Emily in Paris meets Eco-tourism in Costa Rica.
NYC fashion blogger, Camille Caldwell, gets offered a dream job by her favorite magazine. They’re going to send her on an all-expenses paid eco-trip to Costa Rica. She doesn’t know what that means, but she assumes she’ll wear fabulous clothes, sip Piña Coladas on the beach, and have her photo taken “out in nature.” Really, the hardest part of the assignment will be giving up social media while she’s gone.
Going off social media is no big deal for London-based wildlife photographer, Adam Lloyd. The only reason he even has an account is to share his photos with the world. He’s thrilled when an international publication wants to hire him, until he finds out it’s a fashion magazine. He decides to take the job anyway—after all, it will be great for his portfolio. But the minute he sees Camille, he knows it was a mistake. She has too much luggage, is too high maintenance, and way too pretty.
When they meet, their feelings are mutual—they hate each other. Can these two stop fighting long enough to complete their assignment? Will Camille give up and go home when she discovers there’s nowhere to plug in her hair straightener?
Or will they both realize that sometimes you have to go off the grid to find yourself?
Release date: February 28, 2020
Publisher: Swoonworthy Books
Print pages: 354
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Girl off the Grid
“Morning, sunshine,” my best friend and roommate, Lexington Archibald says, waking me up by flicking on the overhead light. I pull the covers up over my head.
“Lexi, what time is it?” I mumble.
“It’s time for you to get up and help me! Today is the first day of my internship. I have to look perfect! Will you curl my hair into those bouncy curls you did the video on last week?” A heavenly scent fills the air. “I come bearing sustenance.”
I throw the covers back to find Lexi sitting on the corner of my bed, coffee in hand. “Bribery will get you everywhere,” I tease, taking the cup and inhaling the wonderful aroma. “I can’t believe you are so chipper this morning. What time did you get home?”
“Like three,” she says. “Probably not the best idea to go clubbing the night before my first day, but whatever,” she says with a wave of her perfectly polished fingers. “After a week vacationing with my parents, who did nothing but argue about who was going to get the Montauk house in the divorce, I needed to let loose.” She takes a seat at my vintage dressing table. It’s where I shoot most of the hair and makeup tutorials for my blog and YouTube channel, Effortlessly Camille. “You’re lucky that your parents understand your need to be creative and do your own thing and aren’t always harping on you to get a j.o.b.”
“My parents only understand because my blog generates enough money for me to afford my share of the rent and not rely on them too much for spending money.” I smile at her, hoping to brighten her mood. “You should be excited about your internship, Lex. You’re going to be working for the Vera Wang. I bet you’ll get loads of free designer samples. I’m totally jealous.”
She rolls her eyes at me. “I have to be there every day at 8 am, and more than likely, I will do nothing but fetch people coffee.”
“You’ll be in her design studio. You’ll learn so much,” I counter.
“Maybe,” she says, slurping her coffee. “It’s just so early. I should be spending the summers like I usually do, champagne sipping, hottie watching, and shopping.” Lexington and I first met freshman year of high school at the all-girls private school we attended when she commented on the vintage brooch I had pinned onto my uniform blazer in an attempt to make it a little less ordinary. Even though we couldn’t be more different, we share a love for all things fashion. Her father comes from old money, but the money her parents give her always seems to have strings attached. They expect her to excel at everything she does, while my parents expect me to do well in school, but want me to find my own way in life. My parents are wonderful and supportive, but their lives seem somewhat boring to me. My dad sells insurance. Lexington’s father manages a hedge fund at the investment firm his grandfather founded, and her mother lunches and buys couture fashion. And I’m sure the amount of money Lexington’s mother spends with Vera allowed the summer internship to happen. You’d think Lexi would be grateful for such an opportunity, but instead she feels pushed into it.
“Are you at least a little excited? I applied for a lot of marketing, fashion, and journalism internships and most companies didn’t even bother to send me a rejection letter,” I tell her, hoping my excitement for her is contagious as I get up and plug in my curling wand.
“Maybe if I knew what to expect, I would be. I’m just jealous of your freedom. I should have started blogging when you did.” She gives me a smirk as I start working on creating the perfect curl. “Of course, I’m too shallow for all that. You try to help people. I just want a bunch of people to think I’m fabulous.”
“You are fabulous. And you’re going to do amazing. I’ll probably be bored.”
“Doubtful. What are you doing today?”
“I want to do something different for the blog this summer. I thought I’d go to the art museum and hit a few vintage stores, looking for inspiration.”
