All eyes are on Josh Knox…
Fearless. Guarded. Cut-to-perfection. Daredevil rock climber. The best in the world.
This time he's poised to scale Yosemite's notoriously treacherous Sorcerer Spire, with Walkabout Media & Productions filming every move.
April Stephens's dream to be a documentary filmmaker rests on her acing her internship with Walkabout, and that means getting the abrasive Josh to give her more than one-word answers in his interviews.
The problem is, with every step forward professionally, she and Josh are also taking a step forward personally, and after watching her stunt pilot father die in a fiery crash, a guy who risks his life for a living is the last person she should be falling for. Especially because in one month her internship will have them dangling three thousand feet in the air from the side of the Sorcerer. She'll be filming. He'll be climbing without a rope.
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Read an Excerpt
Lessons in Gravity
By Megan Westfield, Karen Grove
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2016 Megan Westfield
All rights reserved.
April had curled herself into a snail-tight ball deep within her sleeping bag, but still she shivered. Her air mattress had gone flat in the middle of the night, and the chill that wafted up from the ground was distinctly similar to the flow from a refrigerator door left ajar.
But the cold wasn't the only reason she couldn't sleep. At first, it had been the nighttime forest noises: the creaking branches, wild animal calls, and wind scraping across the top of the tent — it was like living inside a 1950s horror film. Then her mind switched over to the horror that been real. Her father. The air show. His falling plane. The screams. The flames. And once the adrenaline from the memories kicked in, there was no way she could relax enough to fall asleep.
Making things worse, the same tight ball that helped with the cold and the mental images was also causing unbearable pain. When she drank a beer with her crewmates, Madigan and Theo, last night after the drive from the airport, she hadn't realized how far away the bathroom was and just how much she would not want to leave her tent once she was zipped safely inside. If bladders could burst, hers was about to.
It took great effort to uncurl and inch to the top of the sleeping bag. The much colder air outside stung the tip of her nose and the whites of her eyes. She stared at the ceiling of the tent for a moment, planning her next move. Wait, she could see the ceiling. That meant dawn had arrived. The hellish night was finally over.
With clunky fingers and arms stiff like chicken wings, she pulled her jacket on over her pajama top and struggled into jeans and shoes. She scooted to the tent door, hesitating as she reached for the zipper. It had been dark when they'd arrived from the airport, and she had no idea what — or who — was outside. The last thing she needed was to encounter her crewmates for the first time in the daylight before she'd had a chance to clean up.
She unzipped the tent as quietly as she could and peeked outside. Madigan was already up. Thankfully, he was over at a picnic table with his back to her. If she could just get out of the tent before he turned around, she could escape to the bathroom without being seen.
Unwilling to risk any more zipper noise, she dropped to her hands and knees to push through the partially open flap. Sharp, frigid gravel pressed into her palms. As she lifted her second leg over the threshold, her foot caught and she tumbled forward.
Madigan turned around. Shit.
She fought to free her legs as he came over to see what was going on. He stood above her and offered a hand. Oh, god. She wanted to turn to dust and blow away.
"Good morning," he said, attempting to suppress a grin but failing miserably.
April choked down her humiliation and unhooked her toe from the door. Way to start your internship, champ.
Madigan pulled her to her feet and then went back to the picnic table. Even from behind, she could tell he was still grinning. At least somebody thinks it's funny. She brushed herself off and joined him at the table, where he was screwing a collapsible burner onto a can of propane.
"We have a pretty relaxed schedule today," he said. "Once Theo gets up, we'll go over to the cafeteria and grab something to eat." He lit the stove and balanced a pot of water on the burner. "After that, we can do some location scouting."
"You think Theo will be a while?"
Madigan laughed. "Theo would sleep all day if we let him."
The walk over to the bathroom building warmed her up enough to stave off the shivers — just in time for the icy toilet seat and the sink's frigid water. The aluminum mirror above the sink was hardly reflective, but she could make out enough to confirm she looked as haggard as she felt. Her dependably well-behaved, straight blond hair had a brassy cast, and it was inexplicably matted against the side of her head.
She finger brushed her hair and tucked in the tails of her pajama shirt that were hanging out of the bottom of her jacket. Not wanting to go back to the campsite just yet, she sat outside on the cement bathroom stairs. This campground didn't look anything like the pictures of Yosemite she'd seen online, and it definitely didn't live up to Theo's use of the word "sublime" last night when describing the main valley. Sure, there were a lot of big pine trees here, but other than that, it was just a flat expanse of dirt with half-buried cement tubes dividing it into campsites. There weren't many other people up yet, just a few campers boiling water on spindly stoves like Madigan's and a guy climbing around on a house-size boulder a few campsites away.
She rubbed at her dry eyes, which made them hurt more. Between the cold, the hard ground, and not sleeping, it was like having the world's worst hangover combined with a severe case of strep throat. She'd barely made it through one night. How would she be able to make it through three months?
