The Cowgirl Ropes a Billionaire (Page 34)

The Cowgirl Ropes a Billionaire(34)
Author: Cora Seton

Bella stuffed the marmot in her daypack, programmed the new coordinates into her GPS and unwrapped the bar. This was going to be a cinch.

* * * * *

“Could you go any slower?” Chris said behind him.

Evan turned around. “You’re not supposed to talk to me, remember?”

“The camera’s off. So what gives?”

“I twisted my ankle.” Hell, he’d made a huge production of it back there after he’d found his third geocache in the first half-hour of the day. He’d been limping ever since. Was this guy dense?

“Twisted it, yeah. You’ll get an Emmy for sure for that bit of acting.”

Anger tightened Evan’s jaw. “Look, I don’t need your…”

“Fine, fine. Stop talking to the camera and get a move on,” Chris said.

“You’re the one holding me up now,” Evan said, but he resumed his hike, going just a bit faster. Losing points today was going to be harder than he thought. How was he supposed to fake getting lost when the trail was so clearly marked and the GPS took him right to the caches?

He wondered how Bella was faring. Surely she’d have to have found at least five or six by now. He was moving at a snail’s pace. If she was walking as fast as she normally did, she’d have a big lead on him.

As long as Madelyn hadn’t stacked the odds against her in some way.

Evan stopped in his tracks and Chris swore behind him. Could Madelyn be using their separation as a way to sabotage Bella? Was her hike longer, or her caches buried more deeply? What if Madelyn gave her the wrong coordinates and led her astray completely?

He couldn’t think of any way to find out.

Except….

“I’m beginning to think you guys have it out for me,” he said out loud.

“What do you mean?” Chris said. “You know you’re not supposed to talk to us, right?”

“I mean, what’s with the tiny tents? What about the gondola? What’s next—a night in a cave? It’s obvious you guys know I’m claustrophobic, and you’re using it to make me lose the contest.”

“You’re only losing by a couple of points,” Andrew pointed out. “If you hurried up a little bit, you’d make them up in no time.”

“How? If Bella’s course is as easy as mine, she’ll get full points, too.”

“Dude, if you don’t hurry up, you’re not going to get full points,” Chris said.

“Dude, no matter how slow I go, I’m going to finish this course before noon. Obviously today isn’t the day you’re going to screw me over. But tomorrow…I bet tomorrow Madelyn’s got something up her sleeve that will totally mess with me.”

Andrew snickered. “You’re not the one who needs to worry about that.”

Chris elbowed him. “Shut up, man.”

“Sorry.” Chastened, Andrew put a hand on his hip and addressed Evan. “If I were you, I’d just do my best to complete every challenge as quickly and carefully as I could. Don’t worry about Bella.”

“Whatever.” As he resumed walking, Evan hoped his act fooled them, but he was worried about Bella. More worried than he’d been before, in fact. If Madelyn felt no compunction about using his worst fears against him, even though she wanted him to win, what might she do to Bella?

What was Bella’s worst fear?

And where was she now?

* * * * *

“This can’t be right,” Bella said for the twentieth time as she bushwhacked through thick underbrush, following the GPS directions to her next geocache. She’d found the first four easily enough, but her new coordinates took her right off the trail and into the woods.

She should have known they wouldn’t all be that easy. The show wouldn’t expect viewers to watch two episodes of the contestants simply walking down a trail. Still, this was brutal; she needed a machete to get through this undergrowth.

A half an hour later, she was hot, sweaty, and no closer to the cache if her GPS was to be believed. She shook the gadget, convinced something was wrong with it. Shouldn’t she have reached the next one by now? She squinted at the sun that was climbing higher in the sky by the minute, peeking out through billows of ever-thickening clouds. Evan was probably far ahead of her by now, even if his route was as rough as hers. He knew how to operate a GPS far better than she did, and she was beginning to think her earlier successes were simply luck.

“Maybe you should stop for lunch,” Nita said, startling Bella. She’d become so used to the two silent crew members trailing her, she’d forgotten they could speak.

“I wanted to find five caches before I stopped,” Bella said, but she longed for a break. “Ten more minutes. If I don’t find it, we’ll take a rest.”

Another half-hour later, there was no cache in sight and Bella wanted to throw the GPS unit into the next creek they crossed. The thing was worthless. She should have found that cache five times over by now.

“Eat something,” Nita said gently, pointing her to sit on a fallen log. “You’ll feel better and think better, too.”

“You two aren’t supposed to talk,” Paul said.

“Give her a break, can’t you?” Nita said. “She’s having a tough day.”

Something about the way she said it made Bella look sharply at the camerawoman. What exactly did she mean by that?

That you’re having a bad day, Miss I-Can’t-Use-a-GPS-To-Save-My-Life, she told herself. Surely there wasn’t anything more to it.

She didn’t have a phobia of geocaches, after all. Madelyn had no way of knowing she’d be a failure at following directions. Now, if the challenge included riding horses, she’d know Madelyn had it in for her.

No, today it was her own stupidity tripping her up. As usual.

She’d always been the one who caused trouble in her family; the one who ruined everything. She’d been responsible for Caramel’s death, hadn’t she? Responsible for Cyclone’s death and the hard months that followed, ending in the sale of half her family’s ranch.

Plus there was her fear of horses. Her refusal to go anywhere near them again despite her mother’s attempts to help her get over it. One day Sylvie had led her to the corral, where a sweet-tempered mare stood ready to be ridden. Bella’s protests hadn’t stopped her, but her father spotted them from the barn and he put an end to the session with a quick burst of words: Get her away from there! She’s got no business around horses. I can’t afford to lose her; she’s the only one I’ve got.