When Madelyn had taunted him about his inability to spend the whole night with a woman she thought he’d face her down by bragging about his conquests and claiming indifference to cuddling after the deed was done, but now she saw this wasn’t about machismo at all. Evan was afraid—no, terrified—of being close enough to a woman that she might take advantage of him when he was vulnerable. He couldn’t spend the night with a woman because that would expose him utterly. He couldn’t fall in love with a woman and get married in a normal way because that would literally tie him down and he couldn’t bear to be restrained or confined in such a manner.
She knew the textbook definition of claustrophobia, of course, but had always considered the fear to be based on a physical state. She understood why Evan freaked out in the tram car, for example; it was an enclosed space he could not leave while they were en route.
There was another aspect to Evan’s claustrophobia, though—he was just as afraid of close connections with people as he was of close quarters. If he couldn’t even date a woman, what did that mean for his other relationships? Did he have close friends? What about his family?
Strange to think that someone as rich and successful as Evan could be as damaged as someone as poor and dumb as her.
She woke hours later tangled in the sleeping bag. When she unzipped the tent flap, the cool air was a welcome antidote to her groggy mind, but when she looked at the sky, she groaned. It didn’t take a weatherman to know they’d see rain before the day was done.
“Morning,” Evan grunted at her as he returned from the campground outhouse. He looked disheveled, and when a crew member handed him a cup of coffee, he accepted it and paced to the far side of the fire pit to drink it alone.
* * * * *
“Good morning, contestants!” Jake said with an enthusiasm that made Evan want to belt him. What, exactly, was good about it? He’d barely slept for the second night running, and he was so stiff he felt like he’d aged a decade. Worst of all, rain was coming. Stomping around all day and getting soaked wasn’t his idea of fun. “Today we have a new type of challenge that starts now and will run for most of the day. You’ll each need one of these babies,” Jake handed them each a state-of-the-art GPS unit, “and a set of directions. You’ll be on your own today, however. You’ll each travel to your next destination by a different route.” Evan scowled. How was he supposed to clandestinely help Bella win if they weren’t even in the same place? “Along the way you’ll use your GPS units to discover ten geocaches. Each one will contain directions to the next one. You have until sundown to get all ten and navigate your way to the next campsite.”
“What if we don’t?” Bella asked, looking at her GPS unit worriedly. Evan cursed inwardly. He’d used the things a thousand times—if she’d never used one before, he’d have a hell of a time not beating her ten times over to the final destination.
“Don’t worry, your GPS unit comes complete with a homing beacon. If you don’t find us, we’ll find you, but any geocaches you dig up past sundown won’t count toward your point total.” Jake flashed his trademark smile.
Bella didn’t look reassured.
“It’s not that hard,” Evan said, reaching out to show her. “You just push these buttons to set…”
“I can figure it out,” Bella snapped at him.
Whoops. That’s right—he was supposed to be clandestinely helping her. “Sorry. My bad. So, are we all set here? Can I get going?”
“Here are your first coordinates.” Jake handed them each a small, plastic-coated card. The show must spend a mint on lamination, Evan thought. “And here’s a shovel. It just might come in handy today.”
It took Evan all of two seconds to program the coordinates into the GPS, stow the shovel in his daypack, and head off in the right direction. He made a show of rushing out of the campground but after a quarter mile slowed down. “No need to hurry,” he said aloud for the benefit of the cameras. “She doesn’t even know how to program the thing.” He sat down on a handy log, untied his shoes and retied them, as if he’d done a poor job the first time around. Afterwards, he set off at an ambling pace punctuated by frequent stops.
He might be in for a boring day, but at least he’d lose.
* * * * *
Once she got the hang of the GPS, it wasn’t hard to stay on track. Bella decided the product placement of the units was probably more important to the show than making this challenge particularly hard. It made sense when she thought about it. The company that produced the GPS units would want them to seem easy to use and accurate. If she got lost, they’d look bad.
As she moved along the trail she checked the unit from time to time to see if the dot that represented her was indeed getting closer to the dot that represented the first geocache. Yep, right on target. She’d stuck the little shovel through the flap of the day pack where it was easy to carry, but definitely made the pack heavier than on previous days. Ten geocaches seemed like a lot. She wondered just how much hiking she’d need to do before the day was over.
Evan was right; they ought to bill this show as a weight-loss vehicle, she thought some time later as she reached the spot where her GPS told her the first geocache would be. Her clothes definitely felt bigger today, and the muscles in her legs were more defined.
She looked around the little clearing for a sign of where the geocache was hiding. Was she supposed to just start digging? A few months ago, a little boy at her clinic with his cat had regaled her with a story about geocaching with his family. According to him, the canisters he’d found were hidden—not buried—so people could find them, open them up, sign a log and possibly retrieve a prize, then hide them again for the next seeker.
This was different, she told herself. No one else was going to look for these geocaches—just her. Of course Madelyn would make it difficult by burying them.
She spotted an area where the dirt looked different from the rest of the ground—like it had been disturbed recently—and started digging. Moments later she heard a satisfying thud and bent down to push the rest of the loose dirt away from the metal canister buried in the ground. She pulled it out triumphantly, unhooked the lid and dumped out a laminated card, a stuffed animal that vaguely resembled the marmot she photographed the previous day, and an energy bar.
Hey now, if the geocaches all contained treats, she was on it!