Seriously. She needed to get laid.
Did Evan feel it, too, or was she the only one being shanghaied by hormones? He stepped closer and for a second she thought she saw her own interest echoed in his eyes. He frowned and bent nearer. “I’ll always beat you in a race, Betty Bumpkin. I’ve already beat you at this challenge. I’ve got this contest in the palm of my hand. Pretty soon I’ll have you in the palm of my hand, too. At least for a year.”
Betty Bumpkin? Heat rushed into her cheeks. He called her Betty Bumpkin on national television? What an asshole! And what did that last crack mean—having her in the palm of his hand? She could think of any number of dirty interpretations for that sentence.
Now she saw him as he truly was—a cocky, arrogant, self-absorbed jackass who’d inherited a bunch of money and thought it made him superior to everyone who worked for a living.
“We’ve got a long way to go, so step aside, Moneybuns. Let’s get on with it.” His snort of disgust at the crude nickname made her smile, but her anxiety rose as she approached a white line spray painted on the ground. One of the extra crew members took the bow Evan had handed her and directed her to a rack full of them.
“This one’s much too big for you,” the young woman said. “Try a few of them out and see which ones you can pull back all the way. You want the biggest one you can handle, though. The bigger the bow, the faster the arrow flies—making it more likely to stick in the target.” Bella chose a bow and Evan smirked at her as the woman helped Bella put on a wrist guard and gloves, led her back to the line, and pointed to the quiver of arrows. “Fire at will.”
Everyone stepped back behind the line. She knew the cameras were rolling—several of them. Evan stood nearby, his powerful arms crossed over his chest.
Hell. This was going to be embarrassing.
She selected an arrow and nocked it just above a small metal bead attached to the string. She raised the bow out in front of her, held her left arm straight, took hold of the arrow and string between the second and third fingers on her right hand and drew back as far as she could. It wasn’t as easy as Evan made it look. Her right arm trembled, more and more as she waited for Evan to begin heckling her. He didn’t say a word. Finally, unable to wait any longer, she loosed the arrow and cringed when it flew barely half the distance to the target before hitting the ground.
Bella wiped her sweat-slick palm along her shorts. This sucked. Still, it was just one contest. Surely there’d be others she excelled at. She glanced at Evan, who saluted her cockily. “Great shot.”
“Shut up.” She bit her lip, angry at herself for being baited. That wasn’t the stinging comment she’d like to have made. She selected another arrow, nocked it and raised the bow again. This time she angled it higher, figuring that if the arrow went higher in the air, it would travel farther. She took a breath, pulled the arrow back and released it as quickly as she could, before Evan even had the chance to say anything.
This time the arrow made it three-fourths of the way to the target, but veered off to the left.
“You’re pushing the arrow. Keep your fingers at your chin and just release.”
Bella spun around to glare at Evan. He was giving her archery tips?
He met her gaze coolly. “You’re not going to hit the target anyway. Might as well learn something.”
Hmmm—Mr. Moneybuns liked to show off his knowledge and couldn’t stand to see someone doing something wrong. She filed that information away for later use. She pulled a third arrow from the quiver and raised the bow again. This time she pretended she was in her operating room at home, focused solely on the task at hand, allowing all distractions to slide away. She was alone with the target, the bow as much a part of her arm as her scalpel usually was. She raised it another inch, nocked the arrow and pulled it back until her fingers rested just below her ear, and let go, just like Evan said.
The arrow sailed straight through the air and hit the target.
“That’s one,” the man keeping score said.
Bella let out a whoop and nearly danced with excitement. She did it—she got one!
“I’m still beating you,” Evan said.
“Better hold on tight, Moneybuns,” she said. “I’m catching up!”
Confident now, she selected a fourth arrow and let it loose before Evan could say a word. It hit the target, too.
As she picked a fifth arrow, however, Evan evidently decided not to take any chances.
“Archery is one of those sports women think they can excel at, but they never really match up to the strength and accuracy of men,” he said, coming closer. “Women suck at depth perception, and archery, really, is all about depth perception.”
She shook her head. He’d have to do better than that if he wanted to throw her off. She liked nothing better than proving arrogant men wrong. After all, her brother told her for years women made lousy vets and she’d shown him. She outscored him in every class and every test on her way to becoming a vet. Of course, he still lorded it over her that he cared for livestock while she stuck with pets, but that had nothing to do with strength, accuracy…or depth perception, come to think of it. She raised her bow and got ready to release the arrow.
“The only thing women don’t suck at,” Evan said, drawing nearer and dropping his voice. “Is sucking…”
Bella jerked just as the arrow left her fingers and she knew instantly it would miss. She closed her eyes and lowered her bow in frustration, but when she heard a distinct thwap, she opened them again.
“Three,” the scorekeeper said and she blinked in amazement. Her arrow dangled from the very bottom of the target, but its head was definitely stuck in the ticking. She’d hit it after all.
With another whoop, Bella did dance this time. “Three—I got three!” she crowed at Evan.
“I got four,” he said. “Give it up, Bumpkin.”
“Not on your life, Moneybuns! I’m just getting started.” She grabbed her daypack and her map and darted off to a well-marked gap in the trees on the other side of the meadow.
“Hey, wait up!” Paul the cameraman yelled after her, but she didn’t miss a stride. Sure, she was losing. Sure, they had nine more contests to go. She didn’t care. She’d won three points when by all accounts she should have scored zero.
She was still in the running.
* * * * *
Evan picked up his daypack and map and followed more slowly behind Bella, his crew trailing behind him. How had he let her get three points? Hell, she wouldn’t have scored at all if he hadn’t yelled out those instructions. Was he insane? Or had she hypnotized him with her long legs and incredibly curvy curves. That t-shirt had been distracting enough back at the starting line. Now she’d exerted herself for a few hours, it clung to her damply, and he struggled to keep the reaction in his groin from embarrassing him on national television. It wasn’t just her curves, either. Her insults revved him up even more. He loved competition, but he’d always pursued solitary sports, and when he did compete he went up against other men. Her taunts turned him on, and so did the way she breathed heavily when she got angry. The rise and fall of her breasts was mesmerizing.