The Cowgirl Ropes a Billionaire (Page 8)

The Cowgirl Ropes a Billionaire(8)
Author: Cora Seton

Something in her voice told him she was looking forward to the break, and the thought stung him. He talked to Amanda on the phone far more than he saw her in person, but she was part of his day-to-day life—an invisible genie smoothing the road before him in a million different ways. He guessed he couldn’t blame her for wanting some time off—she was really too old to work as hard as she did, although if anyone said so she’d be the first to eviscerate them. Evan swallowed the feeling of abandonment that swelled his throat for some unaccountable reason.

“All right; I’m heading into my last meeting right now. I’ll be ready to go at five.”

“Go get her, killer. You can take that cowgirl.”

“Damn straight. Get ready to meet the wifey, Amanda.”

“I hate her already. Good luck.”

And she was gone. Evan clicked off the phone and stared out at the view. He’d never been to Canada before—something of an oversight, now that he thought of it. He called up a browser on his computer and checked out the Jasper National Park website. Looked pretty cool. Maybe he’d get some climbing in.

Seven days away from work, without even a cell phone to keep him tied to his desk. Evan straightened with new determination. This would be fun.

Yeah, right.


Bella climbed out of the SUV and stared at the rustic lodge in front of her. She felt off-balance from the hours of travel behind her. First the plane ride to Calgary and a night spent in a passable hotel by the airport. Next, she’d been hustled into the SUV and driven 298 miles to Jasper, via Banff. The scenery along the Icefields Parkway between the two towns in the Canadian Rockies was jaw-dropping, and she’d wanted to beg the driver to stop at least once at one of the many viewpoint turnouts, but other than a brief layover for lunch at the Num-Ti-Jah Lodge they drove straight through.

The rules of the Can You Beat a Billionaire television show forbade her from bringing a cell phone or camera, and it killed her to watch glacier-fed lakes, spectacular mountains and wildlife of every description slip past without snapping a shot. I’ll come here again, she promised herself, and nearly snorted out loud. She was broke—about to lose her business and her home. If she wanted to go sightseeing again in this lifetime, she’d better win the show.

She’d better win if she wanted to stay single.

Her thoughts drifted back to the conversation she had with Madelyn at the airport the night before, and her lips thinned with distaste. Madelyn Framingham wasn’t even human. The way she played with people’s lives and apparently relished pitting them against each other—there was something grisly about that. The director had taken her aside as they waited to board the network’s corporate jet.

“You’ve probably considered throwing the show,” she announced.

“Why would I throw it?” Bella had no idea what she meant.

“Marrying a billionaire? Probably sounds like a dream come true to a girl from the sticks.”

“Uh…not really,” Bella said. “I’m not looking for a husband, I’m looking for money.” Aside from saving her business, she would finally be able to pay her father back for the land he’d lost. Only then would she feel like she’d made up for the damage she’d caused him all those years ago.

Maybe he’d forgive her.

“Right. I don’t believe you,” Madelyn said. “So let me make it clear. If Evan wins, you will sign an ironclad prenuptial agreement so when he divorces you after a year you will walk away just as poor as you are today.” She leaned closer, her scarlet lips inches from Bella’s face. “He’s looking for a prop, not a partner. In order to remain in control of his family’s business he must be married for a year. So don’t get excited…and don’t think you can profit from throwing the show.”

“You’ve got to be kidding,” Bella said, rounding on her. “You think I’d give up five million dollars to be Mrs. Evan…Whatever his name is? That’s insane!” Even if the man was as handsome as a rugged movie star.

“What’s five million compared with five billion?” Madelyn arched an eyebrow. “Surely you’re smart enough to do the math.”

“I wouldn’t want five trillion if it came with a man attached to it.” Bella shook her head at the woman’s stupidity. And she was the one in charge of this show?

Madelyn considered her, a calculating look in her eyes. “You’re really that dead set against marriage? Even to a guy like Evan?”

“Hello—if I lose, it’s bye-bye Chance Creek Pet Clinic! What do you think happens to all the animals living there? You think magically they’ll all get adopted? Even the ones missing a limb or an eye or maimed by the neglect of their previous owners? No—they won’t. They’ll be killed. Murdered! And people like you won’t even bat an eyelash. Just another dead kitten—no big deal! Who cares about that puppy—I want more wedding cake!”

Bella knew she was losing it. A number of people in the corporate waiting room had turned to stare at her as her voice raised, but she couldn’t help it. She’d never been away from the clinic for a single night since she’d accepted her first batch of unwanted puppies, and now she’d been gone for eighteen hours. What if something happened and her brother was too busy to come and help?

A wave of panic crashed over her, and suddenly she knew for certain disaster had struck back at home. Hannah couldn’t handle emergencies like she could, and her brother would never prioritize a pet over a useful animal, as he termed horses and cows.

“Give me your phone.” She snatched at Madelyn’s state-of-the-art device. “Give it to me—I need to call the clinic!”

Madelyn looked over her shoulder and made a strange, rolling gesture with her right hand. Bella turned to follow her gaze and was horrified to see that the camera crew had crept up behind her to film this interchange. She looked up and ducked in alarm at the microphone boom one portly crew member dangled over her head.

“What the hell? What are you doing?” Crimson with rage and humiliation, Bella ducked and covered her head with her arms. Damn it, she must look and sound like an utter fool, and they were planning to broadcast that? Now she understood all too well what she’d let herself in for. She would have to be in perfect control for the next seven days and never betray her true thoughts to the show’s producers or its audience. She couldn’t let them turn her into a laughing stock or ruin in her life.