by Katherine Rupley
Ex-US national rock climber Leslie McAllister finally has her life right where she wants it. When she’s asked to accept a new position in Boston, she must decide whether to stay in her comfort zone or take a leap and trust she’s anchored herself well enough to not fall.
Stuntwoman CJ Broadmore has big dreams and a big problem. She needs to learn to climb, and fast, if she wants to do stunt work on a new movie. Enter Leslie McAllister, who not only sparks an attraction, but who may be CJ’s ticket to success.
CJ and Leslie must calculate each step, weigh the risks, and work through their fears as they reach for the top—and toward each other.
FROM THE AUTHOR
"Leslie’s story has been in my head for years and now it’s written in this book. It brings together some of my loves, strong women doing cool things, rock climbing, movies, Joshua Tree National Park, and supportive communities. Before time and wandering attention distracted me, I spent many happy hours in climbing gyms and outside climbing crags. I loved rock climbing because unlike my real life, there was a problem to solve with a beginning, middle, and end. I have so many fond memories of climbing. My first experience climbing was with a group of women camping in Indian Cove, a campground on the north side of the Joshua Tree National Park. I just thought it was going to be a fun weekend but I got my first taste of climbing. First lesson: hiking boots are not the best climbing shoes but are way better than bare feet."
For more on Katherine's thoughts about Calculated Risk read her post on Bella Media.
Leslie shifted her weight to her left foot before carefully reaching for the small blue handhold above her. Grasping the stiff plastic with two fingers and a thumb, she brought her right foot almost level with her hip and placed it over another small blue wedge bolted to the wall. She rocked her hip over her right foot, gracefully stood and slapped the big metal bar that signified the end of the climb.
“Take,” Leslie called, looking down at the woman twenty feet below her on the other end of the rope. There was a rhythm and flow to climbing, a special language of give-and-take between climber and belayer. Leslie respected that precision and stability. Although the risks of a serious fall in a well-lighted, quiet gym were minimal, every climb had its own set of challenges and rewards. She felt the tug on her harness and the rope grew taut. Leaning back from the simulated rock wall into her harness, she allowed herself the feeling of quiet satisfaction. Another puzzle successfully solved.
With quick movements of her wrist and hands, Carrie lowered Leslie to the thick, black rubber mat covering the floor. “You make that look so easy,” she said, looking at the climb Leslie had just completed. “Someday,” she sighed.
Leslie smiled at her tone and wistful statement. Carrie was a recent addition to Zero G’s staff, hired as a junior instructor for kids’ birthday parties in the gym. She had the makings of a good climber but needed to learn to trust her body.
Climbs were rated by their difficulty. Leslie had climbed every one of them, mostly on the first attempt, called “flashing” in climbing parlance. She shook her head as she deftly untied the rope from her harness. “You’ll get there,” she said. “Give yourself some time. You’ve only been climbing for six months.”
“In my mind,” Carrie said, “I see me climbing beautifully. It’s the body that’s caving on me.” She unclipped the carabiner and pulled the rope free of the belay device.
“You’ll get there,” Leslie repeated. “Time for one more belay before I have to leave?” The Los Angeles rock climbing gym was sparsely populated at this time of day. The morning crowd was gone and the lunch group had not yet arrived, so the gym was wide open for exploration.
At Carrie’s nod, Leslie ambled over to check out a route one of the new course setters had put up on the opposite wall. Tom, Zero G’s manager, had been soliciting new people to set routes and had requested that Leslie evaluate the climbs and the difficulty ratings and give him feedback. Good climbs were hard to set. Each route had strengths and weakness. Technique, balance, strength, reach and stamina all combined in different mixes to provide varying challenges to the climber.
Leslie began tying in.
“Have you met Karen, the new route setter?” Carrie asked.
“No, I don’t think so. What does she look like?” Leslie asked, knowing Carrie’s habit of trying to set her up on blind dates.
