THE WAILS and pleas for mercy by the damned were no more than background noise to Lucifer. Hell’s Muzak, he called the din on the rare instances an exceptionally good mood seized him. After spending an eternity listening to the voices, he’d learned to tune them out. The siren, however, caught his attention immediately.

His spine snapped to steel as he perched on the edge of his throne, eyeing the revolving red light flashing on the wall near the golden double doors at the back of the room. The siren was earsplitting; it rose and ebbed like a piercing scream. It hadn’t gone off since… well, ever, not once since he’d first installed it. Before then, demons had been Lucifer’s only early warning system. A lesser demon named Cael had once escaped, and the trouble he’d caused Lucifer afterward was not something Lucifer cared to have repeated.

Now, he needn’t worry anymore. He had infrared, radar, and motion detectors to warn him of a breach in Hell’s security—nobody in, nobody out, at least not without his knowledge. The world above had progressed a long way since the day his angelic ass had been booted into the Pit, and he’d recently brought Hell kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century of Man.

He and his demons now enjoyed a multitude of human contraptions, including televisions, DVD players, iPads, video games, and a world-class, state-of-the-art security system.

Lucifer waited a few more seconds, hoping the alarm was a fluke, a simple case of a malfunctioning unit, but when the siren continued to sound and the lights didn’t stop flashing, he bolted from his throne and trotted toward the banks of closed-circuit monitors that covered the far wall. His eyes flicked from screen to screen, looking for the being responsible for triggering the alarm.

It took him a while to locate the culprit. After all, each of the Nine Circles was outfitted with cameras, as well as the Waiting Room where the newly damned souls were sorted upon arrival. Each camera had a dedicated screen, which amounted to hundreds of monitors speckling the wall in front of him. Several demons frantically pressed buttons on the row of large consoles beneath the screens, trying to zero in on the intruder.

Lucifer spotted him first and cursed an expletive so foul that it burst the head of one of the security demons, splattering some of the screens with black goo.

Ignoring the mess, he scowled fiercely. The face he saw on the monitor was very familiar. He remembered it all too well. During Lucifer’s last days in Heaven, Uriel had been one of his closest friends. More than that: they’d been lovers since almost the very Beginning, and when Uriel refused to take Lucifer’s side during the War, he’d broken Lucifer’s heart.

Lucifer had never forgiven him. Then again, Lucifer could hold a grudge like nobody’s business.

What the fuck is he doing down here? Lucifer thought, spinning away from the consoles and stalking to the wide, golden double doors. They flung open of their own accord, revealing a long, brightly lit hallway lined with many doors.

Bare-chested and barefooted, wearing only his standard floor-length black leather coat and a pair of leather pants that fit him like a second skin, he stalked down the hall. The coat fell open in front, revealing his wide, smooth chest. His golden hair, worn loose, swayed in a shimmering wave to his waist.

He marched down the hall, his mind reeling. Why is Uriel here? What does he want? Whatever it was, Lucifer was certain it couldn’t be good. Hell was Heaven’s redheaded stepchild, and the Boss and his angels wanted nothing to do with him or his domain. Usually that was just the way Lucifer liked it—they minded their business and left Lucifer to his.

Once or twice over the eons, Heaven and Hell had butted heads. For example, there had been the time Lucifer tried to unleash the Horsemen. Some of his best work and greatest planning had gone into it, but what a debacle it had turned out to be. A minor demon named Cael managed to break out of Hell—it was his escape that had prompted Lucifer to install the new alarm system—and proceeded to foil Lucifer’s attempt to bring on the End of Days. Even worse than losing, it chafed Lucifer’s ass that Cael, Lucifer’s own minion, had thwarted him, and even more so that it had been done with the help of Cael’s angel lover, Malak.

It was Lucifer’s long-held opinion that love was the most insidious and nefarious weapon ever manufactured by Heaven. It looked all sweet and fluffy on the outside, like a fucking rainbow unicorn kitten, but then just when you started feeling comfortable around it and began to believe it wasn’t going to piss in your shoes, bam! It sucker punched you upside the head with its needle-sharp claws and planted a big fat turd in your brand new Gucci loafer.

