The Cowgirl Ropes a Billionaire (Page 36)

The Cowgirl Ropes a Billionaire(36)
Author: Cora Seton

“What do you think she’s going to do?” she asked.

“Oh, I bet she’s got a hundred more GPS’s with her. We’ll probably have to start all over again. Tell me,” he said, then leaned back and peered down at her as a raindrop slid down the bridge of his nose, “what’s with you not being able to take the slightest bit of help from me?”

She snorted and folded her arms across her chest. “Help? Like you weren’t going to mess my GPS all up and program the wrong coordinates in it? Right—you’re such a saint you were going to help me win those millions.”

“I could beat you handily, even if I did show you how to work the GPS, you know,” he said. She was close enough she brushed his arm when she shifted her weight, and the touch reminded him of her earlier onslaught, the way she’d searched his pockets as if he belonged to her.

He’d like to belong to her.

He shrugged that errant thought away, but as he searched for something else to say, he couldn’t help reaching out and wiping a drop of rain from her face.

She turned in surprise. “What are you doing?”

A glance down the trail told him the crew were still occupied, Chris gesticulating as he talked into his cell phone. “This.” He leaned down and brushed his lips over hers. He’d wanted to do that for twenty-four hours. Her small cry of surprise made desire surge within him, and he laced an arm around her, pulling her in close as he kissed her again.

She didn’t fight him. It was as if for one second she acquiesced in his attempt to forget the show, the crew, the rain, and their separate lives, and decided to enjoy the moment. He deepened the kiss and her lips parted, allowing him entry. She snaked a hand up to his shoulder and encircled his neck, pulled him down and matched his hunger with her own.

A silence behind him alerted Evan that the crew must have seen them, and he pulled away. Bella sucked in a breath at his sudden removal.

“Sorry,” he whispered. “They’re watching, aren’t they?”

She glanced over his shoulder. “Just setting up their cameras.”

As if in silent accord, they leaped apart, Evan to pace the trail and Bella to retie her damp shoelaces. A muttered curse from Andrew told him the crew hadn’t managed to film them. He caught Bella’s eye and winked. When she smiled back reluctantly, he thought the sun must have just dawned.

* * * * *

Five million dollars was slipping through her fingers and she was smiling like a fool because her enemy had kissed her.

Bella turned back to her hiking boots and tied the wet laces with shaking fingers. Thank goodness the crew hadn’t captured that searing kiss on camera. Was it the long days in the fresh air, or the disturbing nights in the cramped tent with Evan, then alone when he made his break for wide-open spaces, that made her feel so off-balance?

I’m tired and at the end of my rope, and he took advantage of me, she told herself. If he wins this contest, he’ll get the right to take advantage of me for an entire year. Her smile vanished and her throat constricted. She would not think of the sexual implications of that statement. Bad enough she’d lose her veterinary practice and all the animals in her shelter if she didn’t win. Not to mention the fact she’d have to move to some city where she knew no one, and be at Evan’s beck and call for a year. What would she do when he didn’t need her? Just sit at home with her hands folded in her lap, waiting for his phone call? Who would care for the rest of Chance Creek’s pets and strays? Suddenly, she understood what Evan’s claustrophobia must feel like. She dropped her head in her hands and waited for the rushing sensation to ebb away.

“You okay?”

Evan dropped a hand on her shoulder and she flinched away. “I’m fine.” But she wasn’t. This was her chance to get a lock on the lead, and so far she’d proven an idiot at using her GPS. What would she do when Madelyn unleashed the big guns at her? It was obvious the woman somehow knew about Evan’s claustrophobia—how else to explain the tiny tents and gondola ride? Did she know about Bella’s terror of horses? Would she exploit it?

Just the thought made her stomach roil.

“Need some water? You don’t look so hot.” He crouched beside her and lifted a hand as if to check her temperature. Bella surged to her feet.

“I’m fine.”

“Okay. All right—just trying to help.” He stood up, too, and backed away, hands held out to placate her.

“How many times do I have to tell you I don’t need help?” She knew her voice was rising with each word and knew the cameras were focused on her, too, catching all the drama, but she couldn’t stop herself. “I’m a capable, grown woman and I don’t need anybody interfering in my life—especially you. Just leave me alone!”

“Cut!” Madelyn stalked around a bend in the trail, followed as usual by Ellis and several other crew members, and Bella had the horrible sensation that the woman might have seen more than just the drama. Had she seen them kiss? She hoped not.

The director faced them. “I’m glad you guys are salvaging something from this travesty. You two have got to be the lamest excuses for contestants that I’ve ever had on this show. Evan, you realize Bella wants to walk away with five million dollars and leave you hanging? And Bella, you realize that Evan wants to make you his wife,” she emphasized the word like it was dirty, “for a full year? You two are contestants. You are mortal enemies. Your job is to win. So why are the two of you behaving like losers?”

Bella stood absolutely still, afraid to catch Madelyn’s attention by the slightest hitch of breath or dart of eyes. If the director got too angry at them, she’d dig deep into her bag of tricks to punish them. That meant she’d find a way to throw horses into the mix if she somehow knew about Bella’s phobia.

Madelyn shook her clipboard at them. “Lucky for you guys I have two more GPS units. It’s well past noon and the two of you bozos have managed to find less than half of your geocaches. Less than half.” She pointed first at Bella, then at Evan. “I know you two can barely find your way out of a paper bag, but as an added incentive to try to complete this course, I’ll give the first one of you who locates all ten caches dinner at the Little River restaurant, the finest in Jasper. Dinner and a hot shower, not necessarily in that order.”

Bella did glance at Evan this time, at his dripping hair and clothing. The path was turning into a slick river of mud under their feet and in his eyes she saw reflected her own greedy desire to win this prize. Real food? She was there. After the ups and downs of the last few days she needed a dose of normalcy.