Chapter One

“Hello, gorgeous, is he in?” Lucifer grinned as he watched the woman sitting behind the desk jump in her seat and put a hand over her heart as if to hold it in her chest. The large platinum bun pinned on the top of her head wobbled. It looked like it might lose its fight against gravity, but managed to settle firmly in place, and he knew all was once again right in the world.

Making Mrs. Alice Simpson jump and blush was a simple pleasure for him. There were a few reasons why he enjoyed teasing her, but none of them were malicious. Her arrival in Heaven had been difficult and he did whatever it took to make her smile. He’d been there when his friend offered her the position of guarding his office door and watched her flourish.

“You devil!”

“Yes, ma’am, I am, and you are such a looker, you can come to Hell anytime you want. I promise, no sins required for you.”

“Lucifer, you are such a wicked smooth talker. No wonder women, here in the afterlife and on the surface, are always throwing themselves at you.”

“I mean it, Alice. Anytime you want to check out the other side, there’s a place for you down below.”

“Humph, one of these days I’ll find a way to scare you as much as you do me with these unannounced appearances.”

“Aren’t you even a little bit curious about what happens down there?”

“No, I like it just fine up here, although it would be an even better place if you were to spend more time with us. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I worry about you doing all the dirty work without any help. Then there’s that nasty air you must breathe. It can’t be good for your health.” Without a pause in her lecture, she reached into her desk drawer, and pulled out a tin she kept filled with treats for him. “Here, have a couple of cookies I made last night. They’re a healthy option to keep your sweet tooth occupied. The recipe called for such things as oatmeal, and carob chips. You know you’re a handsome man, but I think you’re looking too skinny, and a little pale. You need fresh air and more meat on your bones. I’ll have the kitchen make a proper meal for you to eat after your meeting or you can take it back with you to eat later. No excuses.”

Alice Simpson was a very special woman and one he enjoyed spending time with, possibly because she was the mother figure he’d always wanted. He’d had to find a way to forgive his friend for the unfairness of her death. Decades ago, she had her first baby, and was then she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Within months, she was residing in Heaven, and installed as the final gatekeeper. No one passed through the doors to spend time with the boss man without her approval. She was an honest, gentle, loving soul who poured her unfulfilled motherly instincts onto both him and his good friend.

“Just to help ease your stress a bit about me, I’ll tell you something big is about to happen. If I’ve read the situation right, and I believe I have, then there may be a reason for you to be pleased with something I do.”

“Seriously? What are you up to? Nothing that will get you into trouble, is it? Tell me and if necessary, I’ll make sure—”

“Don’t worry, it’s all above board, but I should tell the big guy about it first. You know how he is, wanting to be the first to know what’s happening.”

“Go in and see him, he’s free. While you’re in there, I’ll go down to the kitchen, and get a good meal for you. Promise you won’t leave without telling me about your plan.”

“Don’t worry yourself, Alice. I assure you I’m not planning to do anything bad.”

“Good. Now go, go, and make sure to tell him I’ve stepped away from my desk. I’ll take the portable handset in case he needs me.”

“I will,” he held back his laughter as he watched her run around the office, collecting the things she needed to take. Despite the importance of Alice’s position, her office wasn’t large or ornately decorated, but it had a fabulous view out the windows. Heaven was definitely beautiful. The landscape was basic and enabled each person to mentally add their personal preferences for complete tranquility. The canvas people were able to build upon had blue skies with a random white puffy cloud and led down to rolling green hills set back in the distance with trees dotted randomly around. For as long as he worked in the afterlife, he hadn’t bothered to project his own ideal onto the land found in Heaven, and had been fine with that position. Except recently there had been changes in his life that altered how he experienced Heaven and he enjoyed them.

“Play nicely,” she called out as she lifted a hand and waved to him. The office door closed behind her and the lock clicked closed. No one would be able to get into the office with her away from her desk. The privacy suited his needs perfectly. Walking over to the double, oversized, elaborately carved panels, he tapped and pushed them open.

“Hello, my friend. You’re looking fit and healthy today,” God looked up from his paperwork and seemed relieved at the interruption.

“Lucifer, I’m so glad to see you,” the older man exuded joy as he stood, and stretched an arm across the table to clasp his hand.

“Sure, because I’m offering you a chance to ditch the boring paperwork.”

“Oh no, it’s not that, wait, I haven’t forgotten about a special meeting, have I? I’m pretty sure it isn’t time for our monthly update and I don’t think we rescheduled it, Alice would have reminded me if we had.”

The smile slipped away and confusion became more evident on his friend’s face. Sadly, he knew things were about to get even more difficult for the busy man, and there was nothing he could do about it. He was about to take a big step, the only one he ever chose to take on his own. However, before he could do that, he needed to be sure the man sitting across from him would be okay with the repercussions. His friend’s approval wasn’t required, although to have it would help him feel more confident in believing he was doing the right thing.

