But a girl needs a job, so Meg bluffs her way into writing for Northwest Extreme magazine, passing herself off to editor-in-chief Greg Dixon as an outdoor adventure enthusiast. Never mind that Meg's idea of sport is climbing onto the couch without spilling her latte. So when she finds herself clawing to the top of Angel's Rest--a two-thousand-foot peak--to cover the latest challenge in a reality TV adventure show, she can't imagine feeling more terrified. Until she witnesses a body plummet off the side of the cliff. Now Meg has a murder to investigate. And if the climbing doesn't kill her, a murderer just might. . .
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Scene of the Climb
By Kate Dyer-Seeley
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 Kate Dyer-Seeley
All rights reserved.
Angel's Rest Summit, Oregon
My fingernails dug into the soggy dirt as my body lurched closer to the sheer cliff face. I desperately jabbed deeper into the ground for traction. It didn't work.
I kicked frantically into a boulder on my right, trying to slow my momentum. The trail was disappearing in front of me. Fast. Two more feet and I would launch over a ledge, straight down the side of the rock face.
That's when I heard the scream. It took a minute to sort out whether the sound was coming from my lungs or somewhere ahead. Definitely ahead.
I skidded over slick jagged rocks. They jammed into my exposed skin and snagged my paper-thin T-shirt.
Damn, not the shirt.
I'd spent a wad of cash I didn't have on the shirt. When I spotted it on the rack with its pale pink ivy vine design and the words "Live. Love" on the front, it spoke to me, as Gam likes to say. Plus, it's the perfect blend of Northwest chic—equal parts hippie and hipster.
At that moment I looked up to see a man's body plummet over the ledge.
I should have been concerned that I was losing ground and about to fly off after him. Instead, all I could think about was that I never should have taken that umbrella.
Yep, an umbrella. It all started four months ago with a lousy umbrella.
The winter had been particularly wet. So wet, in fact, that I almost considered my mother's nagging advice. "Mary Margaret Reed, you need to invest in an umbrella." Mother would never be caught without her Burberry checkered print umbrella.
I, on the other hand, have held a firm belief since childhood that no one should ever use an umbrella. We live in Portland, Oregon, where it rains 256 days a year. Umbrellas are for tourists and people who live in the Pearl, the pretentious upscale neighborhood where I'd been crashing on my best friend Jill's couch.
Don't get me wrong; my bestie, Jill Pettygrove, isn't the least bit pretentious. Her neighborhood is. There's a lengthy waiting list for a coveted spot in Jill's building, with its swanky lofts, roof-top garden and nightly cocktails. Of course most of these amenities are completely lost on Jill.
Bumming on her couch wasn't exactly how I planned to launch into the working world after graduating from college last summer, but I didn't have any other options.
Okay, fine, that's not entirely true. My dad, "Pops" as I called him, begged me to move back to the family farmhouse to keep him company, but the thought of my Pepto-Bismol pink bedroom and Pops' collection of old newspapers stacked in every corner of the dilapidated farmhouse made me pass on his offer—a decision I regret daily. He died in a freak accident almost a year ago. I haven't been back since.
Gam, my grandmother and mystic healer, offered me her spare room. For the record, she most certainly is not the umbrella type. If I moved in with her I couldn't imagine where she'd store her tools, as she calls them. She'd have to box up her Native American drums, crystals, gems, candles for smudging and essential oils.
Jill came to my rescue. She always does. We hit it off instantly in second grade. We're both "onlys," or in clinical terms—lonely, sad and bratty. I say we're well-adjusted and all-around awesome.
Alas, I graduated with a degree in journalism, which I quickly realized was not the wisest career choice in today's changing media environment. Since before I could ride a bike, I've dreamed about writing for The O (Oregon's Pulitzer Prize-winning paper).
Journalism school prepped us for the harsh reality of today's job market as news reporters. I think my advisor's exact words were "Newspapers are dinosaurs."
But not for me. I knew I'd be immune. The investigative work I'd done for our student newspaper had led to an editorship my senior year. An editorship. Getting a job at The O should have been a cakewalk, especially because Pops had been their lead investigative reporter for twenty years.
That's another story. Let's just say he wasn't on the best terms with the editor in chief before he died.
Call it an unkind twist of fate or plain crummy luck, my degree arrived crisp in my hand on the same day The O announced they were laying off forty reporters. It wasn't just The O. Every indie paper in town shuttered its doors. Magazines weren't much better. None were hiring. Most were scaling staff to refocus their efforts on digital media.
No one wanted to hire a recent college grad with no real world experience.
So I piecemealed together a few freelancing gigs to pay for my meager meals of grilled cheese and tomato soup. Thanks to Jill's rent-free couch, I perused Monster and Craigslist daily for any glimmer of a writing job. My searches yielded requests for Chinese and Russian translators. Nope and nope. Why hadn't I studied a foreign language in college? My two terms of conversational French weren't any help in the job hunt.
