The last of the job interviews done, Lucifer sighed into the quiet emptiness of his upscale nightclub. Good help was hard to find, even for the Devil. None vying to tend his bar had that "it" factor he required of all Lux employees. At this rate, he would have to beg his demon return to her old post. The thought did not appeal, given the sour note they'd parted on after the death of an old friend.
Lucifer drained the last of his scotch and slid from the stool at the black bar table where he'd been conducting interviews. Gathering the small pile of resumes he'd acquired during the process, he folded them indifferently. They were destined for the bin.
As he was turning toward the stairwell to leave, the golden, glass door to Lux's entrance flung wide. A young woman rushed in, her wavy, brown locks swishing around her angular face. Lucifer paused and stared as she clutched the mezzanine's railing and looked down at him. She was striking and strangely familiar.
"Hi," she said, chest heaving as she gasped for air.
"Hello…" Lucifer tilted his head. "We're closed. But can I help you?" He could think of many ways he'd like to.
She smiled a megawatt smile that he felt himself return. "You're a Brit."
"Well, it's certainly true I'm not from around here."
Slim and bedecked in tights swallowed by black motorcycle boots, she was bloody breathtaking. The soft cream skin of her midriff peeked out beneath a wine-colored halter top and black leather jacket, revealing the sinuous shape of what appeared to be a tattooed serpent slithering about her middle.
"Are you still doing interviews?"
Ah. Lucifer tapped the worthless resumes on the nearest bar table. "'Fraid not."
"Can you make an exception?"
"Miss Decker," Lucifer said firmly, "you certainly look the part, I'll give you that, but I do happen to be running a business, den of sin though it may be. I require dependability." In his experience, dependability was next to discretion, a necessary trait in any Lux employee, given the present era's pesky drug war and the puritanical ban on sex work. "Now, if you'd like to stay a while, I can offer you a dri—"
"I'm dependable!" she insisted. "My bike broke down on the way here. I had to catch an Uber." Her shoulders slumped, and she smiled tremulously. "Please. I really, really need this job."
Lucifer studied her. The longer he looked, the more familiar she seemed and the more intrigued he became. With a long, put-upon sigh, he beckoned her with a flick of his fingers. "Very well, Miss Decker. Come impress me."
"Thank you!" She rushed down the stairs as he settled on the stool at the same bar table he'd occupied before she'd arrived. As he set aside the old stack of resumes, she came to a stop beside the table and pulled a folded piece of paper from a back pocket. "My resume."
Not exactly the height of professionalism, but he liked her moxie. Taking the warm paper, he unfolded it without complaint. "I'm Lucifer, by the way," he said, holding out his other hand. "Lucifer Morningstar."
Chloe grinned as they shook. "Great stage name," she effused, the low light of the bar sparkling in her blue eyes.
He chuckled. "Oh, it's God-given, I'm afraid."
While she settled across from him, he scanned her experience with mild interest. Oh, dear. She referred to herself as a mixologist. Was she being ironic? He glanced at her briefly as she pushed soft bangs from her eyes. Hard to say with this "millennial" generation. At least her experience was decent—small bars, mostly, with a brief stint at hotels, and more recently time spent working in dreaded chain restaurants.
Flicking the resume aside, he leaned an elbow on the table. "So. Why Lux, Miss Decker?"
"You mean...why do I want to work here?"
"It seems like a cool place?"
"Cool," he echoed.
"Cooler than where I'm working now, definitely." She looked around the bar, taking in its darkness and its golden lights before her gaze returned to him. "And, you know, I need the money."
"Of course. You humans," he said, wagging a finger at her, "you love your money, don't you?"
"Uh…" She shrugged and breathed out a laugh. "It pays the bills, right?"
Lucifer asked after her skills and ability to work under pressure. She was clever and could list the ingredients to more drinks than most. He'd watch her on the job, but she seemed a surprisingly good fit.
"I like you, Miss Decker." She grinned. "Just a few more things, if you'll indulge me."
"I require discretion." He tapped a long pointer finger on the table. "Will that be a problem?"
Chloe folded her arms over her chest. "I knew the pay was too good to be true. Look, I won't do anything illegal, if that's what you're asking."
"Then you won't sell the narcotics behind my counter," he assured her. "All I ask is you look the other way."
"Not the first bar I've worked at like that."
