FULL TEXAS THROTTLE
He’s always left small towns and women in his rearview mirror… until he meets her
NASCAR driver Finn Delaney has cultivated a bad boy image and rakish charm that has served him well on the track and with the media. But now sidelined by a wreck that may have ended his career, Finn feels lost and vulnerable. A quick hook up with sexy military hero Lancey Maverick seems like a perfect opportunity to press his reset button and regain his mojo.
Finn lights more than a spark with his sexy smile and arrogant confidence, but Lancey’s had her fill of boy-men who don’t take life or their responsibilities seriously. She’s only in town to settle her brother’s affairs. A hook up with Finn, no matter how hot, is ill advised. But Lancey’s never played it safe.
Both Finn and Lancey are at a career and life crossroads. A summer fling looks like it could lead to something more, but can Finn learn to stay when life gets hard, and can Lancey learn to trust and accept the feelings of a man who lives in the fast lane?
FULL TEXAS THROTTLE
August 26, 2019
The Last Stand Saloon was a town institution, the actual spot where the settlers of Last Stand had made their last stand and the locals took a lot of pride in that. The original saloon and bar were still there, along with a bullet that had been fired during the battle.
Coming back to Last Stand felt like a huge step backward to Marine PFC Lancey Maverick. It wasn’t that the town wasn’t nice or that she didn’t have roots here. It was simply that she’d seen herself elsewhere. The Maverick women had a long history of being left behind as their men went out to fight wars, stop outlaws and inevitably never returned. Lancey had always wanted to break that streak.
Yet here she was, in the saloon with her two best friends…drinking too much and for the first time in her life, ready to make a bad decision.
She had made it a rule to stay away from playboys like Finn Delaney. The NASCAR superstar lived his life on and off the track at three hundred miles per hour. He pulled into the pits for a gas-up and tire change during his races on Sundays and she couldn’t help thinking that tonight, at the Last Stand Saloon, he was doing the same thing, only tonight, he was recharging his personal batteries. He was too cocky, too arrogant, but also too damned sexy in his faded jeans, worn straw cowboy hat and smoky come-hither eyes. Finn had dark brown hair that he wore longer on the top and close cropped in the back. His muscled frame filled out the T-shirt he wore and his jeans fit him like a second skin.
She’d been lusting after Finn Delaney since she was fourteen. He’d been sixteen, and driving too fast through town, giving Police Chief Highwater a weekly migraine.
A bad boy.
She couldn’t help it. She might be a good girl and a rule follower, but in her secret heart, she’d always wanted to be with one.
But her opportunities were slipping away. She’d returned to Last Stand to share custody and help raise her orphaned nephew, Lane. That didn’t leave a lot of time to let her wild child loose.
Lancey saw him slide into the booth near the back of the saloon, across from her old friend Red Aldean.
She was tired, and really sad. And she just wanted to forget, if only for a few hours, that her life—her perfectly planned, neatly ordered, military life—was ending, and she was about to embark on a new venture in something she was completely unprepared for—raising her three-year-old nephew.
So, when Finn caught her eye and crooked his little finger at her, beckoning her closer to his table in the corner, she decided to go for it, to do something that would make her feel good. Finn was a rolling stone. He wouldn’t want anything beyond a night, which made him the perfect guy to get a little crazy with. He’d leave and she’d settle into her new small-town life, just like every Maverick woman before her. Raising the next generation and living life on her their own terms.
“Lancey, dang girl, you look good tonight. I think I’ve gotten so used to seeing you in fatigues with your hair pulled back that I forgot you were a woman.”
She gave him the finger, took his low-ball glass full of tequila on the rocks and sat down next to Red Aldean, instead.
“I think all that time in the pits smelling gasoline and burning rubber has melted your brain, son,” Red said. “Lancey, you always look fine to me.”
She smiled over at Red who had been in her grade going through school and had been her best friend for longer than either of them could remember. “Thanks, Red.”
“Just stating the facts.”
“Just trying to get laid,” Finn said.
“If that was the result you wanted, you should have tried flattery,” Lancey said.
Red spit out the swallow of beer he’d taken, and Finn gave a shout of laughter.
“What’d I miss?” Braden Delaney put another glass of tequila in front of Finn and took a seat. Unlike his middle brother, Finn, Braden wore glasses and had a sophisticated look befitting the COO of Outlaw Tequila. He wore his brown hair in a neat cut that was trimmed in the back and longer in the front. “Lancey, nice to see you.”
“You too,” she said. “Your brother was trying to be charming.”
“Oh, Lancey, sweetheart, when I decide to be charming there won’t be any try. You won’t be able to resist me.”
“I’m not sure how you’re able to race every week. Does that big head of yours fit in a helmet?”
“Dang, girl, I guess you’re lethal. Would it help if I said I’d meant my comment as a compliment?” Finn asked.
