"Between the adventure, superb writing, and the heart-warming romance, I fell hard. A definite must read!" - Rebecca Yarros, author of the Renegades Series
Twenty-year-old Emily Winslowe has had an adventurous upbringing. Daughter of a Himalayan mountain guide, she has climbed Mount Everest and other peaks most Americans only dream of. But for all her mountaineering prowess, she's lacking some key experiences. Namely, guys. Especially one guy in particular—Luke Norgay, her childhood best friend who she hasn't seen since he left for college in the United States two years ago.
Luke unexpectedly reappears as a guide just in time for the Everest climbing season. He's even more handsome than she remembers, and that something that had been building between them during their last season together is back in front of them, bigger than ever.
The problem is, there's a detail about Emily's past that Luke doesn't know. It's the reason she ended up in the Himalayas in the first place...and the reason she must make it to the summit of Mount Everest this year. It's also the reason she would never consider following him back to Washington after the climbing season ends.
But first, they'll have to survive the mountain.
|Publisher:||Entangled Publishing, LLC|
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I stepped around a sharp bend in the trail, straight into a pair of yak horns.
I leaped to the side. The wrong side. Pebbles shot out from beneath my hiking boots, falling a thousand feet into the gorge where the Imja River ran swollen and milky turquoise. Yak after yak passed by as I held my breath and struggled to balance on the lip of the precarious slope.
As soon as there was a break in the yak train, I dashed across the trail to the uphill side where I had solid footing and a nice, strong pine tree to hold on to as I waited for the rest of the yaks to pass.
The near miss was my fault. I shouldn't have been listening to music with both earbuds in. Especially right now, at the start of the Everest climbing season when the trail was busy with dozens of expeditions hauling two months' worth of supplies up the sixty miles between the Lukla airstrip and Everest Base Camp.
I popped my earbuds out, now hearing the melody of the yaks' neck bells and the clop of their hooves on the rocky trail.
"Namaste," I said to herders spaced out among the animals.
The near miss hadn't been only because of the earbuds. My mind had been somewhere else entirely: across the Indian and Pacific oceans to Seattle, where my friend Luke lived. That's because just ahead on the trail was the outcropping where I always recorded a video to post on the Circumference app for him.
The problem was, Luke hadn't posted on Circumference for seven days. I'd posted two Circ videos during that time. To post a third was questionable. Desperate.
In truth, I was desperate. This Everest season would mark two years since we'd last seen each other. The only thing connecting us now were the Circ videos flagged with our secret code, #YCCM — You Can't Catch Me.
The game had been simple at first: when one of us would summit a mountain, we'd turn the geotag off, take a three-hundred-and-sixty degree video panorama, and flag it with #YCCM. The other person had to use the surrounding peaks to guess the location. But then we started posting more often and had to get creative with our high points, like the one Luke posted from the bunk bed in his dorm room freshman year. Or the one I took while standing atop a sand castle I'd built in Thailand.
We posted so often now that it was practically daily unless one of us was on a trip where we didn't have wifi, so seven days of silence was significant. My consolation was that it wasn't just our #YCCM Circs that had stopped; he hadn't posted anything at all in that time. He could have lost his phone. Or he could be on a climbing trip in the North Cascades or something. After all, it was spring break at his college, University of Washington. I'd looked that up on day three.
Once the yaks were clear, I got back on the trail, and it took me no time at all to reach the outcropping. I ditched my heavy backpack and climbed the short vertical stretch of granite.
Below were the stone houses of Tengboche, the Sherpa village where Luke had grown up. This outcropping was significant to Luke and me because we had spent a lot of time hiding out here as kids, poring over Dad's Complete Guide to the World's 19,000-Foot Peaks. Desperate or not, I decided to go ahead with the Circ.
Standing in the center of the outcropping, I faced my phone outward and pivoted in a slow circle, videoing a glimpse of the river to the east and the rhododendron forest to the south. Continuing west, I filmed the giant Himalaya Mountains standing guard over Tengboche, and then finished the Circ by panning north to the distant wall of snowy white snaggleteeth where Mount Everest was hidden. As soon as I reached a full three-hundred-and-sixty degrees, the Circumference app chirped and snapped closed.
What do you want to say? the screen prompted.
I bit my thumbnail.
Where are you?
Why have you not posted?
I miss your Circs.
I miss you.
I closed my eyes and hugged the phone to my chest. I'd known all along we wouldn't keep our Circ game going forever, but I wasn't ready for it to be over. Now that I was officially not going back to the U.S. for college, it was unlikely he and I would ever cross paths again in real life. To lose Circ would be to lose him altogether.
I stared down at my phone. What do you want to say?
If we're going to stop playing, please can you give me a sign so I can close my account and stop living for your Circs?
Instead, I typed in #YCCM and nothing else, as always. The Circ would release as soon as my phone connected with the wifi at the store in Tengboche, where Dad was probably waiting for me by now.
I down-climbed the outcropping and continued up the trail. Tonight we were staying with Luke's mom, Mingma, so at least I'd be able to make sure his silence wasn't because he'd been in an accident or something.
