|It had started out like any other day in his kingdom.
He had risen at seven sharp, based on Greenwich Mean Time, and had crossed the black stone floor of his expansive bedroom to his equally as impressive bathroom. There he had showered and carefully attended to his grooming. With a black towel slung low around his hips, he had ventured into his wardrobe to select one of the black tailored suits that hung from numerous rails.
It had gone downhill from there.
He had found the suit he had desired to wear, only to discover a crease pressed into the finely woven wool fabric.
That had led to the first death of the day.
The impudent fallen angel who had been responsible for ensuring his wardrobe was perfect had been sent back to Heaven.
With his wings missing.
And in pieces.
The last part wasn’t his fault. The idiot should have remembered to teleport before hitting the pavement of the courtyard far below the black fortress in the bottomless pit of Hell.
Of course, it might have helped if he had allowed the maggot to retain his ability to teleport.
Lucifer smiled grimly to himself and flicked a speck of dust off the right sleeve of his newly-pressed suit, his golden eyes fixed on the black cragged lands beyond the window of his study.
Breakfast had been a rather sober affair this morning. His attendants were on edge around him today, more than they usually were anyway. He couldn’t think why. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that they had narrowly avoided being hit by the falling angel when they had been crossing the courtyard.
A chuckle slipped from his lips as a replay of the event played across his mind.
By now, all of Hell would know he was not in a good mood.
He had planned to improve it by heading out to the distant plateau where Heaven had stationed a group of angels and use the power of his voice to see if he could sway a weak one into falling. There was a space in his ranks that needed filling, and corrupting angels always brightened the dreariest of days.
A pale orange glow lit the wall of black rock beneath the plateau, adding a dash of colour.
He despised that band of gold.
The lava river encircled his fortress and marked a boundary that by law he couldn’t cross, not until the time between his scheduled battles with Apollyon, an angel who had served Heaven for centuries before turning his back on that realm for the sake of a woman, had passed.
Lucifer hadn’t won one in centuries. He had taken several for the team without receiving any shred of gratitude in return, allowing the angel to defeat him so he would remain trapped in the bottomless pit and a band of fallen angels bent on destroying the mortal world would remain caged here with him.
Of course, it might have helped if he had informed Apollyon that he was losing on purpose, but storing up his losses and waiting for the perfect opportunity to mention to the angel what he had been doing all these millennia had been too enticing to resist.
His smile stretched a little wider.
It had been most satisfying to reveal to the angel just a few weeks ago that his hard won victories had been hollow and see the look on the bastard’s face.
The momentary flicker of pleasure that shot through his veins dimmed as he lowered his gaze back to the courtyard and it fixed on the current thorn in his side.
There was no chance of improving his mood now. It had hit rock bottom, thanks to a certain angel of Heaven.
When he discovered who had awoken the angel to his true purpose, restoring his memories at the same time, he would send his finest legion to Heaven to destroy them.
The angel flicked his long white hair over his shoulder but kept his icy blue eyes locked on Lucifer. The silent challenge they issued didn’t go unnoticed, but Lucifer knew better than to rise to it. Mihail couldn’t enter his fortress, thanks to powerful wards Lucifer had put in place after their last battle.
A fight that had seen almost half of Hell destroyed and turned to rubble.
Lucifer had enjoyed the millennia of peace that had come afterwards. Battling Apollyon was merely a workout for him, but fighting Mihail was a war and one that could easily claim his life. Only Mihail held the power to truly defeat him. Apollyon could only wound him.
Mihail could kill him.
Lucifer had no interest in dying and being thrust into limbo, wandering eternity as nothing more than a soul, maddened by being caged in a bleak world where he couldn’t communicate with those around him and tormented by his sins.
Not until he had settled a score with his former master and had his vengeance.
Not even then.
He never wanted to go to that dark place few angels knew existed.
Those who didn’t know of it had no fear of death, trusting they would be reborn in Heaven upon their demise, restored to their former glory, albeit without memories of their previous life.
Lucifer knew better.
He had seen the corrupted souls of angels in the far reaches of his realm, heard their whispers on the wind and felt their suffering in his blood.
True death was possible for any angel.
He knew because he had killed one on occasion, damning them to a hellish existence.
Lucifer would damn Mihail in the same manner without even flinching if he had the chance.
The white-haired angel moved a step closer, his enormous glossy white wings shifting with the action, stark against the black pavement of the semi-circular courtyard and the obsidian armour he wore. The patches of golden skin visible between the black greaves that encased his shins, the strips of black that protected his hips, his short black breastplate and his vambraces that shielded his forearms bore tattoos now when once they had been clean and pure.
Lucifer’s smile returned.
Mostly because he felt sure that the bastard angel despised those tattoos and the one who had put them there—the fallen angel this male was linked to through duty and powers.
If Lucifer had the power, he would gift those angels who were linked to Mihail and his brethren with the ability to do more than merely change their skin by adding ink that would also appear on their counterpart. He would give them the power to amend their appearance in other ways. He wasn’t talking about haircuts and piercings.
He was talking about wounds.
Mihail spread his white wings, regaining Lucifer’s attention, but not for long. It drifted away again, his gaze roaming downwards and across the courtyard, to the prone mortal that lay like an offering on an altar between his fortress and the angel.
Lucifer’s golden gaze narrowed on her and questions filled his mind again, ones that wouldn’t be ignored this time. Why had Mihail dumped an unconscious female in his courtyard?
Was she bait?
If the male thought he would leave the safety of his fortress for the sake of a mere mortal female, the fool was mistaken.