“Not particularly, since you pretty much confessed you thought I was a dude most of the time,” she responded, taking a sip of the tequila and settling back in the bench seat next to Red.
The crowd was building even though it was a Thursday night, but that was to be expected in a small town like Last Stand. She’d grown up in town, living in a rented house off Main Street with her mom and her brother. Back then, they’d never have ventured to the saloon since that was, as their devout mama used to say, where all the sinners hung out. But Lancey had lived a pretty straight and narrow life up until this year, and she wasn’t exactly feeling like it had brought her any rewards.
Her baby brother, TJ, and Rose Delaney had been killed back in April in a car crash, along with a friend of theirs, leaving her nephew orphaned. Cal Delaney, the eldest of the Delaney clan, was looking after little Lane, but now that she’d been honorably discharged from the Marines, she’d come back to take custody. Leaving the Marines hadn’t been a part of her plan, but she was the only family that little Lane had left—at least, on the Maverick side—and she wanted to help raise him. Though Lane was incredibly close to his Delaney uncles and to Cal’s fiancée, Amelia Corbyn, Lancey had felt strongly that Lane needed to know the Maverick side of his family as well. She’d had a long talk with Cal and Braden, and they’d been happy to hear she was going to be part of Lane’s life.
“Did you hurt your head in the crash?” Braden asked, turning to look at his brother. “Lancey always looks like a lady to me.”
She smiled to herself. Red Aldean—who owned Red’s Outdoor Outfitters and spent most of his days on the spur of the Pedernales that ran through Last Stand, fishing and charming the tourists with his aw-shucks attitude—and Braden Delaney—COO of Outlaw Tequila—were two of her closest friends. They always had her back, no matter what.
And though she was interested in Finn, she knew a relationship with him couldn’t go anywhere. It wasn’t that she had a ‘no dating brothers of her friends’ rule as much as she had a ‘no dating men who lit out of town faster than the tourist buses at 5:05 p.m.’ practice. Besides, she and Finn were too different. Finn lived life at full speed and she was more of a grunt, marching along with the pack. But damn, the man made a pair of tight-fitting faded jeans look good.
“Shut it, Bray,” Finn said. “I gave her a compliment. She just took it wrong.”
“Try it again so I can be the judge of that,” Braden said.
Finn suddenly looked like he wanted to start something with his brother. For some reason, Finn had always been the Delaney who settled things with his fists. They’d all been surprised when he had started driving go-carts and winning races, but it seemed that speed settled some of that aggression deep in his soul.
“Dance with me, Braden. This is a favorite of mine,” she said. Van Morrison’s ‘Brown-Eyed Girl’ blared from the jukebox. “My daddy used to say it was my song.”
“Yes, ma’am, happy to oblige.”
Braden slid away from the table, but Finn hopped out, put his hand on the small of her back and nudged her toward the dance area. “I’ll do it. Apparently, I need to prove to you that I’m not a d-bag.”
“I’m not sure the song is long enough for that, Finn,” Braden said.
Finn flipped him the bird. “I don’t know how you can be friends with such a pain in the ass,” he said, turning to Lancey.
“At least, he always knows I’m a girl,” she said.
“Sweetheart, I have never been confused about that,” Finn admitted, pulling her into his arms and swaying with her to the rhythm.
She put one hand on his shoulder and the other on his hip and moved along with him. She was having fun sparring with Finn, but then, she’d always liked flirting. Normally, she wasn’t the kind of woman to go for a good-time guy like Finn, but tonight, he seemed to be exactly what she needed—someone to let off steam and have a bit of fun with. And if there was anyone in Last Stand who was just about fun, it was Finn.
Finn didn’t like being back in Last Stand. He wasn’t even going to pretend that he was like Cal and Braden, who’d always liked the small town and the roots their family had here. For Finn, being back felt like a noose around his neck, and the longer he was home, and the more he hung around people who’d known him since he’d been born, the tighter that noose got. Coming back for Rose’s funeral had ripped a hole in him that he hadn’t been able to fill.
And it got worse from there. He’d just been diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis—something he thought only the elderly could get. But he had it and it was a dangerous thing for a driver to deal with. He had a blood clot that was ‘a concern’—that was how his NASCAR doctor had put it. Finn had reacted as expected, with his temper getting the better of him and his team boss, Larry Herminster, had told him to go home for a while and consider his options.
What the literally f—? He didn’t want options. He wanted to drive. But his body was saying that he might not be able to. There was a chance the clot could move into his brain while driving, which would not only put him at risk, but everyone else on the track as well.
He would never do that.
But facing a future where he couldn’t do the one thing that was as much a part of him as breathing was leaving him feeling…restless. And for a Delaney, that was never a good thing.