"I also allow sex workers in my establishment."
"Oh. Uh, okay."
"Several operate out of rooms in this building."
Her eyes widened. "You're running a brothel?"
"I'm providing a safe environment for something that would exist, regardless."
"I didn't say I had an issue with it. In theory."
"Good. I'm fair to them. They pay for the rooms, should they wish to use them, but they keep their earnings. I don't take a cut otherwise, and I ensure they have access to healthcare." He sniffed and adjusted a cufflink. "And if you catch wind of a pimp, you are to report to me."
She opened her mouth, only to pause. "What do you do to them?"
"Worried for the safety of flesh peddlers, Miss Decker?"
"I didn't say that."
Lucifer smirked. "Have you ever heard the phrase 'put the fear of God in' a man?" He nodded with her. "That's nothing compared to striking in them fear of the Devil."
Her eyes jumped left and right as she regarded him. "Okay."
"Excellent. And not a word to the cops about any of this, yes?"
"So long as I don't see anybody hurting someone else, I'm not gonna rat you out. I hate cops."
"Rebel after my own heart."
"Not a rebel. Not really. Just not down with cops. Especially the LAPD."
Interesting. There was a story there, but he sensed it was best left for another day. "Well, seems we're on the same page, then. When can you start?"
"Oh!" Excitement lit up her entire being. "Um, tonight! If you need me."
"Let's make that tomorrow." Rising, he went to the bar and leaned over its counter, where he retrieved a napkin and pen. He scribbled a name and address on the Lux-stamped paper. "Go here first thing in the morning," he said, handing it to her. "That's my tailor. She'll fit you for a uniform."
Chloe stared at the address. "There are tailored uniforms?"
"Bonnie will have it ready for you by tomorrow night. Come in at eight. I'll have papers for you to sign, and Patrick will help you get settled."
"So I'm really supposed to sign a contract with the Devil?" she teased.
He chuckled. He did love the company of playful women. "If you don't like the terms, Miss Decker, I'm sure we can come up with some way to sweeten the deal."
As they looked at each other, good humor quirking their mouths, a moment of exquisite tension warmed between them, like a vibrating musical note plucked from a string. His eyes dropped to the serpent snaking around her skin, and he imagined where the head and tail might lead. She had secrets, this one.
Clapping her hands together suddenly, Chloe slid from the stool. "So. Eight. I'll be here."
"Yes, eight." Flashing a grin, he took up two glasses and a bottle of scotch from the bar. "Now, about tonight… I've got all the bartenders I need, but you're welcome to stay and have a little fun." He poured scotch into his glass and wagged the bottle above the second in offering. "What do you say? Care to have a drink with me, Miss Decker?"
Her eyes swept over him. She was thinking about it. Any woman remotely interested in men did. But then she surprised him by shaking her head. "Thanks, but...no, thanks. I should get going, you know, if I'm gonna see your tailor tomorrow." She held up the folded napkin with a smile. "Since having a tailor for uniforms is a thing you have."
"Right." He set down the bottle. "I'll bid you farewell, then." Lucifer watched the sway of her hips as she turned toward the stairwell. "Oh! One thing before you go, Miss Decker."
She looked at him over her shoulder. "Yeah?"
"Why do you seem so familiar? I could swear I’ve seen you naked," he said, with a bewildered shake of his head. "Have we had sex?"
"Seriously?" Her head fell back as she laughed. "Nope. Think I'd remember that."
"True. I am very memorable."
She snickered. "You probably remember me from when I went topless in a movie."
"Did you now!" Lucifer crowed. "Gosh, aren't you full of surprises."
"Sometimes people recognize me." She glanced down at her tattooed middle. "Even after all the ink."
"I'm sure you left quite the impression on many a man's formative years. What movie was it?"
"Hot Tub High School." She rolled her eyes.
"Wait. Really?" Be still his heart. He pointed a finger at her in sudden recognition. "You're Chloe Decker Chloe Decker."
"Yep, that's me."
"You were quite funny in that, like a new Phoebe Cates." He paused, fondly remembering the eponymous hot tub scene. Now that he knew what he recognized her from, he couldn't get it out of his head. He might rewatch it, come to think of it. "Really, that was quite the nude scene, Miss Decker."
"It was also filmed about half my lifetime ago."
"Oh, I'm sure you've held up quite well."
