* * * * *
As Bella’s breathing evened out beside him, Evan stared at the stupid camera hanging from the roof of the tent and counted the number of ways he’d screwed up today. Somehow Bella had cast a spell on him and he’d lost the ability to think rationally, while she made use of each of his blunders to catapult herself into a stronger position. When he’d taken her hand beneath the covers just now, a spark of desire had lit up his whole body, yet she remained unmoved.
Several times today he thought she returned his interest, especially on the zip line platform, where he’d come perilously close to kissing her, but now he wasn’t at all sure he’d read her right. Maybe she was playing him like a fiddle—teasing him to a fever pitch of wanting, while she laughed at him all the way to the bank. It would be just like a woman to want to humiliate him that way.
Well, she wasn’t going to win—no way. He was two points ahead of her and he’d pull further ahead tomorrow. Heck, he would be at least five points ahead if he’d kept his mouth shut at the archery range. No more mister nice guy, he promised himself. He’d show Bella his true colors tomorrow.
Still, as the minutes ticked by and his eyes remained open, Evan grew more and more uncomfortable. He hated confined spaces—even tents—and while he could sleep in one just fine when he was on his own—as long as the flap remained open—it was too much to bear having Bella pressed against him—in more ways than one.
She turned him on, for one thing, but her presence also made it hard to breathe. In fact, the longer he stayed inside the tent the less oxygen there seemed to be.
Shit. He recognized this tightness in his chest and the feeling that the walls were about to cave in and smother him. If he didn’t get outside—pronto—he would head into a full-fledged panic attack. He didn’t need that broadcast over national TV.
He quickly threw the sleeping bag back and made a big show of wiping his brow and peeling his damp t-shirt from his chest a few times, to indicate he couldn’t stand the heat. Nothing unmanly about getting too hot, he thought as he struggled to the front of the tent and unzipped the flap. He exited it gratefully just as the sun finally set. Heading back to the campfire, which he’d carefully put out a half-hour before, he leaned against a rock and settled in for the night.
Bella slept much better than she’d imagined she would, but when she pushed herself to a sitting position in the morning and felt the coolness of the sleeping mat next to her, she realized that was partly due to Evan not sharing the tent with her. When had he left? God—had she snored so loud it drove him out? That was an embarrassing idea. None of her previous bed partners had complained about her snoring, however, so maybe it wasn’t that. Maybe he was an early riser.
Pushing her way outside a moment later, she realized that wasn’t the answer, either. Evan lay sound asleep near the ruins of their campfire from the night before, and looked like he’d been there for some time. She remembered his fingers wrapping around hers so intimately. What had driven him away?
Don’t even think about it, she told herself. Instead she waited as a crew member came and dismantled the tent camera, then took the opportunity to change inside it before Evan woke up. Back outside, she checked her heel. It looked far better than it had last night, and the insert she’d been given for the back of her boot should help, too. She wondered what surprises this day would bring.
She decided to stretch some of her stiffness away while she waited for breakfast. Evan wandered past, back from his own visit to the bushes. He looked worse than she felt—like he’d aged ten years overnight—but she wouldn’t underestimate him. If today’s contests were as badly skewed toward his strengths as they were yesterday, she’d be in trouble. Her right arm twinged from the unusual activities of drawing bowstrings and throwing beanbags. Still, stretching felt good. Thank goodness for all those yoga classes over the years.
“Love this view!” Evan proclaimed from behind her as she pushed up from a prone position into downward dog.
He’d better mean the valley, she thought, willing herself not to drop back to the ground. When she shifted into a new pose, however, she saw he most definitely wasn’t looking at the vista below them. She faltered, but continued with her routine.
He’s just trying to make me nervous. I can’t let it work.
Still, a few minutes later she gave up trying to reclaim the calmness she’d felt at the beginning of her stretching. Evan’s frank perusal of her body sent waves of heat through her until she wobbled in her poses. Best to stop before she keeled over and hurt herself. She joined him at the firepit where a crew member fed her coffee and a breakfast burrito. Mmmm. Maybe today wouldn’t be so bad.
Three hours later, however, she conceded that today would probably turn out to be worse. She, Evan, Jake, and a platoon of camera crewmen and assistants stood on the banks of the Athabasca River while a woman named Jessie outlined basic kayaking safety procedures. When she was done, Jake took over.
“Welcome to day two of Can You Beat a Billionaire. Bella, Evan, I hope you slept well?”
“Like a baby,” Bella said. She thought she was getting the hang of this acting enthusiastic thing.
“Evan, we noticed you were rather restless during the night. Any specific reason for that?”
A muscle in Evan’s jaw twitched. “I like sleeping out under the stars.”
“Without a mattress pad or even a sleeping bag?” Jake widened his eyes theatrically.
“I like roughing it.”
Jake shrugged theatrically, and returned to his spiel. “You’ve already hiked for several hours. Your first challenge this morning involves kayaking. You will need to use strength, skill and accuracy to collect five plastic fish along the kayaking route we’ve made for you on the spectacular Athabasca River. Notice the poles.” He waved at the river behind him where a series of differently colored poles stuck several feet out of the water. “Keep the yellow stripes to your right and the green stripes to your left and you’ll stay on track. If you leave the course you are disqualified. You may not turn around at any time. Put your fish in the nylon pouch attached to your kayak. Each fish is worth one point. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” Evan said.
“Yes,” Bella echoed. The river water seemed to be traveling awfully fast, however. How were they to control their kayaks with one hand on the paddle and grab a fish from a basket with the other? This was all too similar to yesterday’s beanbag toss—only worse.