, Book 3|
March 2011 (reprint)
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Take a flawed charmer named Nell, add a cursed Dark One called the Betrayer who has sold his own kind for centuries to a demon lord, and throw them together in a desperate attempt to save an innocent child…while along the way unentangling themselves from a Welsh knocker named Gigli who runs a house of ill repute for poltergeists, avoiding death by a revenge-minded vampire, and trying to convince a group of mummies that dead really does mean forever.
SEX, LIES, AND VAMPIRES
January 29, 2013
KEIN VAMPIR FĂśR EINE NACHT
Egmont Lyx (Aug 15, 2008)
Info | Kaufen
SEX, LIES AND VAMPIRES
Hodder (Dec 11, 2008)
KEIN VAMPIR FĂśR EINE NACHT
German Audio CD
Argon HĂ¶rbuch (Oct 13, 2009)
Info | Kaufen
I blinked in surprise at the completely unexpected question. â€śI beg your pardon?â€ť
â€śImps? You are imp removals, ja?â€ť The woman who had answered the buzzer connected to an expensive cream-colored stone building didnâ€™t look insane, but how many people meet you at the door by asking if you were there to remove imps?
Then again, it might have just been jet lag making me think she had asked about imps. What was far more likely was the jet lag that had hit me in London was now fuzzying my brain. That or she was speaking in Czech and it just sounded to me like she was asking about imps.
I shook my head to clear it, held firmly onto my smile despite its lopsided nature, and said slowly, â€śGood evening. My name is Nell Harris. I have an appointment with Mrs. Banacek.â€ť
â€śDr. Harris? How pleased I am to meet you at last. I take it your flight from Amsterdam was an unremarkable one? Please excuse the messâ€”weâ€™ve been positively inundated with imps of late, and poor Gertrud is at her witâ€™s end. â€ť
The voiceâ€”smooth, sophisticated, with just a hint of a Slavic accentâ€”almost perfectly matched its owner. I dragged my attention from the woman manning the door (short, stocky, iron-grey hair, and a no-nonsense attitude that had me pitying the impsâ€”whoever or whatever they were) to the graceful creature who floated across the marble-floored foyer. Melissande Banacek was not only the loveliest woman I had ever seen, her lavish surroundings, expensive address in the heart of Prague, and what I was willing to bet was no off-the-rack pair of crimson and persimmon silk lounging pajamas clearly indicated a woman of no little means. Certainly she was wealthy enough to fly a dirt-poor junior professor of medieval history from Seattle to the Czech Republic on what amounted to little more than a whim.
â€śImps,â€ť I said, clinging to the one thing that seemed vaguely familiar in a sea of strangeness. With my good arm I clutched my bag (beat up with one torn handle) to my chest (stuffed into a bra stretched to its limits to restrain overly abundant occupants), and wished for the tenth time that I had not succumbed to my curiosity (going to get me into trouble one of these days).
â€śYes! Do you know how to get rid of them?â€ť Melissande asked, gently pulling her hand from my death grip. â€śWeâ€™ve tried everything from martins to dragonâ€™s bane, but to no good. The infestation seems to be too much for such home remedies, thus we have called the imp-catchers. Come, you must be tired after your long flight. Coffee or tea?â€ť
â€śCoffee, please,â€ť I said, my mind more than a little numb around the edges. Had everyone in Prague gone mad and I didnâ€™t know it? Or was I more tired than I thought?
â€śDo you know a good remedy for imps?â€ť Melissande glided over to a cream-colored couch that perfectly matched the cream carpeting, and cream satin striped walls. I sat gingerly down on an adjacent loveseat, feeling more than a little like I was cocooned in an eggshell.
â€śI donâ€™t even know what an imp is. Youâ€™reâ€”youâ€™re not joking about them, are you?â€ť The feeling of the loveseat, soft and enveloping beneath me, shook off the vague sense of bemusement that had gripped me since walking through the door.