"Why ever would you leave behind the limelight?"
"It wasn't for me." Her amused expression fell and twisted into something pained. "I guess you could say my life took a turn."
"Ah. I'm sorry to hear that."
"Don't be." She raised her chin. "I'm who I am because of it."
He gave a close-lipped smile. "That I can empathize with, Miss Decker."
"With a name like Lucifer, you just might." She returned his sad smile and lifted a hand. "See you tomorrow, Mr. Morningstar."
Long after she left, he stood still, staring at the entrance door.
Steam curled above the coffee cup Chloe clutched in her hand as she pushed open the door into Bonnie B's Alterations. Shoving dark sunglasses to the top of her head, she blinked hard, adjusting to the yellow fluorescents in the cramped space. A clothes rack stood to the left of the door, bursting with shirts, pants, jackets, and garment bags. To the right, a wooden chair with a worn, blue seat cushion faced an old, boxy CRT television that was stacked atop an even older TV. A morning show played at low volume, the meteorologist warning of wildfires to the north, while a stainless steel pot on the floor beside the televisions caught water dripping from the ceiling.
None of it screamed quality alterations, and Chloe glanced back at the faded, worn logo on the glass door to make sure she'd entered the right place.
"Mornin', sweetheart!" Chloe twitched in surprise as a middle-aged white woman with bottle red hair waddled out from a backroom, smiling behind blue cat-eye glasses. "I'm Bonnie," she explained, adjusting a pink t-shirt over her large bosom, "and you must be Miss Chloe Decker."
"Uh, yeah?" She smiled hesitantly. "Did Mr. Morningstar tell you I'd be coming or something?"
"Baby doll, I am on that man's speed dial. I get everything from work orders to hot gossip." She jerked her head toward the backroom. "Come on back and let me get you fitted."
The backroom was even worse than the waiting room. Mountains of fabric towered atop what must be tables, though no visible surfaces could be seen. Three mannequins stood in various states of undress, their blank faces almost as full of cool judgment as their clothes were of silver pins.
A big woman, Bonnie huffed and puffed as she moved the heaped piles of material while muttering to herself.
"Here we go!" Standing straight, she shook a black shirt toward Chloe. "Put this on, would you?" She pointed to a rattan divider that had been shoved into one corner of the room for some semblance of privacy.
Chloe stared at the scant material for a long moment before taking hold of surprisingly thick cotton. The black button down halter top had three-quarter-length sleeves and was cut to a point that would show the inked flames that licked across the skin of her lower back.
"Is this what all the bartenders wear?" she asked dryly, already knowing the answer.
"Mr. Morningstar requests slight customizations to every bartender's uniform."
"Uh-huh. Even the men's?"
Ducking her chin, Bonnie looked at Chloe over the rim of her glasses. "The men's, too, honey."
"Oh." Laughter burbled out of Chloe. "I guess he and I have more in common than I realized."
Bonnie snickered while Chloe shuffled behind the divider and yanked off her t-shirt.
The curiosity this man had inspired in her was eating her alive. She'd never stepped foot in Lux before yesterday—the lines and the cover charge weren't worth it—but her interview with Lucifer Morningstar had ensured she'd never forget it. He'd given her the strangest interview of her life, which was saying something when you worked in the service industry. He had managed to make it both casual and serious, and she still wasn't quite sure what she'd gotten herself into. All she knew was the pay was second to none, especially with steady hours, and just about anything would be better than another night serving baby boomers at Applebee's.
Having donned the black halter top, Chloe came out from behind the divider. "Does it really need altering?" she asked, pulling at the fabric near her ribs. "It seems to fit okay."
"Okay is not what I do," Bonnie said, coming toward her with a tomato pin cushion. Tsking beneath her breath, she grabbed hold of the hem and began tucking.
"Anything I should know about my new boss?" She hoped she sounded casual.
"Well, he's gonna try to sleep with you."
The thought of it exploded across her mind's eye, as it had several times since last night. He was the epitome of tall, dark, and handsome. Not good. "Oh, I don't—"
"I say let him. I had a helluva time."
Chloe's eyes widened. She snapped her mouth shut when she realized it had fallen open.
"Best night of my life. That man lifted me clear off the floor—and you see how many decades of good cookin' I'm packing."
