Master illusionist Lorenzo wants nothing to do with the Pyr. His dragon nature is just another secret to hide and another detail to juggle, like ensuring that each of his Las Vegas magic shows is a true spectacle. Until he feels the burn of his firestorm and his whole world shifts….
Cassie Redmond is tired of photographing celebrities. She wants to pursue her dream of serious photography—despite the lucrative offer for a shot of a dragon shifter. Las Vegas is the last place she wants to be, but Lorenzo arouses more than her curiosity when he shifts shape as the finale of his show. Instead of forcing him to reveal his secrets, Cassie gets swept away by this illusionist’s masterful touch.
Lorenzo wants to satisfy the firestorm and put it behind him. But Cassie is hard to forget—and he can’t ignore the danger when Slayers target the mate Lorenzo didn’t believe he wanted…
“In the seventh Dragonfire novel, the defeat of one Pyr’s enemies only means that a new threat rises in the form of the crafty and deadly Chen. The hero in this chapter has long denied his dragon shifting nature, but on the eve of his greatest stunt, fate intervenes. Cooke’s long-running series continues to be a sexy and thrilling winner!”—Romantic Times
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An excerpt from Flashfire:
Lorenzo was irritated. He pulled into his parking spot behind the theater and flung himself out of the car. He locked and armed it without a second thought, his hand on the stage door before the car had given its last beep of acquiescence.
Fred was there, sweeping the door open for him with his usual flourish.
At least something was going right.
Lorenzo hated being late. A lack of time before his performance compromised his routine of calming himself before the show. That lack of composure could lead to mistakes. He took the pricing of the tickets to his shows very seriously – he was determined to give each attendee the value he or she had paid for. And that meant a perfect show, each and every time.
Perfect consistency. Perfect timing. Perfect showmanship. The way he saw it, he and the humans made an exchange: two and a half hours of magical perfection for $150 a seat.
Perfection was only possible with no stress.
Unfortunately, everyone around him seemed determined to generate stress by the megaton.
One more matinee. Three more evening shows. Then the launch of the spectacle, and he’d be done.
He was counting down the moments.
Lorenzo marched to his dressing room and slammed the door, pressing his fingertips against his temples. He needed to calm himself. He was edgy. Ready to lose it.
Of course, there’d been that argument today at the house, the completely unnecessary drama of his father shifting shape right in front of the staff, and the subsequent need to terminate all employees at the house.
All Lorenzo had done was ask his father what had happened to the darkfire crystal.
It was still missing. Lorenzo had promised to hold it in trust and he had kept his word – until he’d had a funny feeling six months before and checked for the crystal. It had been gone.
Failing to keep his pledge worried Lorenzo. What would the Pyr ask of him in exchange for his loss of the stone? It was imperative that he have no more ties to his kind after Saturday.
Only Lorenzo and Salvatore had access to the hoard, which was secured at the house. Therefore Salvatore must know what happened to it since Lorenzo didn’t. But his father had been evasive and confused every time Lorenzo had asked after the crystal – Lorenzo was certain it had been an act, especially since his father had abruptly shifted shape in the middle of their dispute and gone to sleep.
Of course, the housekeeper and her husband witnessed the shift, undoubtedly Salvatore’s plan. They would never truly forget seeing a dragon shape shifter in his living room. Lorenzo regretted losing them after so many years of good service, especially due to some game of his father’s, although he had paid a hefty severance to each.
Plus the pair had had to be beguiled before they left his employment, for their own safety and psychological well-being. Now he had to find another couple willing to work for him under his terms, and only for a few days. It was all very time-consuming and extremely annoying.
Lorenzo couldn’t help suspecting that his father was deliberately making problems for him.
Instead of just being old, confused and generally impossible.
Never mind that there were technical issues with Lorenzo’s final spectacle, a feat of daring that relied upon precise preparation. The modifications to the car were not quite as he had insisted, and he’d have to discuss it with the mechanic again. If Lorenzo had had a dollar for every incompetent human with whom he’d been obliged to work in the past five centuries, he’d be a multi-millionaire.
He was one anyway, but he’d earned that money.
And now the eclipse. He could feel it. It had nothing to do with him, because he had nothing to do with his fellow Pyr, so it infuriated him that he was sensitive to total lunar eclipses at all. What did he care if another Pyr had a firestorm? What did he care if another Pyr met his destined mate and conceived another dragon shape shifter? They were just more Pyr for Lorenzo to ignore.
Lorenzo had work to do and money to make and obligations to fulfill. He would have appreciated the other Pyr ignoring him as thoroughly as he ignored them.
It would only have been polite for the moon to have chosen to not send him notice. But the pending eclipse teased at the edge of his consciousness, making him feel on the cusp of change.
Lorenzo hated everything that was involuntary.
And he hated being Pyr.
Becoming a dragon was barbaric and primitive. Never mind the fighting, the slashing and ripping and biting. He shuddered.
In this moment, Lorenzo had to focus. He preferred evening shows, but that wasn’t relevant. Two thousand people had just paid top dollar to see his afternoon performance.
And they would leave his custom-built theater happy.
Lorenzo did his breathing exercises and deliberately lowered his pulse. He steadied himself as well as he was able, under the circumstances, and prayed that all the preparations had been done correctly. On this day, he’d take heads if there was anything less than perfect. He dressed alone, as always, then squared his shoulders and considered his reflection.
He wasn’t holding up too badly. He didn’t look a day past three hundred years old.