“She’s intense. Silky hair, dazzling smile, beautiful deep, dark eyes, lovely muscles…someone even you could appreciate. Best of all, she’s family.” Carrie had a speculative look in her eyes.
Leslie was looking at the sticker on the wall that gave the climb name, rating, date set, and setter’s initials, KN. Checking to make sure Carrie had put on her on belay, she called, “On belay?”
“Belay on,” Carrie responded as she tightened up the rope.
Leslie concentrated on the well-marked route, the feel of the simulated rock, the placement of her body and the puzzle to solve. Placing her feet carefully, working her balance, and pulling through smoothly on each hold, she seemed almost to meld with the route. The simulated rock path was deceptive, transitioning from balance moves to a layback which required her to pull with her arms while pushing on the wall with her feet and strength moves to a final dynamic reach at the top. She was breathing heavily by the time she finished. The climb was a good one to end the day with.
“Well,” Carrie said, “don’t you have anything to say about this wonderful new treasure in our community?”
“No. I haven’t seen this new lesbian seventh wonder.” Leslie grinned at Carrie’s overzealous description as she untied the rope connecting her to the climb. “I’ll reserve judgment, although she does set a great climb. What days does she work?”
“No specific days from what I can see,” Carrie said. “She just shows up at odd hours, picks a wall and creates. She’s done some great things over in the bouldering cave, too.”
Carrie enjoyed spreading good news. She was always on the lookout for new blood to expand Zero G’s gay and lesbian climbing population.
“Should I tell Pat to put you on a short leash or are you going to behave?” inquired Leslie.
“I wasn’t looking for myself, but you on the other hand, you’ve been single way too long. When was the last time you went out on a date? Any date?”
“I don’t have time for dating. You know I barely have time to catch a few hours of climbing for myself between the coaching I do for Tom and my graphic design work. I’m happy. So don’t set me up, okay?”
Carrie gave an unenthusiastic nod. “Okay. But for someone so big on climbing, you sure don’t take many risks.”
“I mean it,” said Leslie. “And, for your information, my last date was one you set up for me. You remember Brenda, don’t you?”
Carrie threw up her hands. “Okay, okay. You have no sense of humor.”
“Well, not for magenta hair and pierced everything. Anyway, I’ve got to run. Thanks for the climbing. See you Thursday?”
“Thursday,” Carrie agreed.
As Carrie left, Tom, the owner of Zero G appeared, waving a sheet of paper. “Alex called from Universal Studios and said he’d be sending a couple of actors over for coaching, a duo known as Jack and Jill. They need to know the moves for a new film that’s going into production in February. Right up your alley.”
She pulled the paper from his hand. “Jack and Jill? Okay.”
“Hey, it’s better than kids’ birthday parties.”
That was true. “I’ll call Alex and schedule the times with him.”
CJ pelted down the long corridor, leaping over a jagged hole in the floor as a burning ceiling beam swung toward her. Diving to the floor, she rolled and came up running down a maze of hallways. Her long, blond hair streamed out behind her and a cut on her forehead oozed blood. Explosions rocked the walls around her and the force of the air and debris added momentum to her mad dash. Dust and smoke hanging in the air made breathing difficult but she continued her flight to the door at the end of the corridor where a final explosion and hidden wires picked her up and threw her across the room. As she slid to the floor, she willed her body still even as her heart raced and she gasped from the exertion of the run and the force with which she had hit the wall.
“Cut! Good work, CJ,” Sam Prescott called. “Okay. That’s a wrap for today. People, we’ll start shooting scene twelve tomorrow. Everybody be on time.”
CJ slowly picked herself up. She knew she was going to have a couple new bruises but she was pleased with the “good work” from Sam. He didn’t hand out many compliments but she had hit every mark right on time just as she’d practiced before the explosions and the debris. She had worked on a couple of Sam’s films now and knew that although this last scene would be cut up and close-ups of the actor she was portraying would be spliced in, most of the scene would be her. A nice addition to her demo reel.
