Cursed by Flame (Dragonborn Daughters #3) - Kimber White

1

Phaedra

The bass pumped through me. Classic techno from the early 2000s. They didn’t make music like this anymore. They barely made new music at all. Not for dancing. Not the kind that made you want to gyrate at the center of a throng of people, but not care who watched. Who saw. Who touched.

I cared. I had to. Being seen was my whole purpose tonight. From my tight, black shorts to my barely there string bikini top. I’d sewn the sequins on that myself. And my boots. Shiny, black thigh-high faux leather (like the music, they didn’t make the real stuff anymore).

They didn’t make anything real anymore. At just twenty-three, I knew that made me sound like an old lady. But I was the last of the generation who still remembered what things were like before.

Before.

Before the bombs went off, that took down the buildings in the biggest cities. Before the leaders of three world powers were savagely killed in public. We all watched it on television, live in color. That poor Prime Minister had his throat ripped out by a member of his own security detail. The man shifted into his wolf, facing the cameras, then turned on the leader he was supposed to protect and slaughtered him in front of the whole world.

That’s when they knew. Every human on earth came to understand there were people living among them with powers they’d never seen or didn’t want to. Shifters. Witches. Everything in between.

It horrified them and started a war. I didn’t like to think about how many shifters died in those first few months. Rounded up. Murdered for simply existing. What’s worse, their own neighbors turned them in. That’s how the Ring came into power. They convinced the governments of the world they were the only force that could protect humans against another round of savage shifter attacks.

Now the luckiest shifters lived in Oasis Territories throughout the world. Small bastions of safety where they held the illusion of freedom. Only they were never allowed to leave them without being killed on sight. The unlucky ones got caught behind enemy lines and most were never heard from again. Thousands were separated from pack lands, bear clans and everything in between, left to roam in the Neutral Zones and slowly lose their minds.

We did what we could. I knew I was among the lucky. My family kept me safe in the Durness Wilderness and negotiated a treaty. We were now home to the largest Oasis Territory in the western United States.

And yet...here I was, across the border with hundreds of pairs of eyes watching me. Wanting me. Hunting me.

I danced in a circle, throwing my head back. I closed my eyes as if I’d given in to abandon. Hands were everywhere. Circling my waist. Pulling me close from one body to the next. I licked my lips and let myself be carried away by the rhythm.

God. It felt good. Better than I realized, and that was the danger. When I opened my eyes, I kept them hooded. To anyone else, they would seem unfocused. I stumbled sideways on purpose, letting another pair of hands right behind me pull me close.

He was big. Tall, anyway, but skinny. I got a whiff of ozone and knew him for an earth mage even though he tried to hide it.

“You’re heaven,” he said. “But spicy. What’s your name?”

I kept my head lolled a bit to the side and bit my bottom lip. Classic flirt. I wrapped my hands around his neck.

“Phaedra,” I said. It occurred to me to lie. After all, everything else I did tonight was. But somehow, this one truth seemed the safest.

He leaned in and nipped my earlobe. Harmless. Playful. At least, that’s what he wanted me to think. I knew better.

I saw his point men at the four corners of the room. Watching. Waiting. Signaling.

Is she pure? Is she hungry?

He licked a trail up my neck and I felt the tingle of his magic. My stomach flipped, and I fought back a wave of revulsion. He wasn’t pure. His skin was pale. Tiny prick marks scarred his chest where they’d taken from him. Where he’d let them defile the Source, his natural connection to magic, and sell a taste of it, shooting it into the arms of any human who could afford it.

I knew what he was thinking. Could I afford it?

“I can make you feel like sunlight,” he said. “Unless you prefer the dark.”

The DJ dropped an even harder beat.

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