In other words, nothing fucked things up like love.

Another more recent example was when Lucifer had sent Thanatos, the very embodiment of death, out into the world to spread a little good, old-fashioned evil around the mortal plane. Sure, Lucifer had been in a snit when he set Thanatos loose and hadn’t given it much thought, but it was a simple plan, foolproof, really, and it’d worked countless times before—the Black Death, the Crusades, both World Wars, just to name a few. There was no reason for Lucifer to believe it would fail this time, but it had. Why? Because the archangel Raphael just had to pick right then to come down to earth and fall in love with a fucking human. Even worse, the human—who sported the ridiculous name “Pistol,” as if he was an extra in a fucking spaghetti western—had angel blood, being a descendant of the archangel Michael. Since Michael was Lucifer’s twin brother, that made the man Lucifer’s great-whatever-nephew, making things even more irritating. Lucifer couldn’t decide which was worse—having a human relative or that said relative had helped Raphael send Thanatos back to Hell in pieces.

Was Lucifer disappointed? Of course he was, but he hadn’t let it spoil his day. He’d cursed a bit, sighed, put Thanatos back together, and locked him away until he was needed again, and gotten on with his life. In fact, just recently Lucifer had resolved to leave the world of Men to Heaven altogether. It was getting too crowded in Hell; he didn’t need any more new recruits, and he certainly didn’t need to expend his time and energy coaxing even more sinners into a one-way trip to damnation. He had his hands full as it was.

He’d even given up trying to stir up trouble for humans. He’d tried twice and failed miserably both times—once by Cael and Malak, and once by Raphael and Pistol. Now, he was over it. Oh, sure, when he was younger and full of piss and vinegar, he’d thought getting revenge on Heaven was the most important thing in the universe, and the only way he could do it was to bring about the End of Days. Now he realized it just wasn’t worth the effort. Besides, what would he do with Heaven even if he were successful in taking over? He’d have twice the amount of work and even less time to himself. No, he’d finally, after eons of trying, given up, and now found himself content with the demesnes of the Underworld.

Not that he’d be sprouting feathers and halos anytime soon. He enjoyed being bad far too much for that to happen. He might have reformed—somewhat—but he was still Lucifer, Satan, the Morningstar, Lord of the Flies, Father of Lies, and the baddest motherfucker in the Universe.

The Boss—who knew everything and never hesitated to rub it in whenever possible—knew all about Lucifer’s decision to concede their Ages-old battle. Of course, he’d only deign to admit it when—pardon the pun—Hell froze over. So why was Heaven butting its holier-than-thou nose into Lucifer’s business by sending Uriel to him?

I don’t have a fucking clue, but I’m going to find out right now, he thought as he strode toward the end of the hallway. He motioned toward the second door to the left, and it swung open, revealing a huge room. It was so long and wide that Lucifer could barely see from one side to the other, but he knew every inch of it as well as he knew the back of his own hand. The smell of sulfur and brimstone was thick; fetid smoke rose in plumes from several geysers spotting the floor. Fire crawled across the ceiling, sending down showers of burning embers. Row upon row of uncomfortable plastic folding chairs lined the room, and each was filled with a damned soul—the Waiting Room was packed with new arrivals. A name would be called every so often, and a tired-looking demon would drag a human soul away, kicking and screaming for mercy—the soul, not the demon, although his crew was known to break down every now and then too. No one, not even his army of demons, could keep up this pace endlessly without cracking from time to time.

It seemed that every year the number of souls Lucifer collected went up from the year before. Hell was nearly bursting to the seams with them. Frankly, he didn’t know where he was going to put them all if this kept up.

Shoving his worries about overcrowding aside and concentrating on the matter at hand, he scanned the terrified, despairing faces in the Waiting Room, ignoring their shrieks and wails.