“If I were you, I’d be smoking on the steps of the Met and watching the hotties play soccer in the park. I saw Jake last night,” she says, mentioning my high school boyfriend. “He was looking good.”
“Looking good was never a problem for Jake. Finding something to talk about with him was a little more difficult.”
“Oh, rubbish,” she says. She’s been watching the Housewives of London lately and has started tossing British slang into her vocabulary. “Jake is at Columbia. He’s smart.”
“Please. He pays someone to do his homework for him.”
“Nothing wrong with delegating,” she counters.
I finish curling her last strand of hair, carefully use balm to remove any stray frizz, and then brush the curls out.
“Oh, Cammie, you are a genius. I look amazing!”
“What are you going to wear?” I ask her.
“I don’t know. Come help me decide.”
After twenty minutes of trying on outfits, she dashes out of the apartment with the promise to text me all day. I pull my hair back, create a messy braid, throw on a pair of skinny jeans, ballet flats, a white t-shirt, and the Burberry scarf my mom got me for Christmas, and am contemplating searching for cute wallpaper to hang behind my dressing table when my phone rings.
I glance at it, noticing the New York City area code and answer absentmindedly.
“This is Camille,” I say with a slight edge to my voice.
“Camille, this is Lacey Malone, assistant to Janet Hall, editor of Fashion Forward,” a polished voice says. “Please hold.”
“What—” I start to say, a million questions immediately running through my head.
“My apologies. Janet would like to set up a meeting. Would today at two o’clock work for you?”
The editor of one of my favorite fashion magazines wants to meet with me? “Uh, yeah, sure,” I stutter. I regain a bit of composure. “May I ask what the meeting will be about?”
“To talk about your blog—Effortlessly Camille. That’s you, correct?”
“Yes, that’s me. Two o’clock sounds great.”
“Perfect.” She recites an address. “Just give the doorman your name, and he will send you up. Have a pleasant day.”
“Uh, you, too.”
I hang up the phone wondering what just happened. Fashion Forward isn’t quite in the league of Vogue or Cosmopolitan but anyone interested in fashion follows them. And they just called me?
I stand up and scream happily. Then have a moment of panic. I only have four hours to get ready.
A doorman greets me by name and sends me up to the eighteenth floor, where I’m welcomed by Janet’s assistant.
“We spoke briefly on the phone,” she reminds me. She doesn’t look much older than me.
“So, you’re her assistant. How did you get so lucky?”
“I was an intern straight out of college and have worked my way up. I’m hoping eventually to have my own column. I should tell you, I’m a big fan of yours. I’ve been following your blog for a few years. I love how you mix vintage and mass market brands with designer pieces.”
I can’t help but break out into a huge grin. I feel like I’ve come home. “Thank you so much. I have to say, your call was a surprise. Do you know why Janet wanted to see me?”
“No one does. She asked for a list of up-and-coming bloggers the day she got back from vacation. I don’t know where she went exactly, but she’s acting very different and says she was enlightened.”
“Yes. She showed up yesterday in a yoga outfit. The whole office freaked.”
My eyes go wide with surprise.
“Don’t worry. She changed, thank God. But everyone thinks she’s cracked. Anyways, follow me.” Oh, fantastic.
She leads me down a hall of glass. My head is on a swivel, trying to take in all the racks of clothing sprawled everywhere. Design boards, fabric swatches, and samples dot the large meeting rooms we pass. Everyone around me is buzzing to and from, and I can feel the pulse of the office’s life. The chaos is mesmerizing.
“Okay, here we are,” she says, depositing me in front of a gleaming black lacquer door. “Just knock.”
I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and tap on the door.
“Come in,” a silky voice says. As I open the door, I get a glimpse of the famous Janet Hall. She’s sitting behind a deep navy polished desk, her fingers moving quickly across a keyboard. Windows run across one full wall, and the other three are wallpapered in a grey metallic leaf pattern. Her sleek silver-white hair is pulled back into a tight ponytail and contrasts against her bohemian dress. She swivels her chair, picking up some design boards resting against the bookshelf behind her desk, and stands with the boards in one hand, extending the other toward me.
“Camille, my name is Janet. Thank you for coming in so quickly,” she says warmly as she shakes my hand and then moves from behind her desk to an all-glass conference table situated in the far corner of her large office. She drops the boards on the table and gestures for me to sit.
“It’s such an honor to meet you, Janet,” I barely get out, completely taken aback by both Janet and her office. For someone who has a reputation for being cold and harsh, she oozes kindness.
“I’ve had the pleasure of watching some of your videos. Congratulations on your success. You’ve become quite the internet sensation.”
