The Cowgirl Ropes a Billionaire (Page 10)

The Cowgirl Ropes a Billionaire(10)
Author: Cora Seton

“Maybe I should change,” she began as the woman tugged her toward the main dining room.

“Too late now,” Madelyn said. “Come on.”

* * * * *

Denim? For dinner? Evan bit back a smile as Madelyn ushered his opponent into the lodge’s dining room, hearing his mother’s critical voice in his head. He didn’t care what women wore, but she sure had, and she’d judged every eligible girl in sight on their poise and taste whenever they left the house. He stood up while Bella took her seat, then sat down again and took his time appraising her. She’d obviously also undergone the tortures of Natalie’s ministrations, but she seemed far more uncomfortable with the results than he was. Hell, he’d been on camera dozens of times as spokesman of Mortimer Innovations. Still, he was a guy—he should be the one holding himself stiffly, afraid to even fold his hands in his lap or take a sip from his water glass. A woman ought to wear enough makeup to be familiar with the process.

He suspected Bella thought a dab of eye shadow and a rub of lip gloss were adequate for any occasion. Would Amanda be able to give her a few hints when the time came for Bella to accompany him to charity balls and other events as his wife, or would the cowgirl step up her game on her own without help? He had no idea how he’d even bring up the matter. Maybe there were classes for that kind of thing. He made a mental note to have Amanda look into it. While she was at it, she could enroll Bella in business classes as well. Anyone who lost money as a veterinarian obviously needed to revisit the basics.

He allowed himself to smile at the pretty, miserable woman across the table, who became even more miserable when the television crew snapped on a series of bright lights and aimed their cameras at them. “Hi—I’m Evan Mortimer.” He reached out his hand.

Bella glanced at Madelyn, and extended her own to take his. “Bella Chatham. Nice to meet you.”

“Fine, fine, niceties dispensed with,” Madelyn said acerbically. “Here comes Jake. Let’s get this party started.”

Jake Cramer was Can You Beat a Billionaire’s legendary British host. With his upper-crust accent, he made a trip through a jungle or a wild ride down a river on a raft sound as elite as dinner at Buckingham Palace. The show’s writers gave him plenty of face time and snappy one-liners, Evan had learned when Amanda sent him a highlight video to watch for preparation. While the contestants tended to look like drowned rats by the end of the first episode, Jake remained spotless, well-tanned, and as poised as a debutante about to make her entrance.

“Welcome Bella, Evan,” Jake boomed as he entered the dining room. He shook hands with each of them, and took the third seat at the table. The cameras caught all of this, and Evan swore at least two of them were getting close-ups of Jake’s face at any moment. “Let’s get down to business, shall we?” He gave each of them a radiant smile and Evan wondered how much the man spent on his teeth. Not that he hadn’t spent a pretty penny, himself. “As you know, our contestants call this meal the last supper—because it’s the last time you’ll be well fed and indoors for the next five days. We’ve rounded up all kinds of adventures for you kids, so I hope you’re ready for the trip of a lifetime!”

He turned to face a camera. “This season, our contest pits billionaire Evan Mortimer against veterinarian Bella Chatham. As always, if Bella wins, she’ll walk away with five million dollars!” He patted Bella’s arm. “And if Evan wins,” he gave a big, toothy grin, “he’ll gain a wife for one year. That’s a different twist, isn’t it, folks?”

Evan tuned out his blather as he focused on Bella again. He had to admit her casual clothes fit her far better than the overdone television makeup did. She was worried—he could tell by her tight frown. Well, she ought to be—when it came to outdoor solo sports he bet he had a hell of a lot more experience than she did.

She glanced in his direction and her eyes widened when she saw him looking back at her. A slow blush crept up her neck and cheeks, but she didn’t look away. Even in all that makeup, her eyes were beautiful, hazel green with sweeping lashes that didn’t require any mascara.

“Evan, tell us,” Jake said, leaning forward. “If you had to pay the prize would you miss the five million dollars?”

Evan blinked. “Not at all, Jake,” he said, shifting his attention away from his adversary reluctantly. “First of all, I can find five million dollars between my couch cushions. Happened last week—true story!” He grinned for the audience. “Second of all, I’m not going to lose. I may have to slog through five days of your evil challenges, but I plan to walk out of here with my beautiful, new wife.”

The crew members grinned at each other, apparently happy with the way things were going so far. “Bella.” Jake turned his attention to her. “What about you? How will five million dollars change your life?”

“It won’t change my life very much,” Bella said. “But it will change the lives of Chance Creek, Montana’s animals a whole bunch. I’m a veterinarian who specializes in house pets—cats and dogs, things like that.” She hesitated and Jake nodded, urging her on. “Caring for the pets who have a home is no problem, but like most towns Chance Creek is filled with unwanted, stray and feral cats and dogs who would be rounded up and put down if it wasn’t for the voluntary services my clinic provides. We currently house and feed over a hundred animals and that number keeps growing. With five million dollars I could launch a spay and neutering program that would limit the number of feral cats and provide housing and health care for any animals who don’t find a forever home with a member of the public.”

“And if you lose?” Jake winked broadly at the camera. “What will it be like to be Evan Mortimer’s wife—the wife of a billionaire?”

Bella turned pale, and looked like she might be sick. “If I lose, I’ll lose my home and my clinic…and more than one hundred animals will lose their lives,” she stated baldly. “I don’t think I’ll care who my husband is if all that blood is on my hands.”

“Cut…cut!” Madelyn yelled. “For crying out loud, our audience doesn’t want to think about slaughtered animals. Try it again—you can’t say blood.”

Bella looked stunned and it was plain to Evan she hadn’t been acting, nor had she been trying to be melodramatic. She obviously believed that the animals she cared for would die if she lost. Her distress gave him a momentary pang of guilt, but he tamped it down. He’d take care of that little problem himself if he won by farming the animals out to a shelter and writing a check. Nothing to it.