The Cowgirl Ropes a Billionaire (Page 26)

The Cowgirl Ropes a Billionaire(26)
Author: Cora Seton

“Pretty spectacular, isn’t it?” Evan said, coming up beside her.

“It sure is. Feeling better?”

“Much. No thanks to you.”

“You deserved it,” she said tartly.

“Look, I never meant to imply that your goals in winning this contest are any less worthy than my goals,” Evan said.

“Yes, you did,” she retorted.

“Well, I guess I did,” he admitted. “But I want you to know I do admire your work.”

“I wish I could say the same.” She wasn’t going to fall for his charm again. She’d watched him turn it on and off too many times.

“Oh, yeah? Is your filing and appointment system computerized?”

“Sure. Everyone’s is,” she said. “So what?”

“Mortimer Innovations has five patents that pertain to that software. Do you use the new, longer-lasting lightbulbs?”

“Uh-huh.”

“We helped develop them. Do you care at all if people in Africa have access to clean drinking water?”

She just looked at him.

“We’re a major backer in a plan to deliver simple, low cost technology to a thousand remote villages in the next three years. How about disease control…”

“I get it, I get it. You’re a saint and we’d all be lost without you,” Bella said, waving him off.

“All I’m saying is I’m not a bad guy, Bella. I want to retain control over Mortimer Innovations because I have a vision for the company—one that values improving conditions for human beings all over this planet above stockholder profits. Unfortunately, if I don’t get married I’ll lose control over the company and my brother will take charge.”

“Let me guess; your brother is the devil incarnate and he’ll use his super-powers for evil?”

“Something like that,” Evan said. “Let’s just say his belief in the bottom line trumps everything else. I’m in an incredible position, Bella—I can affect millions of lives for the better.”

“Or my life for the worse,” she said and walked away.

* * * * *

Evan stared out of the mountaintop restaurant’s huge windows without seeing the incredible panorama spread below them anymore. His first attempt to impress Bella and get her thinking positively about the possibility of marrying him for a year had failed utterly because once again he’d forgotten she wasn’t one of the legions of women back in California throwing themselves at his feet in order to get hold of his money. He wanted to tell her more about what his company could do—why she should look at it as a force for good rather than just another enormous corporation—but if he thought she would be wowed by a list of patents and inventions, he was highly mistaken.

He needed specifics. He needed to prove that his need to maintain control over Mortimer Innovations was just as important and valid as her need to keep control over her veterinary clinic. If he could introduce some doubt into her mind about who deserved to win, he could wrap up this contest in no time. Who could have guessed the little vet from Montana would prove to be such a competitor?

Or maybe he was just getting soft.

If you’re not a winner, you’re a loser.

His father’s favorite saying. Damn it—he wasn’t going to be a loser in this competition. He’d walk off this show with a wife on his arm contractually bound to be where he wanted, when he wanted. Mortimer Innovations was his—no one else’s—and it was going to stay that way. He’d already set up a series of labs and think tanks around the country to provide guidance for ways Mortimer Innovations could lead the United States into a golden age of sustainable technology production.

He noticed Bella picking at her food and wondered what she was thinking about. Probably her precious animals. Didn’t she realize the world was overrun with pets? No amount of money could solve that problem permanently. Still, as he watched her finally raise a bite to her mouth, he found himself memorizing the shape of her lips and all his thoughts of business strategy slipped away. She’d make someone a wonderful wife. She was kind, thoughtful, full of energy. She was the kind of woman who would be a true partner to her husband, bringing her own thoughts, ideas and plans to the marriage.

He had no experience with that.

His mother had been a pampered invalid as long as he could remember, and now he wondered how she came to play that role. He’d have to ask Amanda to do some research. What if he’d had a mother like Bella, a mother who wasn’t afraid to step out of her door, leave her community, and head out into adventures? A mother who encouraged him, rather than tried to hold him back? He frowned, considering this. Between his mother and father, his childhood was by no means ideal, but it had pushed him in the right direction to become the man he was today. So was it all bad? He was determined, strong, competitive to the extreme, refused to be held back by others’ fears… an excellent businessman.

Maybe he should thank them for being so messed up.

Yeah, right.

“Okay, people, finish up,” Madelyn said. “Time for the next challenge.”

Bella met his gaze and rolled her eyes. He grinned despite himself.

Here we go again.

* * * * *

They stood at the end of the wooden boardwalks that traversed the ground around the upper station. The cameras rolled as Jake gave his spiel. “This contest is different than the previous ones in that it does not require any strength of body to win. Instead, it requires a sharp eye and quick reflexes. The summit of Whistler’s Mountain supports a diverse ecosystem of creatures. You have fifteen minutes to find some of these creatures and photograph them. You’ll earn a point for every different species you photograph.”

Bella tuned Jake out as he shifted into a spiel about the digital cameras they were going to use in the contest. Obviously some company had paid a mint for this particular product placement. Instead she adjusted her hat and covertly studied Evan. She didn’t buy his earlier argument that he deserved to win because his company couldn’t do all the wonderful things it did for the world unless he was running it, but it had changed her perception of him, just a little. Maybe being a billionaire didn’t stop you from being human or caring about other human beings. It didn’t stop him from having irrational fears just the same as everyone else, did it? She stifled a chuckle as she pictured his white-knuckled grip on the handrail inside the tram. Poor Evan. Poor little Moneybuns.

She was still going to beat him.