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“It won’t be so hard next time,” I told him. “The wards will figure out that you’re welcome here and should adjust.”

He trotted up the stairs to me. “Nice to know I’m welcome.”

“Well, how are you supposed to stalk me if you can’t get to the house?” I said with a wink. I yanked the door open and ducked inside, closing it as soon as he was all the way in. “Oh, and by the way, this weather sucks ass.”

He laughed. “I’ve been seeing far too much of this up north. I was really hoping to avoid snow down here.”

“So it’s your fault,” I retorted.

“Apparently so. By the way, that coat looks great on you.” He swept an approving gaze over me. “Is it new?”

“Bought it today,” I said, giving a spin to show it off before slipping said coat off. “Wearing it is the only thing that makes this weather even remotely worthwhile.”

“You look tough in it,” he said. “I figured you’d be wearing that god-awful Members Only jacket of yours.”

“Don’t make me regret letting you through the wards!” I warned. “That jacket has a special place in my heart.”

“It belongs in a special place in the eighties!” He laughed and pulled me into a hug, and I let myself relax into it. We were already back to our usual banter, the old patterns of behavior.

This can work if I just don’t think too much about it. Right? Because I couldn’t tell Ryan what I knew about him. Zack had made that clear. Ryan’s memories and abilities had been blocked for a reason and what little I’d been able to pry out of Zack had been enough to convince me that Ryan was safer not knowing.

But that didn’t mean I had to stop looking for the truth.

I pulled back, then punched him hard in the chest. “Why didn’t you call? Or text? Or email? Or anything?” I demanded.

He grimaced and made a show of rubbing his chest, but I knew that the flicker of pain I saw flash across his face had nothing to do with my punch. “I’m sorry. I’m a dick. I just.…” He faltered.

“Don’t do it again,” I said, relenting. “Okay?”

Relief shimmered in his eyes. “Okay. I promise.”

On impulse I gave him another hug, and this time I could feel that some of the tension had left him.

“Come on,” I said, turning to head down the hallway. “Eilahn said something earlier about a very late breakfast.”

“Do I dare eat her cooking?” he replied as he followed me. He knew Eilahn was a demon. He also knew the demons didn’t like him, though he said he had no idea why. For that matter, neither did I, other than that they called him a kiraknikahl, or oathbreaker. Though it didn’t take a genius to figure out that it probably had something to do with my theory that he was an exiled demonic lord.

“She knows you’re a friend and off-limits as far as any sort of permanent damage is concerned. I think the worst she might do is hock a loogie into your omelet,” I said as seriously as I could manage.

I snickered as I heard him groan. “You’re evil,” he muttered.

Eilahn was already at the kitchen counter and pouring batter onto a waffle iron. I had no doubt that she’d been completely aware of Ryan’s presence in the driveway and of our conversation in the foyer. I wasn’t at all surprised that she hadn’t allowed him inside the protections. She kept her hostility in check at my request, but it was definitely still there. And what the hell could a demonic lord do to deserve exile? I wondered for the millionth time. What oath did he break?

And how much of a fool was I being by continuing to associate with him? The lords were dangerous, and Ryan clearly had enemies. But I can’t simply abandon him, I thought with a touch of defiance. He’s still my friend, damn it. At least until I have a damn good reason to feel otherwise.

The syraza gave Ryan a slight nod as he entered the kitchen. “Good afternoon, Ryan,” she said, tone not quite chilly. “Will you be joining us for a late breakfast?”

He smiled broadly and plopped down at the table. “Why yes, I believe I shall, and thank you for the invite!”

I did not invite you,” she replied before returning her attention to the waffle iron. I winced at the reply, but Ryan merely smiled wider. Great, it was going to be like this.

I headed toward the coffeemaker. Thankfully, she had also made coffee. “I didn’t know I had a waffle iron.”

“You did,” Eilahn replied with a slight smile. “It was at the back of one of your cabinets. Still in the box.”

I wasn’t terribly surprised. I went through phases where I was convinced I was going to learn how to cook, or at least learn how to make cool things like waffles or margaritas. Those phases usually passed quickly, and the related appliance ended up forgotten somewhere. In contrast, in the relatively short time she had been living with me, I’d discovered that Eilahn was an enthusiastic and skilled gourmet. I had no idea if she’d already possessed these skills, or if she picked them up while here, but I wasn’t about to complain. I’d never eaten so well in my life.

I need to figure out some way to give her an allowance or something. I almost asked her if she needed funds then stopped myself. This wasn’t something I wanted to get into with Ryan around.

I busied myself with getting my coffee the way I liked it and poured a mug for Ryan as well. Ryan knew who and what Eilahn was and knew about her role here as my protector. But I felt strangely protective toward her—which wasn’t logical in many ways, since she was the badass demon.

But the demons hate him for a reason. And even if he doesn’t remember or realize it, he’s pretty damn powerful. I couldn’t…wouldn’t risk Eilahn if I could at all help it. No matter how much I cared about Ryan.

I do care about Ryan, I told myself as I handed him his mug. He met my eyes and smiled as he took it from me, his fingers briefly brushing mine. I returned the smile but I couldn’t fight back the uncertainty. I care about Ryan…the Ryan I knew. Who the fuck is this?

I set my own coffee down on the table, then pulled the chair that faced the hallway out and around to exchange it with the chair across from Ryan. He gave me a puzzled look at my antics. “This chair wobbles,” I explained with a lift of my chin toward the one I’d just switched out.

“So, why don’t you sit somewhere else?” he asked with a lift of one eyebrow.

I plopped my butt down in the replacement chair. “Because I don’t like sitting with my back to the hallway. It gives me the willies.”

Amusement lit his eyes. “The willies?”

“The willies,” I confirmed, with an accompanying sticking out of tongue. “Eilahn does not get the willies sitting there, so that is her usual seat. And you are actually in my usual seat, but I am being nice and not telling you to move.” I smiled sweetly at him and took a sip of my coffee.

Ryan gave a chuckle. “Gotcha. It all makes perfect sense now.”

Eilahn placed a waffle-laden plate in front of me, then removed a second large waffle from the iron, placed it on a plate and took her seat. She paused for a heartbeat, then looked to Ryan with a guileless expression. “I left the waffle iron on for you. There is more batter in the pitcher beside it.”

“I think I need to complain to the management about the service here,” he said as he pushed back his chair, but he gave me a wink as he headed to the counter.

He’s back less than an hour, and I can already see where the dynamic between them is going. Demons or not, I was going to nip this shit in the bud.

“Just so the two of you know,” I said, stabbing my fork into my waffle. “I’m really not into the whole passive-aggressive teasing back and forth bullshit that masks real antipathy, and that the parties involved think is oh-so amusing. Yeah, it’s funny sometimes, but it kind of fucking stresses me out. So, Ryan, stop antagonizing Eilahn. And Eilahn, I don’t expect you to serve him, me, or anyone else, but by human standards telling a guest in your house to cook their own meal is considered rude.” I lifted my head to smile sweetly at them. “And now I’m going to eat my waffle.”