Defending His Heart (The Devil’s Set #4) by Ember Casey
The thrilling hunt for Rinaldi’s treasure continues…
And no one’s life—or heart—is safe.
Donovan has wanted his teammate Sloane for as long as he can remember. But is he willing to risk his team—and the greatest treasure they’ve ever pursued—for a woman with so many secrets?
DEFENDING HIS HEART is Book 4 of the thrilling Devil’s Set series by USA Today bestseller Ember Casey.
Excerpt Defending His Heart by Ember Casey
The air smelled like oranges. That’s what Sloane Dillon would remember most about this place—how every breath tasted of that sweet, citrus tang, how it filled her up with that bright flavor of pure life.
She stood on a small balcony only just wide enough for a single person, her hands clasped gently around the wrought iron rail as she looked down at the street below. This wasn’t her first time in Spain, but it was her first time here in the port city of Málaga, and part of her felt like she’d come home. She’d always had restless feet, but something in this place whispered for her to stay.
The deep voice behind her filled her with so many twisted feelings—hope and sorrow, regret and longing. But it was that last emotion that swelled through her now, bolstered by that bright-sweet scent of life carried on the Mediterranean breeze. She felt so light, so buoyant, that her very skin tingled with it. And so she turned, slowly, letting herself lean into that longing the way she might lean into the warmth of a fire.
Donovan Kruger—her teammate, her dearest friend—stood just inside the door, watching her with those intense, dark eyes of his. Some people found him intimidating with those wide shoulders and that hard jaw, but he’d never frightened her. And those eyes…she didn’t know what it was about those eyes, but something happened every time they looked at her. Something that made her dizzy, made her heart beat faster.
“I can’t stay,” she said softly. “You know that.” They both did. The day that Roth had brought her in to the Devil’s Set, he’d made one thing clear to the entire team: no one was to touch her. If they did, for any reason, they’d be kicked out of the Set. Or worse. Roth had made all of them swear an oath on it, one after another. They may have been treasure hunters—and therefore willing to break any number of international laws—but among these men, an oath like that was as strong as blood.
Sloane had found Roth’s rule a welcome one at the time, especially given her history. It had made her feel safe as the only woman among all these men. Now, though…
Donovan hadn’t moved. Given his sheer size and breadth he was an imposing physical barrier, but that wasn’t why her feet remained glued to the tiled floor of the balcony. She stood with her back against the rail, trying to find the will to move, but those dark eyes kept her pinned in place.
“I have to go,” she insisted, her voice even softer than before. Back to my room. To safety and sanity.
“I know.” This time he took a step forward. “I’m not stopping you.”
She knew he would let her pass if she tried. He’d let her walk by him, never touching, and out that door. To her own room, where she belonged.
She couldn’t even explain to herself why she’d come to his room in the first place. The Set had just finished up another successful hunt, and most of the others were off celebrating at one of the bars on the next street. Donovan—who’d never been one for drinking—had stayed in. And Sloane had claimed to have a headache, completely intending to call it an early night.
Instead, she’d ended up here. And even though she knew what she risked, she hadn’t been able to keep herself away.
He took another step toward her, and now he was on the threshold of the balcony, his skin shining like dark bronze in the last rays of the sun. Even his thick, almost wiry hair caught the light, the dark strands briefly glinting like dying embers as he stepped out of the shadows.
They’d been teammates for over two years now, and she still couldn’t put her finger on exactly the moment it had begun—when they’d gone from teammates to friends, and then from friends to something beyond. The shift had been so subtle, so slow, that she hadn’t noticed it until it was too late to do anything about it—a glance, a brush of the arm, and somehow everything had changed.
How did you defend against something like that?
It sent a little thrill through her, hearing her name on his lips. But she tried to crush it down.
“I’m going back to my room,” she told him.
But still she didn’t move, even though he was reaching out to her now. His fingers gently grazed her bare arm, trailing from her shoulder down toward her elbow.
