The Cowgirl Ropes a Billionaire (Page 42)

The Cowgirl Ropes a Billionaire(42)
Author: Cora Seton

But when Madelyn broke the surface and found her footing, she didn’t head for the bank. Instead, she launched herself at Ellis and bowled him over as he stood up, so both of them sunk beneath the water again.

“What the hell?” Evan said from behind Bella.

They came up locked together this time, Madelyn pounding her fists into Ellis’s chest. “We’re going to lose the show. I’ll be back on daytime television. I can’t do that!”

“It’ll be all right. It’s going to be all right, Maddie,” Ellis said, taking what she dished out.

“Shit,” Nita said. Beside her, Chris and Andrew stood with slack jaws, their cameras forgotten.

“I think we should give those two a little privacy,” Evan said slowly, taking Bella’s hand. She allowed him to tug her back the way they’d come just minutes before, still looking over her shoulder as Ellis pulled the director to him, wrapped his arms around her, and kissed the top of her head.

Footsteps behind them told her the camera crews dutifully trailed along behind.

“That…was a little weird,” Bella said, finally finding her voice.

“Sounds like this show is really in trouble,” Evan said.

“What kind of trouble? I thought it was a popular show.” She sat down heavily when they reached the far bank, her clothes still sopping wet and uncomfortable.

“Money trouble. They’ve had to pay out too many times recently, I guess.”

“Oh.” Bella stopped twisting the fabric of her shirt to wring out the water. “So if I win…”

“If you win, the producers might give Madelyn the ax.”

She thought back to the GPS unit and all the time she’d spent wandering around the woods. Had that been Madelyn’s doing? Or was she really just lousy with directions?

“Can I win?”

He seemed to understand exactly what she meant. “I think so.”

“You think so.”

He shrugged.

Back across the pond, Ellis led a sopping Madelyn out of the water and toward the helicopter. Soon its rotors whipped up a whirlwind of dust and water as it lifted off.

“Now what?” Bella asked.

Chris answered. “On to the next challenge.”

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

The rest of the morning’s hike was far from comfortable. Her wet clothing chafed her thighs and arms as she walked. Water oozed out of her shoes with every step. By noontime her shirt, cami, and bra were dry, but her pants remained damp and she held no hope that her feet would ever be dry again.

Still, when they paused to eat, she untied her shoes and stuffed half of her dry outer shirt into each one, hoping it would draw some of the water out of them. She peeled off her socks and draped them from nearby branches, then looked down at her pants.

“Go ahead—take ‘em off,” Evan said with a grin. “We won’t mind.”

Pursing her lips, she decided to keep them on. She sat down, stuck out her legs to catch as much as the sun as possible, and ate a sandwich.

“I hope the next challenge is a little easier,” she said.

Evan laughed. “If it isn’t, I bet they’re working hard to modify it. Like Chris said—it isn’t good television if we can’t even score a single point between us.” He lowered his voice. “How’re you doing?”

She felt a blush creep over her skin, even though he hadn’t mentioned what happened the night before. She knew he was asking after more than her physical condition. He meant how was she doing emotionally, and she liked him for that.

“Good. I think.”

“You think?”

She shrugged. “I have to win this, you know. No matter if I…” She bit off her words, realizing what she was just about to say. No matter if I’d like to lose. A glance his way told her he’d heard her loud and clear.

“Same for me, you know.” He said, taking a long drink from his water bottle. “I’m not in the habit of forcing women to marry me.”

“Really? I figured you forced at least ten women to marry you every day before lunch.”

“Then divorced them again before dinner? Yeah, billionaires do that stuff all the time.”

“What do you do?” she asked. “I mean I know what your job is, but what do you do for fun?”

She wished that two cameras weren’t recording every minute of this conversation. If only she and Evan were hiking alone, spending time together because they liked each other, not because they wanted to beat each other in some inane contest.

“I like being outdoors, so I run, hike, do a little rock climbing when I can. What about you? What’s your favorite leisure-time activity?”

“Leisure time? What’s that?” She laughed ruefully. “Actually, before the shelter got so out of control, I used to like to go dancing. I haven’t done that in a long, long time.”

“Dancing? Like at a bar?”

“Yeah—line dancing, mostly.” She glanced sidelong at Evan and caught him smirking. “What?”

“Line dancing? Does anyone do that anymore?”

“Are you kidding? It’s huge!”

“In some circles,” Evan intoned and laughed aloud.

“Jerk.” But she didn’t mind his teasing as much as she used to. Maybe only country people line danced; that didn’t mean it wasn’t fun.

“Don’t you take any nights off work?” he said. He was sitting so close she could reach out and touch him. She wondered what the camera crew would do if she took Evan’s hand.

Lots of close-ups.

“Not really. There’s too much to do.”

“You can’t live like that,” he said, turning to her. She read genuine concern in his eyes and her heart warmed.

“I don’t know what else to do.”

“Bella, you aren’t responsible for every animal in the world. You can’t be.”

“Yes, I can.” She knew he was right, but something within her refused to let that thought take hold. “I feel responsible for them all. I can’t help it.”

“Why?”

She glanced his way. “What do you mean?”

“Why should you be responsible for all the animals and not someone else? What about the rest of us? Aren’t we responsible, too?”

“Well, sure, but I…I’m more responsible.” It sounded crazy. It was crazy. But she’d never been able to shake the feeling, not after what happened to Caramel, not when she’d caused Cyclone to break his leg so he had to be put down, too. Saving animals was the only thing she did right.