After five gloomy months, I'd given up hope. I plastered my résumé at coffee shops and dive bars. Nothing. If I couldn't find a job (any job) soon, even grilled cheese would be off the menu.
It was an especially soggy January morning when I threw on a pair of pink yoga pants, a long-sleeved T-shirt, my pink and black polka dotted rain boots and my coral Columbia rain jacket and trudged through a biting wind and sloppy sidewalks to the coffee shop two blocks from Jill's place.
The windows sweated with steam. Punk music played overhead. A bearded barista in black wire-framed glasses didn't bother to make eye contact as I snuck a look around before placing my order.
"Double mocha. Extra hot," I said, my voice barely more than a whisper. "Whole or non-fat?" The barista kept his head down, leafing through an alternative rock magazine.
"Whole." I tried to cough under my breath. "Oh, and extra whip. Please."
He raised his eyebrows. "It's your stomach."
I inched my way through the crowd waiting at the other end of the bar for their drinks. Rain leaked from my coat. My yoga pants were plastered to my thighs. Another barista shouted out my drink order. "Full fat mocha with extra whip is up."
Scanning the room to make sure I didn't know anyone, I tried to slink casually to grab my drink. The tile floor was slick and my boots skidded through a wet puddle. I landed on my ass, soaking the only dry area remaining on my body, and nearly knocking over the customer in front of me who had retrieved her drink. A non-fat, sugar-free vanilla latte, I might add. She shot me a nasty look as her high heels clicked easily over the wet floor. Before I had a chance to haul myself up, a rough hand reached down and pulled me to my feet.
"You okay?" The voice came from a lanky, impeccably scruffy man. His chestnut hair fell in waves over his right eye and his chest muscles were easily visible underneath his one-size too tight mud marathon T-shirt. He held a dripping salmon-pink umbrella in his left hand.
"Uh, yeah. Thanks," I said, brushing water off my yoga pants.
"I believe this is yours?" the stranger said. A white paper cup with a mound of whipping cream overflowing from the top sat on the counter. He stretched his free arm out and handed me the cup.
The cup burned my fingers and whipped cream splattered as I took it from him.
"You might want to lick that before it melts." He chuckled.
I smiled uncomfortably, wishing I had bothered to brush my hair or teeth before leaving Jill's.
I held the cup in a toast. "Ah, the life of an unemployed writer—sometimes it calls for small pleasures."
I took a bite of the cream and could feel some stick to my nose. Reaching to grab a lid from the counter, I quickly wiped it off and tried squeezing the lid over the top. Whipped cream oozed down the sides of the cup. Even with a staggeringly gorgeous man in front of me (was his skin naturally olive or did he have an actual tan in January?) I couldn't resist licking the melting whipped cream with my index finger.
Pulling my jacket hood over my head, I said, "Well, I'm outta here. Thanks again."
I squeezed around tiny bistro tables as I made my way to the front door. A gust of icy air greeted me outside. I tried to balance my coffee in one hand as I zipped my coat and cinched my hood tighter.
Someone tapped my shoulder.
"You didn't let me finish. I was saying I think this belongs to you," the stranger repeated, thrusting the salmon-pink umbrella at me.
A car zoomed by on the street, spraying dirty water in our direction. The stranger stepped backward to avoid the splatter. I stood there dumbfounded.
"Nope. No way. That's definitely not mine." I shook my head.
"But it's pink and"—he paused, eyeing me from head to toe and waving his hand from my hood to boots— "you're pink."
"Today I am, but I don't own an umbrella. I don't believe in umbrellas."
"How can you not believe in umbrellas?"
What happened next is what Gam attributes to universal karma. The coffee shop door burst open and a man in a business suit exited. He brushed past us, struggling to open his ginormous golf umbrella against the wind. The moment it popped open, it caught a gust and instantly blew backward, bending the metal frame and soaking the man.
I smirked and pointed at the businessman making his way down the street with a mangled umbrella. "That's how!"
"Touché." He offered his free hand. "I'm Greg. Nice to meet you anti-umbrella woman."
"Meg," I replied, shaking it. "Nice to meet you and your pink umbrella."
He moved toward the entrance of the coffee shop and pushed open the door. "Why don't you finish your drink inside with me, where it's warmer?"
Whoa. It's not every day that an older man asks me for a drink. I hesitated for a moment before following him into the coffee shop.
Greg (umbrella man) reminded me of Don Draper from my favorite show, Mad Men. He was probably about Don's age and his body moved with the same easy swagger. If only I could transplant myself back in time. I'd definitely land in the Mad Men era.
My coffee had gone cold. The paper cup was spotted with rain and whipped cream. Greg pulled another chair to an iron bistro table next to the window. How had I managed to score an impromptu coffee?
My short blond hair needs a blow dry and serious product to make it appear funky and fun. Wet hair is not becoming on me. It was surely matted to my head and an ugly shade of dishwater brown. Not to mention my outfit—a charcoal T-shirt with pink stitching, yoga pants (aka glorified pajamas) and boots. Hardly up to par with the fashion-forward Pearl District.
