And the people she loved did loathe her. Craig, her parents…because of what she’d done. Because of what she’d made them do.
And now she was bankrupting her business—the one thing she’d ever gotten right.
She didn’t deserve love.
Not until she beat Evan and used her millions to fix everything she’d broken.
* * * * *
When the trail they followed broadened out into a wide field an hour later, Bella stopped dead at the sight that greeted them. Evan, catching up to her, immediately saw why.
“Miniature golf?” Bella said, turning to him. She’d regained her composure somewhere along the trail, and Evan had recovered his equilibrium, as well. He couldn’t say exactly why the thought of Bella’s family blaming her for their dog’s death burned him so much, or why he wanted to hunt them down and demand they apologize to her, but that’s exactly how he felt. Couldn’t they see she hadn’t gotten over the loss, or the blame they’d heaped on her? A pet’s death was traumatic to any child, but being told that she was responsible—and not letting up, even after all these years? That was unforgivable as far as he was concerned.
“I guess they really want us to score some points,” he said as he looked at the curved green tracks flanked by windmills and pyramids and replicas of the Eiffel Tower.
“We should be able to handle this,” she agreed. “It’s just—I thought they were showcasing Jasper National Park. What does this have to do with Jasper?”
“Nothing,” Evan said. “Maybe they’re just trying to shake things up.”
A crew member stepped forward and handed each of them a golf club and ball. He pointed Bella to one starting point, and Evan to another.
“These are par three courses. Sink your ball in the hole in three shots or less and you score a point, up to ten points for ten holes. The person who finishes the course first will win an extra point. Ready?”
Evan nodded and so did Bella.
Evan considered the course ahead of him. Despite the chance to win an extra point, speed wasn’t the goal—accuracy was. He needed to play each hole carefully and methodically, and rack up the points. He’d never been an avid golfer; he hated getting stuck on a course for hours if his partners were slow or tedious. All too often he’d found himself in a foursome with two other perfectly decent human beings—and one complete asshole.
Not his scene.
He was reasonably athletic, though, and competent in other sports that required accuracy and control. This game should be a piece of cake.
He sunk the first hole in three shots and the next hole in two. After that he faced an uphill shot, through a gap cut into a Noah’s ark, and into a hole placed near the far rim of the track. He lined up his shot, swung and took it, but the ball bounced off the side of the Noah’s ark and rolled right back down to land at his feet.
A feminine curse to his right made him smile. Bella must also be facing a tough hole. Thoughts of their time together last night invaded his mind, leaving him aching to get the day’s events finished so he could climb back into the little tent with her. He’d make her understand that her family was crazy and she was worth every bit of happiness that came into her life and more.
He took a second shot and missed again. Muttering a bad word, Evan cleared his mind of all distractions and prepared for another try.
“Woo-hoo!” Bella whooped just as he swung. He jerked around to see her dancing on an artificial green. His own ball rolled up the hill partway, hung there and rolled back down to bounce off his shoe.
“Damn it.” He picked it up and walked to the next hole.
His concentration was shot, however, by Bella’s continual shouts and laughter. She must be nailing the course the way she hopped around, pumping her fists over her head, slapping high fives with the camera crew and shaking her hips in a rather suggestive victory dance now and then.
“Quiet on the course,” he called over to her finally.
“Why? Am I distracting you?” she yelled back, dancing around again.
Um, yes. He was distracted. Obviously her successes on the course had restored her good humor. She moved to a new hole and he turned back to his own course, only to be jolted mid-swing again by another of her high-pitched victory cries. She was doing that on purpose and it was working—he’d blown three holes now.
He got back to work and won three more, lost one, and won the final one. Six points in all and one point for finishing first.
“About time,” Bella said.
He turned with a jerk and saw that she’d been waiting for him. Forget about that last point, but how on earth had she beaten him?
And what was her score?
Before he could ask her, Jake Cramer arrived on the scene and with him a number of crew members who rushed to get ready for the day’s closing wrap-up.
Evan exchanged a glance with Bella and both of them trailed over to where Natalie had hurried over to touch Jake up. He waved her away, and she turned her attention on Evan and Bella while Jake waited for another crew member to set his microphone up. Madelyn shooed Natalie away and Jake began his traditional patter.
“Another day has come to a close on Can You Beat a Billionaire, and it’s been a tough one. Bella, what did you think of the day’s first challenge?”
As the cameras swung to face Bella, she rolled her eyes. “Um, it was impossible.”
“It did look difficult. How long do you think you managed to stay on the bridge?”
“One second?” she ventured.
“Try one-tenth of a second,” Jake said happily. He swung around to Evan. “You’ve climbed sheer rock walls, Evan. Why was the bridge so difficult?”
Was the guy a total idiot? “Because it was thin, slippery and unstable,” he said, glaring at Madelyn—cleaned up and back to her usual glowering, impeccable self—over Jake’s shoulder as she gestured to him in wide circles. What the hell did that mean? Did she want him to turn a somersault?
“It was really exciting,” Bella said, sounding anything but excited. Evan realized she’d interpreted Madelyn’s signals—step up the energy.
“Yeah. Thrilling,” he said. “That water was really…wet.”
Madelyn smacked a hand to her forehead.
“Moving on to lunchtime. Seems like you two had a real meeting of the minds over your sandwiches. What were you talking about?”
Did he really have to go along with this? Evan wondered. “We were telling each other about our childhoods.”