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RomantiConn | Hard Chrome Signed Paperback

RomantiConn | Hard Chrome Signed Paperback

Regular price $12.00 USD
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This book is a preorder for PICKUP at RomantiConn (July 27, 2024).

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Two decades ago, Sebastian was too young for the feelings he had for his older stepbrother. When the death of Dylan’s father and an inheritance reunites them in Maine, their attraction flares into unexpected passion. Will either of them give up the life he’s built for a new life together?

Main Tropes

  • Stepbrothers
  • Grumpy Mechanic
  • Age Gap
  • Vintage American muscle cars
  • Workplace Romance
  • Small Town

Synosis

Twenty years ago, Sebastian was too young for the feelings he had for his older stepbrother, but the death of Dylan’s father has brought them back together.

It took years for Dylan and his dad to build their shop’s reputation for authentic restoration of classic American muscle cars. Why the hell would he share it with a big city lawyer he hasn’t seen since their parents’ divorce? But he doesn't want to dishonor his father's dying wish.

When Sebastian returns to Maine and learns of his inheritance, their attraction flares into a passion neither of them expects.

Love requires sacrifice, but will either give up the life he’s built for a new life together?

Hard Chrome is a second chance, small town romance with an age gap between a hot-tempered mechanic and a cool-as-a-cucumber lawyer, competence kink (on both sides), a 1955 Ford Thunderbird in need of restoration, meddling best friends (and former best friends), a cat named Simone and a dog named Giles, at least three hundred houseplants, and car sex.

Look Inside: Chapter One

It’s been twenty years since Sebastian Colt was last in Maine, but the shop hasn’t changed much. The paint is a little faded; the marine blue not as bright as it used to be, and the sunshine-yellow band on the lower third of the building is peeling in a few spots, thanks to the humidity from nearby Moosehead Lake. But the words “Campbell & Sons Classic Car Restoration” are still blazoned across the front, above the four garage bay doors. 

“And Sons.” Plural. Sebastian remembers the day his stepfather, Samuel Campbell, took him and Dylan to the shop to show them the sign after he added the extra s. As if Sebastian were his actual son too, not just the son of the woman Samuel had married eight months before.

Suddenly, the flood of grief he’s expected to feel since Samuel’s lawyer called to tell him Samuel had died washes over him. He’s been keeping it at bay with all the crap he had to take care of in order to get here. He got Ellen Tran, his best friend and fellow associate at the firm, to take care of his cat and water the plants, wrapped up his portion of the research for the class certification motion in the Stimson matter, and passed his notes on Dr. Walsh’s draft expert report to Ellen. 

He made his travel arrangements and got on a plane three days later to Boston, then rented a car for the four-and-a-half hour drive to Greenville, and still it isn’t until he sees the sign that he realizes Samuel is gone. 

Sebastian dabs the sweat beading on his forehead with his handkerchief. It’s hot, even for Maine, and hotter than he’s used to in San Francisco. Humid too. He folds the handkerchief and tucks it back into the pocket of his summer-weight wool slacks, which are clinging to the backs of his thighs, and blows his hair out of his eyes. A line of ATVs roar past on the main road behind him. He should get this over with before he melts out here. 

He crosses the gravel parking lot in front of the shop, noting a sensible Nissan Sentra parked near the glass front door and a stunning turquoise Chevy Impala two-door coupe under a shade tree at the far end of the lot. There are four or five other cars parked near the shop door and a handful of American classics, in various states of repair, littering the grassy edges of the lot. An engine rests on a pallet between a pair of trailers, a bunch of rusted parts and what looks like part of a car door piled next to it, but he can’t tell whether it’s a work in progress or just a pile of junk.

A girl at the front desk looks up when the bell over the door chimes. She has dyed black hair and blood-red lipstick that would be more appropriate for a heavy metal concert than an auto shop in rural Maine. Her black T-shirt, featuring some band he’s never heard of, clings to her body and is cut low enough to reveal quite a lot of cleavage. He shudders at the thought of having to defend her deposition, if she ever tried filing a workplace sexual harassment lawsuit. 

“How can I help you today?” she chirps at Sebastian with a friendly smile. Maybe he’s underestimating the ability of Greenville’s male population to keep their eyes where they belong and their hands to themselves. 

“Hi,” Sebastian says. “I’m looking for Dylan Campbell, please.” 

“I’m sorry,” the girl says. “Mr. Campbell’s busy right now. If you’ve got a car that needs restoring, I can take all your information, and he’ll call you with an estimate.” 

Behind her, a window looks into a cluttered empty office. A collection of snapshots are tacked to the paneling around the window’s frame. A few edges are curling, and a couple are faded, but he recognizes them. He can hardly believe Samuel kept them up all these years. 

“Oh, no,” Sebastian says. “It’s not about a restoration project. It’s, um, personal business.” 

He probably should have called first, but Samuel’s lawyer said he could find Dylan here pretty much any day except Sundays and Mondays, and Sebastian hadn’t known what to say to him over the phone. Not that he knows what to say to him in person now. 

