"WHISPER KISS by Deborah Cooke is now my unofficial official favorite! Rox’s quirky characteristics and beauty and Niall’s no nonsense outlook on life as well as his dedication just drew me into this wonderful but often dangerous world of the Pyr and I loved every single scene. Bursting with emotions, passion, and even a real fire or four, I count myself lucky not to have spontaneously combusted! Don’t miss this sizzling addition to Deborah Cooke’s DRAGONFIRE series – it is marvelous! ”
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2010 Best Shapeshifter Romance
One man's mission ignites one woman's fire...
Niall Talbot has volunteered to hunt down and destroy all the remaining shadow dragons - who were weakened by the destruction of the Dragon's Blood Elixir - before they can wreak more havoc. Among them is his dead twin brother, making Niall's mission not only dangerous but personal.
Tattoo artist Rox believes the world is a canvas to be made more beautiful. An unconventional spirit who isn't afraid of anything, she doesn't even flinch when a shape-shifting dragon warrior suddenly appears on her doorstep. And as a woman who follows her heart in matters of passion, she makes the perfect mate for a firestorm with Niall...
New York City—June 26, 2010
Rox came home, triumphant. She’d finally found the perfect job for her roommate and current “project.”
This would work.
Thorolf, who called himself T, was a big bike courier with no direction or ambition. Rox had known from the outset that T could make more of himself, but she’d had a hard time persuading him to try. Every option had been impossible in his view, but Rox hadn’t given up. And now, her efforts would pay off. True to form, Rox had pulled in a favor and found exactly the right job for T.
Reduce, reuse, and recycle didn’t just apply to goods in Rox’s world. People could be reinvented, too.
And if there was ever a man who needed reinvention, it was T. She’d never met anyone with such a lack of focus, yet so much potential. Once she’d seen what he could do, Rox had been determined to help him make the most of his innate gift.
T, unfortunately, wasn’t inclined to change.
Delivering groceries for the neighborhood organic store would be a perfect step for him. The job would give him a paycheck, enable him to help with the rent, allow him to be outside—which he preferred—and keep him from partying late so that he could get to work early each day. Rox thought it was the perfect combination of responsibility and freedom.
But it would work only if Rox could persuade T to accept the job. He was the obstacle to his own success.
She unlocked her apartment door and heard T rummaging in the bedroom. It was a good sign that he was home. She dropped the bag of groceries on the counter—scored while she finalized the job offer—and strode into his bedroom, only to find T packing his few possessions.
He was home early, though—and the fact that he hadn’t just grabbed himself a beer from the fridge and crashed on the couch, or gone drinking with his buddies, meant something was up.
Something, Rox would bet, that she wasn’t going to like.
The furtive glance T shot over his shoulder in her direction, as if he had been caught, only fed her suspicions.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
T dropped his gaze and returned to his packing. If anything, he was moving faster. “I’m, uh, leaving.”
Rox folded her arms across her chest. “Leaving as in taking a vacation or leaving as in moving out?”
“Door number two,” he mumbled, not looking at her.
Rox feared he was going to move in with one of his friends whom she considered to be bad influences. “You find a job or just a better offer?”
Rox waited, but T said nothing more. He picked up greasy bike parts from the floor in the corner of the room and packed them with a reverence most people would have saved for precious gems. She waited, but he kept packing, gaining speed. She tapped her toe and he ignored her.
Rox’s anger flared that he was being so evasive. “You’ve finally found a job, after three years of my bugging you about it, and you can’t even look me in the eye to tell me?”
T shuffled his feet. “I know you’ll be pissed.” In another time and place, Rox might have been amused that this man—who was almost two feet taller than she and weighed easily twice as much, who could use his fists like no one she’d ever known, and who could change into a dragon at will—was afraid of her.
As it was, her mouth went dry. What had T gotten himself into?
“It’s not a real job, is it?” she guessed. “Are you involved in something illegal? Because you know that has to be the stupidest choice . . .”
“It’s not illegal, Rox. Just weird.” He faced her,but still didn’t meet her eyes.
This was bad news.
“Tell me the truth,” Rox demanded. “No matter what you’ve done, I’ll be more mad if you lie to me.” She poked him in the shoulder when he didn’t immediately reply. “What’s going on, T?”
“Not T,” he insisted, as had become his habit recently. It was exactly the opposite argument he’d made when she’d first met him—then he’d insisted that he had to be T.
And they said women changed their minds too much.
“Thorolf,” she said deliberately, wondering what the hell had gotten into him. If he needed direction, she had one for him. “I found you a job today. That organic grocery store by the tattoo shop needs a delivery guy. You’d be outside pretty much all day, but you’d get a regular check. . . .”
His lips set stubbornly. “No. I gotta go, Rox. That’s all there is to it.”
“Where are you going to live?”
“That’s taken care of, too.”
It wasn’t much of an answer, not enough of one to suit Rox, but T turned back to his packing. He began to jam T-shirts and bicycle parts into his backpack in no particular order, obviously in a rush to get away from her. It was incomprehensible that this man who had never shown a spark of initiative or determination, despite her many efforts, had finally developed some resolve.
And it meant he was saying no to her.
After three years of encouraging him, after three years of trying to make something of the mess of a man she’d met in a bar and taken into her protection, Rox was not amused.