His crew chief said he was driving too recklessly on the track, but he couldn’t help that. He needed to put distance between himself and the sadness and guilt that had been dogging him since that fateful day in April. He knew the fact that he’d been the one to teach Rose to drive—and the fact that she’d died behind the wheel—weren’t linked in anyone’s mind except his. But they were. He couldn’t help wondering if he’d been more serious, maybe given her some extra defensive driving tips, maybe…she’d still be here. It was June and NASCAR was on one of the long breaks that had enabled him to come home. He’d been playing with Lane, making sure his nephew knew how wanted and loved he was. It was something that Finn remembered his mama doing for him and his brothers. But it wasn’t his mom who’d made him want to leave. It had been his father.
Tonight, though, he didn’t give a rip about any of that. Lancey Maverick looked hotter than he’d ever seen her look before. Every time she laughed, he couldn’t help watching her, noticing the way her hair fell over her shoulders and the irresistible length of her neck. She sang along in a voice that was sweet and slightly off key and he wanted to pull her closer and kiss that sassy mouth of hers. She noticed him staring and quirked one brow at him.
“Got another sort-of compliment for me?”
He shook his head. “You have the most kissable mouth I’ve ever seen.”
Her eyes went wide, and she licked her bottom lip. “I’m not sure what to say to that.”
“‘Thank you’ or ‘Kiss me so you can be sure it is’.”
She shook her head. “I know you’re popular with the ladies, Finn, but it is a mystery to me how you manage it.”
“I’m rough around the edges. That appeals to a lot of women,” he said.
“I guess so,” she said. The song ended, but he kept his hands on her hips. She didn’t move either.
The next song was ‘God Blessed Texas’, which garnered a big whoop from everyone in the bar. The dance area was suddenly full as everyone got up to celebrate their home state. Even Braden came and joined them. Red, who never danced, brought his beer and stood next to their group, swaying and drinking.
When the chorus came on, everyone yelled ‘God Blessed Texas’ and continued dancing. Lancey was singing again at the top of her lungs like many of the others and Finn felt a gut punch of desire go straight through him. She smiled as she leaned in, lowering her voice on the lead-in to the refrain. Braden came by, pulling her into his arms and did a sort of country waltz around him, but Finn cut back in, shoving his brother a little bit.
Lancey was his.
At least, for tonight. It was the kind of hot, Texas night that made him feel edgy and restless. So much of his life was uncertain at this moment, but a hot woman and this kind of attraction felt…well, like exactly what he needed.
She shook her head, but put her hand on his waist, allowing her fingers to hook into his belt loop as they danced. When the song ended, there was lots applause and they went back toward the table.
“Thank you for the dance, Finn,” Lancey said.
“You’re welcome. I hope I made up for my earlier comment,” he said.
“You’re good. I know better than to take you seriously,” she said.
He pulled her into his arms again, turning away from the other guys and everybody who was walking past them on their way to the bar. “I’m not like that with you. I don’t want you to think that I’m just trying to get you to hook up with me.”
“Are you trying to hook up with me?” she asked, tipping her head to the side as she reached up and took his straw cowboy hat from his head and put it on hers.
“Maybe,” he said. He’d never been one of those guys who pretended he wasn’t after a woman. And Lancey was different tonight but she was also linked to him by tragedy and of course, their shared nephew. They were going to be in each other’s lives for a long time. He needed to make sure he didn’t do any damage that couldn’t be repaired.
Lane meant the world to Finn, but he’d never been anyone’s idea of a role model, so he’d been reluctant to spend too much time alone with his nephew. He didn’t want to chance doing anything to hurt the little guy’s feelings with his short temper. Besides, he was a bad influence.
“Maybe? That hardly sounds like you, Finn.”
“How do you know?”
“Braden has been telling me about your escapades since you made out with Peggy Martin in eighth grade.”
Braden had a big mouth. But he remembered how much Bray had looked up to him back then, and how bragging about getting to second base when he’d been thirteen had made him feel like a man. Times sure had changed, he thought leaning down to steal a kiss from Lancey, but she pulled back, putting his hat back on his head.
“Not so fast, hot stuff,” she said walking away from him. And all he could do was watch the way that flirty little dress of hers swayed as she left.
Dang, that had been close. Deciding she needed something to shake up her life was one thing. Actually kissing bad boy Finn was something else. She’d chickened out at the last second and was booking it back to the booth where Red and Braden sat—as if she had seen an IED on the side of the road and was anxious to avoid it.
Actually, she realized she’d rather face an IED than kiss Finn. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. She wanted the kiss. But having the guts to take it, that was another story.
She’d never thought of herself as a coward, but maybe she was.
Red had managed to get a girl into the booth with him, though the way he had his arm slung around her as he talked to Braden told Lancey her friend wasn’t serious about the woman. They both looked up, seemingly surprised to see her back.
