She couldn’t forget him, even if she tried…


When Amelia Corbyn was a vulnerable teen, she found out she wasn’t a Corbyn by blood. Her biological father was a legendary country singer who wanted nothing to do with her. Hurt and confused, Amelia fled Last Stand Texas for a modeling career in New York. She left behind her high school boyfriend and family who had kept too many secrets. Years later Amelia’s back in Last Stand, retired from modeling and determined to care for her aging parents. She’s not expecting to see the one man she loved and couldn’t forget. Even worse, the spark is still there just waiting to burst into a flame.


Former pro-football player Cal Delaney returns to Last Stand to raise his sister’s toddler after a car accident claims her life along with her husband. His feelings for Amelia seem stronger than ever, but he has secrets and responsibilities; and Amelia has already proved to him that when things get tough, she skips town.

Can Cal forgive their past so that he and his first love can have a future?


Tule Publishing

April 18, 2019



Chapter One

Sometimes, Amelia Corbyn thought that Last Stand, Texas was the town that time forgot.  Well, except for the bus loads of tourists who shopped on Main Street every day, but the rest of the world seemed to have forgotten it, or maybe it was simply that Last Stand had turned its back on the world.


When she’d been in New York, it had been easy to reminisce about her hometown and think of it fondly.  The sleepy little town in Hill Country was steeped in history and tradition.  But now that she was back, she didn’t find the history quite so charming and her own family traditions were bringing to the surface emotions she’d spent years suppressing.  It wasn’t as if any reasonable person on the planet would have an issue with meeting her sisters at Kolache’s, the town bakery, and having spring special brew that featured orange mocha lattes. 


She knew it was unreasonable to sit in her car on one of the hilly streets just off Main, watching the entrance.  But she’d been avoiding her mom and she wouldn’t put it past her youngest sister Delilah to “surprise” her by bringing their mother.  She loved her sisters, but like any close sibling group, there were times when they got on each other’s nerves.


Emma arrived first, which made Amelia smile.  Of course, her middle sister would be the first--she was always punctual--and from her spot across the street from Kolaches, Amelia noticed Emma picking a table near the window. She tucked a strand of her long honey blond hair behind her ear and turned her face toward the sun for a moment before she took a book from her purse and set it on the table. 


Emma was the shyest of the three of them and preferred reading to socializing, any day of the week.


The sound of a roaring motor made her turn her head as Delilah rounded the corner on her Yamaha Dragstar.  It was safe to assume Mom wasn’t going to be at breakfast, Amelia thought.  Their mother hated the motorcycle that Delilah had brought back from Dallas along with a tattoo on her inner wrist and some baggage that no one had been able to get her to share.  All Amelia knew was that Delilah had left a five-star kitchen in the Dallas area and come back here to open the DragonFly, down by the river.  She was a tyrant in the kitchen and out.  She was a perfectionist who liked things the way she liked them and didn’t hesitate to voice that opinion.  Amelia sometimes thought that her youngest sister looked like the sweetest person…until she flashed her temper.


There was a rap on her window, stirring her from her thoughts.  It was Delilah, her helmet tucked under her arm and one eyebrow raised.


“Why are you hiding over here?”


“I wasn’t. I just got here.”


“That would work if I was born yesterday,” Delilah said.  “But I wasn’t.  You thought I was going to bring Mom.”


“Maybe.  I just wasn’t taking any chances,” Amelia said.


“Mellie, I’m not that sneaky. You know if I was going to bring her, I would texted you,” Delilah said.


“I’m just not ready.”


Delilah reached through the open window, put her hand on her sister’s shoulder and squeezed.  “I know that’s why I came alone.”


“What’s the deal? I thought we were going to have kolaches and catch up,” Emma said.  “Why are you two out here?”


“We weren’t sure if you were getting to a ‘good part’ in your book. We didn’t want to interrupt,” Delilah said, hugging Emma.


Amelia got out of her car and out of habit locked it, but crime wasn’t that high in Last Stand.


“I ordered three orange mochas for us and kolaches so let’s go,” Emma said.


She followed her sisters back into the bakery and waved at Mrs. Parsons and her daughter, Jade, who were both behind the counter.  Jade had been in her grade, so they’d been friends when they were younger, before she’d dropped out of high school and went off to pursue modeling.


How different would her own life had been if she’d never left?


It was a question she’d spent too much time thinking about over the past 12 years, but she’d never have been able to stay.  Even now, she felt anxious at the thought of trying to blend in and be normal.  She hadn’t been normal since that night…two days before she’d left for New York.  Everything had changed, and she’d moved on and never looked back. But now she was here again.  Mom was sick and her memories fading. If Amelia wanted answers, she needed to ask the questions that she’d never had the courage to ask before.


“I’m so happy you’re home,” Emma said, tucking her book back into her bag.  “I do love visiting you in the city, but this is nicer.”


“It is,” Delilah agreed.  “But I’m not holding hands or wearing matching outfits to Minna’s birthday shindig.”


“Damn, no matching outfits. I was going to put in a call to one of the high-end design houses and see if they could do something haute couture for us,” Amelia said, laughing.


