack members, but also because he disliked the wanton destruction of perfectly good clothing. It was Uncle Rabiffano, after all, who took most of the pack shopping.
He's disciplining them, Rue realised. But that's Paw's job! Except Paw wasn't there. She looked around, hoping to see her father's massive brindled form barrelling through the crowd, but nothing disturbed the fascinated onlookers.
The whole uncouth business had taken only a few minutes, but it was a scandal so outrageous it could not possibly be kept secret. The entire London Pack had just behaved very badly indeed, and their Alpha was missing. The morning papers were going to make mincemeat out of progressive integration policies.
On the bright side, Rue thought, my transgressions will be forgotten while the three parentals deal with this mess. That's something.
Nevertheless, she couldn't suppress her fear. This was the London Pack, the tamest werewolves in the country. They didn't drink, certainly not in public! Something must be very wrong for them to be so out of control. Rue had the horrible feeling it was to do with Paw. All those rumours she had tried not to hear, to deny. All those pitying looks.
She shook herself like a wet dog. No! He's fine, simply getting a little absentminded in his old age.
It was only a matter of time before BUR appeared with the Staking Constabulary in tow. Rue would rather not be in wolf form when they did so. Supernatural creatures may be out in society but they weren't permitted to be untidy about it. Reports would need to be filed. Uncle Rabiffano would have to explain everything. The others were clearly not capable of coherent speech. Rue thought it best – given Queen Victoria's oh-so-recent admonition to stay out of trouble – that she make herself scarce.
She nodded to Rabiffano, who was circulating, keeping a careful eye on the remaining pack. He inclined his head in response. Then, tail high, decorum paramount, Rue relieved Uncle Hemming of her gown, leaving him bare. His dignity didn't concern her. With a toss of her head, she flicked the dress to drape over her back so as to drag as little as possible. Holding it carefully with her teeth, she trotted towards Dama's carriage.
Winkle, shaking his head, followed.
Ten minutes of manoeuvring later, Winkle managed to extract them from the crush, by which point BUR had arrived and hustled all those involved back inside Claret's for questioning. The spectacle was over.
Once they were far enough out, Rue's tether to Uncle Hemming snapped and her human form returned. She pulled the striped dress back on. It was a little worse for its werewolf encounter, but then wasn't everyone?
She bit her lip and fretted. Paw hadn't turned up at all, not even with BUR. Was he sick? Missing? Dead? Well, more dead than normal? She would not let herself think that he was losing control. Missing or sick would be preferable.
"Winkle, please hurry," she yelled out of the window. "I do believe something awful may have happened to one of my parents."
Rue lived with her adoptive father, Lord Akeldama. Dama was many things: vampire, rove, potentate, fashion icon, and nobbiest of the nobs. He ruled over a house of impeccable taste and harmonious design replete with assorted stunning works of art, scintillating conversation, and beautiful young men. Rue appreciated his skill, and mostly bowed to his authority, although as he was no longer her legal guardian so she did not technically have to.
Her blood parents, Lord and Lady Maccon, and their werewolf pack lived in the townhouse adjacent. It was only as tasteful as Uncle Rabiffano could impose, otherwise being characterised by dark wood, practical accoutrements, and the general aura of a bachelor residence over which Lady Maccon wafted like a hen in full squawk.
The two residences were connected via a walkway hidden behind a large holly tree. Rue had found it a fun, if wildly erratic upbringing, for three more different parents one could never find than Dama, Paw, and Mother. Nothing was ever agreed upon, except teatime. Rue adored her Paw, who was a big softy and always let her have her way with only token protestations. She respected her Dama, in whom love was tempered by razor wit and a strict adherence to etiquette. But she was in awe of her mother. Given Rue's metanatural abilities, one might have expected this. For while Rue could steal werewolf form from Paw and vampire form from Dama, Alexia Maccon could cancel both out. Only Rue's soulless mother could put a stopper in all her fun. And usually did.
Lady Maccon was difficult. She couldn't be managed or charmed. She wouldn't be moved once she made up her mind. She was as tough as old boot leather and as inevitable as clotted cream when scones were in the offing.
