When Devyn Groves needed a place to get away, she left her Midwestern state and headed for Texas, to the town where her Delta Force brother is stationed. It was supposed to be a brief stop, a safe and temporary refuge on the way to wherever she decided to settle next. Fast-forward over a year later, and she’s made amazing friends, is working part time as a vet tech, and is no closer to leaving. But there’s always the possibility…which is why she keeps Lucky, her brother’s teammate, at arm’s length. Even though it’s the last thing she wants to do.

Troy “Lucky” Schmidt fell for Devyn the moment he met her. She’s beautiful, smart, funny, and stronger than she thinks, especially after beating a serious childhood illness. Unfortunately, she’s also skittish around him, and seemingly not interested in a relationship of any kind. But Lucky isn’t one to give up easily. With a little help from her brother, he slowly breaches Devyn’s defenses…in a way even the headstrong vet tech can’t resist.  

But when the very reason she fled her hometown shows up unexpectedly, Lucky suspects Devyn’s ready to bolt once again. Neither believe she’s in any kind of danger…until she is. Now Lucky, and the rest of his Delta team, have to band together to save one of their own.

Shielding Devyn

May 18, 2021

Chapter One


Devyn sat on the couch in her apartment and did her best to ignore Troy “Lucky” Schmidt. He wasn’t a man who was easy to ignore. From the moment they’d met, Devyn had been drawn to him. But at the time, she was in no mood to be hit on by some hotshot special forces soldier who’d probably slept with a million women.

But as she got to know him, and all her brother’s teammates, she realized Lucky wasn’t a manwhore. She’d just assumed he was gettin’ some every weekend because he was so damn good-looking. At six-two, he was just tall enough. Devyn loved her brother, but he was a freaking giant. She wasn’t exactly short herself at five-eleven, making Lucky the perfect height for her.

Not only that, but he had the whole tall-dark-and-dangerous thing down pat. Black hair, with hazel eyes that held enough mystery to be intriguing as hell. His beard and mustache drew her all the more. She didn’t know what it was about his beard that did it for her, she just knew it did. Usually, she thought beards were gross. Petri dishes that collected germs and leftover food. But Lucky kept his facial hair well-groomed. It wasn’t too long, it wasn’t too short. And it wasn’t scraggly, like those guys who resembled a fifteen-year-old trying to grow a beard.

And then there was his muscles…

She’d seen him working out with her brother a time or two, and good Lord, the man was built. She wasn’t exactly surprised, since being a special forces soldier meant he had to be in great shape, but every time he moved, his muscles rippled. And that V that pointed to his groin under his shorts? It was all Devyn could do to keep from ripping his clothes off to see what he was packing in his pants.

All of which added up, in her mind, to the fact that he had to be having sex on a regular basis. He was fucking beautiful, and all the women around the Fort Hood Army post had to be on him like butter on bread. With his looks, and with a nickname like Lucky, he had to be getting lucky on a regular basis.

But the more Devyn hung out with her brother and his friends, the more she realized Lucky wasn’t anything like she’d thought. She’d been guilty of stereotyping…and not in a flattering way. She felt bad about it, but then again, she hadn’t planned on staying in Texas as long as she had. It somehow didn’t make her feel as awful to judge a stranger as it would someone she knew she’d be getting to know fairly well.

Her plans had been to get the hell out of Missouri, regroup, and find a city where she could be comfortable. Get a job and get on with her life. But as it turned out, Killeen was looking like it could be that city. She loved the weather; even though it was hot, she much preferred being warm than dealing with the snow and cold that she’d grown up with in Missouri. It wasn’t a huge city, but if she had the urge to go out to eat or go shopping, it had everything she could want. And she’d learned she was a big fan of traditional Mexican food, which Killeen had in spades.

And she loved her older brother. All of his friends called him Grover because their last name was Groves, but to her, he was just Fred.