Melissande tipped her head, her silvery blonde hair sliding like a curtain of silk as she considered me for a few moments. â€śHow silly of me. I read your file, and I should have remembered that although you are one of us, you have no experience in our world.â€ť
The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. I wasnâ€™t jetlaggy now, nor was I bemused. The woman in front of meâ€”my erstwhile employer for the next two weeksâ€”was obviously quite, quite mad. Disappointed though I was at not being able to study a piece of armor from the much-discussed-amongst-medievalists-but-never-discovered Graven Plate of Milan, at least I had my return plane ticket and enough money to buy me a nightâ€™s accommodation in the hotel at which Iâ€™d left my bags.
Making no sudden movements, I slowly lifted my battered purse from where I had set it at my feet, and rose from the loveseat. â€śYou know, I think I forgot something outside. Somethingâ€¦uhâ€¦important. Very important. I wouldnâ€™t want the imps to get into it, so Iâ€™ll just run outside and make sure itâ€™s OK.â€ť
A smile curved her delicately tinted lips, tilting already exotically tipped grey eyes so the Slavic influence in her heredity was obvious despite her pale coloring. â€śYou think Iâ€™m deranged! How refreshing. Everyone here takes me so seriously, itâ€™s a wonderful change to be thought to be mentally deficient.â€ť
The warning bells that had been going off in my head went into overtime. â€śYou know, I think weâ€™ve both made a mistake, Mrs. Banacek. So Iâ€™m just going to leave now, and everyone will be happy.â€ť
â€śIâ€™m not, you know,â€ť she called after me as I started to back slowly out of the room. â€śInsane that is. Iâ€™ve simply introduced the subject to you poorlyâ€¦oh, do mind behind you! Gertrud swore if I squashed another imp into the carpet sheâ€™d leave me, and clichĂ© as it is, good help is so difficult to find.â€ť
I swung around, expecting to see Gertrud with a meat cleaver about to lop off my head, or something equally as gruesome and deranged, but instead found myself staring down at a small creature about three inches tall. It was greyish-green, and was using one set of arms to pull a hairless tail from where it was trapped under my toes, while the other set pounded on my shoe.
â€śWeek, week!â€ť the creature squealed at me, clearly angry.
â€śAiiiieeeeeeeee!â€ť I screamed in reply, dropping my bag as I leaped what seemed to be an inordinate length across the room, landing on the loveseat. My weak leg buckled under me, but I caught myself before I could tumble off.
â€śWhat the hell is it?â€ť I shrieked, leaping up to do a horrified jig on the loveseat just in case the beastly thing followed me and attacked.
â€śImp,â€ť Melissande said sadly as the tiny green thing shook three of its fists at me before scampering out of the room. â€śCommon Central European Imp, to be exact. Thereâ€™s some sort of Latin name for them, but I never can remember it. Not the brightest beings in world, but not in the least bit dangerous. Not unless you attack their king, and then they do all sorts of nasty things while you sleep. Or so Iâ€™ve been told.â€ť
â€śIâ€™ve been drugged, havenâ€™t I?â€ť I asked, still standing on the loveseat as Melissande shooed the imp out the door before closing it. â€śYou were sitting next to me on the flight from London, and you put something in my Diet Coke, following which you smuggled me in through customs for some weird purpose, right? Because otherwiseâ€¦â€ť
â€śOtherwise you would have just seen an imp, and your vision of the world would be radically changed, yes, I know. Iâ€™m very sorry I donâ€™t have the time to do this properlyâ€”indoctrinate you, that isâ€”but my nephew has been held for three weeks, and now my brother has gone missing as well, and there simply is no time to be wasted.â€ť
â€śIndoctrinate?â€ť I asked, stepping down off the loveseat and accepting my purse thatshe had picked off the floor. I held it at armâ€™s length in case one of those tiny green things had gotten into it. â€śThis is a cult? Youâ€™re going to brainwash me? I should tell you right now I donâ€™t have any money, andâ€”â€ś
â€śNell,â€ť Melissande said, handing me a cup of coffee.
