"I can't believe this is happening right now," Lilly moaned and groaned from the couch. "Right now?" she lamented, cursing her booted foot propped up on the coffee table.
Veronica had been listening to Lilly go on and on for the past twenty-four hours, so she wasn't surprised. Nor was she particularly sympathetic. This all affected her also. She was the one who was going to have to turn her whole life around to fix this.
"Well, next time maybe don't dance on a tabletop drunk, Lil," she told Lilly. She felt bad for her friend. Kind of. Not really.
"I've got it," Lilly complained. "I know. I know."
Sure you do, Veronica responded silently. Just like all the other times.
"Oh, here. They wrote back!" Lilly said, moving her booted foot off the table and sitting up straight to pay attention to reading her phone.
A lump of anxiety balled itself in Veronica's throat. Neither outcome was ideal, so she didn't know what she wanted them to say. Lilly was reading so slowly that Veronica wanted to shake her.
"And…" Veronica prompted.
A smile broke out over Lilly's face. "They said yes. They reviewed your PR work for Dick Casablancas. And were quite impressed ." Lilly sang the last two words like an operatic aria. She paused to scan the rest. "You're in."
Veronica released the breath she'd been holding. She was going to have to save both their butts this time, while Lilly sat here on hers.
"You're going to have to cover for me with Bodie Chang," she reminded her friend. "You can't forget."
"I won't. We've been over this. I'll get someone to take the photographs, and I'll do all the social stuff," she promised absently, still reading. "We'll have to pay for the ticket to get you there because we can't change the passenger information."
"We?" Veronica questioned.
"I," Lilly corrected. "Relax, Veronica Mars. This is no big deal."
No big deal? She was leaving for Peru in two days without a second to research anything. She'd have to spend tomorrow learning everything she could about rock climbing.
When they'd started Moxie together last year, Veronica had known that she'd be the brawn of their PR duo. Lilly was smart, but she had no patience. Lilly flew by the seat of her pants. Veronica studied. She calculated. That's why they worked well together. Lilly was good with the people and connections. Veronica was good behind the scenes: the photography, and the back end, and the invoicing. They were both equally strong with writing and campaigning.
Veronica had always been perfectly content letting Lilly be the face of their business. But then Lilly had the bright idea of dancing on the table at Pete Stephanopolous's wedding after three ouzo shots, and…she glanced over at her friend with her leg now propped on the back of the couch…
"Two broken toes, huh," she lamented.
"I told you. They're broken way up inside my foot. If I'd just broken the end, I'd tape them up and go, but the doctor said—"
"No bearing weight," Veronica finished for her. "I know."
"I'm sorry," Lilly whined. "What else can I say?"
"Say you won't screw up the Bodie shoot…how are you going to do a photoshoot at the beach?" Veronica inquired.
Lilly rolled her eyes. "I always figure it out! I know lots of people in this town, Veronica Mars. Don't worry your pretty little head about it for one second." Lilly pointed a perfectly manicured finger at her from over the back of the couch.
Veronica would try not to, but Lilly, it turned out, never worried about anything, which left Veronica to pick up the slack.
"I'll send you the itinerary," Lilly said. "You've got this. You're ready to strike out on your own, to be the public face of Moxie." Lilly pretended to swing a bat and then watched her imaginary ball fly out of the park.
"Uh-huh," was Veronica's sardonic retort. Lilly could talk her into anything, but Veronica refused to be swayed. She'd do the job and she'd do it well, but she wanted a few more moments of denial. Veronica released a long breath. "So tell me about this itinerary."
Lilly clapped enthusiastically. "Logan Echolls has three interviews and a photoshoot already set up on site. Two are industry magazines and one is GQ. He must be at all of them and on time. And he will resist them. All these rock jocks do."
"Rock jocks?" Veronica cringed.
"Get to know the lingo, V Mars," Lilly told her, taking a deep cleansing breath and releasing it, holding her hands out to the sides like a yogi. "Become one with the lingo."
