Nothing like a rocky start between enemy coworkers stuck together on location to prove that love isn't just a ploy for ratings—it's a force of nature.
Alia Dunn has finally gotten her big break. After years of working her way up at TV's top outdoor travel channel, she gets the green light from network executives to bring her dream project to life: produce a series about Utah's national parks. It's a touching tribute to her late apong, who sparked Alia's passion for travel and the outdoors as a kid.
Alia is thrilled—until she meets her newest crew member, Drew Irons. The same Drew she had the most amazing first date with two weeks ago—who then ghosted her. The same Drew who has the most deliciously thick forearms and who loves second-guessing her every move on set in front of the entire crew. It's not long before the tension between them turns hotter than the Utah desert in the dead of summer, and their steamy encounters lead to major feelings.
But when the series host goes rogue one too many times, jeopardizing the entire shoot, Alia realizes that she'll need to organize one hell of a coup to save her show—and she'll need Drew's help to do it. It's the riskiest move she's ever made. If she pulls it off, she'll end up with a hit series and her dream guy . . . but if it all goes wrong, she could lose both.
Release date: September 21, 2021
Print pages: 352
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Sarah Echavarre Smith
I never thought Brie cheese could be so infuriating.
But infuriated is exactly how I feel as I watch the man sitting in front of me in this packed New York City subway car pull a wheel of Brie from his jacket pocket.
He takes noisy, sloppy bites, like he's eating an apple.
I bite back a curse and try not to gag. On any other day, I'd take this scene in stride. This is the subway during a Friday evening commute, after all. Weird stuff is bound to happen, and normally I'd be down to people watch.
But after the day I've had, witnessing a stranger noisily devour a round of soft cheese as I stand one foot away is the last straw. My well of patience is depleted, and I've got no more fucks to give.
"You've got to be freaking kidding me," I mutter to myself, not caring one bit if he hears.
My phone buzzes in my pocket between stations.
Haley: Want me to slash Byron's tires? Just say the word and it's done.
I crack a smile. It's the first time my mouth has curved upward ever since this morning's failed pitch-the reason for my current sour mood.
Me: As long as you're okay with taking the heat. I'm currently on the subway headed home. I don't have the energy to make my way from Brooklyn to Manhattan to bail you out.
Haley: You won't have to. I won't get caught
I chuckle. This text exchange with my coworker and best friend is the perfect distraction.
I glance around the car, packed to the max with commuters eager to get the hell home, just like me. I inhale, then promptly wrinkle my nose at the smell of BO, smoke, urine, and stale fast food.
"This is Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall," the automated voice announces through the speaker system as we shudder to a stop.
The doors fly open and a wave of people push their way onto the car while a handful try to walk out. I close my eyes and sigh. Every. Single. Time. Everyone knows that you're supposed to let people get off the train first before you walk on. It's such a simple rule.
But this city is riddled with rule breakers. Like the Brie cheese guy, who is now eating a giant, smelly egg salad sandwich and washing it down with a can of beer. He lets out a loud belch that doesn't seem to faze anyone else sitting or standing in this packed-to-the-brim car.
I hold in a groan. Isn't it enough that we're permitted to consume food on crowded mass transportation? Why does he have to eat one of the stinkiest foods imaginable and drink alcohol? I'm in the mood to guzzle copious amounts of liquor after the day I've had, but I'm not about to down a bottle of whiskey on the subway.
I wonder if network executive Byron would think that's risky enough-openly consuming alcohol on the subway in direct defiance of mass-transit policy.
I shake my head and look away, annoyed that I can't seem to shed my awful attitude. But I can't help it. Because today I had a shot at my dream-the dream I've been working toward ever since I graduated college and started working in television. And I lost it. That's why Haley is texting me-to comfort me because she knows just how much this kills.
As someone who works in TV production, I'm used to being disappointed. I've spent my entire career working for Expedition TV, the most popular travel-themed channel on cable. When I started as an intern and production assistant, I worked long hours, often having my ideas shot down because they were too ambitious or because I was too inexperienced. But the disappointment of rejection was easy to brush off, because I got to spend the bulk of my twenties traveling all over the US, working on shows that documented the most beautiful parts of the country. I also learned an important lesson early on: the TV industry isn't for the faint of heart.