I took it, trying to overtly sniff it for signs of drugs. â€śYes?â€ť
â€śSit down. I have a good deal to tell you, much of which you wonâ€™t accept or believe, but we must be on our way to Blankso in an hour.â€ť
â€śYouâ€™re not going to let me go, are you?â€ť I asked, ignoring the horribly weak tremor in my voice. I just wanted to put my head down and cry for a long, long time, but suddenly my life had gone so horribly wrong, I was sure I wasnâ€™t going to be given that opportunity.
â€śI will not hold you prisoner, if thatâ€™s what you are asking, but I am begging you for your help.â€ť She shoved aside a coffee service and sat on the edge of the glass coffee table, waiting for me to sit down. I did, slowly, not so much because I was wary of her (it was obvious she was the one in power here), but so I wouldnâ€™t spill the coffee on the spotless rug.
â€śAlthough I imagine an imp stain would be a lot worse to clean than coffee,â€ť I muttered to myself.
â€śA hundred times worse, but common household tips are not why Iâ€™ve brought you here.â€ť
I took a tentative sip of the coffee, ready to spit it out if it had the least bit of an odd taste. It didnâ€™t. In fact, its smoky flavor was strangely familiar. My eyebrows rose. â€śStarbucks French Roast?â€ť
â€śOf course. Is there anything else?â€ť
â€śIâ€™m a bit partial to their Sumatra blend as well, but you canâ€™t go wrong with French Roast.â€ť
â€śJust so. Although donâ€™t you find Sumatra a bit spicy?â€ť
â€śOnly after a meal. Alone, or in a latte, itâ€™s perfect.â€ť
â€śIâ€™ve never tried Sumatra in a latte,â€ť she mused. â€śBut I will do so at the earliest opportunity.â€ť
From imps to Starbucks in ten seconds. I truly was going mad. â€śMrs. Banacekâ€”â€ś
â€śCall me Mel,â€ť she interrupted. I looked at her. I couldnâ€™t imagine anyone looking less a â€śMelâ€ť than the sophisticated, elegant woman before me. She frowned. â€śNo?â€ť
â€śUmâ€¦Iâ€™m thinking not.â€ť
â€śHow about Sandy? Do I look like a Sandy?â€ť
I shook my head. She sighed. â€śIâ€™ve always wanted to have a nickname, but have never been allowed one. Very well, Melissande it is, although I admit, I do think the name Lissa attractive.â€ť
â€śMelissande,â€ť I said, setting down my cup and leveling a serious gaze at her. â€śYou hired me to translate the inscription scribed on the inside of an early fourteenth-century breastplate that has, until this date, remained firmly in the realm of mythical, sucking me in with a description and photos of the armor that were so tantalizing, I had no choice but to agree to your offer. I assume you brought me here because you wanted someone who is familiar with obscure European languages, but Iâ€™m beginning to feel that you have another purpose in bringing me halfway around the world. I would appreciate it if you would tell me just what that purpose is.â€ť
She nodded. â€śA very reasonable request. I applaud both your frankness and your efficiency in going straight to the point. Quite simply, you are a Charmer, and I need your assistance to locate my nephew and brother.â€ť
I froze, ice forming in my blood at the word that had so harmlessly tripped off her tongue. Charmer. It was a word I hadnâ€™t heard in almost ten years. Ten long years. I swallowed back a sudden lump in my throat, my voice suddenly hoarse. â€śI assume by Charmer you arenâ€™t referring to my excellent people skills?â€ť
â€śNo,â€ť she said, her eyes serious. â€śI mean one who has the ability to draw Charms. You are a Charmer. You were born a Charmer, although I understand that you have not used your abilities after an accident during your college yearsâ€”â€ś
I put a hand out to stop her, blind with sudden grief, a band of pain tight around my chest as I struggled for air.