Which sort of made her feel both better about the decision not to give in to Finn, and worse, because she realized no one was going to think badly of her if she had. Sometimes Red said she had an outdated set of morals. It was a by-product of having grown up going to church twice a week. Once on Wednesday night and then again on Sunday. She’d liked the routine of it, though. And there was nothing wrong with wanting to live her life a certain way.
“I need a drink. You guys want another?” she asked as if that was the reason she’d made her way back to the table.
“Yes, ma’am,” Red said. “Beer for me. What about you, honey? Want a beer?”
“Sure,” the woman said.
Lancey knew by the way he’d addressed the woman as ‘honey’ that he’d already forgotten her name. She shook her head at him and turned to Braden.
“Uh-huh,” Braden said, but he had his eyes on the door. She looked and saw that Lea Dunwoody had just walked in. Braden had had a ‘thing’ for her for a long time, but he hadn’t done anything about it yet. He said she was still getting settled, trying to get her pet bakery up and running. She didn’t have time for a guy. But Lancey knew better. She’d just run away from a kiss she’d been craving since she’d walked into the bar tonight, so she recognized Braden’s fear. It was close to her own.
“Come help me, will you, Braden? I could use an extra hand,” Lancey said, figuring her friend was going to just keep watching the woman he wanted from the corner of the saloon. One of the things that had made the three of them such good friends was that they were quite similar. They were all fairly conservative, liking to stay on the sidelines, while things went on around them. But now, Braden could use a shove to go and meet the girl he’d been dreaming about for too long.
“I’ll come with you,” Finn said.
Finn put his hand on the small of her back and a zing went straight down her spine to her center. And she realized that instead of trying to help her friend out, maybe she should lead by example, the way her CO was always advising them to do. But this was Finn Delaney. And she had to be careful about what she was doing with him.
One night. That’s all it could be—all she could allow it to be—and then she’d move on and deal with the rest of her life.
Lancey leaned in close to Finn. “Braden needs to come with me. He’s sitting here by himself, but he likes Lea, who is over by the bar.”
“Then I’ll take my brother and get the drinks,” he said, smacking her on the butt as he turned away. “Come on, Bray. Let’s show the lady that Delaney men can be gentlemen,” Finn said to his brother.
Braden scooted out of the booth and before Lancey slid in, Finn caught her around the waist and pulled her against him, whispering in her ear. “Which one is Lea?”
She hardly comprehended his words, the feel of his body pressed against her back distracting her for a moment. Then she put her hand on his jaw and tipped her head back. “Brunette with the pixie cut, wearing the black Outlaw Tequila tee and denim shorts.”
Finn turned, found the object of his brother’s attention, and then nodded. “Braden has good taste. I’ll be right back.”
The two Delaneys made their way to the bar as Lancey slid into the booth across from Red and his date. “I was just saying I will be glad when the rodeo leaves town,” Red said, turning to her. “There have been too many folks out on the river fishing. I like it better when it’s just me and Duke.”
“I know you do, but it’s got to be good for your business,” Lancey said. Making conversation with Red was easy since he was usually talking about Last Stand Expeditions, sometimes referred to as Red’s outdoor outfitters to locals, his outdoor company.
“It is. So I know I shouldn’t complain, but come summer I’m ready for some quiet,” Red said.
“My place is quiet,” the girl said, squeezing up against Red’s side.
“I bet it is. But I’ve got another beer coming,” he said.
“What is it you do? I’m sorry I didn’t catch your name,” Lancey said as she smiled at the other woman, but watched out of the corner of her eye as Finn and Braden made their way to the bar.
“I’m Lucy. I’m from Whiskey River and work at Kelly Boots,” she said as Red turned his back to them to talk to some people he knew at another table.
Lucy sort of sighed and Lancey just shook her head. “I love Kelly Boots. I’m hoping to be able to get a pair of the Christmas special issue this year. Do you ever get a heads-up on what they’re going to look like?”
“I wish. But no,” Lucy said.
The jukebox at the saloon was always changing and when ‘Kiss Me Deadly’ by Lita Ford came on, Lancey looked over at the woman Red was ignoring. “Want to dance? This song is one of my favorites.”
“Yeah, I do.”
She nudged Red out of the way and the two of them made a beeline for the dance floor, which was quickly filling up with women. She found herself dancing next to the Corbyn sisters—known collectively as the Beauty, the Brain and the Bitch around town. She danced until she was sweating and when she glanced back at the table, she saw that there was a female crowd around Red, Braden and Finn.
“I’m going to call it night,” she said to the other women. Lucy nodded, then turned and went back toward Red’s table.
In less than an hour, Lancey had managed to talk herself into—and out of—a fling with Finn. Now she realized that leaving with her dignity intact was the only option.