“Okay, well, he doesn’t like to be disturbed when he’s in the middle of a project. Can I give him a message and have him contact you later?” She picks up a pen and poises it over a spiral-ringed memo pad, the top half of the page scrawled with notes and numbers. 

Sebastian considers whether to insist she fetch her boss. He hates to be that asshole, but it’s been a long day already, with a delayed cross-country flight and the drive, and if he checks into a hotel room now, he’s likely to pass out until morning. And he’d rather get this over with sooner than later.

“Krystal!” roars a deep voice from the bowels of the shop behind the receptionist’s desk. The door into the front office swings open, and a man comes through, his wide shoulders nearly brushing the sides of the doorframe. He’s probably not as tall as Sebastian—at six-three, few men are—but he looms over the receptionist with a scowl on his bearded face. Krystal, to her credit, doesn’t seem intimidated and glances up at him as if this is an everyday occurrence.

The guy thrusts a piece of paper covered in grease smudges at Krystal and says, “Will you call that cocksucking son of a bitch at MAC’s and tell him I ordered the rubber pedal pad kit for a manual transmission? He sent the pads for the automatic, and what the hell good does a pedal kit do me without the clutch pad? Edward Smith wants his Fairlane by next Thursday, and I can’t finish the damned thing without all the goddamn parts.” 

Krystal tips her head toward Sebastian, and the man notices him standing there. The name patch over his left pec reads “Dylan,” but Sebastian doesn’t need that to recognize him. Still, he’s not prepared for how his first look at Dylan Campbell in twenty years socks him in the gut. 

He’s gorgeous, despite the smudges of grease on his forehead and the distinct whiff of gasoline clinging to his blue coveralls. His eyes are the same green Sebastian remembers, but his hair has darkened from the gingery blonde it used to be, and there are glints of silver at his temples. His beard is lush and full, neatly trimmed, and his lips are beautifully shaped under a mustache Sebastian’s fingers itch to touch. 

He squelches that urge. What is wrong with him? The last time he saw Dylan was when he was fourteen and Dylan twenty-four. He shouldn’t be ogling his former stepbrother like he’s a potential one-night stand at a club.

Dylan's hand holding the paper out to Krystal drops to his side and he stares at Sebastian. “Bas?” he says in a wondering voice. Krystal looks from Sebastian to the photos tacked to the wall. She’s probably looking at the one of him and Dylan sitting on the hood of a black 1967 Pontiac GTX, Dylan’s arm around his shoulders and a gap-toothed grin on Sebastian’s face. 

Sebastian smiles. “No one’s called me that in ages. It’s Sebastian now.” Dylan drops the paper, takes two long strides around the front desk, and wraps Sebastian in a giant bear hug.

Dylan’s right arm is around Sebastian’s waist, his left arm slung over Sebastian’s shoulders, his beard tickling Sebastian’s cheek. He’s squeezing Sebastian close against him and Sebastian squeezes back, his nose filling with the scents of motor oil, Lava soap, and a hint of cedar.

Dylan lets go and holds Sebastian at arms’ length, looking him up and down. He is a few inches shorter, as Sebastian had thought, and he grins at Sebastian, his eyes crinkling at the corners. “Look at you,” Dylan says. “All grown up now.” He squeezes Sebastian’s upper arms and winks. “Not the scrawny kid I remember, are you?”

Then he looks down at Sebastian’s shirtfront and makes a rueful face. “Sorry, man. Didn’t mean to get you all dirty.” Sebastian glances at his white button-down, dark smudges matching the grease spots on Dylan’s coveralls. Dylan lets go of Sebastian’s arms, and his hands twitch toward Sebastian’s chest, as if about to brush the grease smudges away. Then he pulls them back and drops his arms to his sides. 

“It’s fine,” Sebastian assures him. The shirt is creased in wrinkles anyway after his plane delays and is clinging to his back, damp with sweat. The window air-conditioning unit in the office is churning sluggishly, but it barely takes the edge off the sticky heat. 

“Krystal, this is my stepbrother, Sebastian,” Dylan says, turning to the receptionist. “Or, former stepbrother, anyway. His mother was married to my dad for a hot second, what?” He turns to Sebastian, “Fifteen years ago?”

“Twenty,” Sebastian answers. “Well, Mom and I left twenty years ago. I guess it was twenty-two when they were married.” Mom never kept her boyfriends around long, but she’d tried hard with Samuel, and only her current husband has lasted longer than her marriage to Samuel. 

Sebastian nods at Krystal. “Pleased to meet you.” She nods back, still glancing between him and the photos as if trying to reconcile the changes in him. 

“Twenty fucking years, man,” Dylan says. “I can’t believe it. What the hell are you doing in Greenville?”

 Sebastian hesitates. “I heard about Samuel. I’m sorry for your loss, Dylan.” 

A shadow crosses Dylan’s face, and his eyes lose a little of their sparkle. He shrugs and says, “Thanks, man. Dad’d been sick for a while, and we knew it was coming. Mostly, I’m just glad he’s not in pain anymore.” 