â€śI beg your pardon, Nell. That was an unfortunate reference, but it has relevance to the situation.â€ť
I shook my head to clear my vision, the memory of the dead, unseeing eyes of my friend slowly dissolving into bright silver grey eyes subtly highlighted with expensive cosmetics, eyes that were watching me extremely carefully. â€śI am not a Charmer,â€ť I said carefully, my voice thick with emotion that I would not acknowledge.
She sighed, her gaze dropping for a moment to her hands as they rested on her legs. â€śI have a nephew named Damian. He is ten years old, and very dear to me, although Iâ€™ve been accused of spoiling him shamelessly. He was kidnapped three weeks ago. My brother Saer was away at the time, but as soon as he heard of the terrible event, he raced home and began to track Damian. Five nights ago he called me from a small town in the Moravian Highlands to tell me that he had found a clue to Damianâ€™s whereabouts. He believed the boy had been taken to England. Saer left immediately, and I have not heard from him since. I believe he, too, is being held prisoner, quite probably by the same being who is holding Damian. That orâ€¦another.â€ť
The pain in her eyes was not counterfeit, nor did I think she was mad. At least, I believed that she believed what she was telling me.
â€śIâ€™m very sorry,â€ť I said sincerely. â€śHave you contacted the police?â€ť
â€śPolice?â€ť She looked startled for a moment, then shook her head. â€śNo, the police cannot help me. My brother and nephew are beyond their reach.â€ť
â€śIâ€™m sorry,â€ť I said again, spreading my hands wide. â€śI wish I could help you, but Iâ€™m no detective, and certainly no expert in tracking peopleâ€”â€ś
â€śI do not expect you to find them for me,â€ť she interrupted.
â€śYou are a Charmer. The aid I seek from youâ€”the aid I needâ€”lies in your ability to Charm.â€ť
â€śI donâ€™tâ€¦I canâ€™tâ€¦â€ť The pain swamping me was so great I couldnâ€™t breathe, let alone speak.
â€śMy brother and nephew are Dark Ones,â€ť she said, taking a deep breath. â€śMoravian Dark Ones. I, too, am Moravian. Do you know what that means?â€ť
I shook my head, too confused and distraught to think.
â€śDark Ones have walked the earth all the age of man, alike, but separate. Vampires some call us, although truly my people are not evil or the horrible creatures common lore makes us out to be. Dark Ones are created either by a demon lord, or they are born to a father who is unredeemed.â€ť
â€śUnredeemed?â€ť I croaked, wondering if it was too late to change my name to Alice and settle down to a happy life of insanity in Wonderland.
â€śTo each male Dark One there is one woman, his Beloved, who can redeem his soul. Those who remain unredeemed are forever damned.â€ť
I opened my mouth to say that sounded like something out of a novel, but stopped. There was no use in agitating her further by pointing out that vampiresâ€”damned or notâ€”were fantastical creatures that didnâ€™t exist.
Just like imps, a sardonic voice in my head pointed out.
I refused to think about that. â€śLet me just make sure I have this rightâ€”your brother and nephew are vampires, and youâ€™re one too, you drink peopleâ€™s blood to survive, but youâ€™re not bad or evil or anything out of a John Carpenter movie. Is that right so far?â€ť
She nodded. â€śThere is more to being a Moravian than blood drinking, but since we donâ€™t have time to go into the history of my people, we will suffice with the bare minimum.â€ť
â€śJust out of curiosityâ€”how old are you?â€ť I asked. â€śSince vampires are traditionally held to be immortal and all, I assume youâ€™re immortal as well?â€ť
â€śOnly so long as I do not give my heart to a mortal, yes. I was born in 1761.â€ť
I did a quick round of mental subtraction. â€śThat would make you two hundred and forty-four.â€ť
â€śForty-three. My birthday isnâ€™t until December.â€ť
â€śAh,â€ť I said, then sat back and waited for the rest of the fairy tale to unfold. â€śGo on, please. Iâ€™m all ears.â€ť
She didnâ€™t like the note of subdued sarcasm in my voice, but it didnâ€™t stop her from telling me the rest. â€śMy nephew is being held by a demon lord by the name of Asmodeus.â€ť
I had a better grip on myself now, so the name wasnâ€™t one that froze me into a block of ice, despite the boundless well of sorrow within me.