So it was with real fear that Rue overheard her indomitable mother in conversation with Dama sounding upset.
"He won't listen to me. That in and of itself isn't unusual, but this has gone on far too long. I'm worried he may be beyond saving. It's past time the plan was enacted. We need to leave. Soon. Have you heard from India at all? Is he coming home?"
"Really, my dove, why would you think I know anything about him? Why don't you ask your husband's Beta?"
Rue paused in the hallway, ears perked. Uncle Rabiffano? What has he to do with anything? He seems the only one able to control himself these days.
"My dear Akeldama. This is serious." Her mother sounded almost cross with the vampire, yet he was one of her favourite people.
"My darlingest of Alexias, I am never serious. I resent the implication that I should be."
"Not even about love?"
"What do you take me for – sentimental? Wait, before you continue on at me, I do believe we have an audience." Dama opened the door and tilted his head at his daughter. "Good evening, Puggle. What have you been up to? Your gown looks as if it has been dragged through the streets by a dog."
"You aren't far off, actually. Is that Mother? May I speak to her?"
Dama quirked an eyebrow over the edge of his monocle. His movements were always precise – calculated. "Mmmm, you know I'd rather not be involved in one of those conversations. But if you insist, come in. You're sure you won't change first?"
"It is rather urgent."
Lord Akeldama waved her in. Tonight he was dressed sombrely, for him, in teal and cream with a gold monocle and gold rings on all of his fingers. His hands sparkled as he gestured for her to sit.
Lady Alexia Maccon was taking tea, nose up and commanding in one of the wingback chairs. She didn't rise as her daughter entered the room, as it was, after all, for Rue to go to her.
Rue did so, delivering a polite peck on the cheek and then sitting opposite on the settee.
Dama remained standing, leaning with a studied casualness on the back of one of the other chairs.
Rue's mother did not demure. "Infant, please tell me you didn't look like this when you saw the queen? Your hair is down. And the state of your gown defies comment."
"Apparently not, as both you and Dama have now commented."
Lady Maccon narrowed her eyes.
"Mother, really. What do you take me for – a harridan? No, don't answer that. I assure you, I was perfectly respectable during my audience with the queen. You may ask Winkle for confirmation. Where is Winkle anyway?" But Winkle had squeaked off the moment he heard Lady Maccon's voice. He, like all the drones and most of the pack, knew never to come between Lady Maccon and her daughter when there were incidents to explain. The ladies tended to engage in verbal skirmishing that became semantic battles in which bystanders were skewered.
Dama's expression said he wished to vanish as well. But this was his house, and he was host, and twenty years of intimacy and shared familial responsibility were not enough to cause him to abandon a guest in his drawing room, not even when his daughter was there to entertain. Standards must be upheld.
"Tea, Puggle?" He came around to pour her a cup. It was a rhetorical question. As far as Rue was concerned, the answer to the great question of life, "Tea?" was always "Yes." And Dama was perfectly well aware of this character trait.
Rue sipped the tea gratefully, mustering her courage and attempting to frame her worries about the pack in a manner that would offend her mother least. Meanwhile, she withstood Lady Maccon's opening tactics: a series of sharp, fast questions on her visit with Queen Victoria. If Mother has the wherewithal to be concerned about that, then there can't possibly be anything seriously wrong with Paw. Can there?
"Oh, Mother, you should be perfectly pleased with everything. Queen Victoria was utterly beastly, took me to task for all the things both you and Dama already reprimanded me for. Said something about rescinding my legal protections and rights."
Mother and Dama exchanged a look.
"Majority?" queried her mother. "The government and the vampires?"
"Just so." Dama did not look as surprised.
Rue only just stopped herself from foot stamping. "I hate it when you two do that!"
Lady Maccon ignored her daughter and added, to the vampire, "We have to assume we've done enough training. It's more than I had."
"Mmmm," was all the vampire said, and then to Rue, "Go on, precious dove, what else?"
Rue glared at them but said, since they would find out at the Shadow Council meeting later that week anyway, "She also took away my sundowner status, which I call most unfair. I never even got to kill anybody, not really."