They’d always been close. They were two of five kids, and life had been hectic growing up. Devyn was the youngest, Spencer was two years older than her, and Fred was two years older than him. Even though Spencer was closer in age, he had always been off doing his own thing. Their two older sisters, Mila and Angela, were seven and five years older than her, respectively, and were teenagers by the time she’d been old enough—and healthy enough—to want to hang out with them.

Devyn had spent much of her childhood in hospitals battling leukemia. It had set her apart from her siblings. And Fred had been the one to keep her company in the hospital. He didn’t seem to mind sitting in her small room playing stupid board games for hours on end. He was the one who read to her. Who sang her to sleep before he left. He was her rock.

It was no wonder when she’d fled Missouri, she’d gone straight to the small city where Fred was stationed. She was determined to keep her troubles to herself, but she’d missed her big brother. Her staunchest supporter. When he’d joined the Army and moved away, Devyn had been heartbroken. She’d been proud of him, but it still hurt not to see him all the time.

So here she was.

And now, despite her best efforts, she felt as if she was perilously close to dragging him into her drama.

Devyn sighed.

“That was a big sigh,” Lucky said quietly from the other side of the couch. “You want to talk about it?”

She did. Desperately. But Devyn was tired of being the helpless little sister. The one who had to be looked after and babied. The one who, every time she sneezed, got rushed into the hospital just to be sure the cancer hadn’t returned. Not that she thought Lucky would treat her like that, but he was best friends with Fred. And she suspected whatever she told him would get back to her brother.

“No,” she said after a painful amount of time had passed.

Lucky nodded. “Okay.”

She looked over at him. “Why are you still here? You got me home; thank you. I’m sure if you called one of the others, they’d come pick you up so you could go back to the party.”

They’d been at Oz’s new house celebrating Lefty, Brain, and Oz’s marriages to Kinley, Aspen, and Riley. She was happy for her new friends. Each of the women had been through hell, and they all deserved the best. And they’d found it in her brother’s teammates. They would protect their women with everything they had. It was in their DNA to help others, and her friends were lucky to have found happiness and everlasting love.

But after she’d unconsciously answered her phone, then realized it was Spencer on the other end, she’d lost all desire to be around her joyful friends. She didn’t want to bring anyone down, so she’d left.

Except Lucky had seen her leaving and volunteered to drive her home. Selfishly, she’d taken him up on his offer.

“I’m exactly where I want to be,” Lucky told her, settling back on the couch as if he were planning on staying indefinitely.

Devyn frowned. She needed him to go. She couldn’t get even more tied to this town. Tied to Fred’s friends and teammates.

“I’ll order you an Uber,” Devyn told him, reaching for her phone.

Lucky put his hand over hers, stopping her in her tracks. “Talk to me, Dev,” he said in a low, husky tone. “I’d like to think I’m your friend. You can tell me anything.”

“If I tell you, you’ll talk to Fred,” she blurted.

Lucky blinked. “You don’t want your brother to know what’s wrong? Why not?”

Devyn closed her eyes in defeat. She was caught between a rock and a hard place. “I’ve been a pain in my family’s ass since I was diagnosed with leukemia,” she said begrudgingly. “My parents had to drop everything to take me to doctors’ appointments. I had too many hospital stays to count. No one in my family had a normal life after I was diagnosed. Even after I went into remission, we couldn’t do things most families could. Visits to Disneyland were out; too many people. Too big a chance of my compromised immune system getting overwhelmed. I refuse to put my family through more than I have already.”

Lucky hadn’t moved his hand from hers, and Devyn had the momentary wish that she could scoot over and put her head against his chest, but she held firm. He’d probably think she was insane and wonder what he’d gotten into.

She was pretty sure Lucky had wanted to be more than friends for a while, but she’d kept him at arm’s length. She wasn’t certain she was staying. But it was getting harder and harder to push him away. Especially when she felt as alone as she did right now.

“I’m sure no one in your family resents you for having cancer,” Lucky said.

“I know,” Devyn told him. “But sometimes I wonder what our lives would be like now if I’d been normal.”