"I'll only try if you stop saying lingo," Veronica teased.
All of a sudden, Lilly's eyes got wide. "Is your passport valid?"
Veronica felt her eyes go buggy, and she shook her head. "No." She hadn't had a reason to renew the blasted thing since she hadn't been going anywhere.
"It's fine," Lilly said, cutting off Veronica's freak-out. "It's no problem." Lilly dropped her phone on the couch and reached for her laptop. "Once I get the tickets, you can drive to LA and get one."
"Today?" Veronica asked, looking at her watch. It was after three in the afternoon.
"No, tomorrow. They do it the same day, but you're going to have to sit there and wait," Lilly said, already tapping away on her computer.
"So much for researching," Veronica lamented.
"It will be fine. You will be fine. We'll figure it out!" Lilly assured her, her eyes not leaving the screen in front of her.
"Figure it out? I don't even know the lingo!" Veronica cried, exasperated.
"Meh," Lilly brushed off, unperturbed. "Besides...it's at least eight hours to Lima. You'll have plenty of time to research on the plane."
Veronica shot her friend the worst glare she could muster and sulked off to her room. She didn't even like rock climbing. Or adrenaline junkies—rock jocks, whatever. She didn't particularly enjoy nature, period. What was the big deal was about climbing some dumb mountain, anyway?
This was going to be a long few weeks.
Veronica boarded the plane last on purpose. She didn't want to sit for a moment longer than she had to.
When she'd arrived at ticketing to check in, the skycap had informed her that she'd been upgraded to first class. Veronica had eyed the man skeptically. Lilly's family was rich to be sure, but the Kanes had made it very clear that their business venture was Veronica and Lilly's risk. There was no way Lilly had sprung for a first-class ticket all the way to Peru, no matter how badly she felt.
Veronica had checked with the attendant three times before accepting her fate. Their error was her gain. She'd take it. Besides, it would be way easier to research from the luxury of a first-class seat than crammed in coach.
She made her way down the jetway, her carry-on of essentials rolling along next to her like a dog on a leash. She'd made sure to pack everything she'd need for a few days in case something happened to her luggage. There was no way she'd be stuck in Cusco with only her laptop like had happened when they'd followed Dick Casablancas to the Gold Coast for the World Surfing League World Tour. Despite having no luggage, Lilly and Veronica had managed to secure Dick a ton of lucrative endorsements even before he'd won. The trip had been a success, but it had taken several years off of Veronica; she wouldn't let that happen again.
Veronica smiled at the flight attendant and then scanned the first-class area looking for her empty seat. She found it and hastily made her way there, plopping into her luxury lounger and handing her roller to the attendant to stow above her.
"Warm towel?" another flight attendant asked her, brandishing tongs that hovered above the moist, rolled towels.
For what? Veronica asked, but then she simply answered: "Yes, please," and took the towel being offered to her.
"And would you like some coffee? Tea? Juice?"
Veronica's eyes widened. So many choices, but she needed caffeine. "Coffee," she replied. "Three sugars"
"Three sugars?" A voice next to her asked.
Veronica turned to see a handsome face sitting next to her. She'd been too busy getting situated and wiping her hands that she hadn't looked to her right. Holy hotness, Veronica, she told herself as she took him in. Though they were seated, she could tell he was tall. His shirt couldn't hide the fact that his torso was long and lean; his muscular arms extended down from wide shoulders and tapered off at rough, dry-looking hands. He was tan, clearly, he spent time in the sun. She'd been around enough surfers to know an outdoorsman when she saw one. His sandy brown hair was unkempt—sweeping to the side in some places and spiky in others. Under her scrutiny, he quickly ran a thick hand through it, which explained its current state, and then pulled the beanie that had been resting on his knee over his head. The cap went down almost to his eyebrows, revealing intense brown eyes that almost matched his hair. He looked to be about her age. Maybe a year or two older.
