The Cowgirl Ropes a Billionaire (Page 48)

The Cowgirl Ropes a Billionaire(48)
Author: Cora Seton

Except he’d make it a little more romantic after the first fifty or so times.

He spotted her at the breakfast buffet, selecting a muffin, her beautiful, curly hair spilling out under her trademark cowboy hat. She smiled at the woman behind the table, made a comment that garnered an answering laugh, and moved away.

That was his Bella. Sweet, charming, bringing light wherever she went. He bet she knew the names of all the crew. He was sure they were all rooting for her to win this contest. Probably the audience would be, as well. She was the underdog, of course. The beautiful, broke veterinarian.

And he was the merciless capitalist pig.

He didn’t care. He was going to be the merciless capitalist pig that won the show and took home a wife.

* * * * *

As Madelyn gathered them in for the final day of filming, Bella was disgusted to find herself close to tears. The more she thought about it, especially given his furtive looks her way this morning, the more she felt sure Evan had planned last night’s shenanigans ahead of time. He’d deliberately taken her to the height of passion, and pulled away—literally—and left her hanging with all that pent-up desire.

And the only reason he would do such a thing was because he wanted to win this contest so badly he’d do anything—even something so treacherous.

He’d used her—manipulated her like she meant nothing to him, like all their talks were worthless, the secrets they’d shared just so much information he’d extorted out of her with his velvet interrogations. He didn’t care for her at all. He probably wasn’t even attracted to her. It sickened her that not only had she told him some of her darkest secrets, but that she’d shared her body with him—she’d made love to him.

Only someone truly despicable would seduce her in order to triumph over her. And only someone truly stupid would fall for his trick.

Why would a handsome, accomplished, fabulously wealthy man who could have any woman he chose want her, anyway? What did she have to offer him? A bunch of homeless, mangy animals? A provincial, small-town outlook on life? A wardrobe of jeans and cowboy hats?

She was such a fool.

She caught his eye and glanced away again quickly, feeling her cheeks heat and wishing she could crawl into the tent and hide. Damn him—he knew everything about her now. He knew about her past and her dreams.

He knew every inch of her body.

He knew how to make her thrum with desire.

He knew how to drive her wild.

And he knew how to plunge in the knife and twist it until he’d cut out her heart. She’d fallen for a man who didn’t exist. All the time they’d spent together, the laughter they’d shared, the pain they’d endured side by side—the craziness of this whole adventure—none of it was real.

Damn it—how was she going to get through this day? She blinked back the tears that threatened to fall. Wouldn’t Madelyn love that? She was sure even now a camera was focused on her face. She couldn’t slip—couldn’t show for an instant how she felt.

She glanced at Evan again, despite her best intentions. He was watching her and his eyes widened when they met her gaze.

Shit! She was about to lose it. Bella dropped to her knees, untied one lace and wiped her cheek against her knee as she re-tied it more tightly.

“Bella?” Evan said, moving closer. For God’s sake, was he going to make this even harder? Surging to her feet again, she hurried away.

“I’ve got to go pee,” she said to the crowd. “Sorry, Madelyn—be right back.”

She dashed off before anyone could focus on her and reached the bush before Madelyn could answer. Looking over her shoulder to make sure Evan hadn’t followed—or one of the cameramen—she scrubbed at her face with the tail of her shirt.

She couldn’t fall apart now. Not now.

Kittens—think of kittens. Kittens hungry, kittens thirsty, kittens needing shots and food and care and cages and buildings to house them. Kittens, kittens, kittens.

Taking a deep breath, Bella fought for control. She had to win. She had to. She couldn’t stand to lose now, knowing Evan had used her, touched her….

“Come on, Bella,” Madelyn hollered.

“Coming!” She wiped her cheeks again and told herself to smarten up. She had one shot at changing her life today. One shot to get the resources to save every stray pet in Chance Creek. No time for whining or crying or wishing for something that didn’t exist.

Evan Mortimer was a jerk—a cold, hard, capitalist who cared nothing for animals or people.

Evan Mortimer had to be stopped.

She was the one to do it.

* * * * *

He’d made Bella cry.

Evan marched along the path toward their first challenge numb with shame and remorse. She’d let no tears pass her lids while the cameras were on her, but he’d seen that swipe of cheek against knee when she tied her shoe, and caught a glimpse of her face as she’d raced off into the bush for her second bathroom break.

He’d made her cry. He’d befriended her, teased out all her secrets, enticed her into his bed, made love to her, and made her cry.

He felt like crying himself.

What the hell was wrong with him? When had he stepped over the line from human compassion and become as big a monster as his father was? Wasn’t the sole purpose of his life to steer clear of following in his father’s footsteps?

Maybe it was impossible to run a corporation like Mortimer Innovations without losing your humanity. Maybe making decisions that affected hundreds—if not thousands—of other lives twisted you into some unrecognizable shape.

He wanted to scream with frustration, or better yet—bash his head against a rock. He wasn’t like his father—he didn’t manipulate people into doing his dirty work. He didn’t play psychological games. He didn’t ferret out information and use it against his adversaries.

Oh, who was he kidding? Of course he did. And he’d done it again—to Bella.

He’d made her cry.

He’d used a highly intimate moment to humiliate her—and he knew exactly how that felt.

Taylor Remington.

Hell, the name still made his gut twist. He’d dated her for a few weeks, thinking like usual that maybe she was the one to get him over his aversion to relationships. She’d befriended him at one of the first big conventions he’d attended on behalf of Mortimer Innovations. Lost among a sea of people, he’d been more than grateful when she sat down beside him during a panel discussion and made small talk effortlessly as they waited for the session to begin. Later they went to lunch, and met again for dinner. He hadn’t expected it to go any further, but dinner turned into drinks and somehow they ended up back in her room.