“Uh, thank you,” I say, sucking up the praise. Because, oh my goodness.
“You have a large number of social media followers and most of your videos have hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of views. How did you achieve this at such a young age?”
“It’s not something I set out to do. I just love fashion and like talking to and connecting with people. But I’ve always taken it very seriously and post regularly, so I don’t disappoint my viewers.”
“Well, I think your commitment to them is inspiring. And it has paid off, which leads me to why I asked you here. I want to offer you a job.”
At her words, my mouth drops open, and I let out a small gasp. “Are you serious?”
“Very, my dear. We want you to write an article for our magazine that will be featured this summer. We love your presence, your fashion sense, and your reliability, but what we need is your audience. Our magazine is looking toward a new demographic. Most teen magazines are geared toward tweens rather than teens, and most fashion magazines target women. There is a niche for young adults that needs to be filled, and that is what I’m trying to do with Fashion Forward. We are in the process of rebranding the magazine, because I want to create something new and different. This magazine is going to be for young women who are paving their own way, who are discovering their place in this world, and what exactly that means. Girls just like you,” she says, smiling at me.
“Wow. It sounds like you’re going to be making some big changes, and I’m so pleased you want me to be a part of them. May I ask what inspired this rebranding?”
“To be honest, I did. I was feeling dull and uninspired, so I took a short sabbatical and had a spiritual awakening. You young people are the future, and I want to inspire you to create a better future for our world. I want to do more than style the young women of the world, I want to help shape them.”
“That sounds like a great goal. It must have been a life-changing trip.”
“I’m glad you agree, because that’s exactly what we want to send you to do,” she says, flipping over her design boards. They’re covered in tropical prints and patterns, photos of girls hiking and meditating. There’s a photo of a girl swimming beside a fish and of a lush tropical landscape. “If you agree, we want to send you on an eco-tourism trip to Costa Rica. You will get to go on fun adventures, have new experiences, and learn about the culture, all while showing a greener side to our new audience. What do you think?”
“I think I’d love to.” I try not to screech out my answer. “But I would need a little more information,” I say, trying to be rational, which is hard because I can already picture myself lying under a palm tree, getting some sun, and sipping on a Piña Colada.
“Of course, dear,” she says, her face lighting up with my answer. “I’m just going to lay my thoughts out for you. I really want this article to showcase your personal growth, the beauty of the natural Costa Rican landscape, how we can learn to be more sustainable and eco-friendly, and fashion, of course.” I nod, trying to absorb everything she’s saying, but I feel like I’m lost in a dream. I can’t even believe this is happening to me. Not only are they sending me on this amazing trip, but I get to publish an article in their magazine. I bring my focus back to Janet. “As far as my expectations go, each day I want you to upload a video journal entry of how your day went, along with any factual notes you took that day.”
“Why a video journal?” I ask curiously.
“The main reason is because it will allow you to remember exactly how you were feeling at the time. Sometimes when you get home from an experience like this, you only focus on the good and not the challenges. We want your article to be authentic and organic. Once you are back, we’ll shuffle through them to help us decide the approach you will take for your article.”
“That sounds great. My fans are going to die seeing all the photos from this gorgeous location.”
“Speaking of that, there are going to be a few rules. The first is no social media.”
“Why on earth not?” I blurt out. Then I blush, feeling embarrassed by my outburst.
“I really want you to get the full experience while you’re there. That means full emersion and no distractions. That also means not taking your phone and no calls back home, to anyone. I want whatever emotions you’re going through, including homesickness, to be documented on the videos. Your tour guide will be in contact with us, and we will notify family of any issues. If you are okay with those two things, almost everything else will be taken care of by us. We will provide you with flights, a tour guide, and your own photographer. You’ll get an authentic experience, which is the most important thing.”
“I get my own personal photographer?” I ask hesitantly, making sure I heard her correctly.
“Yes,” Janet replies, a wide grin forming across her face.
“When do I leave?”
“A week from today.”
I leave the office practically floating. Carrying a large packet of information that Janet gave me to look over, all I can think about is that I have only one week to prepare. I make my way through the crowds of people in Times Square then back to my apartment. Plopping down onto our tufted purple couch in the living room, I call my mom and set up dinner plans with her and dad. Although I’m dying to blurt out my news, I want to tell them in person. I lean back onto a sequined heart pillow and open up the manila envelope, flipping through all the papers within it. There are bold titles with things like safety, itinerary, contract, expectations, and background, but my eyes stop on one page specifically, the packing list. I scan the list, taking in the recommendations. As soon as Lexi gets home, we’re going to have to make a shopping list, so I know what I need to purchase this week. I go to my small walk-in closet and run my fingers across silky textures searching for things that scream tropical and fashion magazine. Excitement bubbles in my stomach, and I prance over to my computer, flipping it open. I’m sure my parents are going to have a lot of questions, so I might as well find out a little background information.