"All I'm saying is he found places my ex-husband couldn't get to with a goddamn map." Chloe held back a cackle as Bonnie stabbed another pin into place. "Just consider it, if you get the chance."
"Well. That's...definitely not gonna happen." He was hot, and he'd made it clear he was into her, but there were lines she wouldn't cross for lots of reasons.
"If you say so, honey." Bonnie took hold of Chloe's elbows and lifted her arms in the air.
Searching for a safer topic, Chloe glanced around the messy room. "How did Mr. Morningstar find you?"
"You mean how'd a man like that come to be in my podunk little shop?" At Chloe's horrified expression, she laughed. "I know how it looks, and I know I'm a mess, but I'm also damn good at what I do." She shrugged a shoulder. "Lucifer asked around, and he ended up at my door. Now we have our arrangement."
"I tailor everything he throws at me, and he's putting my son through college."
Who was this guy? "That's a pretty sweet deal."
"Sure is. Not to say I don't bust my ass on his suits, and he's always buying new ones. Doesn't ever let the designer tailor it." Bonnie smiled as she poked another needle through the cotton. "He's weird as hell, but he's a good guy, even if he'll tell you he's not."
"You mean the whole Devil...thing."
"Everybody's got their daddy issues, right?"
"Yeah," Chloe said, her voice soft as she thought of her own father.
"Don't let it freak you out, though." Bonnie laughed. "It's not like he's the actual Devil."
Chloe grinned at that. "If he is, he can't say I'm not a sympathizer," she joked. Turning her right hand palm up, she showed Bonnie the pentagram tattooed on the inside of her wrist. It was just one of many Satanic tattoos she'd gotten over the years.
"Huh." A dark eyebrow lifted above cat-eye glasses. "Would you look at that." Reaching between them, Bonnie loosened an extra button on Chloe's halter top. "There," she decided. "That's better."
The first few nights at Lux were hell for a newbie. Even on a Tuesday, the bar was busy. Chloe liked the challenge, though, and found her groove as she muddled through drink orders, made small talk with clubgoers, and memorized the names and faces of Lux's other employees.
She looked the other way as pills and powders and bottles exchanged hands offering cold cash. And if suggestively dressed women and men drew people into the elevator, her eyes didn't see it. She wondered what her dad would think about that. Would he be disappointed in his only child? But he was long gone, and the grit of nightlife had become hers. She felt at home among people who were searching for something, whether that was a night to forget the day or a companion to chase away loneliness.
Lux was a good place to come if you were seeking distraction. Between slinging drinks and cleaning, Chloe watched the enigmatic Lucifer Morningstar roam his club like a charismatic prince. He slipped into any conversation and made sure no one felt left out. Wallflowers were dragged into the fray. Those he liked most, he disappeared with for hours or a night.
On the surface, he seemed like any other socialite playboy, but she couldn't help but wonder if something much bigger was going on behind the scenes. Bigger, even, than the drugs and prostitutes, or the occasional important-looking businessperson who came to shake Mr. Morningstar's hand. She just couldn't quite put her finger on what it was about him that was so different. Maybe he was in the mob or the son of someone powerful.
Maybe she was overthinking it.
Then, on her fourth night of bartending, three dancers rolled a black piano through the wide double doors of Lux's backroom. Chloe had seen the beautiful, polished Steinway every time she'd put her helmet and jacket away before starting her shift, but she'd kept forgetting to mention it. Lux hadn't really struck her as a piano bar.
"Is there a show on or something?" she asked Patrick, while thinly slicing limes to garnish cocktails.
Patrick glanced at her out of the corner of an eye lined with kohl. "I forgot you wouldn't know yet," he said, clearly amused.
"Know what?" Chloe liked Patrick and felt herself smiling with him, even if she didn't understand what was funny. A skinny-tie-wearing punk, his dry sense of humor had helped keep her sane as she got into the flow of the job. It also didn't hurt that they shared a love for ink.
He nodded toward the dance floor at the same time the volume to the club's music was turned down and then off. Chloe followed his gaze to where Mr. Morningstar, of all people, had settled at the piano bench. Soft light fell upon his dark hair and the dark shirt and vest that encased his body.
The hand she was holding her paring knife in fell limp as he began to play. The tune was familiar, some cover of a famous song, though she couldn't place it. She looked around the club. Some had paused to watch him, but most had clustered into the crescent-shaped booths to talk.