â€śI wonâ€™t insult you by asking you if you are aware of Asmodeus, since I know it was one of Asmodeusâ€™ curses you were attempting to charm when youâ€¦â€ť Her gaze fluttered to the left side of my face where the skin was less taut than the right side. I didnâ€™t flinch under her inspection, having learned long ago that if I kept my face immobile, most people didnâ€™t notice the slight slackness on the one side. â€śâ€¦had your accident.â€ť
â€śWhat I had was no accident,â€ť I said slowly, enunciating carefully.
She offered no reaction to that statement. â€śMy nephew and quite likely my brother are being held by Asmodeus, bound to the demon lord by his curse. I need your help, Nell. I need you to charm the curse.â€ť
â€śI donâ€™t know what youâ€™re talking about. Even if I did, thereâ€™s no way I can help you,â€ť I said quietly, squelching down the feelings of pain and dread and horror that arose with her words.
She gave me a long look. â€śI can understand your reluctance to regain a part of your life that Iâ€™m sure you thought lost, but you cannot deny the truth of what you are, Nell. You are a Charmer. Most of your kind learn their skills from mages and Guardians, and thus they can only undraw wards and perform simple protective charms, but you were born a Charmer. You are different. You can unmake curses.â€ť
â€śI cannot charm. I never could. I left that all behind me ten years ago.â€ť Despite my best intentions to remain calm and collected, my voice rose with each word.
Her eyes glittered brightly at me, so brightly it hurt to look into them. I was vaguely aware that she was weaving a spell of compliance with her very words, but I would not fall victim to it. I gritted my teeth as her voice, silken with persuasion, rolled around me. â€śYou are one of the few people who have the power to unmake the most powerful bond known to mankindâ€”a demon lordâ€™s curse.â€ť
â€śI will not charm,â€ť I ground out through my teeth, anger and fear forcing me to admit something I had worked hard to forget. â€śNot again!â€ť
â€śIf you do not help me, my nephew will be consumed by the demon lord. Do you know what happens to a Dark One who is thus destroyed?â€ť
I shook my head, sick at heart with the knowledge of what she would tell me. Long denied memories of a time years in the past tormented me. I wanted to shout to Melissande that it was so long ago, when I was young and innocent, and I believed what I had been told. I was special. I could make a difference. It was all so clear then, so exciting, so easyâ€¦until Jill died.
â€śHis life force joins with the demon lord. In effect, he becomes him, one of the princes of Hell. I would move heaven and earth to save my nephew from that fate, Nell, and all Iâ€™m asking of you is your help to bring Damian home to me.â€ť
I shook my head again, blindly reaching for my bag as I stood. â€śIâ€™m very sorry for you, Melissande. I wish there was something I could do, I truly do wish it, but what you ask is impossible. I canâ€™t do it.â€ť
â€śYou mean you will not!â€ť The words stung me with the force of a whip. Her eyes were molten silver, glowing hot with fury as she stood facing me. â€śYou have it within your power to help, and you deny me!â€ť
Anger, hot and deep such as I had not known for a very long time, burned in my soul, welling up to overwhelm the guilt that had bound me for so many years. â€śDo you know what happened the one time I attempted to charm one of Asmodeusâ€™ curses? Do you know the exact details of what happened?â€ť
â€śNo, not the details,â€ť she answered, her eyes once again moving to the left side of my face, down to my left arm. â€śIt is said the charm backfired, that some trap laid by Asmodeus was triggered when you attempted to unmake it, and both you and a companion were injured.â€ť
â€śYou could say that,â€ť I said, my breath harsh as I struggled to control it. â€śIf you call death an injury. No, Melissande. I will not help you. You may think Iâ€™m your savior, but I assure you Iâ€™m not. I bring only destruction, not salvation. I am a murderer, pure and simple.â€ť