The Cowgirl Ropes a Billionaire (Page 18)

The Cowgirl Ropes a Billionaire(18)
Author: Cora Seton

He frowned. “Sure—maybe, but that’s not how I want to win. I want to beat you fair and square.”

He was so close she could see the shades of brown in his irises, warm tones that intrigued her and hinted at possibilities she hadn’t considered with Evan. His jaw was strong and his features handsome. A kissable mouth. He pulled her a fraction closer.

“Bella.” His voice was rough.

For a second she thought he was going to kiss her. She held her breath, anticipating his move, and her body tingled in awareness of him.

Then the moment ended. He shook himself, glanced over her shoulder, and she realized the camera was still rolling. She stepped away automatically and suddenly the attendant was back to help unhook her from the zip line and get her prepared for the descent to the ground. There was a difficult moment when she moved from the platform onto the ladder that led down the tree, but once she’d navigated it, she found it easy to move down the rungs. Back on solid ground, however, she found she was shaking and she was grateful for the bustle of removing the harness and retrieving her hat, pack and map to bring her back to herself.

When she shot a quick look at Evan, however, she found him looking back at her. His expression was inscrutable, and she had no idea now if he’d ever really meant to kiss her on the platform or if that was all in her head.

It didn’t matter, she told herself. She wasn’t here to find a husband. She was here to beat a billionaire.

* * * * *

Hell, he’d nearly kissed her. On national television, no less. After making a fool of himself diving between her and the tree. Evan trudged down the trail after Bella in the late afternoon sunshine, berating himself for his lack of focus, his stupidity in placing himself in danger, and his even bigger idiocy for letting his groin dictate his actions.

What was wrong with him? One day in Canada and he was acting like a college kid on spring break. Hmm, maybe that was it, he thought as he rounded a corner and sighed as the trail headed upward again. Maybe he was reacting to his first real bit of time off in years. He took vacations all the time, but he always had his cell phone with him and even when he rock climbed he checked in two or three times a day minimum to issue orders and make sure business was progressing smoothly in his absence. He went alone for the most part, although sometimes when he climbed he joined up with some other guys. Still, once the climb was over, he generally chose to head off on his own.

“You put the lonely in loner,” Amanda said to him once in the early days just after she’d come to work for him. “Who ever heard of a personal assistant who never sees her boss?”

She was right—he knew he took his privacy to the extreme, but having people too close to him made him claustrophobic. Amanda’s office was separate from his. He took his meetings over the phone, handled all correspondence through email and texts. He liked to keep moving—that way people couldn’t corner him and box him in.

A memory surfaced briefly—he’d been twelve years old when his mother caught him in the foyer as he tried to slip out the door, his uniform on. “No more baseball games; I’ve removed you from the team. Mommy needs you here. Daddy’s out of town again.”

He shuddered. It didn’t take a shrink to figure out why he hated attachments now. His mother’s neediness had overwhelmed him and ultimately pushed him away. Thoughts of those years when her need for constant attention kept him from joining activities, making friends—even going to school, often—left him desperate for movement. He picked up his pace.

Soon he caught up with Bella, who was decidedly limping. She sighed as he passed her, and stopped to bend down and fiddle with her shoe. He stopped, too. “Something wrong?”

“My ankle. Stupid boot is rubbing. Go ahead, I’m going to put another Band-Aid on it.”

Evan hesitated. He should go on, but really there was no rush. He wouldn’t earn extra points for making it to the campsite first and he didn’t like to leave her behind.

Even if their camera crews made a small crowd on the path.

“I can wait.”

“Fine.” She took out her first aid kit, shucked off her boot and sock and picked the Band-Aid off.

“Better put some ointment on that.” He didn’t like the red, raw look to her ankle.

She dabbed some on and applied a fresh Band-Aid. Once her boot was securely back on, she stood up and re-shouldered her pack.

“Probably another mile to go, huh?”


They plodded on in silence. Bella moved slowly, obviously in pain, and Evan kept having to stop and wait for her. Thankfully, the trail evened out, moving parallel to the ridge above them. Normally he would have covered the last mile in a matter of minutes, but he estimated it would be another half-hour at the rate Bella was traveling. Finally, he fell back and took her arm.

“I can do it,” she said.

“I know you can.” But he kept his arm in place.

Soon she gave up protesting and leaned on him heavily. He waited to feel the usual claustrophobic tightness he felt when someone got too close to him, but it didn’t come. They continued on for twenty minutes, until the path curved and a vista opened up beneath them of the Maligne River Valley. Bella gasped and they stumbled to a stop.

“It’s beautiful,” she said.

He enjoyed the way she leaned against him. He could feel the rise and fall of her shoulders as she caught her breath, and her curls tickled his nose as he turned his head. He could still smell traces of her shampoo, despite the exertions of the day, and it was a clean, feminine scent that stirred animal lust within him.

He spotted a blue and white ribbon just a little farther down the trail. “Look—I think we made it.”

* * * * *

Bella plunged down the trail alongside Evan, thankful to reach the campsite at last, so when they rounded another curve at the blue and white marker and found themselves in a small clearing, empty of everything except for a pile of gear, she was brought up short.

“This is it?” she said aloud. Aware of the camera crew behind her, she tried to keep her voice from wobbling. She was hungry, tired and hurt. And the TV crew didn’t even bother to set up camp? She felt anger radiating from Evan beside her, but he only said, “I guess it’s up to us to make ourselves at home.”

He approached the pile of gear and began to sort through it. Moments later, however, he stopped, stood up and paced away, his hands in fists at his sides.

“What?” Bella forced herself to ask. She didn’t like being around angry men and Evan looked furious.