She was worried.
“Why?” she demanded.
“There’s something I gotta do. Something I gotta learn.” He ran a hand over his hair. “A whole lotta stuff I gotta learn and it’s not easy.”
“You?” Rox was incredulous. “You’ve never had any ambition to learn anything, no matter how many ideas I shove under your nose. You don’t even have the initiative to stock beer in the fridge.”
“Well, that’s gonna change.” His tone was resolute. “I know this guy and he’s teaching me things. . . .”
Rox felt her eyes narrow as everything began to make sense. “Guy?”
“Yeah.” For perhaps the first time ever, T—Thorolf—showed real enthusiasm. “His name’s Niall Talbot and he’s a bit of a pain—snotty, you know—but he’s teaching me this great stuff that I want to know. And now it’s time to take the next step.”
“What kind of great stuff?”
“I, uh, can’t tell you.” His nervousness gave Rox a pretty good idea of what was really going on. T was a lousy liar. “I need to go and live there with him, like an apprentice, and learn as much as I can.”
“He runs an eco-tourism travel place, with an office down in Chinatown. I’m gonna stay with him. Erik said so.”
Rox’s suspicion rose with the introduction of another unfamiliar name. “Who’s Erik?”
“He’s, um, this other guy.” Thorolf rummaged in the pockets of his shorts and came up with a business card that looked the worse for wear. “There! That’s Niall.” He smiled triumphantly as he handed it to Rox, then began to whistle as he plucked his spare brake parts off the radiator.
He was leaving and he was happy.
Rox found her hand shaking as she stared at the card. Either T had finally gotten a decent job, just the way she’d been bugging him to do for years, or he was lying to her and had found some big trouble.
Rox would have bet her favorite tattoo gun on option number two. She was pretty sure “Niall” was a cover story for a woman. T only showed this much energy when he thought he was going to get lucky.
What was she going to tell Gary about the delivery guy who was no longer around to take the job?
And what would happen to T?
“You found this card,” she accused, “or you delivered a parcel there. You don’t know this guy .”
“Sure I do.” He gestured vaguely with one hand. “He’s, um, like me.” Thorolf slanted Rox a glance that made her heart stop cold.
That admission changed everything. She had seen T shift shape in that bar fight when they had first met; she had seen him become a dragon right before her eyes. If she hadn’t been stone-cold sober, she wouldn’t have believed it. If she hadn’t already been crazy in love with dragons, she would have been afraid.
As it was, Rox had taken T’s nature in stride.
In fact, she’d thought—very, very briefly—that he might have been her dream come to life. One morning had been all it had taken to relieve Rox of that romantic notion.
T was a mess.
He was a project, not a dream date.
Part of the reason she had taken T into her care was to give him an alibi and an endorsement. She didn’t doubt there were many people who would take advantage of his odd talent, and T was ridiculously trusting.
But two dragon shape shifters in New York? With a bit more thought, Rox had more doubts. She flicked the corner of the card, not troubling to hide her skepticism. “Have you seen him do it?”
“Well, sure.” T shuffled his feet. “He knows stuff, a lot of stuff.”
“I can’t tell you.”
“No.” Rox didn’t believe him. “This is a bad idea.”
He appeared to be insulted. “Why shouldn’t I learn to use my abilities?”
“It would be one thing if you did, but I know you, T.” At the flash in his eyes, she corrected herself. “Thorolf. You’re driven by three things—sex, sex, and beer, in that order. You have no aspirations, no dreams, no desire to learn anything. If you weren’t such a big sweetie, I’d have given up on you ages ago.”
“That’s not why you stick up for me,” he said, gesturing toward the living room walls.
Rox wasn’t interested in talking about her motivations. She wagged the card at him. “This isn’t true. You found this card. You’re really moving into some woman’s place, aren’t you?”
T pushed a hand through his hair and looked discomfited. “Awww, don’t make this harder than it is, Rox.”
“Why not? I’m worried about you!” It was typical of T to think he could just saunter out of her life, without giving a decent explanation, without even realizing that someone gave a crap about him and his survival.
Rox knew that the world could be a tough place, and that an ability to fight wasn’t always enough.
“Okay, so maybe it’s because of you.” T held up a hand when she might have argued. “Maybe because you’ve been on my ass all these years, I recognized opportunity when I saw it.” He appealed to her, apparently sincere. “I’m doing what you’ve always wanted me to do, Rox. I’m learning about my powers. Be happy for me.”
“But . . .”
“But nothing. I gotta go, Rox. Ciao.”
As Rox watched, stunned, the hulk of a man who had been the greatest make-work project of her life strode out of her apartment.
Just when she’d been within an inch of making something of him.
The door clicked behind him and she heard T leap down the stairs, as if he’d broken free of a prison.
Trusting in someone.
Someone other than her . She was perfectly prepared to help her projects find their wings, so to speak, and loved watching them take flight into their own futures.
But this was different.
Something was wrong.
Rox stared at the business card and felt sick with concern. She wondered whether Niall Talbot had ever even heard of Thorolf.
Rox was going to find out.
excerpt ©2010 Claire Delacroix, Inc.
2006 - 2012 Deborah A. Cooke