Sebastian nods. “It was cancer?” He doesn’t want to dwell on Dylan’s loss, but Mr. Shaw hadn’t given him many details, and the boy Sebastian used to be wants as much information as he can get about the only father he’d briefly had.

“Yeah,” Dylan says. “Pancreatic. Stage 4 by the time they caught it, so wasn’t anything to do about it except make him as comfortable as we could.” He shakes his head. “Took fucking forever, though. He was a tough old bastard.” He looks up at the ceiling and blinks a few times, then wrinkles his nose and swipes at it with his sleeve. “Anyway,” he glances at Sebastian. “How’d you hear?” 

Sebastian isn’t sure this is the right time, but Dylan’s going to find out soon regardless. “I got a call from Samuel’s lawyer,” he says. “He told me Samuel left something for me in his will, and that I needed to be present for the reading.” 

“Right.” Dylan says. “Didn’t even know the old man had a will, until I was going through his desk and found the letter with Richard Shaw’s name. You know he never wanted anyone mucking around in his home office.” 

Sebastian recalls that Samuel’s home office was off-limits. His mom used to complain about never being allowed in there, not even to clean. She’d eventually told Sebastian that the secrets Samuel kept were a major factor in their marriage breaking up. 

Sebastian is about to ask if Dylan has any idea what Samuel left him, but Dylan claps his hands together and says, “Listen, I gotta get back to this car I’m working on. Client’s got no idea how long it takes to restore a classic American car, but he’s paying double if I can finish this part of the job by next week, so I can’t exactly turn him down, you know?”

He turns to Krystal and says, “And follow up with Leroy, will you, please?” Krystal’s been tapping away on the computer in front of her while they were catching up, and she swivels the monitor for Dylan to look at. 

“You did order the automatic pedal kit. The part numbers are only one digit apart.” She points at a spot on the screen. “See? 42-79193 for the manual and 42-79194 for the automatic. Were you not wearing your glasses when you placed the order?” 

Dylan leans close to the monitor, squinting. “Goddammit,” he mutters, then straightens. “And I don’t need glasses to place a simple order.” 

“Uh-huh,” Krystal says, like they’ve had this argument a dozen times already and will have it a million more. She rolls her eyes toward Sebastian and mouths the word “vain” while tracing a circle around her face. Sebastian stifles a smile at Dylan’s outraged expression. 

“Will you please call Leroy and sort it out?” Dylan says, but Krystal is already picking up the phone. Dylan pats her on the shoulder and says, “Thanks, doll.” She rolls her eyes at him and cracks her gum with a loud smack before dialing. 

Dylan turns back to Sebastian. “Spare key’s still under that hideous garden gnome by the big white hydrangea near the kitchen door.” 

Which is a total non sequitur to Sebastian until he realizes what Dylan means. “Oh,” he says. “I was going to stay at the motel just outside town.” 

Dylan shakes his head. “The hell you are. We turned your old room into a guest bedroom a while ago.” He looks Sebastian up and down. “Lucky for you we put a queen bed in there. Don’t think you’d fit into your old twin now.” 

He winks, and Sebastian feels himself blush. Surely Dylan isn’t checking him out. When he was fourteen and just beginning to realize that he liked boys and not girls, he spent what seemed like hours watching Dylan and his never-ending string of short-term girlfriends. Still, Sebastian has been checked out enough to know what that feels like. 

“Um, okay,” he surrenders, then clears his throat. “Thanks.” 

“No prob,” Dylan says. “There’s beer and sandwich makings in the fridge, if you get hungry. Help yourself to whatever you want.” He turns to head back into the shop, then slaps a hand on the doorframe and looks over his shoulder. “We’re having a bit of a thing at the house tonight. Around eightish. Me, Krystal, a few of the guys from the shop. Sort of a wake, I guess. For Dad.”

“Right,” Sebastian says. “I’ll find something to occupy myself.” 

“No, jackass,” Dylan says. With a jolt, Sebastian remembers that Dylan had called him that, first in irritation, then in affection, the entirety of their parents’ marriage. The thrill his twelve-year-old self felt, having an older almost-brother think him adult enough to use such a grown-up word around him. “You should be there. You can meet some of the guys. Dad would have wanted that.”

Sebastian feels a prickle behind his eyes. He hasn’t cried since hearing about Samuel’s death. He probably hasn’t cried since those first few days at boarding school, after Mom left Samuel, parked Sebastian at Woodberry Forest School, and took off for New York City. But he thinks now that he’d love to hear about his stepfather from the people who knew him best.

“Okay,” he says, and Dylan grins at him. “That sounds great.” 

Dylan gives him a wave over his shoulder, and Krystal nods at him, still on the phone. Sebastian leaves the shop, folds himself into his rental car, pushes the button to start it, signals as he turns on to the main road, and drives the short distance to Dylan’s house, trying to pretend the entire way that he’s not thinking about how absolutely hot Dylan is.

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