I open my browser, typing Costa Rica in the search box.
Costa Rica is a Central American country with coastlines on the Pacific and the Caribbean. Its capital is San José, and it is known for its volcanoes, beaches, and biodiversity. A fourth of its land is protected, which is home to the famous quetzal bird and the spider monkey. Costa Rica is also the location of nesting beaches for numerous sea turtle species.
I decide to advance my search, pulling out the itinerary, and a funny name catches my attention—manatee. I type in the word alongside Costa Rica.
Marine mammals found in tropical warm waters. Solitary animals which typically eat aquatic plants.
An image pops up, and it’s probably the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. It’s a large, round bodied creature with little flippers on both sides of its body. It reminds me of a cow, and it even has little whiskers. I let out a small coo just thinking about being able to see one in person. The rest of the afternoon I spend on Polyvore designing the perfect outfits for each and every day of my trip.
I glance at the clock and notice it’s time to go meet my parents. I grab my adorable fringed Chloe mini bag and rush out of my apartment, hoping I won’t be too late.
Walking into my parents’ house, I hang my bag on the large coat rack in the entry and make my way to the kitchen.
“Sweetie,” my mum says, greeting me with a hug.
“Hey, Mum.” I hug her back then sit down on a barstool and watch as she shuffles around in the open kitchen, grabbing spices from the rack to season the large spread of vegetables laid out on the island.
“From Dad’s garden?” I ask, picking up a small carrot and examining it.
“Yes. Your father is out back, and he keeps bringing in more and more. I swear, his garden never stops growing. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it all,” she complains as she dices a carrot. “Why don’t you go out there and distract him.”
I stand up, almost hitting my head on the pot rack, and duck out back to find my father.
“Hey, Dad,” I call out. The crisp air instantly hits me, and I take in my father’s ever-growing garden as well as the beautiful flowers he has planted alongside the fence.
“It’s about time you got here, Adam,” he says, rising from the ground to pull me into a hug even though his hands are covered in dirt.
“So, what was so important that you had to tell me in person?” I question. More than likely, he and Mum are going off on another adventure. My dad is the world-renowned photographer, Oliver Lloyd, and my mum, Lara, is a professor of anthropology. Throughout my life, we’ve been off living somewhere else more than we’ve been at our home in Oxford.
Dad’s eyes light up with excitement as he brushes off his hands, grabs a basket full of vegetables, and says, “Let’s go inside.”
I follow him back into the kitchen and plop down on a barstool, waiting to hear the news.
“Go on, Oliver, tell him,” my mum encourages.
“I think I’ve got you an assignment.” His eyes sparkle while he waits for my reaction.
“Really? What will I be doing?” I question, excitement rolling through my body.
“It’s actually pretty interesting. It’s an eco-trip for a magazine.”
“No way!” I can barely believe this. It’s like a dream come true. Maybe it’s National Geographic or Conde Nast. “Which one?”
“Fashion Forward,” are the words that come tumbling out of his mouth. I glance at my mum, wondering if this is some kind of joke.
“Dad? I’m a wildlife photographer.” I look down at my baggy shorts and retro tee. “I don’t do fashion.”
“You really could use a haircut,” my mum teases.
My dad holds up his hands. “Just hear me out. I had a delightful conversation with the editor, Janet Hall. She just got back from a spiritually enlightening trip, and she has committed to making Fashion Forward a more eco-friendly magazine. They have a new target market, and she wants to make an impact on our future generation by educating them about the world. She wants you to go to Costa Rica.”
“So, what exactly is the piece about? Travel?” I ask, still confused.
“A combination of travel and sustainability. They chose a young fashion blogger to go on the trip. She’ll be writing an article for the magazine about her experience. You will join her on the trip and take the photos that will accompany her story. Look, don’t be prejudiced against the magazine because of its name. It’s got a strong readership and is distributed in both the US and the UK. Although the focus is not specifically on the environment and animals, those things will be a big part of the trip. This will help you get your name out there. It’s a great opportunity. You’ll get experience and show that you can work well with large publications and fulfill your contracts.”
I rub my hand across my eyebrow then back through my hair. Because Fashion Forward? That’s the magazine teen girls read on the Tube. No thank you.