Veronica had never felt such an attraction at first sight before. That zing that was so prominent in Hollywood and Lilly's cheesy historical romance novels. It was an odd sensation that started somewhere near her neck and ran in waves down to her toes, curling all of them simultaneously.
"Are you okay?" the man asked, leaning forward.
Veronica shook her head. "I'm fine," she quickly recovered. "Just tired."
"These red eyes are the worst," the guy said, taking a long sip of orange juice. "Especially for these killer-long flights."
"I've never flown this far," she admitted with a nod.
The flight attendant arrived with Veronica's coffee and whisked her used washcloth away. How efficient. So this is how the other ⅓ of a percent lives, she mused. She'd traveled with the Kane's on vacations before, but she felt on her own this time. She liked it.
"Nervous flier?" he asked.
"Not usually," she said. "I mean there is something fundamentally unsettling about hurling oneself through the air in a heavy metal contraption," she admitted, "but I don't have a phobia or anything."
"Well, then maybe ix-nay on the coffee," he said, his thumb pointing like he was chucking something out the window, "and just get some sleep," he suggested.
Just then the captain made his announcements and the cabin lights turned off to allow people to sleep during the overnight flight. There was enough light that she could clearly see him. Veronica leaned back, her side against the seat so she could angle herself toward this handsome man.
Veronica shook her head and flipped the switch to illuminate her seat. "Sorry, no can do," she told him. "The coffee is to keep me awake long enough to get a ton of work done." She was surprised when she opened up more. "See, I'm not headed to Peru on a pleasure cruise. I've got a solid itinerary," she patted her laptop, "and I've been running around like a chicken with her head cut off for two days pulling this trip together." Veronica paused as she accepted the coffee from the flight attendant with a nod and smile of gratitude. "Now I need to buckle down — no pun intended — and do the research."
The man looked interested. He leaned in toward her. "What are you researching."
Veronica rolled her eyes. "The life and times of the adrenaline junkie apparently." What little Veronica did know about climbing was not favorable. "The appeal of defying death will never make sense to me." She'd never understood people putting themselves in harm's way for no reason. She turned toward the man. "I mean would you ever willingly risk your life for a...hobby? A pastime?"
The man studied her carefully, the corners of his mouth turning up ever so slightly into what could only be called a smirk. After a moment, he spoke hesitantly. "I suppose I'd have to weigh the risk versus reward."
"Well, like I said, I haven't started my research yet. But, from what I can tell, the reward is adrenaline, bragging rights, and probably women," Veronica said cynically.
"You had me at women…" the man joked.
Veronica wasn't amused. Usually, she didn't much care about what others did with their spare time...or money. But, from what she could glean from Lilly's itinerary, Logan Echolls traveled with an entourage. "From what I can tell, this guy drags half the climbing community with him on whatever whim he catches: coaches, sponsors, friends, competitors... me. Apparently even this guy's dog is along for the ride."
The man squinched one side of his face in thought, pulling all his features to the left, which did nothing to mar the perfection of his face. He really was beautiful. And she'd just gone off on a tangent in front of him.
"You aren't a fan of dogs?" he asked.
"Of course I am," Veronica protested.
"Maybe he just likes companionship," the man suggested. "You know, when the girls leave…"
Veronica rolled her eyes theatrically. "I understand about companionship. I grew up with a dog. When I have more time, I'll get one of my own, but I won't drag it around the world with me so I can selfishly have a companion while I risk my neck," she assured him.
She really didn't know what she had against Logan Echolls. Other than the obvious. Maybe it was the fact that she'd grown up in Neptune, California, where the rich playboys had stupid hobbies and took even stupider risks.
"Maybe the dog is an adrenaline junkie too," he suggested, cutting into her thoughts.
Veronica resisted the urge to roll her eyes yet again.
"So why are you going?" he asked her.
"Me?" Veronica asked.
"You," he emphasized the word by pointing at her. "If this guy is as bad as you say he is - womanizer, torturer of animals."
