The Cowgirl Ropes a Billionaire (Page 16)

The Cowgirl Ropes a Billionaire(16)
Author: Cora Seton

Poor little rich boy, she thought, and bit into her sandwich. She hoped the show planned to provide them a big dinner tonight, because while the food in her pack might get her through the rest of the afternoon, it wasn’t going to satisfy her at the end of this hike. She was ravenous.

She finished as quickly as she could and allowed a crew member to top up her water supply. Apparently they might starve her, but they weren’t going to allow her to get dehydrated. She recalled Evan’s diet comment. Most women might fuss about their weight, but she wasn’t one of them. She was comfortable with her body and she saw no reason to change it. Who cared about frivolous things like that when there was so much suffering in the world?

Speaking of suffering—how was Hannah doing with the animals? Had she remembered all their special diets? Had she played enough with the dogs in the back kennels? What about emergencies?

“If you need a nap, you can curl up by me,” Evan said suddenly, startling her out of her thoughts. “I’ll keep a watch on…things,” he let his gaze dip to her breasts and raised it again, “while you sleep.”

“Shut up,” she said and bit her lip, catching his mischievous grin. Darn it—he always made her sound like an adolescent when he caught her off guard. He obviously enjoyed the opportunity the show gave him to act like a teenager. Somehow she knew he didn’t normally behave this way. Her body hummed with interest over his insinuation, though. As much as she wanted to dislike Evan, she was attracted to him at some basic level. The thought of him looking at her? Yum.

No, yuck. She gathered her trash and stowed it away, shouldered her pack and began to walk again, determined to focus on the contest, not her adversary. That proved to be harder than she expected, though.

It was bad enough worrying about the cameraman focusing on her bottom. Now Evan dogged her every step and whenever she glanced back she could swear he was staring at it, too. She tried to curb the sway of her hips, but that made her walk stiffly and soon became uncomfortable. Okay, America, she thought as she gave up trying to repress her natural stride. Take a good long look at my butt. Hope you like it.

Knowing Evan was unabashedly staring at her hindquarters kept her all too aware of him throughout their hike. Worse were the images of her and Evan in a more intimate setting. She pictured them peeling the clothes off of each other. Taking their time. Touching…

She was thoroughly unnerved by the time they reached the colored flags that signaled their second challenge of the day. Her boots had begun to rub and she pulled the small first-aid kit out of her pack and held her breath as she opened it. Thank goodness there was a Band Aid big enough to cover the blister building on her heel. She shucked off her boot and sock, applied the bandage and pulled them back on. Only then did she allow herself to survey the challenge.

Wait a minute. Where was the challenge?

She caught sight of a rope dangling from a nearby tree and followed it up—and up—and up—until she spotted several people standing on a platform high overhead.

Back on the ground, a crew member approached carrying something that looked like a cross between a vest and a harness. Her stomach sunk. A zip line course? She was not a huge fan of heights. She had managed to help fix the gutters on her clinic last year, but she’d never tried anything like this before. Was the challenge simply to live through it?

As one crew member helped her into the vest, another explained the rules.

“Once you climb to the platform, you’ll be at the first of five zip lines we’ve installed. You’ll be handed a beanbag at each platform and you need to pitch it into a basket positioned somewhere along each zip line. The challenge is to spot the baskets and make each shot for a possible total of five points.”

“We have to throw things while we’re zipping?” she said, and cringed at the squeak in her voice. “Aren’t we supposed to hold onto something?”

“It only takes one hand to control your speed,” Evan said as a crew member finished fastening him into another harness. “It’s no big deal to throw something, too.”

Control your speed? She hadn’t even thought about that. And why did Evan seem so confident about this task, too? Was he as much an expert at this as he was at archery? This whole thing was rigged, wasn’t it? The show’s producers must have it out for her.

Miserably, she allowed herself to be fastened into her harness and led over to the tree containing the first platform. Evan, already halfway up, waved down to her. “Come on up!”

“I’ll wait,” she said.

His laughter rang out above her. “What’s wrong, Bumpkin—afraid of heights?”

“No.” Yes. Kind of. She wasn’t afraid of balconies, or even ladders up to a point. This particular ladder, attached to this particular tree, however, seemed to go up and up and up—much higher than she’d ever climbed before.

When Evan disappeared from view she took a deep breath and began her ascent. Paul and Nita climbed beneath her, Paul still filming. Terrific. This must be a very flattering angle. Her arm muscles began to ache about halfway up, but she knew better than to hesitate even for a second. She also knew better than to look down. The ladder seemed sturdy, so as long as she focused only on the next rung, everything was okay.

“Just a few more rungs,” a voice said above her. She glanced up and saw the underside of the platform looming overhead. A trapdoor was open and a man she didn’t recognize looked down through it. “I’m Jim, your instructor,” he said as she climbed through the door. He steadied her as she awkwardly flopped onto the platform’s floor. “Come on, I’ll show you the ropes.”

Evan was there, leaning casually against a railing as Jim began his safety spiel. She tried to pay strict attention to everything Jim said, but her gaze kept trailing back to Evan’s strong shoulders and wide-legged stance. Even in a harness he was hotter than hot. Would marriage to him for a year be so bad? What would it be like to be cared for by someone else for a while? To let him worry about bills and costs and… She snapped herself out of her reverie. Evan wasn’t interested in saving animals’ lives. Marriage to him meant an end to the clinic and possibly to her career.

She turned her attention back to Jim as he finished outlining their task.

“Who wants to go first?” he asked.

Evan looked to her.

“He can go first,” she said. “He’s been watching my ass all morning. Turnabout is fair play.”