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Sex, Lies, and Vampires

By:Kieiti Makalistier

Chapter One


I blinked in surprise at the completely unexpected question. "I beg your pardon?"

"Imps? You are imp removals, ja?" The woman who had answered the buzzer connected to an expensive cream-colored stone building didn'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 that the jet lag that had hit me in London was still fuzzying my brain. That, or she was speaking in Czech and it just sounded like she was asking about imps.

I shook my head to clear it, held firmly on to my smile despite its lopsided nature, and said slowly, "Good evening. My name is Nell Harris. I have an appointment with Mrs. Banacek."

"Dr. Harris?" another woman sang out as she approached. "How pleased I am to meet you at last. I take it your flight from Amsterdam was an unremarkable one? Please excuse the mess—we've been positively inundated with imps of late, and poor Gertrud is at her wit's end."

The voice—smooth, sophisticated, with just a hint of a Slavic accent—almost perfectly matched its owner. I dragged my attention from the woman manning the door (short, stocky, iron-gray hair, and a no-nonsense attitude that had me pitying the imps—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, but 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.

"Imps," I said, utterly at sea. 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).

"Yes! Do you know how to get rid of them?" Melissande asked, gently pulling her hand from my death grip. "We've tried everything from martins to dragon'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?"

"Coffee, please," I said, my mind more than a little numb around the edges. Had everyone in Prague gone mad and I didn't know it? Or was I more tired than I thought?

"Do you know a good remedy for imps?" Melissande glided over to a cream-colored couch that perfectly matched the cream carpeting and cream satin striped walls. I sat down gingerly on an adjacent love seat, feeling more than a little as if I were cocooned in an eggshell.

"I don't even know what an imp is. You're—you're not joking about them, are you?" The feeling of the love seat, 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 blond hair sliding like a curtain of silk as she considered me for a few moments. "How 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."

The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. I wasn't jet laggy now, nor was I bemused. The woman in front of me—my employer for the next two weeks—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 night's accommodation in the hotel at which I'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 love seat. "You know, I think I forgot something outside. Something… uh… important. Very important. I wouldn't want the imps to get into it, so I'll just run outside and make sure it's OK."

A smile curved her delicately tinted lips and tilted already exotically tipped gray eyes so the Slavic influence in her heredity was obvious despite her pale coloring. "You think I'm deranged! How refreshing. Everyone here takes me so seriously, it's a wonderful change to be thought mentally deficient."

The warning bells that had been going off in my head went into overtime. "You know, I think we've both made a mistake, Mrs. Banacek. So I'm just going to leave now, and everyone will be happy."

"I'm not, you know," she called after me as I started to back slowly out of the room. "Insane, that is. I've simply introduced the subject to you poorly… oh, do mind behind you! Gertrud swore if I squashed another imp into the carpet she'd leave me, and cliché as it is, good help is so difficult to find."

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 grayish-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.

"Week, week!" the creature squealed at me, clearly angry.

"Aiiiieeeeeeeee!" I screamed in reply, dropping my bag as I leaped what seemed to be an inordinate length across the room, landing on the love seat. My weak leg buckled under me, but I caught myself before I could tumble off.

"What the hell is it?" I shrieked, leaping up to do a horrified jig on the love seat just in case the beastly thing followed me and attacked.

"Imp," Melissande said sadly as the tiny green thing shook three of its fists at me before scampering out of the room. "Common Central European Imp, to be exact. There's some sort of Latin name for them, but I never can remember it. Not the brightest beings in the 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 I've been told."

"I've been drugged, haven't I?" I asked, still standing on the love seat as Melissande closed the door behind the imp. "You 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 otherwise—"

"Otherwise you would have just seen an imp and your vision of the world would be radically changed, yes, I know. I'm very sorry I don't have the time to do this properly—indoctrinate you, that is—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."

"Indoctrinate?" I asked, stepping down off the love seat and accepting my purse that she had picked up off the floor. I held it at arm's length in case one of those tiny green things had gotten into it. "This is a cult? You're going to brainwash me? I should tell you right now I don't have any money, and—"

"Nell," Melissande said, handing me a cup of coffee.

I took it, trying to covertly sniff it for signs of drugs. "Yes?"

"Sit down. I have a good deal to tell you, much of which you won't accept or believe, but we must be on our way to Blansko in an hour."

"You're not going to let me go, are you?" 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 wasn't going to be given that opportunity.

"I will not hold you prisoner, if that's what you are asking, but I am begging for your help." 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 wouldn't spill the coffee on the spotless rug.

"Although I imagine an imp stain would be a lot worse to clean than coffee," I muttered to myself.

"A hundred times worse, but common household tips are not why I've brought you here."

I took a tentative sip of the coffee, ready to spit it out if it had the least bit of an odd taste. It didn't. In fact, its smoky flavor was strangely familiar. My eyebrows rose. "Starbucks French Roast?"

"Of course. Is there anything else?"

"I'm a bit partial to their Sumatra blend as well, but you can't go wrong with French Roast."

"Just so. Although don't you find Sumatra a bit spicy?"

"Only after a meal. Alone, or in a latte, it's perfect."

"I've never tried Sumatra in a latte," she mused. "But I will do so at the earliest opportunity."

From imps to Starbucks in ten seconds. I truly was going mad. "Mrs. Banacek—"

"Call me Mel," she interrupted. I looked at her. I couldn't imagine anyone looking less like a "Mel" than the sophisticated, elegant woman before me. She frowned. "No?"

"Um… I'm thinking not."

"How about Sandy? Do I look like a Sandy?"

I shook my head. She sighed. "I've always wanted to have a nickname but have never been allowed one. Very well, Melissande it is, although I do think the name Lissa attractive."