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Kate scanned the trees, one thought on her mindfood. Food being a very loose term. Roots, seeds, rodents, carrion
nearly anything would do in this desolate wasteland. In every direction, miles and miles of slushy spring snow, acres of scrubby pines, but lunch
"Fat frigging chance," she muttered. Then she saw ita little clump of twigs in the crook of an old tree, a bird's nest. "Come on, eggs." Kate searched for handholds. She dug her boots into the knobby bark, locked her thighs around the trunk. Inch by slow, slippery inch, she made her clumsy ascent, mumbling a drum solo to herself. "Buh, buh-buh-buh-buh
" At moments like this, she always got the show's theme song stuck in her head.
Each episode opened with a flurry of bongos and a glimpse of misty green wilderness. Every few beats a new image flashed onto the screena man wading hip-deep through a rushing river, scaling a sheer cliff face, striking a flint. Words burst onto the screenDom Tyler: Survive This! The title disappeared to make way for a second bout of montage overlaid with credits that went ignored by most viewers in favor of the handsome man with his dirty blond hair and fascinating eyes, arms like a boxer and smile like a natural-born con man.
Kate knew the show's opening by heart. Heck, she'd filmed half the footage herself. And she knew Dom Tyler by heart, too. Those arms and that smile belonged to her boss, her best friend. And it was his fault she was halfway up a tree in the desolate wilds of Saskatchewan just now, wrecking her jeans with sap.
Wincing at the bark digging into her thighs, she took a deep breath and hauled herself onto a thick branch, ten feet off the ground. Bingoeggs.
"Woo hoo!" She pumped her fist in the air. Glancing toward the campsite, she bellowed, "Ty! I've found your lunch!"
A faint noise of acknowledgment drifted through the otherwise silent landscape. Balancing on the limb, Kate slid the video camera strapped across her back forward and shouldered it. She aimed the viewfinder at the three ill-fated eggs nestled in the wreath of twigs and hit the record button.
"Songbird eggs," she murmured into the mic. "Need a confirm on the species. Early spring is one of the best times of year to find bird eggs if you get lost in the Canadian wildernessdouble-check that fact. They can be cooked, or eaten raw if fire is scarce, and they're a great source of protein."
The show was an hour long, forty-two minutes after commercials. Forty-two minutes of Dom Tyler explaining how to stay alive in some of the world's harshest environmentsa different location each episode. Though his looks likely distracted most viewers from actually retaining any of the lessons.
For nearly every shot that made it to air, just off camera stood Kate, armed with the stern poise of a lion tamer and a hastily acquired vocabulary to rival David Attenborough's. She researched and wrote nearly half of the show's narration. It was Dom Tyler's name in the title and face on the screen, but she was the one behind him, cracking the whip, keeping the show and its host on track.
She let the camera roll a few more seconds before shouldering it and fumbling back down the trunk, hopping the last few feet to the soggy ground.
"Ty?" Ty, because he winced whenever anyone called him Dominic. Kate headed toward the fire they'd set up by the river, shouting to him as she picked pine needles from the front of her jacket. "We're going to need to get you up there. I want some climbing and hand shots. I made some notes you can record in postproduction."
She rounded the bend at the edge of the woods and discovered why Ty wasn't shouting back. Sitting splay-legged on a fallen tree, he had one of the other cameras perched on his broad shoulder, its lens trained on Kate, red light blinking. As she neared, she heard him narrating for his own amusement, a raised whisper in the Australian accent that earned them at least a quarter of their ratings.
the natural habitat of the Kate Somersby. We can see from her stance that this approach is one of postured aggression, though the look in the female's eyes suggests that mating may be on her mind. Let's wait and see what she's after." Ty abandoned the voice-over as Kate pushed her boot against the front of his vest, toppling him harmlessly backward into the wet snow.
She crossed her arms over her chest and mustered her best fed-up assistant glare. It was day two of their three-day exile in this snowy wasteland, and cold was not her strong suit. "Some of us have been scaling trees, Ty. Earning our saddle sores."
"That's one way to get your rocks off."
"I need you up there." She stared down at her professional partner of the past two and a half years, blatantly appraising all six feet three inches of him, from his boot-clad feet up to his unruly golden-brown hair and sideburns, and that evil, evil eyebrow. His chin and jaw were peppered with several days' blond stubble. By the time they got back to L.A. he'd probably have a full-on beard. It wouldn't do a thing to disguise his movie-star good looks, just as his clothes couldn't trick their viewers into forgetting what was hidden beneath, once they'd caught a glimpse.
