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Super-sexy romance with a dash of humor

Excerpt: Completely

CHAPTER 1

Rosemary Chamberlain hadn’t showered in fifty-two days.

She’d counted.

Climbing was a waiting game, and climbing Mount Everest forced patience on those who didn’t have it. But Rosemary had patience in spades. She spent long, indistinguishable mornings huddled in a sleeping bag on the floor of a tent, perched on a shelf between the sky and the long drop, waiting for a break in the weather. Counting.

Twenty-one days since she’d last worn fewer than two pairs of socks, and thirty-seven since she’d seen her own naked body.

Seventeen cracks in the sole of the climbing boot. Five points on the toe cleat that she kicked into the ice.

She put her weight on it, paused, waiting to see if it would hold. She counted the white clouds of her exhalation—two, three, four—and pushed hard to engage her quads. They burned, but that didn’t matter. Her left arm came up, synchronized, and drove the ice ax in.

Above her, the orange blob that was her team’s guide, Indira, beckoned with one arm. She shouted something, but the wind took her words before they could reach Rosemary’s ears. She found a good placement for her left foot, weighted it, counted her breath, straightened her leg, swung her ax.

Three team members ahead. Four behind. If she could just know how many feet remained between her and the summit, she would count them down, but she couldn’t, so she counted everything else.

She’d written six thousand words yesterday. Two thousand competent and chirpy for an article that would appear on a conservationist website in England, four thousand plodding and uninspired on the draft of the first significant piece of her book. She needed to turn it in to her publisher as soon as she’d completed this climb—it was meant to be a magazine article, with the serial rights already sold to a major American outdoor publication—but she knew what she’d written lacked the spark her editor was looking for, the inspiration that would turn Rosemary’s book into a bestseller.

This morning, she’d taken a walk around the perimeter of Base Camp with Indira, speculating about their chances at making the summit. They spotted three birds flying low against the bleak sky, which Indira had told her was a good sign.

Some climbers adopted magical thinking.

Rosemary preferred to count.

Her teammate Anna had three children, four, six, and nine years old. Her husband wanted a divorce. Her husband didn’t understand why Anna couldn’t get a job at a bank and stay home with her family, but Rosemary did.

Anna’s family was for the quiet pauses in between the swings of her ax. The mountain was her life.

Rosemary’s left leg trembled uncontrollably when she leaned into it. She paused to rest and looked out at the alien landscape of snow and ice, bald rock, clear blue sky.

She didn’t know if Everest was her life. She only knew that she’d spent most of her adulthood barely living, then left everything behind to set off down the path that led her here.

Rosemary was the driving force behind organizing a team of British women to climb the Seven Summits—the highest mountains on each of the seven continents, beginning with Everest and then onward to Denali, Elbrus, Kilimanjaro, and the rest. She’d put everything she had on the line to bring her to this moment.

Her heart beat sixty-two times per minute. She was thirty-nine years old, she had two hundred and six bones.

She had one child, a daughter, who barely spoke to her.

She had one marriage, to Winston, who’d released her when she asked him to.

She had one home, in England, but she sold it and bought a cottage where she’d never lived. Now what she had was a bank account fat with pounds sterling and a pack strapped to her back containing nine freeze-dried meals, thirteen energy bars, and five days’ fuel left for her camp stove.

This was her seventh trip through the Khumbu Icefall, her fourth journey to Camp One, where she’d spent five nights acclimatizing already with the other women in her group. If everything went well, it would be their last foray onto the mountain. They would do two nights at Camp Two, push onward to a night at Camp Three, and then a short and fitful attempt to sleep on the South Col before departing for the summit in the wee hours of the morning.

Climbers knew how to wait. They knew how to count, to plan, and to winnow themselves to nothing but gloved hands grasping lengths of rope, lungs sucking air from oxygen canisters, cold feet pushing metal spikes into rivers of ice.

Sheer will.

Rosemary exhaled, long and slow, and counted. One. Two. Three. Four.

She turned back to the ice and climbed.

When she reached the top, she passed Indira to join the others, stomping their feet and keeping their muscles warm as they waited for the stragglers to make it up.

Anna was deep in conversation with one of the Sherpas. Rosemary scanned the group, looking for a friendly face, but she didn’t find one. She stood apart, reluctant to impose herself where she wasn’t wanted.

The other women called her princess behind her back. They felt she hadn’t paid her dues. Her two years’ intense preparation was nothing in comparison to the thousands of hours they’d spent developing their own expertise. Some of them disliked the fact she’d sold a book about the women’s Seven Summits expedition before the climbing even began. They worried Rosemary would use more than her share of resources, that she spent too much time courting media attention and not enough with her head in the game.

The British press called her Lady Diana on the mountain. They’d been only too pleased to run old photographs from their files of Rosemary in a demure suit and pearls, to natter endlessly about her charity work and her manor home and her status as almost-baroness.

They’d made her the blue-eyed, white-blond face of what was meant to be an expedition that celebrated the diversity and power of contemporary British womanhood, and apart from Indira, her teammates resented her for it.

It couldn’t be helped. Rosemary only hoped her status would improve as they bagged one summit after the next. At the end of the day, each woman had to depend on her own body, her own interior resources to power her up the mountain. Rosemary would show them what she could do.