“I won’t stop you,” he told her again. “But I want you to stay.”
“If Roth finds out—”
“I know the consequences,” he told her in that deep rumble. “And I don’t care.”
She cared. She didn’t want to be the reason that Donovan lost his place here in the Set. She knew how much this team meant to him, what he’d found among the brotherhood here. She couldn’t—wouldn’t—cost him that.
But she also saw the look in his eyes, knew that no argument would change his mind. Her only option was to walk away, to go back to her room and forget the shivery thrill that ran beneath her skin.
“Why did you come here?” he asked. “Not simply to stare off my balcony, I assume?”
She wished she could answer that. She wished she could explain—to herself, not just to him—why now, after all these days and weeks, she was actually considering crossing the line she’d promised herself she’d never cross again. She’d made a similar mistake before, in another time and place, and she still bore the scars from it.
She blamed the oranges. The wild, fragrant, tangy oranges that invaded her senses and made everything so much more vivid.
“Why do you want me to stay?” she asked him in lieu of answering his question.
His eyes never wavered from her. “Maybe I’m tired of fighting it.”
“That doesn’t mean you should stop trying. You should keep fighting until—” Her voice cut off as his fingers curled around her upper arm.
“If that’s how you feel, then why did you come here?” he asked her again. “And why haven’t you left?”
She didn’t have an answer for that. God help her, she didn’t.
His eyes finally dropped from her face, falling down her body to the tiled floor of the balcony beneath them. There wasn’t room for both of them out here. Not unless they were tangled together like one person.
“Sloane.” His voice was thick like syrup, melodious in a way that reflected his childhood on the outskirts of London. Every once in a while, there was the hint of something else, too—a touch of the South African accent he’d picked up from his father, or even bits of an American cadence that had developed during his time among the Set. His voice was beautiful. “Sloane, if you want to leave, then I need you to leave.” There was something tight in his voice, like a stone on the verge of cracking. “I don’t know how much longer I can hold myself back.”
He raised his eyes again, and if she’d thought his gaze was intense before, it was nothing compared to the maelstrom she saw in his eyes now. She knew something of the scars on his soul, knew what he risked by even considering this. And she knew he was not only losing the battle, but that it was already lost.
And the maelstrom caught her, too. She felt herself being dragged in, caught in the swirling tides, tugged forward no matter how much her mind fought against that wild current. Donovan’s hand moved up her arm again, skimming across her skin, gliding over her shoulder to cradle the side of her throat.
And still she remained frozen.
You promised yourself you wouldn’t do this again, she thought desperately. She’d been down this road before—fallen for the man she shouldn’t, let herself be dragged under his spell, and she’d paid the consequences for her actions.
There would be consequences for this, too. She knew it in her soul. And yet she didn’t pull away, not even when his head dipped down toward hers.
Maybe he was right. Maybe the time for fighting this was past. Maybe this was inevitable. After all, she was the one who’d come to his room, for reasons that still weren’t clear to her. She was the one who refused to leave, even though she knew she should.
And she was the one who tipped her face up, slanting her mouth to meet his.
That first touch of his lips nearly toppled her. It was gentle, a shiver of a whisper of a breath, as light as a butterfly’s wing. He was testing the waters, perhaps, waiting to see if their world would come crumbling down around them the moment they crossed this line.
But the world stayed as it was, wild and wicked and heady with the scent of oranges.
His next kiss wasn’t nearly so soft.
She heard herself gasp against him as his mouth met hers again, more passionately this time, demanding and pleading all at once. There was something hard behind this kiss, something desperate, but she wasn’t sure whether that desperation was coming from Donovan or her.
She only knew she needed more.
He pressed her back against the balcony rail, his arm snaking around her, and any lingering thoughts she had of leaving slipped away on the Mediterranean breeze. There was no turning back now. No denying the hunger that had been building, slowly but steadily, over the weeks and months. Now she was ravenous, and Donovan was offering her hungry heart exactly what it desired.