Ty Galloway stepped into the Telluride Conference Center and gave his name to the young woman staffing the desk. She handed him a folder stuffed with information about the Western Regional Outdoor Trade Show along with a bag covered in sponsor logos. A quick glance inside revealed food samples—energy bars, gel packets, freeze-dried food—along with magnets and coupons for local restaurants.
He looped the lanyard around his neck stating his identity—Editor-in-Chief of Mountaineer Magazine—and handed a visitor’s pass to his girlfriend, although he suspected that many folks attending would probably recognize her without a nameplate. Plenty of press coverage had followed Lindsey Coulson’s miraculous feat of surviving an avalanche, followed by a grueling and heroic effort to save herself and a Norwegian climber named Anders Fiske near the summit of K2 this past summer.
She smiled and secured her lanyard as well, but Ty could feel the distance between them as if they were on opposite sides of a river. Not a wide river but more space than he cared for. He’d asked her about it, of course, but she’d chalked it up to simply being tired as she delved back into her work in the genetics lab at UC Berkeley, as well as intense coursework for her Ph.D. in Chemistry. Last week she’d crashed at his place for several days, and without fail had been up before daybreak each morning working bleary-eyed on her laptop.
“Is everything okay?” he asked, still concerned about her. And, if he was being truthful, concerned about them. Their relationship was still in the honeymoon period, still fragile.
Her expression shifted to one of feigned enthusiasm. Her long, blond hair was pulled back into a loose ponytail, and her brown eyes were dark pools that tugged at a place deep inside him, along with the curves he knew intimately beneath her maroon sweater and jeans.
She nodded. “Fine.”
He planted a quick kiss on her lips, and her wisp of a smile bolstered his spirits.
“Work first, then romance,” he said quietly, giving her right hand a squeeze. She was still taking care with her left one after a bout of frostbite during her harrowing twenty-four hours on K2.
“If I lose track of you,” he added, “let’s meet back here in an hour. We can grab lunch.”
Ty peeked at the conference schedule attached to the outside of his folder, then began to merge into the crowd of people as they entered the ballroom, Lindsey trailing behind him. It was divided into three separate areas: mountain gear, resorts and tours, and in the back were books and media.
“Tyler,” someone yelled to his left.
Through the crowd emerged a familiar face. Ty grinned and shook the man’s hand. “It’s good to see you, Mick.” What the man lacked in hair on his head was more than compensated by the dark bushy beard and mustache on his face.
“Lindsey, this is Mickey Dooley. He’s CEO of Dooley Creek.”
“I’ve got some of your camp shirts,” she said, also shaking his hand. “Very good quality.”
Mick’s face beamed. “High praise coming from you. I saw Dan Beck last night. He told us about your incredible belay of him and Galloway on K2.”
Ty didn’t miss Lindsey’s slight recoil from the remark, but just as quickly it was gone. Had he imagined it?
High on the slopes of K2 last summer, two descending Italians had triggered an avalanche that had pushed Ty from his anchor. Beck, an old climbing buddy of Ty’s and on a different team, had been roped to both him and Lindsey that day. Ty and Beck had been plucked off the slope, with Ty landing in a crevasse. If Lindsey hadn’t held her position as the last one on the rope, they might all still be trapped in an icy tomb on the slopes of K2.
“Any one of them would have done the same,” she said.
“She’s being modest,” Ty cut in. “It was an incredible arrest, and one I’m very grateful for.”
She smiled but the sentiment didn’t reach her eyes.
“I hear you’re writing a piece on her,” Mick said. “I can’t wait to read it.”
“I just finished it,” Ty said. It had taken longer to compose than he’d planned, both with starting his new job at the magazine and the multitude of other tasks requiring his attention, and because the article had turned out twice as long. “It’ll run in the January issue.”
“I look forward to reading it.”
Lindsey’s attention appeared to waver. Trying to reel her back in, Ty said, “We’re putting her on the cover. We need to get her photo shoot completed, and the sooner the better.”
“Well, if you’ll both excuse me,” she said. “I think I’m going to check out the book section.”
“Hey, that’s a great idea,” Mick said. “You should write a book about K2. A woman’s perspective is always a great angle.”
Looking tense, she said, “That’s a thought.” She shifted her gaze to Ty. “I’ll catch up with you later.”
As Ty nodded, she turned and disappeared into the crowd.
Mick’s countenance became serious. “Is she having trouble?”
“What do you mean?”
“With what happened.”
Frowning, Ty didn’t respond.
“On K2,” Mick added.
Was that it? Was Lindsey having some sort of delayed response to their expedition? After leaving the summit, she’d been hit by an avalanche just below the Bottleneck, the most dangerous and technical spot on the mountain. For nearly twenty-four hours, Ty had thought she was dead. It was an ordeal he had put into a box while writing about it for the magazine, since he really didn’t want to relive it in all its raw glory.
But if he was avoiding remembering too deeply, then what was Lindsey going through? She hadn’t ever mentioned being upset—in fact, she didn’t speak of it at all.
He could kick himself for not realizing that she was struggling. How could she not? She’d nearly died on K2, the same mountain that had killed her sister more than two years ago. She’d returned to the States recovering from a dislocated shoulder and frostbite on her left hand and both of her feet. It had been an effort for her to resume her studies, as well as her work on genetic profiling of jumping genes.