If she lay awake nights wondering whether she could actually do it, she would keep that fear to herself.

She warmed her hands in her armpits. Anna and the Sherpa man had stepped to the edge of the cliff to look over the icefall. Anna spoke animatedly, waving her arms, then walked away, shaking her head.

“Bloody Doctor Doom,” she said as she approached.

“Pardon?”

She jerked her head toward the man she’d been speaking with. “That’s what they call him. Mad bastard.”

Rosemary edged closer to her teammates. “What did he say?”

“He says the icefall isn’t safe and we should go home.”

The Khumbu Icefall was the chute every climber had to pass through to make it from Base Camp to Everest proper. It was live glacier, actively shifting and changing from one year to the next, so dangerous that the international climbing community left it in charge of the Sherpa “ice doctors.” It was the job of these experienced and seasoned Nepalese men to identify a safe passage, fix ropes, and lash in place the dozens of metal ladders that made it possible for the fee-paying climbers to move efficiently up ice cliffs and over crevasses.

The first time Rosemary had come through, she’d had to remind herself again and again that yes, it was true, many climbers died in the icefall. They died when the massive seracs broke loose and shattered, releasing tons of potential energy. They died in avalanches. They broke arms or legs, or they collapsed from the accumulated effects of altitude illness.

Death could come for her on Everest. It had come for many others.

But one did not die traversing an aluminum ladder over a fathoms-deep crevasse in metal-tipped boots, with ropes to hold on to. One found the experience revolting in every way. One privately, deeply, and without reservation hated it. But one did not die.

Probably.

“Does he think the weather’s going to turn?” Rosemary asked.

“He says the route isn’t safe, there’s too many people on the mountain, the mountain isn’t happy, you name it. The upshot is, everyone should call it a day.” Anna shook her head. “I’m trying to maintain my summit frame of mind here. I don’t need his bad energy messing with my good vibes.”

Rosemary glanced at the man. He wore a red jacket. He was taller than the other Sherpas. She’d seen him around Base Camp and knew he was one of the ice doctors, and that he spoke perfect English with an American accent. She thought he might have helped her onto one of the ladders on a previous passage, but she couldn’t be certain.

“He’s always this way,” Aisling said. She had attempted Everest twice previously but never made it to the summit. “Comes back every year, works the icefall, tells everyone who will listen they shouldn’t be climbing.”

“You’d think another line of work might suit him better.” Rosemary said it with a smile, but no one smiled back.

Right. Jobs on Everest were more lucrative by far than any other form of employment available to the Sherpa people. To be an icefall doctor was to possess a high-status job in poverty-stricken Nepal. Her joke had been in poor taste. “I only meant—”

“His father was Merlin Beckett,” Aisling said. “And his mother—”

“That’s Yangchen Beckett’s son?”

“Yep.”

Rosemary turned to look at the man again, astounded.

Sixteen years had passed since Yangchen Beckett became the first Nepalese woman to reach the peak of Everest and return alive. In total, she’d summited seven times—more than any other woman—and become a controversial subject in the small world of elite mountaineering.

Shortly after her most recent summit, an article had appeared on one of the online climbing websites depicting Yangchen as a sinister figure: a talented young climber, she’d become a battered wife whose husband didn’t allow her above Base Camp. Yangchen and Merlin Beckett had taken their domestic strife to the slopes of Everest, where, according to the writer, Yangchen cracked Merlin Beckett’s head open with a rock and left his body to cool while she climbed to the top of Everest to claim her first summit.

The article cast doubt on Yangchen’s sanity and the truth of her claim to having summited so many times—doubt that others were only too delighted to amplify. But Rosemary wasn’t convinced there was anything to it. The writer cited unnamed sources and offered little hard evidence.

Yangchen herself had never given an interview.

Now, standing so close to the woman’s son, Rosemary could only think how fantastic it would be to get the inside scoop on Yangchen Beckett. There had to be a story there, a real story more interesting than the penny dreadful gossip the article had inspired.

It was too bad she hadn’t learned of Doctor Doom’s background at Base Camp. She didn’t know when or if she’d see him again.

Indira touched her arm. “You ready?”

She whipped around to see Anna preparing to lead the next push.

Rosemary’s heart pumped a wash of dread through her veins, and she took a deep breath. It would be a long and exhausting day, followed by a night spent in thin air, shivering behind the thin walls of their tents, lucky if they could sleep even fitfully.

Then more climbing. More shivering. More climbing. Hours to endure, one breath at a time. One step after the next. Thousands of footfalls to count.

She’d wanted to climb Everest since she was a girl. At twenty, she’d told her boyfriend—later her husband—that it was the first thing of consequence she’d do with her life after university. I’m going to climb Mount Everest and write a book about it.

Pregnancy had stopped her. Marriage had stopped her. Or, she supposed, she’d stopped herself, using motherhood and marriage as an excuse not to live her life.

No more.

This was her adventure, years in the planning, month after month of relentless hard work. Rosemary would screw her courage to the sticking post, test the outermost limits of her mind and body, and find, deep inside herself, the woman she’d always been meant to be.

This wasn’t the moment to think about her book. This was the moment to have the experiences that would give her something to write about.

Smiling, she turned her face toward the mountain. “I’m ready.”

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