Madelyn fished two new GPS units out of her pockets. “Here you go.” She handed one to each of them, along with replacement cards for their directions to the next cache. “May the best contestant win.”
This time Evan didn’t try to help her program her coordinates into her GPS. With a glance at Madelyn Bella couldn’t decipher, he only hesitated a moment before he punched some buttons on his own gadget and jogged off along the trail. Bella didn’t waste time analyzing the disappointment she felt as she watched his receding back. Instead, she focused on her own GPS, programming her set of coordinates into the little machine and hurrying off in the direction it indicated. She thought she had the hang of it now.
At least she hoped so.
When the headlights of an SUV heralded Bella’s arrival at their campsite, Evan’s shoulders slumped with relief. He had managed to finish the course by midafternoon, and had been whisked off to a motel for a hot shower—actually a hot shower, followed by a long, hot bath, followed by a nap in the luxurious comfort of a king-sized bed—after which he joined Madelyn for a steak supper with several glasses of wine, and returned to their campsite feeling clean, refreshed, and more rested than he’d been in days.
Only to find Bella still hadn’t finished the GPS course. While the afternoon’s rain had tapered off, and the setting sun appeared in between long streamers of scudding clouds, apparently she and her increasingly furious camera crew were still stomping around the wilds of Jasper.
The base crew was tracking their movements and Madelyn had just decided to send in a rescue team when Bella changed course and made a bee-line toward camp.
“Bet Paul finally wrestled that thing out of her hands,” Evan said to Madelyn, standing next to the portable table she’d set up as a workstation.
“She’s stubborn, all right.” Madelyn cocked an eyebrow. “Stubborn enough to win this thing if you don’t watch out. Ellis, send someone to pick them up.”
The contented feeling drained right out of him. Damn it, Bella was supposed to win—and he was supposed to be helping her—so why had he rushed off to find the geocaches like a hound of hell was chasing him all the way?
Madelyn smiled, and the good feeling deserted him all together.
This was Madelyn’s way of telling him she wasn’t going to let him throw the contest. A shower and a good meal—a bribe guaranteed to make him forget all about his good intentions? What else did the old bat know?
That he was claustrophobic, for one thing. Why else shove him and Bella in a tiny tent together every night? Why else force him into the gondola up the mountain? Granted, he was sure Jasper National Park was one of the show’s sponsors, so of course they’d showcase the best the park had to offer, but he knew Madelyn relished the double purpose of that challenge.
She probably predicted her two contestants would develop a mutual lust, too. Why wouldn’t they? They were both young, single, easy on the eyes, stuck together for days on end battling fatigue, hunger and fear.
Was he even really attracted to Bella, or had he been cleverly coerced into feeling something for her?
That thought made him squirm. No, he decided, he hadn’t been coerced into anything where Bella was concerned. He found her to be beautiful in a fresh, sunshiny way, intelligent, caring, but spirited, too. When she rested her gaze on his face, it was like a beacon, drawing him in. Being her adversary in this contest heightened the rush when he snatched a kiss from her lips. She would fight him to the death—he knew that with utter certainty—and yet he knew, too, that given a chance she’d fall into bed with him just as fast as he’d fall into bed with her.
If he let her win, she would have the money she needed to run her clinic in high style, and once the show was over, maybe she’d consent to date him—to get to know the man, rather than the billionaire. Maybe they’d fall in love.
Maybe they’d get married someday.
Or maybe she’d turn her back on him and walk away for good, because if he lost he’d need to find another wife—a woman willing to marry him for a year in exchange for money.
Evan paced away from Madelyn’s table toward a fire one of the crew members built in the center of a ring of rocks. He shoved his hands in his pockets and nudged a stone with his foot. As a millionaire in her own right, beautiful Bella would be besieged by men, all wanting a piece of her pie in more ways than one.
Why would she cool her heels for a year and wait for him? So far he’d shown himself to be arrogant, self-absorbed, a lousy loser, and incapable of even sleeping in the same tent as her for an entire night.
But if he won, on the other hand, he could spend an entire year convincing her he was a stellar guy.
An SUV pulled into the campsite, and Bella exited the vehicle.
“You made it,” Madelyn said acerbically as Bella approached the fire.
“Yep.” Still damp from the rain and shivering, she huddled close to the flames’ warmth, not looking at either of them.
“Glad to see you’re safe,” Evan said.
Her face looked strained in the firelight and Evan scanned the campsite for food. “Where’s her dinner?” he demanded.
Madelyn snapped her fingers and Ellis rushed up with a covered aluminum foil container. “Here—I tried to keep it warm,” he said.
Bella accepted the tin and a plastic fork from him without a word and crossed to sit on the far side of the campfire. The crew began to pack it in for the evening, loading their equipment into the SUV. Madelyn conferred with Ellis, both of them hunched over their little devices.
Evan went to set up the tent, taking extra care as he spread the sleeping bag and plumped the pillow. Bella deserved better than this tonight, but there was nothing he could do to change their accommodations. In a couple of days the show would end and he would shower Bella—his new wife—with luxury.
Because he’d changed his mind again. He’d love to help Bella keep her clinic—hell, he’d do everything in his power to see that she did.
But he couldn’t take the chance that she might walk away from him.
“All right folks, gather up,” Madelyn called. A new SUV pulled into the campsite and Bella sighed when Jake stepped out. The crew hastened to put the finishing touches on his makeup, set up his easel, and light the tiki torches stuck in the ground at angles behind it until their light pushed away the gathering shadows. Natalie, the makeup woman, swooped in for a quick touch of powder on Bella and Evan’s faces, and swooped away again.