Veronica let out a huff. When he put it that way, it did seem a bit melodramatic. She hated melodrama. "I shouldn't have said that. I don't even know the guy," she admitted. "Hence the research."
"Then why the ire?"
"I guess I just know his kind," she lamented. She let her gaze move past him and out the window. She realized at that moment that they'd taken off and Veronica hadn't even noticed. That was a relief. Take off wasn't her favorite. She let herself sink into her chair a little bit, getting comfy. "I shouldn't have said all that," she repeated. After all, she wasn't risking her life, and she got to go to Peru. She would get to see the world. A part of it she'd never seen before. And Echolls had let her come in place of Lilly, which had been nice of him. She supposed it was easier than hiring someone else last minute, but he had the world at his feet. He could have done just that. "I just don't understand the appeal, is all. Rock climbing is one thing, but—"
"Rock climbing," the stranger broke in, sounding surprised. "All this over rock climbing? What's the big fuss."
"No this guy isn't just any rock climber. He does free solos. Rock climbing with no rope," she explained. "He was huge a few years ago. He did some record-breaking climb in Yosemite. They did a whole documentary about it that won some awards. I didn't see it."
"I did," the man said eagerly. "You're talking about Logan Echolls. And you're right, he isn't just a rock climber. The movie explains his motivation a lot and he didn't seem like an adrenaline junkie to me." The man paused. "He seemed private almost. It was good. Maybe you should watch it. Maybe it would help you understand him better."
Veronica bent down and pulled a DVD out of her bag. "I got it from the library today. The cover alone gave me anxiety—a man hanging off the edge of a mountain. Look at those trees. They're as tiny as ants. What must his family and friends be going through to sit back and watch him…" she trailed off, shaking her head and shuddering. "It seems...unnecessary. People die. People die all the time who deserve to live. Logan Echolls risks his life when so many others would love another chance at it."
"That sounds personal," he told her.
Veronica shrugged. "Maybe it is."
"You should watch the movie," he suggested.
"I will. When I get to the hotel. That's why I got the DVD, so I didn't need the internet or anything. Besides, I'd rather be anxious alone in my hotel room watching it than on a heavy metal object hurtling through the sky. One thing at a time."
"Spoiler alert: he lives."
"Duh," she told him with a giggle. "Hence why I'm on this plane."
The man shrugged. "Just trying to ease the anxiety a bit." After a moment he added. "So you're scared of heights."
Veronica shook her head. "No, not particularly. I've parasailed and bungee jumped — things like that."
"So you aren't inherently anti-risk? Some might call those the actions of an adrenaline junkie."
"No! Mostly I have a very persuasive best friend. But they're calculated risks. I'm tied on! There are safety mechanisms in place - plural. As in more than one," she argued calmly.
"So why are you going? Why did Logan Echolls drag you to Peru?" the man asked.
"He hired my business partner to do his PR. My business partner also happens to be my very persuasive best friend. So, when she got hurt, I was the logical person to step in. Luckily for me, Lilly already did all of the legwork. She's planned out all the endorsements, interviews, and a few photoshoots. I will take some action shots leading up to the climbing day and probably some of my own on the actual day. It's better to have photos we own also so that Echolls can use them whenever he likes rather than relying on the ones the sponsors own." Veronica let out a long sigh. She was more tired than she'd realized. The coffee wasn't kicking in. "But seeing as I haven't researched anything about free soloing or rock climbing in general, I need to fill in the gaps as much as I can so I can hit the ground running." She closed her eyes for a moment and then popped them open again in horror. "That was a bad choice of words."
The man laughed. "I know what you meant. I have a feeling that if Logan Echolls' team has confidence in you, you'll do just fine."
Veronica scoffed. "They had confidence in Lilly. She's the extrovert. I just fake it 'til I make it."
"Honestly, I think that's basically what we're all doing most of the time," he admitted, unfolding his blanket and spreading it over his legs. He reclined his chair as far as it would go.