If I didn't have it in me to keep trying, keep working hard, keep amassing years of experience while learning the industry ropes, then I wasn't cut out for this business. So that's exactly what I did-for nine years, I slept in tents and cars while on shoots, took countless red-eye flights, pulled all-nighters to rewrite scripts scheduled to shoot the next morning, and rode in rickety puddle-jumper airplanes across rugged terrain to capture their remote beauty. But this was my passion, and I couldn't imagine doing anything else.
It was my dream to work for Expedition when I was a kid. I couldn't get enough of the nature programs about odd-looking animals with cool-sounding names or the shows featuring hosts backpacking all over the world-places I had dreamed of visiting. I watched with wide eyes, dreaming of when I would grow up and make shows like this.
That's how I got to where I am now-a producer for Expedition TV. Today I was as close as I've ever been to making my dream come true: I pitched my very own outdoor series.
It's inspired by a childhood road trip through Utah that I took with my brother and our apong to visit all five national parks in the state. Even now I still remember how awestruck I was at the endless adobe-hued rock formations, the fiery colors of the sand and dirt.
Beautiful, Apong Lita whispered as she held my hand, her smoky topaz eyes wide as she scanned the scenery around her. I've never seen anything like it before. I'm so glad I get to see it with my grandbabies.
I don't think Apong Lita, my brother, or I blinked once the entire two-week trip. There were too many stunning sites: impossibly red cliffs lining the horizon, eye-popping rock formations that could have come straight out of a sci-fi movie, and desert shrubbery that I'd never seen before.
"I want to highlight the national parks in a way they haven't been before," I said this morning to Byron during my pitch. Buzzing with excitement, I described my idea for a twelve-episode series called Discovering Utah. Each episode would follow a host as they explored not only the most popular trails and attractions, but hidden gems in each park as well. Breathtaking shots of the landscape cut with modern music would be the backdrop.
"It would be the ultimate outdoor adventure program," I said.
All Byron did was stare at the paper handout in front of him. It included all the data I could compile on viewership, ratings, and our audience's interest in hiking and national parks, and explained how it related to my series concept. All those numbers, charts, and graphs I put together showed how Discovering Utah was sure to be a hit with viewers.
When he finally looked up at me, an unimpressed frown was all he had to offer. And then he dove into the million reasons why my series could never work.
An overdone concept . . . the national parks are antiquated . . . there's no real hook.
My chest aches recalling how he tossed the papers I printed out for him onto the conference table, like all those months of researching and rehearsing this pitch meant nothing.
"It's a cute idea, Alia," he said while flashing his trademark condescending expression: a raised eyebrow and pursed lips. "But if you want to succeed here at Expedition, you gotta be willing to take risks. This pitch is too safe. And you won't get anywhere in this business if you keep playing it safe."
I release my death grip on the metal pole and shake my hand out, careful not to hit the person next to me in the subway car. I should have known better than to feel optimistic. Byron is notorious for being the hardest sell of all the execs. And his tastes are damn near impossible to discern. He's rejected groundbreaking concepts and given the green light to boring ideas that are canceled after a few episodes.
In the back of my mind, I wonder if I should have pitched my idea for an international travel show that popped into my head years ago. I called it Hidden Gem Island Getaways. I wanted to start in Palawan, my mom and apong's favorite place to visit in the Philippines when they lived there. I grew up hearing them rave about the island's white-sand beaches, emerald lagoons, lush rain forests, and rocky cliffs, and the endless secret coves that were a blast to explore. When I got into TV production, I knew it would be the perfect lesser-known international getaway to highlight. We'd film in other locations in the Pacific that are often overlooked as tourist destinations. It would be more than just a show about pretty beaches, though; with the exposure of Expedition, it would also hopefully bring an influx of tourism and recognition to those lesser-known areas.
Pitching it would have been a long shot . . . but maybe it would have appealed to unpredictable Byron. I'll never know.