“Since our styles are so distinct, I think matching has gone,” Emma said. “I’m not wearing that biker chick stuff you like and frankly, Amelia, your clothes scare me.”


“How could my clothes scare you?” she asked.


“The price tags.  What if I spill something? Or stumble?”


“Then we would get it repaired.  And for the record, I think you’d look good as a biker chick,” Amelia said.


“Uh, hold on, that’s my vibe. Emma’s going to have to find her own.”


“I’m happy as I am,” Emma said.  “And with my sisters back by my side.  You have no idea what torture it was to go all the events in town by myself.”


“Well, all of the Corbyn girls are back and that’s all that matters,” Delilah said. 


Except she wasn’t a Corbyn girl. Not really. And she’d never figured out how to make her peace with that.



The Delaney ranch wasn’t exactly close to downtown Last Stand, which was exactly the way his bank robbing ancestors had wanted it.  They’d rob trains, banks and anything else they could get their hands on during the late 1800’s, using their ranch as a hide-out, and there were days when Cal thought they’d had the right idea by not getting involved in town.  But he didn’t live in the 19th century and making his living as an outlaw had never appealed to him.


He’d been labelled an outlaw on the playing field back in his pro-football days because he’d been the kind of quarterback who didn’t just stay in the box. But a career ending sack five years ago had put an end to his playing days. The only thing he’d had going on after that were some agave vats he’d invested in and the old jailhouse he’d purchased when he’d been feeling nostalgic.  He’d turned that into a successful tequila brand using the old wanted posters of his ancestors as the branding for the liquor.  Through his ancestry he was Irish and Mexican, so he had property in Mexico where he grew and harvested the agave that they used for the tequila.  He’d invited his brothers to join him in the business and Braden his youngest brother had taken him up on the offer. Braden was scary smart when it came to numbers and business, so Cal left the day-to-day running to him.  Finn had flat turned him down, preferring to continue his career in the truck league in NASCAR, working his way up over the last few years. He was now a Cup driver, which Outlaw Tequila was a happy sponsor of.


Most days, Cal didn’t worry too much about his family or their supposed curse—his dad and granddad had both said the Delaney name wasn’t good for a woman, since no Delaney woman had survived past her thirties, including Cal’s mom. But he thought that curse was about to be broken.  His baby sister Rose was nineteen.  She’d made some dumb decisions but hell, what Delaney hadn’t?  And she was getting her life sorted out.  She’d had to—she’d had a baby before she graduated from high school. Cal’s nephew was two and a half years old and while he had no use for TJ Maverick, the boy’s daddy, Cal loved his nephew.  And he was determined to make sure that Delaney Maverick didn’t turn out to be the no-good, loser that Rose’s boyfriend was.


He pulled his Chevy pick-up into the spot reserved for him at the storefront of Outlaw Tequila and got out, putting on his black Stetson.  Braden’s sports car was already in his assigned spot and he noticed there were a few tourists waiting for the shop to open.  He glanced back at Main Street.  As a teen, he couldn’t wait to get out of this place.  He’d had a full ride scholarship to A&M and he’d enjoyed every minute of his time there, playing hard and working hard on the football field and in the classroom.  His father, who’d been a heavy drinker and smoker, had gotten ill Cal’s senior year and died before Cal had graduated.  It had fallen to him to make sure his brothers and little sister were raised.  And he’d done the best he could, but he didn’t like to think about the ways he’d screwed up.


No matter how much he wanted to blame Rose for falling for TJ’s smooth-talking ways, Cal knew if she’d been raised in a better environment…well, maybe things would have been different.


He shook his head.  The fight they’d had this morning wasn’t the way anyone should start their day. He had told Rose she couldn’t marry TJ until she got through college. Heck, she’d just finished high school. She was still a kid. And honestly, he didn’t want her to marry the jerk at all.  The boy was barely able to hold down a job and he had dropped all of the college courses he’d promised both Cal and his sister that he’d take.


“Cal, you got a minute?”


He turned to see Jasper Corbyn walking toward him from  the People’s Bank of Last Stand on Main Street.  The Corbyn family had been bankers in town for generations and back in the day, Cal’s ancestors had tried robbing them a time or two.  But that was all in the past. And during the annual heritage days when they re-enacted the battle to save Last Stand, Cal and Jasper had some fun impersonating their ancestors.


“Yes, sir,” he said.  It’d be a relief to have something other than his relationship with his sister to think about. “What’s up?”


“I was hoping you could come by the bank sometime today to discuss the small business loan for the tattoo parlor.”

“What are you talking about?” 


Jasper tipped his head to the side.  “The one you and TJ are opening. I’ve talked to Dana at the Main Street Realty and she says your location is prime. I need to go over a few details with you. I’ve talked to TJ and he did say he’d be running the daily operation with Rose.”


Oh, hell no.  “Let me talk to TJ.  I didn’t think we were at the loan stage yet.”


“Fair enough.  I think you’re smart to do it through the bank instead of privately.  When family is involved in money deals, it can cause all kinds of problems.  Want me to put it on hold for now?”