As she threaded her way through the soundstage and out the backdoor, she called out greetings to a few friends along the way. She slowed when she heard Sally’s voice behind her.
“Hey, CJ, that was great! Even knowing that last explosion was going to throw you against that wall, you’d never know it from way you ran the line. But your hair is a fright.”
CJ grinned back as she pulled the blond wig off and shook it at Sally. It was hard not to like Sally’s boisterous good humor. They had met in college. Working on several films together had cemented their friendship, although no one could understand why. They were as opposite as opposites could be. CJ was action-oriented with shoulder-length dark hair and a self-contained manner. Sally was short and fair and had a need to get in the first, last, and middle word every time. Their choices in partners were equally diverse. Sally liked her men tall, built and quiet, whereas CJ looked for petite, smart and feminine.
“I didn’t want to have to wear this horse hair any longer than necessary,” CJ said. “I kept thinking it would catch fire and then all the screaming and yelling wouldn’t have been faked.”
“Go easy with that wig or makeup will have your pay docked.”
Sally continued to buzz with local gossip as they wound their way past extra building props to the makeup trailer, where CJ passed in the wig and the prosthetic she had worn for the scene. With some quick words of thanks to Mark and Jim, and an admonition from Jim to be back at five a.m. for the next facial/hair coating for tomorrow’s scene, she started off toward her Ford F250. Her mind already on the scene for the next day, she was only peripherally aware of Sally’s voice.
“…and Smytheson is looking for a stunt person to work on his latest film.”
CJ stopped short; all thoughts of the next day’s work forgotten. Jerry Smytheson was the Hollywood director with a capital “D.” He had numerous box office smashes to his credit, worked with top actors, and was said to be incredibly loyal to those whose work was good and work habits exceptional. The hype was that he was looking for the Oscar that had eluded him thus far. Getting to work for him would add a necessary boost to her career. Yes, she needed to work for someone like Smytheson. She hated auditioning for work, always soliciting, going to parties just to see who she could meet, who she could get her demo reel in front of. Working for Smytheson, especially if she could impress him, would make her a well-known commodity and would have people coming to her. And it moved her one step closer to her goal of having her own stunt company.
Sally’s motor mouth kept moving until she realized she had lost her audience. She stopped and looked at CJ.
“So, what’s the new movie and what’s he looking for?”
“I was wondering what it would take to wake you up,” Sally said. “He’s looking for someone to do climbing stunts. He’s had a script written to John Grice’s book, On the Edge. He’s got Brendon Lewis and Susan Elliot for the leads.”
“Rock climbing,” CJ murmured, pushing her hair behind her ears. “Where can I learn about climbing?”
“Scuttlebutt is that Jerry is sending his people over to Zero G, the climbing gym in Santa Monica, for lessons. You might try there.”
CJ smiled at her friend. Sally might be a chatterbox but she had great hearing and as the producer’s eyes and ears, she heard everything in her work as a producer’s assistant.
As they started once more on the trek through the back lot, Sally resumed her monologue, which now centered on a new arrival. “Jennifer is great,” she said. “You need to meet her.” Sally chattered on, CJ listening with half an ear, as they headed for the trailers. The last thing CJ needed was a romance.
As the title of this review will tell you, it is hard to put this first-time author’s work into a pigeon hole in the standard genre coops, and that alone is reason enough to pick it up. I have never read a book in the lesbian romance genre, nor have I ever been rock climbing. In the context of this story, they work well together. The opening sequence of a start stuntwoman sets the story off with a literal bang and takes the reader through the end seamlessly integrating interesting details of the expertise necessary to be successful at rock climbing and, as equally important, the expertise required to capture the tension and trepidation of rock climbing. Along the way, our main characters evolve and a romance develops that could threaten both endeavors. As a reader, I found the novel to be a quick read and a satisfying story line. I wanted more on the technical aspects of the rock climbing and thought there could have been more in the way of character development, but admittedly, this is a genre with which I had little if any prior experience with and the way it is written may well be the norm. All-in-all, I would buy the book again