December 21st, 2005
Sarael’s Reading

The sleek jet landed smoothly on the private runway and taxied to a stop near the waiting limousine. The driver and passenger doors opened and two men emerged from the limo.

Matteo Cabrelli expected them both. The older of the two, Pietro, the limo’s driver, could no longer walk completely upright but he refused to surrender his position.

The jet’s door was opened and the stairs extended for Matteo by the steward who, like the pilot and Pietro, was padrall, a member of one of the human families who had served vampires in one way or another since the very beginning, each generation passing the duty to the next.

Matteo descended the stairs and walked to the limousine. “Shall I pour you a drink, Don Cabrelli?” Pietro asked.

Grazie. I’ll get it myself.” He placed his hand on the old servant’s shoulder, ignoring the dhampir with the obsidian black eyes. “The house?”

Pietro stood taller. “Everything is ready for you and your kadine. Do you wish to go there first?”

Matteo gently squeezed the old man’s shoulder. “I don’t need to, not with your seeing to the arrangements. We’ll collect my missing bride. Once she and I have been safely delivered to the house, you’ll return to the carnival for her belongings.”

Pietro’s eyes watered. “I was afraid I wouldn’t live to see this day.”

“I’m glad this happened on your watch.”

Matteo got into the limo. Domino followed, deftly lifting the decanter of wine on the bar behind the driver’s seat. He poured two crystal glasses, lifted one of them but didn’t carry it to his lips until Matteo had added the potent, bitter tasting herbs to his own drink and taken a swallow.

The herbs left Matteo’s tongue and the insides of his mouth feeling as though they’d been scoured. He took another swallow, though after centuries of usage, the herbs only muted La Brama, The Hunger.

He finished the first glass and poured a second, in preparation for being in the midst of so much prey and in the presence of a woman who should never have been taken from him to begin with. He’d fought La Smania—the restless hunger and thirst for a mate that came with being reproductively mature—for centuries until he was ready for his life to revolve around a single woman. It had taken him a dozen years to determine the pair whose genes would create her, and then twenty years of hell searching for her after she’d been stolen.

“Your grandmother is lucky that the Cabrelli don’t want to war with the Santori. She had to guess what Sarael was when she saw the tattoo. With little effort at all, she could have learned that Sarael belonged to me.”

“My grandmother wasn’t born into our world. She’s made no secret that she doesn’t approve of the practice of creating kadines.”

“Hasn’t your mother told her how painful it is to be adapted the old way?”

Domino shrugged. “My mother survived.”

“Death isn’t the only thing to fear. In the past the adaption drove too many potential mates to commit suicide or go insane. When we get to the carnival, warn your grandmother not to interfere.”

* * * * *

The tarot cards lay on black satin. Three of them, lined up in a row.

The past. The present. The future.

Their black-and-white, whirlpool-patterned backs glowed in lighting meant to awe the townies who ventured into the small carnival tent.

Sarael Castillo rubbed her fingertips over her knees. She plucked at her jeans and wished she could escape this unasked-for reading using cards she’d never seen before.

Helki sat across the table, her ancient, wrinkled face free of expression though her eyes were filled with too much knowledge. “You don’t wish to see them?”

The old woman’s voice held a mild rebuke. A challenge. Something that had Sarael’s stomach tightening and a shiver going through her despite the denim jacket and the warmth inside the tent.

She ducked her head. Did she want to see the cards?

She shivered again. Her heart beat faster, turning blood into a snake of fear that stretched down her legs and into her feet so she tapped them on the rough wooden floor.

Toe. Toe. Toe. Heel.

Toe. Toe. Toe. Heel.

Toe. Toe. Toe. Heel.

Outwardly nothing was different, but for days she’d felt as though a dark storm gathered and would soon overtake her, ending everything that was familiar.

Bracing herself for what the cards would reveal, she said. “I’ll see them.”

Helki flipped them over one at a time.

The Hanged Man.

The Tower.

The Moon.

The past. The present. The Future.

Sarael’s toes and heels tapped faster. Her heart beat harder, widening the snake of fear and sending it racing up her throat to encircle her neck and tighten like a noose, not that she needed to say anything, not with Helki there to voice the interpretation.

“You’ve lived among us, held in limbo by choices that weren’t your own. Soon you’ll have reason to leave the carnival, and you must leave.”

The elderly fortune teller took Sarael’s hand. She turned the palm upward then removed the leather band from around Sarael’s wrist, exposing the strange tattoo, a stylized scorpion embedded in a rose.

Helki tapped it. “A man who thinks to possess you will soon appear. He intends for you to live in his world.”

Sarael believed, feared. She visually traced the tattoo she’d worn from her earliest memory.

“And will I live in his world?” The world of The Moon.

“It’s not what I’d have for you but… I have no power to shield you from that fate.” Helki tapped the tattoo and then scooped up the cards, signaling the end of the reading.