“Don’t worry, you haven’t forgotten anything. We didn’t have a meeting organized. This is a purely spontaneous visit. I’m here because I have an important question to ask you, and it couldn’t wait.”

“Okay, good, now go ahead and ask me.” God looked concerned and he felt comforted to know his friend would be there for him, no matter what he confided. The man didn’t jump to conclusions, he waited to hear all the details, and only then would he offer an answer or opinion.

“Can I retire from the Prince of Darkness position?”

The silence that greeted his query was expected and normal, but the bulging eyes and opened mouth were not. Lucifer had held the job since its inception and he took each duty, no matter how hard it may be, very seriously. However, there was something inside him, something soft and gentle, and he hadn't known existed until he met someone. The new feelings fit inside him so well, he wanted to give whatever they were a chance to grow even further. What he was experiencing was new and, once he’d made the decision to open himself up so the emotions filled him, it had felt right.

As anticipated, the shocked silence didn’t last long. His friend started to stammer and stutter odd exclamations, only none of it made much sense. Maybe it wasn’t the nicest thing for him to think, but he liked knowing that, after an eternity of working pretty much side-by-side, he could still shake the old man up. He thought it was a part of why they got along so well. Lucifer kept God young, on his toes, and occasionally reminded him he didn’t know absolutely everything about everyone. And the other man kept him grounded and honest.

“Hear me out. I’ve looked in detail at the Mission Statement we created and my contract. Neither document mentioned anything that could be construed as fitting into this area and retirement is on my mind.”

“Why? What’s changed that makes you want to leave?”

“You know I’ve been spending all my spare time on the surface because of one particular woman. We’ve discussed her before, Nia Adams? The petite fleur in Los Angeles you worried would anger those gang bangers she was determined to prosecute?”

“Yes, yes, the young lady I’ve watched quite closely since her birth.”

“That’s right. Anyway, I set myself up as an actual person, not just a visitor, so that I could spend more time with her. At first it was enough, but not any longer. There are holes when I can’t be there, which don’t suit me anymore. The more I’m away from her, the more I want to be with her. Be with her as in love, cherish, and protect her from any and all evil.”

“Sounds like you’re serious.”

“Hence the retirement question.”

“I see. Are you looking for a monogamous commitment? If I remember correctly, the way her parents deserted her left a serious mark on that young woman. Problems with trust, am I right?”

“Yes, you’re right, and we have to get over a couple of bumps before we can move forward. Together.”

“Like what? Wait, do you want something to drink or eat? I can have Alice—”

“My mistake, I forgot to tell you when I came in that she was headed down to the kitchen to get me something healthy to eat. She took her communication device if you want to contact her though.”

“No, that’s all right. I think I’m going to have a glass of wine. You want one?”

“I’ll get myself some water. I think moving between all three levels and an occasional stop in between is finally taking a toll on me.” He walked over to the sideboard and watched his friend pour himself a large goblet brimming with deep red wine. Lucifer knew his query would throw the man off kilter, just not as much as it apparently had.

Once they’d sat back down, each with their feet up on the desk, and sipping on their chosen beverage, he waited for his friend to come to terms with the change he wanted to make. Only when that happened would the questions start coming. When it all started, God’s first question wasn’t the one he’d expected, and had to smile at the older man’s ability to return the surprise back to him.

“I think you’re right. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of retirement or any type of time off being covered in either document. However, I have to ask, why now? I mean, I know with all the turmoil and muck currently happening around the world, things have been very tough for you, and yet they’ve been bad before. I don’t remember you ever talking about wanting to leave Hell, no matter how horrible things were. And, you’ve had lovers on the surface before and with Nia, it sounds like you manage to visit her quite often. So, tell me, why the need to change things in such a drastic way?”

“You know time is measured differently between the afterlife and the surface. A few seconds there becomes days in Hades and yet it isn’t enough. Until now, I hadn’t ever considered leaving the job. However, Nia, she makes me look at things differently. I think it’s the right move to make. You see, everything was working out well enough and then it suddenly turned around. The last time I was with my lover, we were ready to take things a step further, and when we arrived at the point of fulfilling a desire we both wanted, and she couldn’t find it in herself to trust me. That was fine, because I understood why it was a difficult for her. It was a big step to take, but when I confessed my love for her and asked what she felt for me, she chose to lie.”

“That doesn’t necessarily put her on the wait list for Hell.”

“No, it doesn’t, although it did present me with an opportunity to have something I’ve always wanted.”

“Wait a moment, what is that? I don’t like the idea that you’ve had to deprive yourself of anything important simply because of the job you’ve signed on to do.” The older man sat forward, put his hands on his knees, and looked distressed.

