Kadence didn't allow herself to shudder. Lucifer was tall, muscled like a warrior and sensually handsome despite the dark inferno raging in his eyes. But he did not compare to the beast who guarded his domain. The beast whose face was too rough to be considered anything other than savage. The beast whose half-man, half-monster body should have disgusted her but didn't. Instead, his haunted brown eyes captivated her; his protective nature intrigued her.

She might never have become interested in the guardian, might have assumed he was like every other hated creature here, but then he saved her life. Sadly, even immortal goddesses could be slain - a prospect that had never been clearer as the outer gates had parted to welcome a spirit and a minion slipped free. It should have been afraid of her, should have bowed to her, but had probably sensed her fear and reacted, racing straight for her, hungry for her living flesh.

She'd frozen, but still it had not reached her.

The guardian - what was his name? - had intervened, destroying the fiend with one swipe of his poisoned claw. He hadn't spoken to her afterward, and she hadn't spoken to him, her belief that he was like all the other creatures in this underworld shaken but not yet completely broken. She had begun to study him, though. Over time, she'd become fascinated by his complexities.

He was a destroyer, yet he'd saved her. He had nothing, yet he hadn't asked for anything in exchange.

Did he favor her in return? Sometimes when he looked at her she would swear she saw white-hot flames that had nothing to do with the damned.

Lucifer regarded her silently as he settled atop his throne of swirling, ghostly souls. A bejeweled goblet materialized, already clutched in his hand, and he sipped from it. A drop of crimson slid down the corner of his mouth and trickled onto his stark white shirt.

Revulsion besieged her, but she kept her expression neutral.

"You are disgusted by me but do not show it," he said with another of those wicked smiles. "Where is the mouse who usually visits? The one who trembles and stumbles over her words? I like her."

Kadence raised her chin. He could call her all the names he wished, but she wouldn't comment. "Your walls have been compromised, and a horde of demons fight to escape."

The prince quickly lost his smile. "You lie. They would not dare."

His agitation was understandable. Without his legions, he would have no one to rule. "You're right. Your band of thieves, rapists and murderers would not dare disobey their sovereign."

His eyes narrowed in a show of anger. Then he gave a casual shrug to counteract the telltale sign. "So they're compromised. What do you want from me?"

Always he made things difficult. "The guardian. He can help me stop the ones responsible."

Lucifer snorted. "No. I like him where he is. My last guard fell victim to a demon's lies and almost allowed a legion to escape. Geryon is impervious to their wiles."

She barely stopped herself from running her tongue over her teeth. Was this a game he played? He needed the wall repaired as much as she did; his refusal grated. Well, not as much, she mused. Unlike her, he would not die if the wall crumbled. "I am your sovereign," she said. "You will - "

"You are not my sovereign," he growled in another display of anger. A deep breath in and out, and he calmed. "You are You watch, you advise and you protect, but you do not command."

Because you are too weak, he did not say. But then, he didn't have to. They both knew it was true.

Very well. She would go about this a different way. "Shall we bargain?" she asked.

He nodded, as if he'd merely been waiting for the question. "We shall."

Gates of Hell

"I do not understand," Geryon said, refusing to leave his post. He even crossed his arms over his chest, an action that reminded him of his human days, when he'd been more than guard, more than monster. "Lucifer would never have agreed to release me."

"I promise you, he agreed. You are free." The goddess cast her gaze to her sandaled feet, saying no more.

Did she hide something? Plan to trick him, for whatever reason? It had been so long since he'd dealt with a female, he wasn't sure how to judge her actions.

She was paler than usual, he noted, the rosy glow in her cheeks gone, her freckles stark. Her golden ringlets tumbled down her shoulders and arms, and he could see soot woven throughout the fine strands. His hands ached to reach out, to sift those tresses through his fingers.

Would she run screaming if he did so?

Today she wore a violet robe and matching necklace - a necklace that boasted a teardrop amethyst as large as his fist and as bright as the glistening ice he had not seen in hundreds of years. She had never worn such a thing before; usually she draped herself in white, an angel among evil, with no adornment.

"How?" he persisted. "Why?"

"Does it matter?" Her gaze lifted, boring into him with the precision of a spear and cutting just as deep.

"To me, yes."

She gave a little stomp of her foot. "To save the wall, I need your help. Let that be enough for now." Her fingers beckoned him. "Come. I can show you the damage that has been done."

The goddess did not await his reply. She turned away from him and walked to the far corner of the wall. No, not walked. She glided, a dream of falling stars amid shimmering twilight.

Geryon hesitated only a moment before following her, breathing deeply of her honeysuckle scent along the way.