This was honestly the first thing that TJ had done that made Cal believe the kid was actually thinking of the future.  Cal didn’t want to stand in his way, but he had to talk to him before he could just sign off on a loan. “Can you give me until after Minna’s party?”


“Sure.  Take as long as you like,” Jasper said.


Jasper left and Cal turned away from Outlaw Tequila walking instead toward Kolaches.  He needed time to think and he’d always done that better when he was outside…actually he did his best thinking when he was under pressure in the box just after taking the snap on the football field, but he wasn’t on the field anymore. This was life, not a game that wouldn’t matter in five years.  He had to be careful how he played this situation.



Her sisters had to leave to go to work but since Amelia’s was only in town temporarily until their mother was better, she stayed behind to enjoy a second latte.  Kolaches was busy in the morning with the rush hour crowd stopping by on their way in to the office and as that crowd slowed, the vendors who had downtown businesses started to trickle in.  Amelia was just about ready to leave when he walked in.


Cal Delaney.


She’d like to say the years hadn’t been kind to him, but they had.  When she’d known him in high school, he’d been long and lanky with some overdeveloped arm muscles from working out and playing football year-round.  But he’d matured into his frame and now he seemed to be all muscles.  He wore a black Stetson which he doffed when Mrs. Parson greeted him, and his voice was still that deep rumble that made her senses go wild.  His jeans fit tight against his butt and thighs and he wore a pair of Kelly Boots on his feet.  She sat back in her chair, staring at him, even though she shouldn’t.


She’d heard from her dad that he’d been injured during a game and hadn’t been able to keep playing football. She also knew he had started a tequila business here in town, and from her friends in New York, she knew his top shelf Outlaw Tequila was a crowd pleaser.


She didn’t stop staring, even when he turned around and noticed her.  Lost in her thoughts about him and what a gorgeous man he’d become, it didn’t even occur to her to turn away.  He moved toward her with the kind of grace and power that male models seldom achieved. He could make a fortune with those cheekbones. 


“Like what you see?”


“Um…actually, yes, I do,” she said, standing up and holding out her hand to him. “Amelia Corbyn. I’m not sure if you remember me from high school.”


“Damn.  That’s cold,” he said, glancing over his shoulder as if to make sure no one was close enough to hear him as he leaned down, resting one hand on the table and brought his face close to hers.  “As if I’d forget the first girl I ever slept with.”


She blushed.


“Well, um, yeah, I didn’t forget you either,” she said.  All the sophistication she’d thought she’d cultivated in Manhattan was out the door.  He made her feel…just like she’d felt when they’d dated.  Those three magical weeks, before her world was shaken and broken and she learned she wasn’t really a Corbyn daughter. 


“Glad to hear it.  I mean I wasn’t at my best, but I didn’t think it was that horrible. I mean, I wouldn’t have run away the next day or anything like that,” he said, spinning the chair across from her around and sitting down on it.


She felt the redness in her face and glanced down at the table, turning her latte mug in her hands.  “Oh, about that, I’m sorry for the way it might have seemed.  There was a lot going on in my life and I had the offer from Elite to go and model for them.”


“I remember. Looks like that worked out for you,” he said.  “Rose is a huge fan of yours.  She’s always showing me your covers.”


“Aw, she was always the sweetest little thing,” Amelia said.  The Delaney house had been a predominantly male zone when she’d dated Cal. And though his little sister--a card-carrying tomboy--fit in, she’d loved to play with Amelia’s make-up when she was over there.  “How old is she now?”


“Nineteen.  She took a page from your book and dropped out.  She has a little boy—Delaney.”


“Wow.  It has been a while since I’ve been back.  My sisters didn’t mention anything about that.  Is she…how is she?” Amelia asked at last.  She knew that despite it being the twenty-first century, small towns weren’t always accepting of teenage moms. 


“She’s good.  We have help with Delaney and Rose is still living at home.  She’s been going to college over in Austin,” he said. 


To anyone else, it would seem as if she was catching up with an old friend, but there was more to it than that.  Maybe it was because of the way she’d had to leave, but he’d always been someone she’d never been able to forget.  She thought about that night a lot.  She had no regrets sleeping with him. She’d known once she got to New York her life would be different and she had wanted her first time to be with…well, someone she’d cared about.


“Enough talking about my family,” he said.  “What are you up to these days?”


“I’ve temporarily opened an agency to scout for talent and to teach kids what they need to know if they want to model. I’m doing some classes on manners on the side because the Texas Women’s League asked me to.”




“Boring? Silly?”


“Neither of those.  Sounds perfect for you.  And if playing pro ball taught me anything, it’s that the world outside of Last Stand takes some adjusting to,” he said, at last.


“It sure does. Took me a while,” she admitted.


“Me too,” he said. His phone pinged, and he glanced down at the screen.  “See ya around, Amelia.”


He walked out of the door and she watched him leave.  She hadn’t anticipated seeing him or talking to him, having been so focused on her issues with her mom, but she was suddenly glad to be back.



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