Lucifer never wanted to cause his friend an iota of upset and with that thought in mind, he pushed on to tell him everything that was on his mind. There was no need to hold back, God was his friend and confidant, he wouldn’t share the details with others.

“It wasn’t you who held me back, it was me that sets the strict parameters I live and work within. However, despite the ugliness that surrounds me, I’ve dreamt of being loved and loving a woman in return. My perfect woman would be able to see beyond my reputation to the real me. That part of me does still exist and finally sees a chance to be fulfilled.”

“How do you intend to make it happen without disserting your post or putting her in harm’s way?”

“Well, my plan is to take a vacation with Nia.”

“Are you kidding me? A holiday? You seriously want to take a break during a busy time like you’re experiencing now? What about all the villainous degenerates and debauched miscreants trying to take over the world? Lucifer, you of all people know we can’t allow those who deserve to be punished an opportunity to escape.”

“Do you really think I’d allow that to happen?”

“No, no, I know you wouldn’t, but how can you get around it, and still go on a break? Trust me, I wish I could help you out and cover for you, but I can’t. It just isn’t in me to dole out the stiff sentences you’re required to do. Come on, put me out of my misery, and tell me what your plan is to ensure Hell’s gates aren’t closed, the planet doesn’t fall into the wrong hands, and Ms. Adams isn’t hurt.”

“First of all, I’m going to bring her to my office, and tell her the truth. I’m going to explain how she showed up on my list of possible residents. For the record, even though I know it will soon be struck off, she did appear on my latest update. Anyway, after she accepts that reality, I’m going to offer her an opportunity to be removed, by spending time with me. Hopefully, by showing her who I truly am, in my own environment, she’ll find it in her heart to trust me, and maybe want to explore a deeper relationship with me. As for making sure the gates remain open, by installing Nia in my private and secured rooms in Hell, I can be on call to take care of any unexpected events that may happen.”

His friend was quiet, most likely thinking about everything he’d said. Personally, he was finding it difficult to sit still, and wait for him to speak. It wasn’t that he needed the other man’s approval to do what he intended, although he definitely preferred to have God’s support on such a major move.

“I’m concerned—”

“Don’t be. Nia will be the one in control and she can cry off without any repercussions at any point. I know why she couldn’t claim to trust me. It comes from her horrible beginnings. What I need to do is ensure she knows how special she is, particularly to me, and how she started out in life didn’t define who she grew to be. When that’s settled, hopefully she’ll see me as I truly am, and want a future with me like I do with her. That means she must make the claim of love first. Now, keeping with our agreement of full-disclosure, you should know that if you’re okay with my retiring, I would also expect to give up my right to immortality.”

“No! No, my boy, I couldn’t possibly take that from you. Of all people in the hereafter, you have earned the right to that perk, and any other benefits.”

“And you must accept that she means that much to me. I want to live a full and complete life with her at my side. In order to do that honestly, I need to do it as a human, with all the vulnerability that comes with that state of existence.”

“It’s too much, you’re asking too much from me.”

“Not really, she’s worth all of that and more.”

“Oh Lucifer, what am I to do. What can I do to make your dreams possible without you having to make such a sacrifice?”

“You need to remember that it’s the one I want to make.” He smiled at his friend and reached out a hand to finalize the decision in the same way they handled all the pacts they made together. “Shake my hand and make a deal with me. If, in my real form I can gain her trust and love, then you’ll have to find a new person for the position of Prince of Darkness. If I don’t, then I’ll continue on in Hell without another word about retirement.”

Lucifer didn’t like causing his friend any worry, but Nia Adams had become that imperative to him being able to maintain his tenuous hold on humanity. Dropping his hand to give the man more time to think through his offer, he lifted his glass of water, and took a sip while looking out the window at the bucolic setting. Heaven was a serene place and he was lucky to have an apartment there that he could use anytime he wanted. In fact, he was sure people would think him crazy to give up any time he spent amongst the best available after death. However, no matter how perfect things looked, he’d much prefer either carving out a life on the surface with the woman he loved or working through the challenges only found below the surface.

“Can I have more time to think about what you’re wanting?”

“I’m afraid not, my friend. A note requesting her appearance has already been sent and, as we speak, she is on her way down to my office.”

“You’re eager.”

“Yes, I don’t want to waste another moment without being with her. She makes me that happy and the chance to spend a lifetime with her was handed to me. I’d be a fool to not do whatever I can to make it happen. And I’m definitely not a fool.”

“No, you’re a good man, Lucifer, and you deserve the very best. Okay, we have a deal.” They shook hands and he started to feel as if his life had already changed courses.

“Thank you, God. Your support means everything to me. I’m sure it will help me through any difficulties.”