The Cowgirl Ropes a Billionaire (Page 19)

The Cowgirl Ropes a Billionaire(19)
Author: Cora Seton

“There’s only one of everything.”

“What do you mean?” He wasn’t making sense.

“They’ve left us one tent, one sleeping bag, one pillow.”

“Are you kidding me?” She rounded on the camera crew, despite all of Madelyn’s warnings against doing such a thing. “What the hell is this? Where’s our gear?”

Paul, who hadn’t said a word to her all day, waved her away.

“No! I want to know what the hell is going on!”

“Bella, forget it—it’s part of the show.” Evan appeared behind her and led her away from the cameraman.

“That’s baloney! What are we supposed to do, flip a coin for it?” She rounded on Paul again, but Evan caught her arm.

“Yes, that’s exactly what they want us to do—fight over it.” He held her there until his words sunk in.

Of course. She let her shoulders slump as she pictured Madelyn’s smug grin. A grown man and woman fighting over limited gear made for great television. “So, what do we do?”

“We could share it.” He sounded as enthusiastic about the prospect as she felt. But what other choice did they have? The day was still warm now, but no matter where you were, nighttime in the mountains meant cool temperatures, and the change from hot day to cool night would most likely bring a heavy dew and soak anyone sleeping outdoors.

“Fine. What did they give us?”

It didn’t take them long to pitch the tent, unroll the single, thin sleeping mat and place it inside. They agreed not to unroll the sleeping bag until it was time for bed.

“We’ll just unzip it and use it as a cover,” Bella pronounced.

“Sure,” Evan agreed.

Next they unpacked their dinner. Bella had finished all her food except her banana earlier in the afternoon and she was pretty sure Evan was low on grub, too, so she was pleased to see their portions were slightly more generous this evening.

“Oooh—smoked salmon,” she said, lifting up the package. “And cream cheese and crackers.”

“That must be the appetizer,” Evan said. “We’ve got some stew here, too.”

“We’ll need a fire for that.”

“They actually provided us some wood and matches.”

“Really?” Bella’s anger over the single tent began to slide away. A hot meal would do her a world of good. Evan worked on getting the fire started while she undid the packages and poured the stew into a small, cast-iron pot she found in the pile of gear. They shared the salmon while the stew heated, then dug into the main course. Sitting on the ground, leaning against an outcropping of rock, she ate her fill while watching the fire flicker and dance. She could have used a hot bath right about now, but overall she felt good.

Except for her ankle. She’d better change the Band-Aid again.

Before she could move toward her pack, however, there was a commotion down the trail and Jake appeared, leading a small band of crew members.

“Bella, Evan, congratulations on surviving your first day.” A crew member scuttled forward and set up a tripod next to him. It held a placard inscribed with both their names. Dots of Velcro were placed next to them. Evan stood up and slowly she did the same. Soon crew members ringed them to film the day’s wrap-up.

Jake spoke in his plummy announcer voice. “Your first day consisted of an eight mile hike and two challenges. You both did very well, but Evan—you did better overall. You had a strong start with the archery competition, scoring four out of five possible points. Well done.” He bowed his head to Evan and Evan answered with a nod. “Bella, you seem like a newcomer to archery. Am I right?”

“Yes.” Thanks for pointing that out, she thought.

“But with a few tips from your adversary,” he nodded to Evan again, “you did all right. Three points out of five.” He stuck a card to each set of Velcro dots—one emblazoned with a four next to Evan’s name and a three next to hers. “Your next challenge was even harder. You needed to overcome your fear of heights and use skill and accuracy to win the zip line beanbag challenge. Both of you found this somewhat difficult. Evan, again, you went after this contest with a fair bit of skill and scored your first four baskets. Bella here, however, helped you miss your fifth. That makes eight points in all for you today, Evan.” He turned to Bella. “I believe you’re scared of heights?”

“Sort of,” she said. “But not too much.”

“You got off to a shaky start,” he agreed, “but you did seem to get the hang of it. You made three shots, as well. That’s six points to you in all. So far the contest is quite close! Rest tonight. You’ve earned it. We’ll meet back here at eight tomorrow morning for day two of Can You Beat a Billionaire?”

He waited a beat and made a slicing motion with his hand. Immediately the cameras shut down and the crew backed off. Madelyn stepped forward, startling Bella, who hadn’t seen the woman arrive. She found herself glancing down at Madelyn’s feet. Nope, no stilettos this time. Madelyn wore a pair of top-grade hiking boots, however, that probably set her back several hundred dollars. Bella wished she had a pair like that.

“The crew’s campground is a quarter mile up the path,” Madelyn said in her usual clipped tones. “You are forbidden to enter it. Your campground will be observed and filmed at all times during the night, including a remotely operated camera within your tent which we will switch on once you are changed for sleeping. You will want to observe a certain amount of modesty—in other words, sleeping in the nude is out.

“Bella—Adrienne, here, will look at your ankle. We’ll get that fixed up and give you an insert for your boots that should help. The audience wants competition, not cripples. Good-night to both of you. See you bright and early tomorrow morning.” Madelyn turned, trailed as always by Ellis, who flashed them both a smile and a thumb’s-up, and headed down the path.

Bella allowed herself to be ministered to and she and Evan took turns in the tent changing into more comfortable clothes. It was still fairly early in the evening, however, and the sun remained above the horizon.

“What time do you think it will set?” she asked Evan as they lounged near the campfire. The crew had faded away down the path, except for a single cameraman and assistant.

Evan considered the sky. “Eight, eight thirty maybe?”

“I’m not sure I can stay awake that long.”