Veronica followed his lead, pointing her toes as much as she could and then releasing her muscles with a long sigh. "How long is this flight again?" she asked through another yawn, her eyes drooping closed.
"About nine hours," the man said sleepily.
Nine hours does give me plenty of time for a snooze, she reasoned. The coffee will kick in, or I'll wake up in a few hours with more energy for research. With that thought, she drifted off to sleep.
Veronica woke with a start when the cabin lights flashed on all at once.
The captain's voice boomed over the speaker announcing their descent into the Lima airport.
Oh shit, she sputtered. She'd slept through the whole flight. Normally that would be amazing, but not now. Not this time.
The descent wasn't a smooth one. The wind gusts were strong, pulling the plane this way and that way, up and down. When Veronica realized that she was white-knuckling the armrest, she tucked her hands under her legs instead. A quick glance to the right told her that her handsome travelmate had fallen back asleep without a care. If only she'd been so lucky. She'd gladly sleep through the turbulence.
The flight attendants hastily made their last rounds and then tucked themselves away again. It wasn't until the wheels of the plane touched down that Veronica let out the long breath she'd been holding.
The man next to her yawned without a care in the world. He took off his beanie, ran his hand through his hair a few times, tugged it back down to his eyebrows, and then turned and smiled lazily at her.
"We made it," he declared, his voice, rough with sleep, made Veronica's heart go pitter-patter all over again.
It was so weird. She'd spent almost nine hours sleeping next to this gorgeous man and now she'd never see him again. She'd never even know his name. Veronica sighed. She'd have to think of a better story to tell Lilly. Or maybe she wouldn't tell Lilly at all. This guy could be her fantasy lover for years to come if Lilly didn't tease her about him mercifully.
Veronica frantically thought of a way to introduce herself. She could cyber stalk him at the very least. Plus, assuming he hadn't caught a connection at LAX, there was a good chance he was from LA.
It only took a moment for the plane to taxi to the gate, and Veronica found her opportunity lost. She was at the front of the plane and first-class would disembark first. Oh well then, she told him silently as she watched him retrieve his things, mystery star-crossed man, you shall remain.
She stood to retrieve her own overhead bag, and the beautiful man brushed her hands away silently and jiggled it free of the bags around it. He put it on the ground and pulled up the handle for her.
"It was nice chatting with you," he said, looking down at her with his smoldering brown eyes that seemed to bore into her very soul. "I hope you like the documentary, and that you have a nice trip despite...everything."
"Thanks," Veronica said feebly, still unable to think properly with him looking at her so intently. Then she gathered her wits. Maybe she could follow him through customs. Maybe she could keep this going.
"Hey, Logan," a voice called out from behind her.
Veronica felt her eyes go wide. She turned to see a man approaching. He was short and squat but looked like he could bench press a city bus. His neck featured a few tattoos that Veronica couldn't make out. Her mind was too busy spinning to take much notice.
"That was a bumpy ride there at the end. Poppy, here, didn't approve." The man held up a bag with mesh sides, which Veronica presumed held a live creature of some kind.
Veronica's heart jumped into her throat as she realized who this newcomer was speaking to.
No! It can't be. This can't be happening.
"Yeah. I slept great. I didn't feel a thing," her handsome stranger replied. Except he wasn't a stranger anymore, was he?
No! No, no, no!
Logan Echolls reached past Veronica and took the carry on bag from the other man, holding it up close to examine it.
"She looks okay now," he said. "Don't you, Poppy?" he asked the bag.
Veronica wasn't listening. She was willing herself to slowly melt into the floor.
Was it possible to just stay on the plane and let it take her to wherever it was flying next? Because if it wasn't, surely the universe would take pity on her and swallow her whole.
The newcomer bumped her and hastily excused himself, right as Logan Echolls turned his eyes back to her.
"I'll see you around, Veronica," he said with a wink.
Not if I die first, she responded silently.
"Sounds great!" she said dryly aloud.
This really couldn't be happening.