She'd held it together so well last term — the whole school year, really. And the flight last night from L.A. to Fresno hadn't tripped her up like she had feared it would. Flying commercial as a passenger was very different than flying your own plane. Or sitting in the audience of an air show. Instead, she'd completely failed what should have been the easiest thing: sleeping. And as she'd learned the hard way, sleep deprivation was the quickest way to a really bad place, mentally.
Her chest tightened. Not only would she not be able to function coherently, she wouldn't be able to function at all. She'd be fired from the internship, and what would happen then?
This internship was the opportunity of a lifetime. Walkabout's documentaries were stunning. Big. Bold. Different. Its founder, Danny Rappaport, was easily her favorite documentary director, and he'd picked her for this position out of more than a hundred applicants. Further, she'd be part of the filming crew instead of the typical intern role of being a footage-logging slave. Although she'd be doing plenty of that, too. This internship was the key to getting a full-time job in the documentary industry, and a ten-year head start to making her own films someday.
If you don't get a handle on sleep, you'll lose it all. Your dream will be over before it even starts.
Be brave, April girl, her dad would say if he were alive. It had been his advice for every situation, whether it was her first airplane landing at fourteen or asking her chemistry partner to prom two years later. But being brave had been easy for her dad. He was never afraid.
If she could just be more physically comfortable, then maybe she'd be able to keep the upper hand on her mind long enough to fall asleep tonight. Yes, that was the solution. She would start by not drinking any liquids after dinner so she wouldn't have to pee in the middle of the night. She'd wear her jacket to bed and listen to music on her phone to block out the forest noises. Maybe there was a camping store here where she could buy an air mattress that wouldn't go flat overnight.
Having a plan created a nice warming effect on her body and loosened some of the tightness in her chest. If she could just get through these three months on location, the remaining six months of the internship — postproduction back at Walkabout's headquarters in Seattle — would be a piece of cake.
She turned her attention to the guy in the gray hoodie on the enormous boulder. This was what she needed to focus on. The climber guy's movements were smooth and controlled, like a choreographed dance, as he moved back and forth across the boulder's longest side. She realized that the entire time she'd been sitting there, he hadn't touched the ground or paused for a break. His deep focus was inherently dramatic, and she could see that this, thousands of feet in the air and set against some of the amazing vistas that supposedly existed in Yosemite, would make for some stunning cinematography.
Climbing might be a bizarre sport, but she had to admit, it was also a little sexy. The height. The fearlessness. The confidence. The apparent impossibility of it all.
It was the daredevil's siren call.
The guy stretched diagonally, locking onto a section that was slightly overhanging. His hood fell back, revealing light brown, tousled hair. Now hanging by his arms, he tucked and lifted his legs effortlessly though the air, placing the tips of his shoes back on the rock with precision. Even though she couldn't see his face, her heartbeats quickened with interest. God, April, no!
She would have to be very careful here, surrounded by a bunch of sexy guys like this. Not only were crew-talent flings expressly in violation of the employee conduct contract she'd signed, she would never allow one to happen. Daredevils die young, and after what happened to her father, she would never — not ever — fall for a guy who risked his life for a living.
The guy climbed up and over the far corner of the boulder. She waited for a few minutes, and when he didn't reappear, she walked over to take a closer look. Running her hand across the rock, she tried to find something to hold on to, but there was nothing. She pushed her fingertips into the rock, and it became sharper and a little bit tacky, like sandpaper. But, still, it wasn't enough friction to hold someone's body weight.
Not wanting to stay away for too long, she headed back to the Walkabout site, where Madigan lounged in a camp chair with his sleeping bag wrapped around him like a shawl. She was still embarrassed about falling out of her tent, but it would be worse if she let it show, so she sat confidently at the picnic table, facing him.
"How'd you sleep?"
"Great," she lied. "How about you?"
"I froze, but it's just because I was too lazy to go get my warmer sleeping bag from the van."
There was a day's worth of stubble on his jaw and a few tufts of dark brown hair sticking out from the bottom of his wool hat. He was younger than she'd guessed in the dark last night, probably in his late twenties.
A savage roar made April leap off the bench. She wheeled around, half expecting to find one of the scythe-wielding maniacs she'd visualized last night.
Madigan burst into laughter. "Theo's awake."
Theo's tent shook as he fumbled to unzip it. He stuck his head out. "Whaz up, guys?"
His hair was shaggy like Madigan's, but it was red and an inch or two longer. He crawled out of the tent, staggered toward them, parked his butt on the picnic table, and pulled a ragged yellow beanie over his head.
"It's about time," Madigan grumbled. "Get off your ass and let's go eat."
The cafeteria was down a short trail and across the road from the campground. As they approached, April's mouth watered at the smell of sausage and bacon sizzling on the grill.