“You are normal,” Lucky said forcefully. “And who’s to say what’s normal and what isn’t? I’m a firm believer that things happen exactly the way they’re supposed to.”

Devyn snorted.

“Seriously. Just because we don’t like some aspects of our lives doesn’t mean another way is any better.”

“I’m just tired,” Devyn told him, closing her eyes.

“You’re still part time at your job, right?” Lucky asked.

“Yeah. But that’s not what I meant. I love working at the vet clinic. Animals are so…simple. If they’re in pain, they try to scratch or bite you. If they’re happy, their tails wag or they purr. There’s no artifice with them. As long as they have food, water, and shelter, they’re good to go. Humans aren’t like that. They always want more.”

“More what?” Lucky asked quietly.

Devyn knew she’d said too much as it was. “Everything,” she answered vaguely. Then she opened her eyes and looked over at Lucky. “If I asked, would you keep what we talk about between the two of us? Like, not tell Fred?”

She knew from the look on his face, he couldn’t promise her that.

“Grover’s like my brother,” Lucky said. “He’s taken a bullet for me, as I’ve done for him.”

Devyn didn’t like that fact. At all. But Lucky didn’t give her a chance to comment.

“He loves you. A lot. He was excited when you told him you were coming here, but worried too. He didn’t know why you’d give up your life back in Missouri on what seemed like a whim. It’s no secret that I like you, Dev. A lot. And that if you gave me the slightest hint you might be open to starting something, I’d be all for it. But I can’t—and I won’t—keep secrets from Grover. Especially if it involves your health or safety.”

Devyn nodded. She’d known he’d say something like that. She wasn’t mad at him though. She admired the bond Fred had with his teammates. But that was why she’d kept her problems to herself. She’d never had a friendship like that, and she had no desire to do anything to harm the relationship between her brother and his teammates.

“Are you sick? Or in danger?” Lucky asked.

“No,” Devyn said without hesitation. The cancer hadn’t returned, thank God, and she didn’t think she was in danger. Her issues with Spencer were irritating and stressful, but not worth shaking up the foundation of her family, and not life or death.

She’d hoped that moving so far away would make Spencer change. Would be enough for him to do what he needed to do to get back on the right track.

But as she remembered the short phone call that afternoon, she knew he hadn’t changed at all since she’d left.

 

“Hey, sis. It’s your favorite brother.”

“Spencer. How did you get my number?” Devyn asked.

“Fred gave it to me. I’m hurt that you’ve been avoiding me,” Spencer said.

“What do you want?”

“Ah, straight to the point. How very like you. I need a loan.”

Devyn’s stomach clenched. “No.”

“Come on, sis, you know you’re the only one I can count on.”

“I said no. You haven’t paid me back the money you’ve already borrowed from me.”

“But this time is different,” Spencer whined.

“It’s never different!” Devyn told him heatedly. “You always think this is the time you’re going to hit it big, but you never do! You need to stop gambling and get serious about your life.”

“Like you?” Spencer sneered. “You’re always leaning on everyone else. You’re pathetic.”

“Don’t call me again,” Devyn said as forcefully as she could manage.

“I’m sorry,” Spencer quickly responded, trying to appease her. “I asked Mom for money, but she doesn’t have any more.”

“You took money from Mom and Dad?” Devyn asked.

“I had to! I was going to be kicked out of my apartment.”

“I bet you haven’t asked Fred, have you?”

“No. He wouldn’t give it to me even if I did. And Mila and Angela don’t have any to spare, with all those kids of theirs. You’re my only hope.”

“Again, no!” Devyn said forcefully. “I’m not giving you any more money.”

“You’re ungrateful for everything we sacrificed for you when you were sick,” Spencer seethed. “You ruined my childhood! You owe me.”


Devyn clicked off the phone without another word.

 

She wanted to talk to someone about Spencer’s gambling, but she didn’t think anyone would fully understand how bad it had become.

