Sarael’s Reading

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The Hanged Man
The Tower
The Moon

For days Sarael has felt as if a dark storm was gathering and would soon overtake her, ending everything that’s familiar—and now that storm has arrived. Nothing will keep Matteo from claiming his bride. Her destiny was written in his blood and the truth revealed in the tarot cards.

The Hanged Man. The Tower. The Moon. She was created for him. She was born to be a vampire’s mate.

Please note: A previous version of this story was published by Ellora’s Cave. It has been extensively revised for this edition.

Connected Books: Carnival Tarot

Kiziah375
Book 2
Dakotah375
Book 3

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Read an Excerpt

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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?”

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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.

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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.

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Read the Reviews

“SARAEL’S READING is the first story in Jory Strong’s titillating new CARNIVAL TAROT series and is absolutely engrossing. Matteo and Sarael are perfect for each other. Their heated encounters, whether they are arguing or making love, are explosive. Sarael grew up at the carnival and considers everyone there her family. Her roommate Dakotah is one of her best friends and Helki is like a mother to Sarael. When Matteo enters her life, Sarael knows it will never be the same. But is she ready for the changes it will bring? Matteo is a powerful man and one you don’t want to mess with. He’s focused on one thing and one thing only, making Sarael his. The sex between them is spicy and totally erotic leaving readers panting for more. There are a few secondary characters who add filler and background but nothing detracts from our two main protagonists and their story. Two characters that stood out to me and whom this reviewer hopes are in the next story are Cable Luske and his partner, Fane. Cable is a padrall, a human who serves the vampire kind with the torch being passed down to the next generation.”

“I’ve been watching Jory Strong since her debut and each time she writes another story I’m captivated by the characters and the plot. Her heroes are sexy and all male while her heroines can hold their own and usually take down the hero. Next up in Ms. Strong’s CARNIVAL TAROT series is KIZIAH’S READING and I can’t wait to delve into that one.”

— Sinclair Reid, Romance Reviews Today

“Ms. Strong took a familiar vampire premise—breathing life and vitality into it. Ms. Strong demonstrates through her writing how a good paranormal tale should flow and grab the reader’s full attention. The dialogues and thought sequences blend into perfect harmony. Ms. Strong is an author readers definitely need to keep a close eye on because her erotic voice is fierce!”

— Janalee, Love Romances

“Jory Strong has written a truly great book. Vampire stories have been around forever and there are only so many ways you can make them unique. Ms. Strong has done that. Her characters were well-written and the plot suspenseful enough to keep you on the edge of your seat and yet not too distracting from the underlying romance between Sarael and Matteo. With her own take on beauty taming the beast, she has begun an amazing series. The secondary characters that were portrayed in this book should make fabulous leading characters for the rest of the series. I am really looking forward to seeing the rest of this series through.”

— Serena, Fallen Angel Reviews

“The heat between these two characters glazed my eyes and fired my senses. My temperature was off the charts when they became lovers. This story is sexually intense and downright carnal. With SARAEL’S READING, Ms Strong has written an intense, erotic and enthralling book!”

— Jolie, Joyfully Reviewed

“This darkly powerful novel will have you second guessing each move Sarael makes while loving every radical minute. Matteo is so sinisterly written that I wondered if Sarael really was meant to be his mate. He is borderline cruel, which kept my heart beating swiftly and kept me completely intrigued by his personality. His fixation on Sarael borderlines on obsession, leaving me possessed by his desire and wanting her to both run from and to him. Sarael doesn’t know if going with Matteo is the direction her life should go in, and the confusion is so artfully drawn that I also couldn’t figure out what she should do. The sex is powerful and almost overly dominant. You can’t help but wonder if Sarael will end up with the short end of the stick, possibly killed by her lover’s extreme nature. Overall, the plot is so cunningly fashioned that I was gripped by the storyline and kept on the edge of my seat. If you are looking for a dark romance to keep you up at night, this is the novel for you.”

— Francesca Hayne, Just Erotic Romance Reviews

“Jory Strong has once again penned a paranormal tale with dark and hidden meanings. This is not a safe world, not for Sarael and not for Matteo as much as he postures and tries to prove otherwise. Veiled dangers and threats follow Sarael as she searches for her own identity in the face of Matteo’s often times overwhelming personality. Incredibly sexual and emotional tension combined with a supernatural plot guaranteed to catch your attention makes for exciting reading in Jory Strong’s latest story.”

— Sarah, A Romance Review

“CARNIVAL TAROT: SARAEL’S READING is the first novel in a new series and what a way to start! Sarael is a young woman who knows nothing of her past or her destiny. When she meets Matteo, she is drawn to him but in no way does she just become some perfect submissive bride. She has her own ideas about her sudden relationship with Matteo and insists that it includes some compromising on both sides. Matteo is a frustrated because he has finally found his love and his match but she has no idea who he is or how important she is to him. His overbearing, alpha attitude can be smothering at times but I loved him because he could admit he was wrong. That takes a lot for Matteo but he isn’t afraid to admit it to himself or to Sarael. The sexual energy just about oozes off the pages. All that rolling around and sweating forced me to take frequent breaks. The secondary characters foreshadow some interesting things to come. It won’t be a long wait for the next chapter in the CARNIVAL TAROT series and I am so grateful for that! CARNIVAL TAROT: SARAEL’S READING is another winner by Ms. Strong.”

— Ann Lee, Just Erotic Romance Reviews

“Jory Strong weaves a story filled with plot twists that will leave the reader breathless. As much as Sarael fights her feelings for Matteo, she knows he is the only man who can fulfill her. Hidden enemies threaten their growing love. A group of would-be slayers are searching for Matteo and Sareal. This first book of the CARNIVAL TAROT series sets the stage for the books that will follow. I cannot wait for the next book in this series.”

— Candy, eCata Romance Reviews

“SARAEL’S READING is a great book with plenty of action to keep the reader turning the pages. Sarael is a strong willed character that readers will love because she doesn’t just submit to her fate without question. Matteo is very dark and commanding with plenty of alpha attitude to satisfy any reader. The love scenes are fraught with tension and passion, and the battle of wills is never ending. Jory Strong knows how to pen a story to keep the reader coming back for more. I can’t wait to see what her next book brings.”

— Angel, Romance Junkies

“The erotic pleasures illustrated in the story by Ms. Strong are dark and exciting. The reader gets a glimpse into a world of forbidden pleasures and a different style of vampire lore. This book is an interesting twist on the usual vampire story. I look forward to reading more from this series.”

— Candy Cay, Coffee Time Romance Reviews

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