Kate knew what lay beneath the thermal shirt Ty currently wore under his vest, too. She knew it with more familiarity than she'd known the body of any former lover, despite the fact that she and Ty had never so much as kissed. That disappointed certain parts of her, relieved others. She loved her job too much to risk it over something as stupid as hormones. And she loved Ty, tooas a friend. She wouldn't risk losing him, either.though the thought of such a mistake had certainly kept her warm on a few cold nights.
She gave Ty's hovering foot a soft kick. "C'mon, up you get. Eggs."
Ty groaned. "God, eggs."
"Tell me about it." She grabbed the hand he stuck out and yanked him up to sitting. "I've got a few of my own that'll be going to waste in a few years, if I keep running around the globe with the likes of you."
"So you keep telling me
but don't pretend you don't love this." He wiped wet snow off the backs of his arms, zipped the camera into its sturdy bag and set it aside.
Kate sat down beside him on a log. He was right, of course. For all its ridiculous moments, she adored this job. And not just the jobbut their partnership. Plus she was an unapologetic control freak and this gig allowed her to do what she did best on a grand scale, and get paid for it. At twenty-eight, thoughts of settling into a normal life could wait a few more years, or as long as the network continued to renew their contract.
Ty took her handheld camera and reviewed the footage, frowning. "Why is it you never find us wild rib-eye?"
"Why is it you never find us anything, period?" she asked, though it was a mean exaggeration. Ty more than pulled his weight, but today he was noticeably unfocused. Kate wasn't surprised. He was running on very little food and even less sleep.
He handed the camera back and stared at her with the unearthly blue-green eyes that earned them another quarter of their ratings.
"Nothing." His tone suggested otherwise. "Take me to your eggs."
"Terrifying choice of words, Ty." They stood and she tossed him the wool hat he'd been wearing in the previous scene. He tugged it on and followed her back to the tree.
He squinted upward. "I see it."
She trained the camera on Ty as he demonstrated how to loop a length of climbing rope around the trunk to make the task easier. Kate frowned at her ruined jeans and savaged thighs. In three minutes he was up and back again with the eggs in his vest pocket.
"What d'you fancy?" he asked, his perpetually mischievous eyebrow cocked at her. "Raw or boiled?"
"It's your lunch, Ty. I'm having an energy bar."
"What'll look better?" he asked.
"You cooked that goose, yesterday. Better do an 'if you can't build a fire' scenario."
"You're the boss."
She pursed her lips, skeptical. "Care to put that in writing?"
Ty merely smirked, a dimple forming beside one corner of his mouth. Technically speaking, of course, he was the boss. It wasn't just his name on the show, eitherin addition to being the host and narrator of the wildly popular reality program, he was also its creator. He'd dreamed it up, pitched it, got himself the contract and come to the table with much of his survival experience already hard-earned from a stint in his twenties as a globe-trekking rock climber.
"How are we getting to tomorrow's location?" Ty asked as he set up a tripod for the raw-egg-eating shot.
"Do you even look at the itineraries I write up for you?"
He angled the lens, fiddled with the settings. "Don't need to, Katie. I've got you."
"May God have mercy on the woman you trick into marrying you one day, Ty." Not that you're the marrying kind, she added to herself. She pulled her copy of the meticulous memorandum from the back pocket of her filthy jeans. "We're meeting the dogsled folks tomorrow morning at five. The trip should take about three hours, then we're doing an ice-fishing spot if the lake up there's still frozen. Snowmobile team's picking us up at sundown."
"Beautiful. And after tomorrow?"
Kate smiled at the thought. "You know."
Ty met her eyes above the camera. "Tell me anyhow, Katie. I love to hear you say it."
"After tomorrow, we're done for another season."
Ty sighed, loud and dramatic. "And so our next destination will be
"I don't know about you, but mine'll be my bed." She could practically feel her cool sheets and soft pillows now.
"Sounds good. I'll see you there."
Kate waited until Ty glanced at her before she fixed him with a look she hoped conveyed her grumpy exhaustion. "While we're on the topic, may I make a suggestion or two, for next season's locales?"
