The Cowgirl Ropes a Billionaire(10)

By: Cora Seton


Suddenly this all felt like a very, very bad idea.

“That ain’t a man, that’s a monkey,” Jamie pronounced, looking over her shoulder. “Look at that getup he’s wearing. No way he can do an honest day’s work in that. You ought to marry a cowboy, Bella. Don’t we know anyone?” He looked meaningfully at Cab, the only single one of the bunch.

“Leave Cab alone,” Ethan drawled. “He’ll get married sooner or later.”

“Emphasis on later,” Rob said. “The man’s slower than molasses.”

“Who you calling slow?” Cab said.

“Time, people,” Madelyn snapped. “We have a lot of ground to cover.”

Bella tried to ignore the cowboys and listen to the woman’s description of the shooting schedule, the types of contests she might face and a list of rules that seemed endless, but her attention kept returning to Evan’s photograph. Despite Jamie’s assessment of his suit, he was very handsome.

What if she lost? Could she really marry this man and spend a year with him? Would he expect her to sleep with him during that time? She felt her cheeks begin to heat—it had been a long time since she’d slept with anyone; she wasn’t sure she knew what to do anymore. He seemed so self-assured, he probably knew exactly what to do, and he’d quickly become bored with her limited repertoire of sexual moves.

Whoa. Earth to Bella; you’re not going to sleep with him, no matter what.

She gave herself a little shake. She definitely wouldn’t sleep with someone she married after losing a contest. That was ridiculous.

And besides, if she lost it meant she’d have to close the clinic for good. She’d only been able to open it in the first place because she’d received a small inheritance. That was long gone, so once she shut down—even temporarily—it would be just about impossible to start it up again.

Her stomach sank at the thought. She’d lived through her parents’ money troubles and knew how awful that was. She’d have to go to work for someone else—like her brother, Craig. She’d be an employee rather than her own boss, and if he mandated a time limit that abandoned animals could stay in the pound, she’d have to euthanize the ones that overstayed their welcome. She couldn’t bear that.

And she couldn’t bear being around horses, either—not close up like Craig was on a daily basis. Horses reared and tried to smash you to bits. They bit and kicked and threw their riders. She hadn’t been able to go near a horse since the day Caramel died.

The gunshot rang again through her mind. The bullet that had ended Cyclone’s life. That was her fault, too. If only she had listened to her father, both Caramel and Cyclone would have lived. Her father would have made a mint on Cyclone’s stud fees.

They wouldn’t have had to sell half the ranch that had been owned by Chathams since the 1800s.

“Do you understand what I’ve said?” Madelyn asked, breaking into her reverie, and Bella had the awful feeling it wasn’t the first time she’d repeated the question.

“Yes—of course!”

Madelyn gave her a long look. “Take a minute to read over the contract. One minute—we’re already very behind. Ellis, call the camera crew—see when they’re arriving.”

When Bella glanced over at the receptionist’s desk, Hannah waved her notebook—now full of notes—and Bella breathed a sigh of relief. She had to pay attention from here on in. What happened during the next seven days could determine the course of her life. One thing she knew for sure—she couldn’t become Mrs. Evan Mortimer. Because if she did, most of the animals she loved would die.

* * * * *

“Jasper National Park? In Canada?” Evan said into his cell phone as he pulled together notes for his next meeting.

“Yep. Canada. It’s supposed to be gorgeous,” Amanda said.

“Hell, what’s wrong with Yosemite? I could be there in a few hours.”

“Yeah, and you know it like the back of your hand—unfair advantage.”

Exactly his point. He’d take all the unfair advantages he could get if it meant he could marry Betty Bumpkin the cowgirl and get the board of directors off his back. “So—wilderness challenges, that kind of thing?”

“Most likely. I’ve generated a list of the challenges they’ve thrown at contestants in previous years. There’s nothing here you can’t handle.”

He felt pretty confident about that. He was an expert cyclist, a strong sailor, he’d been skiing since he was ten years old and he was even a fair hand at rock climbing. He hadn’t tackled Half Dome yet, mind you, but he was getting there.

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