Soon I was on the final rise before the village. With each step higher, the mountains ahead grew taller, and the panorama widened. Unlike the view from the treed outcropping, this was a fully unobstructed view, and it never failed to fill me with an overwhelming sense of possibility. The extreme altitude, remoteness, and inaccessibility of the Himalayas meant there was still so much unexplored terrain here. And now, I could be among those doing the exploring.
This was the start of a new chapter in my life. A chapter in which I wouldn't have to say good-bye to Dad and where I could work toward my dream of climbing the tallest five mountains in each of the world's mountain ranges with peaks higher than 19,000 feet. The Top Five project. It had been done only eight times before, and never by a woman, and never without the use of supplemental oxygen, as I wanted to.
At the store, I spotted Dad through the window, rubbing his two-week, graying trail beard as he paid for some snacks for tomorrow. While I waited for him to finish, I retied the orange bandana I used as a headband and wiped my dusty, sweaty face with the bottom of my fleece vest.
Once outside, Dad handed me a recent but already dog-eared issue of Vertical View magazine. "Apparently our Nanga Parbat climb made the Ascents Report section."
"Wow." I flipped to the back of the magazine as we walked through the village and there it was: "Winslowe and Winslowe: Father-Daughter Team Tackles Fabled Gray Spider Route on Nanga Parbat, Pakistan."
It was a very short write-up, but it included a thumbnail picture of me at the bottom. A several-years-old picture in which my short hair and wind-burned cheeks made me look like a teenage boy with acne. My face heated but, regardless of the terrible picture, the article was a good thing because it mentioned Winslowe Expeditions, and that kind of publicity always helped business. Mentions like this were also extremely valuable in my first — and most improbable — hurdle of climbing the Top Five project: becoming a sponsored athlete with an outdoor equipment company. Because without a sponsorship, there would be no way to fund the climbs.
At the monastery, we turned uphill, weaving through terraced pastures and teahouses with brightly colored metal roofs toward Mingma's house. Smoke curled up from her chimney and a stray black dog I didn't recognize basked in the sun on her doorstep. As we neared, it sat up and barked.
Mingma's head popped outside and, seeing us, she ran out the door and snapped me into a hug. At five-eight, I towered over her, but she was strong, and her grip was tight. When she finally released me, she said hello to Dad and then led me inside to the mouthwatering smells of dal bhat and freshly baked chapati bread.
I could speak some Sherpa, and I understood a lot more than I could speak, but when someone was talking a million miles an hour like Mingma, I was a lost cause. Nevertheless, I grinned back at her, nodding along like I could understand perfectly. I was just so happy to be there with her — especially after her thyroid scare this winter, which was the reason she would not be Winslowe Expeditions's head cook at Everest Base Camp this season.
Mingma motioned for Dad and me to take off our packs and sit down on the floor for lunch at the knee-height table in the middle of her one-room house. She yelled out the door, presumably for Luke's little brother, Pasang. I glanced around as I sipped water from my bottle. Everything was the same, with the exception of some more trinkets added to the small Buddhist shrine in the loft and a few pictures tacked to the wall, many of which lined up with Luke's #YCCM Circs. One was of Luke and a large group of friends in front of the Space Needle. Next to him was a girl who looked a lot like ^Olivia200x^, the cute, curly-haired blonde who followed him on Circ and who I'd often wondered if he was dating.
I squinted. It was definitely her, and worse, her arm was around him.
My heart sank. Was that why he stopped Circing?
Pasang slipped into the house. Even though he was a preteen now, he hovered shyly next to the stove like a little kid. I gave him a wave, and only then did a smile break through.
Our lunch conversation was partly in English, partly in Sherpa. Sherpenglish. As Dad and I ate Mingma's divine dal bhat, she told us all about Luke: how he would be guiding a second summer on Mount Rainier and how he still had his job at the University of Washington outdoor recreation center. "He's been sending money home to help with repairs," she said, pointing up at the ceiling beams, which still had cracks from the earthquake.
Pasang, who was sitting next to me, waited patiently for a break in the conversation. "Luke's —"
Mingma talked right over the top of him, and he shrunk back. She was once again going too fast for me to fully understand, but the message was clear: she was overflowing with pride for Luke's accomplishments at college. He had changed his major from atmospheric science to biology. Which was better for getting into medical school.
Medical school? Wow.
Pasang tugged at my sleeve.
"What?" I whispered.
He spoke too quietly to hear beneath Mingma's continued raving. I shot Pasang a confused look while still trying to pay attention to Mingma so I could figure out Luke's relationship status and if he had indeed gone on a spring break trip in the Cascades.
Pasang was so excited now that he could barely keep seated.
"Luke's here!" he repeated in a voice that, for him, was as loud as a shout. He pointed over his shoulder.
My blood went still. Luke, as in my Luke? Mingma had just been telling us all about his spring at UW. How could he be here?
"Chomolungma," Pasang said, using the Sherpa name for Mount Everest.