"I'm thinking Maui. Saint John's? Fiji? Please? This snow is killing me."
"You're from New England," he said, eyes swiveling back to the camera's screen.
"And I hated snow growing up, too. Come on, Ty.lost at sea? Even that's got to be better than this."
He shook his head. "No open ocean stuff."
"Why are you so weird about"
"I get seasick," Ty interrupted. "Quiet on the set."
He switched the camera on and went to work. Kate fell silent, smirking to herself. Only Dom Tyler could make swallowing the contents of raw songbird eggs erotic. Unlikely as it seemed, this shot was pure gold when it came to capturing the viewers' attention. And with the snowy locale, this episode needed all the help it could get. Even though it was technically spring, winter still felt very much like the order of the day here in Saskatchewan. Winter meant snow and ice, gusting winds and cruel cold. And layers. Layers made the chance that the viewers would get a glimpse of Ty's bare torso seem less likely. And that meant fewer pairs of anticipating eyes glued to the screenthe top half of Ty's body secured them the largest chunk of their enviable viewership. They were by far the best-performing show on their nature- and travel-based network, and survival had very little to do with it.
"The viewers are going to love that," Kate said when he finished recording.
"Our viewers are kinky, then
present company included." He smiled at her, dismantling the tripod.
Kate bit back a smile of her own. "I'm immune to your charms, thank you very much. And if the viewers had to spend as much time with you as I do, they'd feel the same way."
Ty faked offense, raising his eyebrows. "Now don't tell me this isn't what you were expecting when you moved to L.A. I mean, tell me this isn't Hollywood glitz and glamour at its best." He waved an arm around, indicating the dreary landscape, the minimalist campsite and the two of them. He hadn't bathed since they'd left Los Angeles three days earlier, the antithesis of glamour. Kate wasn't looking much better.
"I never thought being a personal assistant would be glamorous."
"Of course not." He grinned at her, looking skeptical. "Your coffee table's only covered in celebrity mags because you couldn't find any coasters, I'm sure."
Kate pushed the slushy snow around with her foot. "Being a PAthe kind I thought I'd be," she corrected, "is pretty slummy. I assumed I'd be fetching twelve-dollar lattes, and wiping poodle crap off somebody's stilettos. Holding some celebutante's hair back while she puked discreetly in the alley behind the poshest club in Hollywood. That sort of thing."
"Very classy," Ty said. "But I know there's more. Don't think I can't see you salivating when the swag turns up."
True. They'd been making this show for three seasons now and Ty was beginning to qualify as a bona fide TV celebrity. Kate had nearly hyperventilated the first time a designer offered Ty a suit to wear to an awards ceremony. He'd ultimately blown the event off in favor of a Lakers game and she'd grudgingly returned the goods.
"This isn't exactly what I'd pictured
more frostbite, fewer flashbulbs. And you aren't exactly the boss I'd pictured, either," she admitted, squinting at him as they walked back to the fire. "I'd imagined a starlet with a diet-pill habit, not some nature-boy with an adrenaline addiction. And this isn't the skill set I thought I'd be gaining."
Ty dragged a frame pack over and extracted a length of rope from the front pocket, tossing it to Kate. "Bowline," he ordered in his best drill sergeant's voice.
Kate made a perfect bowline knot in seconds flat. One of a hundred talents she'd learned from Ty and from books since landing this crazy job.
"Double figure eight."
She tied a beauty.
"I bet Reese Witherspoon's PA can't do that," Ty said smugly.
"No, and I bet she can't treat a snakebite or diagnose dengue fever." Kate made a loose slipknot and tossed it around his neck. "Now that I think about it, Ty, this gig's not really teaching me any of the skills I'll need if I'm going to run a powerful Hollywood agency someday. I thought I'd be reading Variety in first class, not manuals about ice-cave exploration in the back of a Cessna."
He shrugged. "Funny what choices the universe makes for you."
"Yeah. My cosmic dart didn't land quite where I'd expected," Kate added, referring to Ty's new preferred method of choosing their shoot locationstossing a dart blindly at a world map until it hit an appropriately forbidding destination. He had a penchant for leaving decisions up to chance, an aversion to caution that bordered on superstition.
He slid a long hunting knife from the sheath on his belt and slapped the handle into Kate's palm. He pointed to a spruce tree a few yards away and stepped back.