My father is still trying to prove his point. “Doing well as a professional photographer is more than just being good at taking pictures. You can’t start out shooting for National Geographic. You have to work up to that.”
“I understand that. But this just isn’t the direction I want my career to take. I know it would be experience, but I don’t want to shoot for a company called Fashion Forward. I want to do work that matters. I want to be able to make a difference—allow people to see and experience things that they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to do.”
“This company is changing how they do things, and you should want to be a part of that. Did you know that the parent corporation of Fashion Forward also owns three successful international travel magazines? This will allow you to show what you can do and expand your portfolio. And who knows, maybe you’ll make a difference in ways you never expected.”
“Listen to your father, sweetie,” Mum says. “He went through this when he was first starting his own photography career. You should take his advice.”
“Why me?” I ask, wondering how Fashion Forward even found me.
“The editor posted on a photography group that I’m in about what she planned. I took the liberty of giving her a call and sending her your portfolio. She loved your work. And it’s only a week. If you’re open to it, you need to call her to finalize the details.”
“You really think this is a good idea?” I ask my parents. I trust them, and they always give me sound advice. So even though my gut is telling me working for a fashion magazine is a ridiculous idea, I know I should listen.
“Absolutely,” they say in unison.
“Alright, then.” I hold my hands up in defeat as Dad slides me a slip of paper with the editor’s name and phone number on it.
“Let’s see,” Mum says, “it’s past working hours here, but it’s earlier in New York. Give her a call now.”
I go into the living room, so at least I can have a little privacy, and make the call. I’m very quickly transferred from the editor’s assistant to the editor, herself.
“Janet, hello, this is Adam, Oliver Lloyd’s son. He spoke to me about the employment opportunity with your magazine.”
“Adam, I’m so pleased to hear from you.”
“I was hoping to find out a little more about the assignment,” I say, trying my best to sound professional.
“We will be teaming you up with a fashion blogger and YouTuber named Camille Caldwell. She has a large following and is based out of New York. You will go on an eco-trip that involves activities ranging from visiting a hot spring to hiking a volcano. While you will be photographing much of the landscape and scenery, I also want you to showcase Camille’s personal journey. Is this something you’d be interested in?” I think about it for a moment. The thought crosses my mind to just say no and hang up, but I know my dad is right. It is a great opportunity.
“Yes, it is.”
“Wonderful,” she says. “I will email you all the information. Oh, and you leave in a week.”
I hang up and wander back into the kitchen. My dad is sautéing vegetables on the stove while my mum puts bread into the oven.
“Well?” she questions.
“I’m going,” I say, plastering a smile onto my face. “I’ll be following around a blogger named Camille for a week. Apparently, she’s got quite the following in the States.”
“Why don’t you look her up?” Mum suggests, grabbing her laptop out of her bag and sliding it over to me.
I figure a little research can’t hurt, so I type her name into the search box then scroll through her video channel, stopping to listen to a few of her videos.
And I don’t like what I see.
“Oh, Dad. No. There is no way I can do this. Look at this girl,” I say, my voice almost squeaking. “Her most recent videos are The Perfect Summer Outfit, Five Tips For Applying Makeup Like a Pro, and Shopping Haul—Zara, Asos, & H&M. She is the exact opposite of everything I stand for. She’s shallow and conceited. And listen to her. All she seems to be able to talk about is makeup and clothing. Seriously, this cannot be happening to me.” I lie my head dramatically on the island.
“Let me take a look,” Mum says, drying her hands on a dishtowel and watching a video from over my shoulder. “Oh, Adam. She is adorable. Granted, her topics aren’t something that I’m into, but she has good energy, and I’m sure she is very relatable to young girls. She just lights up in her videos, so I’m sure you’ll get some great photos of her. Very spirited. I think I would like her.”
“Spirited? Just look at her. She will never last a week on an eco-trip. She probably has never even stepped barefoot in the grass, let alone gone hiking.”
My dad lets out a chuckle. “No assignment is ever easy, son. But it is an assignment, and at an up-and-coming magazine, no less. You shouldn’t miss out on an opportunity because you’re afraid of this girl.”
“I’m not afraid of her. I just hate everything she embodies, if that’s even possible.” What the heck am I saying? I don’t even know her. I probably shouldn’t judge her so harshly, but still. I can already tell this girl is drama with a capital D. “Well, I guess I’ll consider it a challenge then.”
“That’s the spirit,” Mum says.
“And you never know, this girl might just surprise you,” Dad adds.
I roll my eyes at them. “Somehow, I doubt that.”
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