"Sometimes you remind me so much of your father." Lady Maccon sniffed. "Violent leanings. Can't have been my doing." She chose to ignore the fact that she had, in her younger days, a well-deserved reputation for biffing people with her parasol.
Rue chose to ignore this in turn, jumping on the opening her mother had inadvertently given her. "Speaking of Paw, where is he this evening?"
Lady Maccon was taken aback. Rue generally showed little interest in the nightly duties of her parents. All three of them were heavily involved in secret government work, so they preferred it this way.
"With BUR, I suppose. I didn't ask. Why do you want to know?"
"He's not with BUR, or I would have seen him."
"Oh? Was BUR called in to your meeting with the queen?" Lady Maccon's voice went dangerous.
"No. I was no threat. Do give me some credit. They were called to deal with the pack. There was an incident at Claret's. You haven't heard?"
Lady Maccon looked very tired. "What did they do now?"
Lord Akeldama removed his monocle and began to clean it carefully with a silk handkerchief. This was, Rue knew from experience, him trying to hide how interested he was in the conversation.
Fascinating that neither of them had yet heard of the werewolves attacking the drones. Lord Akeldama, at least, had a fast network of informants. Rue had come directly home, but still, she wasn't accustomed to being the only one who knew what was really going on… except with her own private business.
She took a moment to relish the sensation but then realised that Mother and Dama should know. It was their business to know what went on in London, especially with the supernatural. She became worried, which made her less diplomatic than she ought to be. "They were sloshed. In public. The entire pack. And they were shoving drones. It was most decidedly not on!"
Lady Maccon's face fell, her large dark eyes troubled. Rue had her father's eyes, a weird yellow colour, and she'd always envied her mother for the soulfulness her brown eyes could impart. Now, however, Mother looked as if she might cry. It was more sobering than anything else that had happened that evening. Rue instantly regretted her harshness.
- "Carriger's trademark wit and whimsy are in evidence from the very first sentence, and the result is an inventive madcap adventure."—RT Book Reviews on Imprudence
- "Blending steampunk and urban fantasy in a colorful alternate Victorian England, Carriger presents a grand cast of characters on a harrowing adventure that stretches from England to India... Filled with lavish fashions, supernatural high society, and witty dialogue, this story is a fine introduction to a fabulous new series."—Booklist on Prudence
- "Carriger maintains a droll, tongue-in-cheek tone, and her protagonists are as concerned with witty banter and fashionable hats as they are with fighting for their lives. Series fans will enjoy this mischievous romp, which revisits old favorites while raising a new crop of charming characters."—Publishers Weekly on Prudence
- "Readers who delighted in Carriger's Parasol Protectorate will be entranced by the familiar cast and trademark wit of the new Custard Protocol series...Behind the delightful whimsy and snarky observations, there is a great deal of heart and soul."—RT Book Reviews on Prudence
- "The author's humor and affection for her outlandish characters is always appealing. A fun launch."—Library Journal on Prudence
- "Soulless has all the delicate charm of a Victorian parasol, and all the wicked force of a Victorian parasol secretly weighted with brass shot and expertly wielded. Ravishing."—Lev Grossman
- "The dialogue is as smart and snappy as ever, full of intelligent humor and artful verbal sparring."—All Things Urban Fantasy on Changeless
- "Changeless is equal to Soulless: witty, sexy, graceful, and unpredictable. With a few more novels, this delightful, Ms. Carriger will be challenging Laurell K. Hamilton and Charlaine Harris for the top of the New York Times bestseller lists."—Fantasy Magazine on Changeless
- "Carriger delivers surprises with every book, and this one is no exception. With action, intrigue, and above all, proper manners, this excellent series will have broad appeal to readers of steampunk, urban fantasy, and paranormal and historical romance."—Library Journal on Heartless
- "The world of Timeless is a unique recipe of steampunk and fantasy spiced with light sprinkling of romance. Its setting is rich for characters to romp about in, but the unbridled playfulness of the language and dialogue shines brightest."—The Miami Herald
- On Sale
- Feb 7, 2017
- Page Count
- 400 pages