She’d given her brother money when he’d first started asking. It was just twenty bucks here or fifty bucks there. It wasn’t a big deal. Then the amounts had started increasing. The last time, she’d given him five hundred dollars because he’d said his car was going to be repossessed. She’d felt bad for him.

Devyn discovered he was gambling it away every time, in the hopes of winning the “big pot.”

The last time she’d seen Spencer, he’d scared her. He’d gotten really pissed that she wouldn’t give him more money…

When she moved, she’d lied to everyone. Her boss hadn’t hit on her. Hadn’t pushed her and given her the bruise Kinley had seen when they’d helped her move into this apartment.

Her brother had.

She was too ashamed to admit that it had been her own flesh and blood who had hurt her. And Fred would lose his ever-loving mind if he ever found out.

It was better if she kept her mouth shut. She didn’t want to be the reason her family fractured for good. Their parents had almost gotten a divorce when she was young because they couldn’t deal with the stress of her being sick. She couldn’t stand it if she was the reason everyone took sides and stopped talking to each other.

And that was why she couldn’t talk to Lucky. He’d tell Fred what was going on, and that would be the end of their family. She couldn’t do that to them. Not after everything they’d suffered during her illness. She’d just have to continue to keep her distance from all the questions and inquiries about what was going on. Spencer would eventually get the clue that she was done funding his habit.

But now a part of her really worried about whether that would happen…because it had been months and months, and he’d still called to ask for more money. She’d made it clear before leaving Missouri that she wasn’t his personal bank, but he hadn’t given up.

This was why she knew it would be a bad idea to stay in Texas. Near Fred. Because she’d get too attached and not want to leave. And it was happening already. She didn’t want to give up her new friends. She wanted to meet Aspen’s and Riley’s babies. Aspen was due in a couple months, and Riley wouldn’t be too long after that. And Logan and Bria, Oz’s nephew and niece, were so cute, and she loved hanging out with them.

She’d made a new life here, even though she’d known better, and she really didn’t want to leave.

Then there was Lucky.

As if on cue, he asked, “Dev? What are you thinking about so hard over there?”

He really was a good guy, and not for the first time, Dev wished her life was different. “Nothing,” she replied quietly.

“You know, sharing your burdens usually makes them less scary and overwhelming,” he said.

Devyn chuckled. “I didn’t know you were so emo.”

Lucky smiled. And the sight of it made Devyn’s belly do summersaults.

“I’m not. And it’s true. Maybe sharing what’s wrong isn’t actually a bad thing. You know your brother and I, and the rest of the team, will do whatever it takes to slay your dragons.”

“I know.” And she did. But the proverbial dragon that might need to be slayed was her own brother. And Fred’s. She just couldn’t do it.

“Think about it,” Lucky told her. “I won’t push…tonight. But you have a whole slew of people who love and worry about you. No one messes with one of our own. That includes you.”

His words were sweet and terrifying at the same time. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.”

“I’m kinda tired,” Devyn lied. She needed to get Lucky out of her apartment before she caved and told him everything.

“Okay. I’ll head on out.”

“You need me to get an Uber?” she asked.

“No. I’ll call Grover. I know he’ll be worried about you.”

“But he’s still at the party,” Devyn protested.

“He won’t care. He’ll probably be glad to get away from all the happiness and lovey-dovey crap for a while,” Lucky said with a smile, standing from the couch.

“Is that why you left?” Devyn smirked.

“No. I left because you needed me.” Then he shocked Devyn by leaning down and kissing the top of her head. “See you soon,” he said as he gave her a long, intimate glance, then headed for her front door.

“What was that?” Devyn whispered when she was alone in her apartment once more.

But she knew. If she wasn’t mistaken, Lucky was done letting her shut him out.

She’d seen firsthand that when a Delta made a decision about a woman, he was nothing if not determined to do whatever it took to win her over.

She couldn’t decide if she was thrilled with the prospect of Lucky pursuing her, or if she was scared to death.

New York Times Bestselling Author