“Maybe you’re right,” Ty said thoughtfully.
* * *
Lindsey walked aimlessly past rows of tables with reps for various types of mountain gear—backpacks, water pouches, freeze-dried food, workout wear, climbing gear, skis, thermoses, film and camera equipment. Then there were booths featuring hotels, resorts, and touring companies that catered to the outdoor enthusiast. Normally, she’d indulge herself and grab whatever freebies were being offered, stuffing the satchel hanging off her shoulder full of goodies, but today she couldn’t muster much interest.
She and her sister, Alison, had often attended such gatherings back when they were regularly climbing big mountains. They had needed sponsorship to keep their names out there, to have enough money to keep doing what they were doing, and these types of events were the perfect place to make contacts.
But Alison was gone, and these days Lindsey didn’t really care if she had sponsorship or not.
She entered the area that had been partitioned off for media—filled with displays by film companies, publishers, and individual authors pushing their books. She had asked Ty why his brother, Alec, wasn’t here, since he owned and operated Galloway Films. Ty had said the trade show was centered more around mountains, whereas Alec’s expertise was in underwater filmmaking.
As Lindsey took a spin around the room, Mick Dooley’s offhanded comment echoed in her head. You should write a book about K2.
Although she did technical writing as part of her genetic research, she hadn’t written anything along the lines of a memoir, which was basically what Dooley had been suggesting, making her far from qualified. So why then was the idea beginning to fill her head with an incessant buzz, as if a swarm of bees were hovering by her ears?
She spied a woman sitting behind a table piled with books, and Lindsey did a double-take.
It can’t be.
As she walked closer, she realized that it very well could be.
Elena Rossi—Italian mountaineer, sub-par climber, and general thorn in Lindsey’s side—was smiling and chatting with two men off to the left. Lindsey sidled up from the right to see what the hell Rossi could possibly be peddling. The cover of the books in a stack read: My Life in the Mountains by Elena Rossi. Lindsey picked up a copy of the hardback book and flipped it over to see a dark-haired Elena grinning from atop a mountain somewhere.
“Lindsey!” Elena exclaimed when she caught sight of her.
“You wrote a book?” Lindsey couldn’t hide the disbelief in her voice as she set the text back on the pile. She and Elena had been on K2 together three months ago, not by choice, as far as Lindsey was concerned. On top of the fact that Elena had been part of one mishap after another—knocking Lindsey off the Black Pyramid when the woman clipped onto the wrong rope above her, or misreading medical signs from a teammate who later died—Lindsey had been forced to save her when she had gotten herself stuck near the summit, although it had been another American team consisting of Dan Beck, Artie Gillespie, and Jasper Jones who had ultimately saved her life by taking her back to Base Camp. And after all that, the woman had shown little gratitude, despite the many people who had risked their own hides to get her down.
To top it off, Lindsey had spent two weeks at a military hospital in Skardu, Pakistan, with Elena after they had left K2. Never, in all that time, had Elena ever mentioned writing a book.
“I did,” Elena responded, her words clipped with an Italian accent. “I’m on a book tour.” She practically beamed with pride.
“But this is a trade show.”
“I’m trying to interest magazines and newspapers into reviewing and featuring the book. Is your boyfriend here? I heard he’s a boss now at Mountaineer.” The woman looked expectantly at Lindsey.
Lindsey didn’t speak, uncertain if she could stuff down the swear words crowding the tip of her tongue.
Elena handed her a book. “Can you give this to him?” Then she added, “That will be twenty-five American dollars.”
“What?” The word escaped Lindsey’s mouth on a puff of hot breath. If only she were a dragon—she’d spew flames and annihilate the table, the books, and Elena in one fell swoop. Stunned clear to her toes, Lindsey looked down at the copy in her hand.
Why in the hell would I pay you for what is certain to be a pile of horseshit?
“When did you have time to write a book? And why didn’t you ever mention it when we were camped at K2?”
Elena gave a wave of her hand. “I didn’t want to hog the spotlight. That is not my way.”
“And besides,” Elena continued, “it was still being translated. I did not know when it would be ready. But look,” she said, smiling. “You are here. Now you can have Ty Galloway read it. Tell him I would love to be on the cover of his magazine.”
Stunned by the sheer audacity of the woman, Lindsey had no witty comeback.
Years ago, she and Alison had scuffled with Elena and her partner while climbing remote Cerro Torre in Argentina. Elena had complained to the Alpine Climbing Club that Lindsey and Alison had interfered with her climb, which was resoundingly untrue. While the club had agreed that there had been no interference, they also never sanctioned Elena or her partner. It had been a stalemate, leaving a bitter taste in Lindsey’s mouth, much like the one forming now.
I’m gonna have to read this pile of horseshit.
It would be the only way to find out whether Lindsey would need to sue the woman for libel.
With deep disgust, she dug out her wallet from her satchel and paid for the damned thing.
“Lindsey Coulson?” a man said from behind her.
She turned and faced an older gentleman a bit shorter than her with a shock of white hair. “Yes?”
He smiled, his face weathered from obviously spending a lot of time outdoors, his blue eyes bright. “I’m Timmy O’Dell,” he said, shaking her hand. “I knew your dad.”
Copyright © 2019 K. McCaffrey LLC