My phone whistled with a notification for a new #YCCM Circ.
In slow motion, I pulled my phone closer and hit play. The Circ was nearly the same panorama of the mountains and Tengboche that I'd just posted, only a lot closer in. Like from inside the village. My pulse sped up. His Circ swept down to the ground and past a black dog watching the camera intently, and then slowly across an open doorway where a girl with long, coppery brown hair sat at the floor table with ... Pasang, Dad, and Mingma.
"What in the —"
Urgently, Pasang grabbed my shoulder and turned me toward the door.
The floor dropped out from under me.
Because right there, leaning against the doorframe, was Luke. Yes, my Luke, right there in flesh and blood and a purple University of Washington ball cap.
Luke's face was serious as his dark brown eyes analyzed me from beneath the shadow of his hat.
My mind struggled to catch up. I couldn't believe it was really Luke standing right there in this doorway as I'd seen him so, so many times before. He'd always been confident, but the way he stood now, even straighter and more self-assured, made him look five years older instead of the two years older he actually was.
His name — Luke for Luke Skywalker — was something his father had called him and everyone kept up after his father's death on Cho Oyu during an expedition with my dad. With his huge dimples and smile, he'd always been hopelessly adorable in the same way as his namesake.
But now, this guy in the door ... cute and adorable were out the window. His thermal pullover jacket molded to his profile, revealing the defined bulk of his upper arms and torso before tapering to a waist that was solid but as narrow as my own. He was all Hemsworth-brothers Hollywood action hero, right down to his piercing eyes, strong jaw, and rich tone of his skin.
Mingma jumped up, scolding Luke for sneaking up on us like that. Without breaking eye contact with me, a teasing, satisfied grin broke out across his face.
I whipped back to center, focusing forcefully on the teapot in the middle of the table. My cheeks burned. That was some stunt he'd just pulled with the Circ.
Why hadn't someone warned me he was in Tengboche?
Or perhaps someone had: Mingma in her rapid-fire Sherpa when we'd first arrived. A good lesson in why you should never fake-understand a foreign language.
Dad went over to Luke, shaking hands and hug-slapping him heartily.
Now it was just me left at the table. Well, me and Pasang, who was watching me with furrowed brows, probably wondering why I wasn't joining everyone at the door. I quickly collected myself, but still, my head spun and my pulse raced as I walked toward Luke.
I stood in front of him, and for several beats of my pounding heart, it was like the two of us were the only people in the world. My eyes were on him, but I couldn't bring him into focus. From this perspective, nothing about him had changed, but at the same time everything about him was completely foreign. It was Luke. Right here in front of me. And he was so incredibly handsome.
"Emily Winslowe," he said finally.
I wrapped my arms around him, and he did the same, with a grip that was tight and strong but not constricting like Mingma's. I was dizzy with too many sensations. There was reprieve from the worry about him not posting on Circ and happiness that we were back in Tengboche together after all this time. But there was also hurt that he hadn't so much as hinted he was coming here.
Most of all, I was shocked. A shock that was quickly turning to panic.
I wasn't ready for what was happening in my body. It was like my old crush had gone from fifty to a hundred in less than two minutes. The feelings I'd been toying with for almost two years over the safe filter Circ provided were now real-life, directly in front of me.
Random details jumped out, intoxicating my senses and preventing me from releasing him from the hug. Like how firm and warm his body was. How he smelled like sunscreen and cold, fresh Himalayan air. And how there was a trace of stubble on his cheek, which was currently pressed against mine.
This was my friend. The best friend I'd ever had, even though in the latter years we'd been around each other only a few months a year. I didn't want to let go. I wanted this moment to be happening without anyone else in the room because it somehow felt like a direct continuation of those moments right before the earthquake. Like a continuation of what had been on the cusp of happening, something that would have put us squarely out of friends territory.
We let go at the same instant.
"It's good to see you," he said. His teasing smile and crinkly eyes were gone, replaced by the same pensive expression he'd had when I first saw him.
All I managed was a nod as Mingma ushered us back to the table.
Pasang slid his bowl to the right so Luke could take his customary place next to me. Thank goodness I'd already finished my dal bhat because there was no way I'd be able to swallow food right now.
Dad had a million questions for Luke: what he was doing here this season, how college was going, and which climbs he'd done in the Cascades. I quickly learned he was in Tengboche because he was going to be guiding for Global Adventurers, the largest and most expensive commercial outfitter on Everest. They would have forty clients climbing this season. Forty!
I was still too overwhelmed by Luke's sudden presence to fully follow the conversation, especially as he and Dad threw around terms like Bugaboos road trip, drinking age, master's thesis, concert, and internships. It wasn't just that he was suddenly here, it was also that he'd changed so much.
Down-table, Pasang watched me expectantly. He smiled shyly, wanting me to share his excitement over the presence of his accomplished big brother. I gave him a grin, and he turned back, satisfied.
Excerpted from "Leaving Everest"
Copyright © 2018 Megan Westfield.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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