The Cowgirl Ropes a Billionaire (Page 41)

The Cowgirl Ropes a Billionaire(41)
Author: Cora Seton

“Do we have to walk across those?” Bella asked the crew member who strode up to greet them.

“Yep,” he said. “I’m Louis, by the way. You get a point for each stuffie you grab.”

“That shouldn’t be hard,” Evan said.

“Once you fall off, you’re out,” Louis said.

“That won’t support my weight,” Bella said, pointing to the nearest bridge.

“Sure it will. It’s an aluminum alloy; tough as anything. You don’t have to worry about it breaking; you just have to worry about staying on it.”

Bella bit back an oath and approached her bridge slowly, willing Evan to go first so she could learn from his mistakes. With a glance in her direction he did so. Sliding one foot out on to the narrow span, he fought for balance as it tipped and swayed. “Hell,” he said.

He tried again, inching first one foot, then the other, out onto the bridge. Swaying and swiveling, he fought to keep upright. He’d almost made it to the first pole when the bridge tipped and his arms wheeled for balance. He hung on for an instant before he landed with a splash in the water below.

Bella shrieked, then clapped a hand to her mouth and hoped no one had noticed.

“Keep going,” the crew member yelled to Evan, pointing toward the far shore. Evan struck out with an overhand crawl and reached it a few seconds later. His camera crew skirted the perimeter of the pond and joined him on the other side.

“Let’s see what you can do!” Evan called back to Bella.

If she had her way, she’d follow the cameraman’s example and walk around the pond. Still, she couldn’t do worse than Evan had.

She approached her bridge with caution, but decided not to emulate Evan. He’d inched his way out and gotten nowhere. Instead, she’d move as fast as she could and try to reach the first pole and cling to it while she retrieved the stuffie. Even one animal would help her catch up to him in points.

Standing on the pond’s bank, she took a deep breath, fixed her eyes on the prize and dashed forward.

Her foot slipped and a split second later she hit the water with a tremendous splash. Coming up soaked and sputtering, she heard Evan’s laughter from the far side of the pond. “Swim for it,” he called out and beckoned her on.

“Well, that’s going to make some riveting television,” Chris was saying to Andrew when Bella staggered out of the water. “You think we should call Madelyn?”

“And spend the rest of the day waiting here while someone rebuilds those to be more stable?” Andrew said.

“Hell, no,” Evan said.

Chris shot him a dark look, but after a moment he agreed. “Let’s keep moving.”

They’d only walked a half-dozen steps, however, before the roar of helicopter rotors had everyone turning in their tracks. As they watched, the helicopter touched down on the far side of the pond and Madelyn hopped out, followed closely by Ellis.

“Shit,” Chris said.

“Double-shit,” Andrew said.

“Are you trying to kill me?” she hollered as she stalked around the perimeter of the pond, Ellis trailing her as fast as he could. “Are you collectively trying to give me heart failure? That’s not television; that’s a train wreck!” She puffed up to them, out of breath and flustered in a way Bella had never seen her. “No, scratch that—a train wreck would make great television. That was as watchable as leaves rotting on the ground! Now get back there and do it again!”

Bella just stared at her. So did Evan. What had happened to the perfectly-in-control director?

“Madelyn…?” Chris said. “Everything all right?”

“No, it’s not all right. The producers are livid. First yesterday’s fiasco, now this. We’re over-budget, our ratings nose-dived last quarter…”

“Madelyn, calm down. It’s going to be okay,” Ellis said, catching up and trying to hand her a cup of coffee.

“No, it’s not!” She batted the coffee out of his hand and it splashed to the ground. She pointed to Evan and Bella. “You heard me! Get back on those bridges.”

“No,” Evan said. He stepped in front of Bella in a protective gesture which she appreciated given the crazy look in Madelyn’s eyes.

“Ellis! Get me Legal…”

“I’m not bailing on my contract; I’m just saying those bridges are impossible to cross.”

“Baloney!” Madelyn said. She whirled on her assistant. “Ellis, cross that bridge.”

Bella looked to Ellis with the rest of them, assured the assistant would do just that. He always jumped when Madelyn barked an order. But instead, he took a deep breath and said, “He’s right, Madelyn. We both saw what happened; the bridges aren’t stable enough.”

Madelyn’s face grew paler and the scarlet of her cheeks intensified. “Cross. That. Bridge.” She punctuated each word with a stab of her finger.

The rest of them held their breath, mesmerized by the director’s rising tones. Ellis stood his ground, his dark eyes inscrutable, before he extended his hand toward her. “I’ll cross it when you cross it.”

Bella blinked. She didn’t think the assistant had it in him. But as he and Madelyn glared at each other, a thought insinuated itself into her mind. There was more going on here than met the eye. This wasn’t just a contest of wills between boss and underling; something else sparked between them.

Lust.

Were Ellis and Madelyn a couple? Bella raised an eyebrow at the thought. Or…did Ellis want to be a couple, but Madelyn remained unconvinced?

Ellis was daring Madelyn; daring her to climb down off her director’s high horse and roll in the muck with the rest of them. Bella couldn’t believe he thought she’d do it.

But to her surprise—and everyone else’s, judging from the collective intake of breath—Madelyn took his hand and allowed him to lead her back around the pond. Bella trailed after them, tugged as if by an invisible cord.

She had to see this.

Evan followed close behind her, and they stood together as director and assistant took their respective spots at the beginning of each bridge.

“Not stable enough, my ass,” Madelyn hissed at Ellis.

“We’ll see, won’t we?” He set a foot on his span and sent a ripple of motion down the strip of metal.

“We certainly will.” Madelyn set a foot on her own bridge. “Ready. Set. Go.”

Bella didn’t know what she expected to happen, but the sight of Madelyn and Ellis lurching out over the slippery, wobbling metal spans, then simultaneously losing balance and pitching headlong into the pond brought her hand to her mouth to cover a shriek of laughter. She dashed to the side of the pond, ready to wade in and help them back out of the water.