Or in human terms, a day past thirty-five.
The tuxedo fit him beautifully, but that was the mark of a good bespoke tailor. It reassured him to look so polished.
Appearances were critical. He straightened his bow tie with a tweak. He swirled the black cape he favored as he swung it over his shoulders. As usual, the glimpse of its orange satin lining lifted his spirits. So beautiful. So elegant. So unexpected. He adored that cape.
Lorenzo scooped up his top hat and turned with a flourish. He strode to the door, leaving his dressing room with purpose.
He checked the props and the staff, hearing the chatter of the audience gathered behind the heavy velvet drapes. He felt the familiar tingle that he always felt before a performance – part nerves, part anticipation, part terror.
The lights began to dim. The music began to play.
Cassie had to hand it to this Lorenzo guy. The theater was incredible. He hadn’t skimped at all. There was nothing tawdry or tacky about it. The interior was gorgeous and elegant, far more luxurious than any of the other venues they’d visited or glimpsed.
The seats were cushy and upholstered in black velvet. They were scrupulously clean, as if they’d been upholstered just that day. The carpet was black and thick underfoot, unstained as far as she could see. There wasn’t so much as a stray kernel of popcorn. The curtains on the stage looked like real velvet, black with a line of metallic orange along the hem.
That line etched the glittering outline of flames.
Trial by fire. She got it.
There were sconces spaced along the walls, each looking like a brass bowl that held a flame. Of course, they couldn’t have been real flames, not with fire codes, but they looked real. The temperature in the theater was cool but not cold. It felt like a refuge, both from commercialism and the noisy bustle of Vegas.
She listened to the audience as they took their seats and murmured to each other. She felt their wonder and knew that Lorenzo had them believing in him even before he began his show.
Cassie folded her arms across her chest, less willing to be persuaded. All of this magic stuff relied on trickery, on making people look left when things happened on the right, for example. She was determined to see the truth of whatever this guy did.
Her Blackberry vibrated again and she glanced at it. Again they had doubled the price they’d pay for shots of those shape shifting dragons. Melissa Smith’s television show about the Pyr must have really good ratings. Cassie scrolled through the message, eying the specifications for what they wanted.
A suite of shots, documenting the change from man to dragon.
That would be tough to fake.
Unless, of course, the Pyr were real.
Cassie dismissed that possibility. She wondered what the editor would pay for proof that the Pyr were a hoax. Well aware of Stacy’s disapproval, Cassie sent a message to ask.
Her Blackberry received a reply almost instantly. This story was hot. She wasn’t totally surprised that the editor would pay the same price for proof of a hoax, but was surprised that the price had increased again.
But where would a person find one of these dragon shifters?
“Off,” Stacy muttered. “You promised.”
Cassie turned off the device and put it away. It would be enough money to retire. To leave the business of illusion for good.
She was surprised by how appealing that idea sounded.
Cassie was still thinking about that money as the lights began to dim and music started from all sides. The flames in the sconces leapt higher and that line across the bottom of the stage curtains began to glitter.
As if it were burning.
A trick, but a good one.
If she were a dragon shifter, where would she hide?
Maybe, just maybe, in a place where nothing was what it seemed to be.
A place like Las Vegas.
Lorenzo nodded at his staff and strode to his place at center stage, where he would await the rising of the curtains. He fought his awareness of the slow burn of the eclipse, teasing at the edge of his thoughts. He felt the firestorm light for some poor Pyr and ignored it, just as he had a hundred times before.
Even though it was close.
It was not his problem.
Lorenzo was in the act of donning his top hat when the music swelled. One pair of curtains swept back and the other curtain rose skyward.
Right on cue.
The audience stared at him in expectant awe. Lorenzo had a moment to think that everything would be just fine.
Then he raised his hand in a welcoming gesture, and the light of his own firestorm sparked from his fingertips.
Lorenzo was astounded.
His firestorm launched an arc of fire that illuminated the space between himself and a woman in the front row. She was lit suddenly with radiant golden light.
The audience gasped.
Lorenzo wanted to swear.
The woman had been sitting with her arms folded across her chest, reluctant to be impressed. Her skepticism would have made his eye skip over her under other circumstances. The blonde beside her was more typical of the women Lorenzo took as lovers.
But the bright glimmer of the spark startled her.
And it compelled Lorenzo to look. Her bones were good. She could have been attractive if she’d chosen to do anything other than tug her hair back into a sloppy ponytail. She wore no make-up and was dressed in jeans, a cotton shirt and hideous red cowboy boots.
Lorenzo couldn’t stand cowboy boots.
Even on cowboys.
Women certainly shouldn’t dress like cowboys, not if they wanted to show their assets to advantage. Women should wear skirts and high heels, lacy little bits of nothing and lipstick. They had serious assets and they should use them.
This woman apparently didn’t bother. Her hair was reddish blond, her skin fair. She jumped when the spark struck her shoulder, and the golden light revealed that she was young and pretty. There was intelligence in her expression, wariness and interest mingled together.
Despite that, there couldn’t be a woman on the face of the earth who he was less likely to find intriguing. She seemed to feel the same way about him. Lorenzo didn’t find it promising that they had that one thing in common.
Meanwhile, he smiled at the crowd and bowed, as though everything were going according to plan.
Far from it! Curse the firestorm, its timing and its choices. Curse his Pyr nature and everything that came with it.
Lorenzo was just going to have to work with the firestorm.
excerpt from Flashfire ©2011, 2018 Deborah A. Cooke