"He's good, right?" Patrick said.
Chloe stared at Mr. Morningstar. "He's definitely not what I was expecting."
"We all go through that."
He stayed at the piano, drifting aimlessly from one tune to the next. She'd seen him in lots of different ways since the night of her interview—jovial, flirty, imposing, sly—but this, she thought, was contentment. Eyes closed in pleasure, he was somewhere good, or at least somewhere real and raw.
When his glass ran dry, she filled a tumbler with their best top shelf and made her way around the bar. As she neared the piano, Mr. Morningstar's mouth twitched.
"Hello, Miss Decker." He continued to play as he looked up and watched her exchange his empty glass for the fresh one. "Thank you. I was beginning to wonder if I was paying you to tend my bar or watch my every move."
Her cheeks heated. "Sorry," she mumbled, flustered. "I'll get back—"
"I didn't say I minded, did I?" Grinning, he stopped playing and reached for the drink she'd brought him. "You're welcome to ask me questions, you know. I'm an open book, and I never lie."
Turning back to him, Chloe opened her mouth, but hesitated to give voice to her curiosity. Most of her questions were about things that weren't any of her business, especially considering he was her boss. "That's okay." She glanced at the bar, where a small line of people had gathered. "I really should get back to helping Patrick."
But as she made to leave, Mr. Morningstar reached out and grabbed her right hand. "Wait."
Chloe looked down at where his palm engulfed hers. The touch was wildly inappropriate—creepy, even. She should tear away from him, smack his hand, do something. But she didn't want to, and she didn't feel afraid or creeped out.
"People usually like to tell me things," he said, with a bewildered shake of his head. "But you… You're a tough nut to crack, aren't you?"
"People tell you things," she repeated. Then she laughed, as she put it all together. "What, like, you're the Devil, and people confess their sins?"
"What? No," he scoffed. "I have no control over anyone's sins. But I do have the ability to draw out people’s forbidden desires."
The words sent a tiny, pleasurable frisson through her stomach. "Oh, really?" she said dryly.
She glanced down to where he still held her hand and followed the lines of his fingers up, across his arm, along the regal column of his neck, and back to his face. Leaning his other elbow on top of the piano, Mr. Morningstar edged closer as he looked up at her, his fingers twitching against her skin.
"Really." He stared into her eyes. "So, tell me, Miss Decker, what is it you desire?"
Chloe stared back, feeling silly the longer they looked at each other, until she had the nearly uncontrollable urge to roar with laughter. "That's your big trick?" she snorted. "People just answer that question?"
Mr. Morningstar pulled back, his brows pinching. His mouth opened and closed as he looked her over, from head to toe. Suddenly, his gaze froze. "You have a pentagram on your wrist," he said, turning her hand to study the tattoo. "Why do you have a pentagram on your wrist?"
Just how far did this shtick of his go? Smiling, she tilted her left hand so he could see the inside of her other wrist, where an eye framed within a triangle was set among rays of light. "And an all-seeing eye on this one." She chuckled awkwardly. "I guess you could say we're both a fan of the Devil. Pretty ironic, right?"
Mr. Morningstar's eyes jumped back to hers. "Ironic, yes..." He looked entirely bewildered by something—by her, maybe, though she couldn't understand why. "Did my father send you?"
Chills swept down Chloe's spine. So maybe she wasn't too far off the mark, thinking he came from a mob family. "I don't think so," she said. "I'd know, right?"
"One would assume," he murmured. He still held her hand, and his thumb had begun to brush back and forth across the pentagram on her wrist. Chloe tried to ignore it, tried to force herself to pull away, but she stayed, all her nerve endings bunching in that singular spot. "Of course, Dad likes to toy with us—me, most of all."
They fell quiet, and Chloe noticed someone had turned the music back on at some point. It embarrassed her, realizing how long she must have stood here, holding her boss's hand. "I should—"
"Yes, of course," he said, letting go of her at once. "Gosh, there's quite a queue now, isn't there? Thank you for the drink, Miss Decker."
"No problem," she murmured.
As she walked away, she felt his eyes on the skin of her back. She drew the fingers of her right hand into her palm, where her flesh was still warm from his touch. Or maybe that was imagined. Maybe it was just part of the familiar floating sensation stirring within her as she crossed the room.
Not good, she thought, joining Patrick behind the bar. Not good at all.