Uh oh. Warning bells went off in Bella’s head. “What did you do?” she demanded.
“Submitted your application,” Hannah said in a small voice. “Three months ago.”
Bella’s mouth dropped open. “Take it back! Make them delete it—I don’t want to be on some stupid reality TV show!”
“It’s too late.” Hannah cringed as if she thought Bella would jump the divider and tackle her. “They already picked you.”
Morgan hurried to add her two cents. “When Hannah first told me what she’d done I reacted like you did, but after I thought about it, I decided it’s a great idea!”
“Yeah, ought to be fun,” Rob said.
“No way.” Bella shook her head, instinctively taking a step back. “You started this and you can put an end to it. Call them up and tell them I’m not interested. I’m sure they’ll understand.”
“I can’t.” If Hannah slumped any further in her chair she’d be under her desk, Bella thought. “They’re on their way over right now for your first interview. Besides, you need the money. You know you do!”
Bella’s cheeks heated at the words Hannah didn’t say—they both needed the money. Otherwise, they’d both be out of a job, something Hannah couldn’t afford, even if Bella was determined to go down with her sinking ship.
“I’ve got appointments all day,” she said, grasping at straws. “I can’t do interviews. I don’t want to do interviews!”
“Actually I rescheduled all of today’s appointments,” Hannah said. She stood up and came around the partition to take the clipboard out of Bella’s hand. “Come on, I knew you’d be upset so I left a little time for us to talk. Let’s go out back—I want to show you something.”
“I don’t want to talk!” But Hannah took one arm and Morgan the other, and with Rob taking up the rear, Bella had no other choice but to allow them to lead her through the clinic to the shelter in the back. The facility had both indoor and outdoor spaces for the pets awaiting placement in adoptive homes. Additionally, Bella had built ad hoc sheds around the wide yard to house the pets that probably wouldn’t ever be adopted. A whole band of volunteer schoolchildren took turns coming in the afternoons to feed and play and walk and socialize with the animals, so Bella knew they received adequate love and attention. She also knew that every pet deserved a forever home with a loving person they could call their own, and her heart ached for the ones that didn’t get one. “What am I looking at?” she said brusquely. She couldn’t believe Hannah had added another responsibility to her already crushing schedule. That she thought such a hare-brained scheme could possibly work.
And that she’d told Morgan all about it and never mentioned it to her.
“All of these animals depend on you, and more come in every day. These beauties weren’t here when I left yesterday.” Hannah pointed to the calico kittens, safe now in their own small cage. “Think about what five million dollars could do for these animals. Think of the food it would buy. Think of how much you could expand the spay and neutering program. We could get a truck and do a mobile clinic so people wouldn’t have to try to lug feral cats into town. Maybe we could actually solve the feral cat problem!”
Bella took a deep breath as she considered Hannah’s words. Five million dollars would go a long, long way. If she didn’t have to worry about money every minute of the day, she could do so much good for the animals of Chance Creek.
“Right? It’s a good idea, isn’t it?” Hannah prompted her.
“Maybe,” Bella conceded. “But filming a whole television show? That must take weeks. I have to come to the clinic every day.”
“It only takes one week,” Hannah said and held up a hand to forestall her protests. “Yes, you can take a week off. When was the last time you took any vacation at all? If you keep working like this, you’re going to have a heart attack, and then where will the animals be? Look, I’ve already moved all your appointments for the next two weeks back and I’ve put a notice in the paper that we’ll be closed until you’re done. The volunteers and I will take care of the rest of these beasts while you’re gone, and your brother’s agreed to take any emergency cases that come up.”
Bella grimaced. She hadn’t talked to Craig in months. He probably thought she should just close down her clinic for good. Her older brother was the real veterinarian in town—at least, that’s what she’d heard more than one rancher say—the veterinarian who wasn’t deathly afraid of horses. You called Craig when your cattle had hoof rot. You called Craig when your mare was foaling for the first time. You called Craig for any and all problems concerning livestock—the bread and butter of the ranches that ringed Chance Creek. She was just the pet doctor—the one who gave Spot and Mittens their shots, rid them of their fleas, and made their last days a little easier. She knew no one took what she did seriously, but she also knew someone had to care for Chance Creek’s pets—they couldn’t all be hotshot livestock vets like her brother.
“We’ll all help out while you’re gone,” Morgan said.
Rob nodded and put an arm around his wife’s waist. “Don’t you worry about a thing. We’ve got your back, Bella.”
“The show’s coordinator is coming in twenty minutes,” Hannah said. “She’ll ask you a lot of questions, go over the paperwork and you’ll have to sign a bunch of forms. Your flight to Canada leaves tonight at seven.”
“Tonight?” Bella squeaked. This was all happening way too fast. “I haven’t even agreed I’ll do the show! And why Canada?”
Hannah bent forward and gripped her face in her hands. “Five million dollars, Bella. Focus on the five million dollars. All you have to do is win a couple of contests. It’s in Canada because it’s located in Jasper National Park—you know they use a new exotic location for each show. Just be grateful you don’t have to fly to Australia.”
“Although Australia would be pretty cool,” Morgan put in. “But Jasper’s great, too. I’ve been there a bunch of times.”
Fine, she was grateful. Not. She couldn’t believe Hannah and Morgan were ganging up on her, and just because Morgan—a Canadian by birth—vacationed in Jasper, didn’t mean it would be any fun at all to film a reality television show there. In fact, it sounded downright cold. “What if I lose?”