The garage door glided shut behind him and, eyes closed, Lucifer sat in the silence, grateful to have finally arrived home. It had been a long, dreary day. The white morning had dulled into a gray afternoon, stretched into the indigo of dusk, and finally, at last, culminated into a night as black as his soul.

He liked black. It soothed him. Black wasn’t the lack of color, as some believed, but the absence of light. Now wasn’t the time for light. Now was the time for darkness, to retreat, take stock, plan his next move. Analyze his recent failure. His fist tightened in his lap as the debacle again rolled through his mind.

Never again will I be humiliated by that—creature.

The memory of the encounter sent a chill through him, hastening him out of his sleek car and into the house. Three fingers of single malt in a cut-crystal tumbler waited beside the leather chair in front of a crackling fire. He sank into the cushions with a deep sigh.

“Will there be anything else tonight, sir?”

Lucifer lolled his head toward his butler, a timid young man whose father had been with the family for what seemed like eons, and was about to wave him off, but then he had an idea. It would kill two birds with one stone—this young partridge before him needed seasoning, and the other bird needed to be cooked.

“Yes, Olek, there will be one more thing.” Lucifer smiled. “Will you join me for a drink?”

The butler hesitated the perfectly appropriate amount of time, then said, “Yes, sir. Of course, sir.”

Olek took the smaller club chair beside him, perched on the lip of the seat. Lucifer laughed. “For blast’s sake, you’re not a dog. You can sit on the furniture without fear that I’ll swat you with the newspaper.”

The young man then sat properly, though still gave the impression that he’d left the hanger in his suit jacket.

Lucifer picked up his glass and leaned back, weighing his words. “I’ve been watching you, since you’ve taken on after your father. He’s trained you well. But I’ve noticed a rather…special quality that you have that’s all your own. You’re quiet, efficient… Perhaps you can be of great use to me, in my business.” Olek blushed. Charming, Lucifer thought. Perfect. “I will pay you, of course.”

“Oh, I couldn’t. You’ve been more than generous already. You treated my father like family when we left Ukraine, you took me in like I was one of your own. I couldn’t take more of your money.”

“But I insist,” Lucifer said. “It involves a bit of risk, which demands reward.”

Olek visibly swallowed. He looked left, and right, as if anticipating the ghost of his father. “What sort of risk?”

Lucifer shrugged. “The usual sort of risk that one comes across in my line of work. Very few of those who bargain away their souls are eager to pay up when the bill comes due.”

Olek drew a hand to his mouth. “Oh. But I wouldn’t know how to—”

“There will be training, of course. You might even grow to enjoy it at times.” The man’s dead-eyed, thin-lipped face came to mind, the man who’d defied him, humiliated him, and a growl came from Lucifer’s throat. “Especially the first case I’ll be assigning you.” He told Olek about the Russian dictator who’d ponied up his soul for infinite wealth and a return of his country’s former glory with no consequences from the rest of the world. If it could be called glory, but Lucifer didn’t judge motives. He just dealt in souls.

A vulpine smile sharpened the young man’s eyes. “When do we start?”