Usually I'm more put together than this. Why, today of all days, had I left the loft without lip gloss or mascara?
Greg straddled the chair and leaned in. "You're a writer?"
I could feel heat rising in my cheeks. "Uh, yeah. I mean, not exactly. Jobs are scarce, you know, but I've been getting by with freelancing."
Greg rested his hand in his chin and paused, staring intently as if considering me. I fidgeted in my seat, breathing in the aroma of fresh baked banana muffins warming in the oven. God, I'd do anything for a muffin right now.
"What do you write?"
I tugged my wet coat off and noticed Greg glance at my chest. Mother swears my chest is perfectly endowed for cashmere sweaters. I should have worn one today or at least doubled up on sports bras.
"Nonfiction," I said, wrapping my arms around my chest. "I was the editor of the student newspaper at the University of Oregon. My writing's been published in a few national magazines and a bunch of blogs and e-zines."
"Hmm." Greg nodded. "So your degree's in what? English? Journalism?" "Journalism. It's kind of in my blood. My dad wrote for The O."
"Would I know him?"
"Maybe." I swirled my coffee unconsciously in my cup. "His name was Charlie Reed."
Greg let out a whistle. "The Charlie Reed? As in the Charlie Reed who blew open the meth investigation?"
"Okay, so that tells me you can probably write." He fingered the stubble on his cheeks and watched me swirl my drink. "Sorry to hear about his accident. That must have been rough."
I nodded. I didn't trust myself to respond.
Finally he said, "You're quirky, cute and I couldn't agree more on the whole umbrella thing. Tell me more. It happens I'm looking for a junior writer."
He slid a business card across the table. My fingers were sticky from the whipping cream and adhered to the card. The card was grainy, made of recycled paper and had a silhouette of a man scaling a rock wall. It read, GREG DIXON. EDITOR IN CHIEF NORTHWEST EXTREME.
Damn, he was as lovely in print as in person.
"I'm looking for someone who can write, help with layout, cover regional climbs and races, that kind of thing. Do you climb or hike much?"
"Yeah. Well, I mean not lately, but I grew up practically living in the forest with my dad. He loved the outdoors. Knew every square inch of green space within a hundred miles of the city."
"Do you do any extreme sports?"
"I'm a huge fan of windsurfing and skiing." That wasn't a lie. I am a fan. "Have you seen that new blog Summit to Surf? I'm totally addicted, especially their YouTube videos."
"No, I don't know it. But that's good. I'm really trying to push our new media— YouTube, embedded videos on the Web site. That's stuff you can do?"
"Oh yeah, for sure," I said, sloshing my coffee cup. "I managed all the online media for our student newspaper."
"Charlie Reed's daughter or not, I'll need to see a writing sample, and I have to forewarn you the pay is terrible. Basic benefits. Two weeks of vacation, but on the flip side you'll get travel expenses. We have a very flexible working schedule, and I strongly encourage my staff to exercise and get outside. We're all a bunch of adrenaline junkies."
"Great! No problem. I have a portfolio of clips—I can run and grab them. My place is only a couple blocks away," I said too eagerly.
Greg stood and returned the chair to its normal position. "E-mail's fine." He picked up the pink umbrella and rested it on the table. "You keep it."
He turned and sauntered toward the door. Pausing, he looked over his shoulder and said, "By the way, you have whipped cream on your nose."
My hand flew to my nose. I scraped the dried whipped cream off, grinned from ear to ear and raced to Jill's apartment, not noticing the pounding wind or caring that I was completely soaked again.CHAPTER 2
When I arrived at Jill's, the lights and heat were off. I dropped my newly acquired umbrella by the door and flew around the echoing room with its concrete floors and extensive windows, flipping on lights. A large oil canvas covered half of one of the slate walls.
I tried to avoid looking out the loft's windows. They make me dizzy.
Jill keeps blown-glass bowls filled with Skittles, M&M's and jelly beans on the island countertop. Her addiction to candy is legendary. Somehow it never goes to her thighs. I snatched a handful of Skittles and dug my laptop out from my bag. I tapped nervously on the granite countertop as my machine hummed to life. Come on, come on.
I Googled Greg Dixon. A hefty list of links popped up. Apparently in addition to managing Northwest Extreme, he's a world-class rock climber. And ridiculously gorgeous. I found myself clicking on every photo and expanding them to full screen.
Next, I looked over the Northwest Extreme Web site where I discovered the job posting.
Do you love adventure? Are you an intrepid pioneer with a pen and penchant for travel? Northwest Extreme seeks an entry-level reporter with reckless abandon to cover everything from motocross to snowboarding. Degree in journalism, editorial and layout experience and a lust for physical challenges required. Send salary, résumé and three published clips.
Excerpted from Scene of the Climb by Kate Dyer-Seeley. Copyright © 2014 Kate Dyer-Seeley. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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