Rock Hard: A Stepbrother Romance

Chapter One: Rebecca

I first saw Reid Conway in third grade. He was the new kid in town, just moved to Ridgewood with his single mom from the big city. I’d lived in town my whole life, and any change in a tiny place like Ridgewood was bound to make a splash.

He was quiet back then. He’d always been serious, but back then he wasn’t popular yet, hadn’t grown to well over six feet tall and hadn’t gotten all that lean muscle all over his fit body. He was just a little kid when we first met.

We didn’t talk until years later, not seriously, at least. I felt bad for him in those first few months and went out of my way to say hello, but that was really it. Still, I noticed him, and wouldn’t stop noticing him as we grew up. I wasn’t the only one, of course. When it became clear how extraordinary Reid was, people flocked to him. He grew out of his shyness as soon as he hit his growth spurt and girls started throwing themselves at him like crazy.

I wasn’t obsessed with Reid or anything. In fact, he was actually already a cocky asshole, even back then. But it was hard not to notice him winning local climbing competitions at only sixteen and breaking local records at seventeen. It was hard not to stare at the guy that everybody wanted to be around.

My life was easy back then, before Reid changed everything. I wasn’t exactly the most popular girl in the world, but I had my close friends and I had my schoolwork. I was going to college and everybody said so, even though I’d be the first person in my family to do it. That expectation kept me busy. Where a lot of girls my age were spending their weekends out by the gorge watching the boys ride their dirt bikes or shopping at the mall, I was in the library for hours, memorizing and studying my ass off.

I was a total geek. There, I admitted it. It wasn’t exactly a secret or anything, but I’m not really proud of my total lack of fashion sense back then and those thick-framed glasses (nerdy before nerdy was cool). But that was me, plain old Rebecca, smart and uptight.

All of that changed eventually, though. My mom died when I was a baby, so I never really got to know her, and it never looked like my dad wanted to remarry. Until one day out of nowhere he announced that he was engaged, and my world shifted dramatically. One conversation and the whole axis of my existence tilted wildly.

It was hard not to notice Reid “Climber” Conway. He was handsome in a boyish way. His grin was heartbreaking and sexy, and he exuded a confidence I didn’t even know people could have. There was something deeper to him, though, something he didn’t show people very often. It was like he expected the world to be exactly the way he wanted it to be, and usually the world made it happen for him. He showed me glimpses of that depth over the years but never really let me all the way in. As far as anyone was concerned, Reid Conway was going places.

He was also my stepbrother.

I’d been away from Ridgewood for way too long.

As I lugged my suitcase down the escalator and out into the rainy afternoon, I breathed deeply the pine-scented air and smiled. Although I had spent most of my time lately in New York attending Dartmouth College, Ridgewood, right along the border of Canada and Washington State in the US, had always been my home.

There was something about it. Small towns had a charm, really managing to suck you in and never let you leave, no matter how far away you got. Even though it practically rained every other day, it was still one of the most beautiful places I knew. We had mountains off to the north and the east and huge swaths of forest all over the place. The main employers were the lumber and paper mills, although even they had begun to downsize over the years.

Still, as I stood there on the curb of the tiny regional airport, it felt like nothing had changed. Getting from New York out to Washington was an arduous and long process, especially considering I had two layovers, one in Chicago and one in Seattle. I hadn’t been able to make the trip too often over the