"Guess Josh arrived early," Madigan said as they sat down with their trays of food.
"Who?" she asked.
He gestured toward a cute guy about her age with light brown hair a few tables away — a guy who wore a threadbare gray hoodie and was reading a newspaper. The same guy she had watched climbing around on the boulder.
"That's Josh Knox," Madigan said. "He's our star. He's been out of the country all winter on a sweet climbing trip."
Madigan and Theo stood, and April dutifully followed them, her stomach rumbling in protest at having to leave her food. "How was Indonesia?" Madigan asked Josh.
Josh set his newspaper down and man-hugged the guys. "It was good, man. Real good." His smile faded as soon as he noticed April standing there with them.
"This is April," Madigan said. "She's our intern for the project."
Josh was thin, but he was tall and his posture was imposing. His eyes were an arresting combination of green and brown that she longed to study further, despite the marked lack of expression in them. Even as he shook her hand, he didn't seem any more interested in her than the napkin dispenser on the table his eyes shifted to next.
She drew back from the group, feeling small and unimportant. She was unimportant: a lowly intern. It was time to toughen up, because she'd probably be experiencing this type of thing a lot.
"You're welcome to join us," Madigan said to Josh.
"Thanks, but I better stay here and catch up with what's been going on in the U.S.," he said.
Back at the table, April dug into her syrupy French toast and chugged down the coffee that would be her lifeblood for getting through the rest of the day.
"Josh is parked out behind the search-and-rescue camp while we're filming," Theo said. "He lives in his truck."
"Permanently?" she asked between bites.
"Whenever he's in the States," Theo said.
She looked over at Josh, who was reabsorbed in his newspaper. There was something vaguely familiar about him.
"How long before the rest of the talent arrives?" she asked.
Theo stopped chewing. "They're climbers, Hollywood, not talent."
"When are the other climbers getting here?" she asked.
Theo snorted. "That's something you'll be helping us puzzle out."
Madigan slugged Theo. "Stop being a jerk, you ass." He faced away from Theo. "A lot of it's weather dependent. We can't shoot up in Tuolumne until the snow's melted. And it's really going to be determined by Josh's climbs. His are the riskiest, and the rigging we have to do for them is the most complicated."
April looked over at Josh, who was now listening to messages on an old-fashioned flip phone. He was definitely cute, in a unique, somewhat exotic, unkempt sort of way. Perhaps "striking" was a better word.
From the number of messages he was going through, it had to be the first time he'd checked voicemail since getting back from his trip. Either that, or he was really, really popular.
As if he could feel her eyes on him, Josh looked toward their table. Just as quickly, he looked away, and she immediately placed where she recognized him from.
Back when Danny Rappaport was still working for the American Geographic Channel, he directed a series about the modern Southwest. One of the segments was about rock climbing, and Josh had been in it. She was remembering him not for his looks but for his terrible interviews. As in off-the-charts bad. One-word answers, ogling the camera, staring off into space. In fact, she had only watched a few of his interview spots before skipping past the rest. It was the only skipping she had done while watching all forty-five hours of Danny's filmography after she'd found out she got the internship.
Her specific role on this internship was to run the interviews. Fantastic. Her job just got infinitely harder.
"Anyone want more coffee?" Theo asked.
April and Madigan held out their empty cups. Theo took them and walked brazenly through the out turnstile into the food area.
She looked over at Josh. A lot of time had passed since the American Geographic special. He'd probably been in lots of films since then. Surely he had improved.
Josh snapped his phone closed. His face was somber. Girl troubles, perhaps? Strange, though. What kind of girl would date a guy who lived in a truck? Perhaps that was the problem.
Theo returned to the table, gripping the three paper coffee cups in an impressive counterpressure triangle.
"Here you go, Hollywood," he said with a wink.
April took her cup. "You know, I've never done any work in Hollywood."
"You went to film school in L.A. That counts."
"Like you didn't."
"Nice try. Colorado Film School for me. UNC for Madigan."
Theo sat down and started talking about some newly climbed mountain in the Andes.
A few tables away, Josh folded his newspaper and stood up. He turned their way, and his eyes locked with April's, making her breath pause. The sadness from earlier was still hovering over him like a cloud. His expression went sharp, and she looked away with the distinct feeling she'd seen something she shouldn't have.
Her stomach churned uneasily. She didn't even know the guy, but the intensity of his sadness was speaking directly to the hard place in her heart she kept so carefully locked down.
Madigan and Theo waved good-bye to Josh. His frown relaxed as he nodded to them, but by the time he'd reached the exit and glanced at April once more, the sorrow was even more deeply rooted in his eyes and etched in the lines around his mouth. Goose bumps popped up on April's arms. This time, she couldn't look away.
Excerpted from Lessons in Gravity by Megan Westfield, Karen Grove. Copyright © 2016 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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