Lucifer finally spotted Uriel sitting in a chair against the back wall between a rapist and a serial killer. He was hard to miss. After all, it wasn’t as if he blended; his white robe, wings, and halo were dead giveaways to his identity.

“What the hell are you doing here, Uriel?” Lucifer demanded as soon as he was within earshot.

Uriel’s rich brown eyes, as soft as a doe’s, turned up toward him, the barest hint of a smile curving his lips. “Merry Christmas, Lucifer.”

Lucifer felt his blood pressure skyrocket into a sudden, painful throbbing at his temples. “Excuse me? You didn’t just wish me a—”

“I thought I’d surprise you. Don’t I even warrant a ‘hello, nice to see you’?”

Lucifer ground his teeth as the memory of the taste of Uriel’s full lips flooded his mouth and stiffened his cock. There’d been a time when Lucifer happily spent hours—days—kissing those lips, exploring the body he knew lay hidden under the loose folds of Uriel’s robe. That was Before, with a capital B, he reminded himself. As in Before the War, Before his Fall, Before he was sentenced to an eternity spent sniffing sulfur and shitting brimstone, and Before Uriel saw fit to rip his heart into so much confetti. “No, actually, you don’t. Now, before I sic the hounds on your ass, tell me why you dare set foot in my domain.”

“Leather is a good look for you, Luce. Much better than that rusty ol’ armor you were wearing the last time I saw you,” Uriel said, as if Lucifer hadn’t even spoken. His eyes gleamed with appreciation, nettling Lucifer further. “I always did like it when you wore your hair down.”

Lucifer felt Uriel’s gaze brush his skin, sending a jolt spiraling directly to his cock. It stiffened against the crotch of his pants, and he barely resisted the urge to adjust himself.

“I trust you’re not here to make idle chitchat.” Lucifer set his jaw and ignored his traitorous body. “What do you want?”

Uriel glanced around the room, refusing to be hurried or harried, which irritated Lucifer even more. “Is there somewhere we can talk privately? It’s a little… stuffy in here.” Uriel slipped one of his long, slender fingers into the neckline of his robe and tugged it away from his throat.

Lucifer snorted ungraciously. “We’re not built for comfort down here, Uriel. Tell me why you’ve come, and then you can go right the fuck back Upstairs, where the air is clean and the shit don’t stink.”

Uriel had the audacity to laugh. “You’re still as sarcastic as ever. I’ve missed your sense of humor, Luce.”

“Do you see me laughing? I mean it, Uriel. Spit it out. I know you’re not here because the holidays made you nostalgic. I’m busy and have better things to do than chew the fat with you.”

“I can’t, Luce, not here. I need to talk to you alone.”

“You can tell me now, or not tell me at all. It’s your choice.” Lucifer glared at him, refusing to let their history together influence him. Heaven was hitting below the belt by sending Uriel to him. It was a dirty trick, and he didn’t appreciate it at all, particularly since he didn’t understand why Heaven would go to the trouble. He refused to admit how good it was to see Uriel, even if the memory of their parting still stung.

Uriel’s expression grew sober, his wings sagging a bit. “Please, Luce? It’s really important—you know I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t.”

Lucifer stifled a startled gasp. There was a pleading note in Uriel’s voice, which was odd enough, but worse, he swore he saw something in Uriel’s beautiful eyes that he’d never seen before. It was elusive, there one second and gone the next, but he recognized it for what it was: fear.

What in the Universe did an archangel have to fear?

He nodded slowly, not even understanding himself why he was giving in. He’d get to the bottom of it soon enough. For now, regardless of how badly Uriel had hurt him before, or how many eons had passed since Lucifer last saw him, all he wanted was to erase the fear from Uriel’s eyes and see him smile one more time.

Afterward, he promised himself he would kick Uriel’s sweet ass all the way back Upstairs and leave him there with Lucifer’s indelible footprint stamped for all time on Uriel’s perfectly shaped rump.

“Follow me.” He turned and led Uriel back toward the hallway. “And don’t touch the sinners. I don’t want them contaminated by your goodness and light,” he couldn’t resist adding with a sneer.