I bite the inside of my cheek, devastated that playing it safe cost me my own show.
Maybe if I had just sucked it up and-
"This is Wall Street," the automated voice announces, jolting me back to my evening commute.
The car halts once more, and once more passengers around me exit. A whole new wave of people files in. Everyone moves like a frenzied school of fish, vying for any and all available spaces.
A small elderly lady clutching her purse slowly makes her way near me as the train car lurches forward. I offer a polite smile, then scoot over as much as I can to give her room without body-humping the person behind me.
She reaches for the metal pole next to me but then loses her balance as the car takes a turn. With my free hand, I steady her.
"You all right?" I ask.
She offers a weak smile. "Fine, dear. Thank you."
She manages to grab hold of the pole as the car picks up speed. I gaze around, hoping by some miracle to find a free spot for her to sit, but every single seat is taken by someone in a staring contest with their phone.
I huff out a breath, frustrated. Most of the people sitting are at least half this woman's age, and not a single one of them seems to realize or care that the decent thing for them to do would be to offer their seat to the elderly lady with the cane.
She leans against the pole, frowning. I can't tell if she's tired or in pain.
"I can ask someone who's sitting to trade spots with you," I say to her.
She gazes up at me, her gray eyes behind her glasses hopeful. Then she scans the full seats lining the subway car and her face falls.
"It's all right, dear," she says.
I nod at her. Just then a shadow appears in the corner of my eye.
I look up and see a very tall, very broad, and very handsome bearded stranger approach the elderly lady. "Ma'am, why don't you take my seat?"
Her brow raises as she smiles. "Oh my. Thank you."
The six-foot-plus strapping stranger with an impressive head of golden-brown hair gives her a gentle smile, then leads her with a hand on the arm to sit down.
My heartbeat flutters out of control. This single act of decency performed by a guy who could be the stand-in for Alex O'Loughlin in Hawaii Five-0 is the highlight of my day.
My insides go mushy at the scene of him hunched over, holding her hands to support her as she sits down. A dozen heads turn to take in the visual. This dude. This dude has no idea what a panty-dropping move he just pulled. I fully expect every single person in the vicinity to swarm him like bees to honey the moment he finishes assisting the elderly woman.
For a second I contemplate taking a photo and texting it to Haley. She would definitely appreciate seeing a hottie pulling an aww-inducing move like this one.
And then, like a weirdly timed flashback, Byron's words from earlier echo in my mind.
You gotta be willing to take risks. You won't get anywhere if you keep playing it safe.
I pull my phone out, snap a photo of the hot stranger smiling down at the elderly lady, then post it to my Twitter.
This hottie just gave up his seat to an elderly lady on a crowded subway car #aww #subwaygentleman
I shove my phone back in my pocket.
How's that for taking a risk, Byron?
I deflate when I realize that I'm conducting an imaginary scolding of my boss and that I will likely never have the balls to say any of that out loud to him. How very, very sad.
Closing my eyes, I sigh and take a breath.
"You don't mind that we've traded places, do you?"
My eyes snap open and I'm greeted with the image of the hot and helpful stranger standing next to me in the exact spot where the elderly woman was just a minute before. He displays a heart-melting half smile.
I offer a flustered smile at him in return. "Not at all."
He nods once at me before checking something on his phone. It's a few seconds before I realize I'm staring at his deliciously thick neck. I quickly look down at my shoes and silently admonish myself for gawking at him. It's rude to stare at someone you don't know like they're a dish you're dying to taste.
You gotta be willing to take risks.
The words tumble in my head once more. Byron may be a jerk, but I bet he's never too shy or intimidated to talk to anyone. He walks into every room like he owns it, even though he spends most of his days playing solitaire on his office computer and is still employed only because his dad started Expedition TV years ago.
If someone as unqualified and untalented as Byron has zero problem taking risks, I shouldn't either.
So I swallow back all the nerves that typically swirl through me when I'm chatting with a hot guy. I wouldn't normally ever think to flirt with someone on the subway. But it's time to take a risk.
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