He eyed the female in question.
She had hair the colour of autumn leaves threaded with gold, strewn like the river of lava he so despised across the obsidian flagstones. Her skin was pale beneath the black dust that spotted it and the tear across the stomach of her white blouse. The thin shirt gaped open at the collar, and the angle of her body, with her shoulders flat against the paving and her arms resting above her head, caused the curve of one breast to show together with a hint of cream lace.
She looked weak like that.
Lucifer canted his head and allowed his gaze to drift over her. Her hips lay rotated, her left one raised and her knee pressing against the flagstones, pointed towards him. The short black skirt she wore rode high on that leg, revealing a long rip in her stockings.
What had Mihail done to the female before laying her out like a virgin sacrifice in his courtyard?
Lucifer growled low in his throat, the urge to leave his fortress and beat an answer out of the angel racing through his blood, setting it on fire. He had no love for mortals, and no use for females of their race when he had given up attempting to sire another child, but the sight of the woman stirred darkness in his veins, a deep and commanding need that he couldn’t quite decipher.
The angel backed off a step, his pale blue eyes still locked on Lucifer.
He was up to something. Playing the snake to his Adam, and she was the forbidden fruit. Lucifer wouldn’t be tempted though. He was stronger than the angel believed. More cunning.
Two of his angels flew over the tall spires of black rock that surrounded the courtyard and fortress, their crimson wings urgently beating the hot air as their scarlet eyes scoured the flagstones. Mihail turned to face them and the angels broke apart, keeping their distance from the male. They followed the curve of the wall towards the fortress and landed close to it, their wings furling against their red-edged obsidian armour as they touched down.
The larger of the two males rolled his shoulders and stomped forwards, cautiously approaching the female.
The other drew a long curved black blade from the air and set his sights on Mihail, snarling at him through twin rows of sharp teeth.
The angel of Heaven backed off a few steps before turning away and taking flight, heading back over the spires of rock towards the plateau.
Lucifer lowered his gaze back to his men. They warily approached the prone female. With good reason. He had ordered them to retrieve her and bring her to the entrance of his fortress. He hadn’t told them why. He had only warned them not to test his temper. No doubt they thought just eyeing the woman would be enough to have him trussing them up for punishment.
The larger Hell’s angel scooped the female up into his thickly-muscled arms and she rolled towards him, her cheek coming to rest against his hard breastplate.
A growl curled from Lucifer’s lips, rumbling up from the pit of his soul. He frowned at the hot need that pumped through his veins, a visceral ache that demanded he go down and take the female from his man and punish the maggot for touching her.
He clenched his fists at his sides, grimaced as his short black claws bit into his palms, and sharply turned away from the window. The female was nothing. The only reason he was bringing her into his home was because he wanted answers. He wanted to know why Mihail had brought her to Hell. He wanted to find out whether she was a trap for him and she was in on the plan.
Lucifer strode from the study and banked right along the corridor. Beyond the end of the hallway, the entire fortress opened up into a cathedral-like room in the centre of his home. He stepped out onto the walkway that ran around the one hundred foot high space and headed down the floating black stone staircase that cut directly across the enormous room and connected the third floor to the second one. Above him to his right, the steps to the fourth floor flowed upwards.
Warm light from the gilded bone chandeliers that hung from the underside of the staircases flooded the room and washed over him, giving more colour to his skin. He glanced down at his left hand, closed his eyes, and turned away from it and the memories of a time when his skin had been as golden as many of the angels who joined the ranks of his men on falling.
A time when he had flown carefree in the world of mortals and had lived to serve his purpose.
A time before he had realised what his true purpose was.
Lucifer ground his teeth, shoved those memories away, locking them back deep inside him where they belonged, and strode onwards, following the open-sided staircases as they criss-crossed the high room. Below him, the tall twin doors of the fortress opened and the heavy thud of boots echoed up to him. He glanced down at the two Hell’s angels, issuing a silent command to halt and wait for him.
He would take their new guest from here.
Lucifer stepped down onto the polished black floor of the entrance hall and took swift strides across it, his Italian leather shoes clicking with each determined step. As he approached, the two angels bent their heads, and the larger one held the female out to him.
He reached for her and tensed as an unfamiliar sensation shot down his arms and pooled in the pit of his chest, stopping him from taking hold of her.
It took him a moment to name the emotion.
Lucifer sneered at the feeling and crushed it out of existence. The mortal was weak. If she was in league with the angels, he would crush her out of existence too. There was no need to fear her. She was no threat to him. There wasn’t even a need to fear Mihail.
He took the redhead from his man, cradling her with one arm behind her back and the other tucked under her knees, and turned away from the angels to head for the stairs. Once she was conscious, he would begin questioning her, and if she spoke a lie he would know it. If she wasn’t in on Mihail’s plan, then he would keep her alive. She would become bait for the angel. The male was sure to return to take her back from him sooner or later.
Lucifer didn’t care which it was. He had infinite patience when it came to taking down an enemy, and Mihail’s demise was long past due.
He took the first step and paused as he glanced down at his cargo. Soft pink lips parted as her head lolled away from his chest, her breath escaping her on a little sigh. Russet brown eyebrows puckered and then smoothed, and Lucifer canted his head.
The world around him fell into silence as he studied her face, caught up in wondering what she was dreaming.
She wasn’t a threat to him.
She was nothing but a mere mortal.
A weak creature he could end with little more than a thought.
So why did the weight of her in his arms, the warmth of her body against his, and the scent of her curling around him all feel dangerous to him?