The Cowgirl Ropes a Billionaire(3)

By: Cora Seton



Bella grew up on a ranch, too. Her parents still lived there, although they’d had to sell about half of the land, but she hardly ever went home to visit, even if it was only ten minutes away. Her family wasn’t close anymore; they hadn’t been in a long time. She envied Morgan and Rob’s tight-knit group of friends who all worked together to support each other. In these difficult times, a person needed friends like that. She knew the Cruzes, the Mathesons, and the Lassiters, but she wasn’t among their inner circle.

Looked like Hannah was getting there, though.

Suppressing that catty thought, she grabbed the daily patient list off of the high counter that separated Hannah’s reception station from the clinic waiting room. She was pretty sure she had some paying customers coming in today. That would offset the ongoing cost of spaying and neutering all the abandoned and feral animals she had in the kennels out back. Bella bit back a sigh. Maybe if she didn’t spend all her time taking care of animals, she wouldn’t have declined so many invitations and she’d be part of that inner circle, too.

“Bella?” Hannah said, breaking into her thoughts.

“What?”

“Don’t you want to know how?”

“How?” she said as she scanned the front end of the clinic to make sure all was ready for the day. Shelves of pet food, common medicines and accessories stocked? Check. Floor swept and front windows clean of streaks? Check. “Oh, you mean how I’ll get all that money? Sure—how can I strike it rich overnight?” She tried not to sound as impatient as she suddenly felt. She was going to lose everything she loved—her clinic, the shelter, the animals who depended on her…

“You’ll be the winning contestant on Can You Beat a Billionaire?”

Bella had reached to tug the venetian blinds on the front window a little higher, but stopped mid-pull. “I’ll be what?”

“You know that show—the one where they pit a poor person against a billionaire? If the poor person wins they get five million dollars. If the billionaire wins, he or she gets to pick some humiliating punishment for the loser. Last time the billionaire made the poor guy clean his house for three months. And it was a mansion! As in—huge!”

“You’re kidding, right? You know those shows are all fake. I bet no one actually wins anything.” She shook her head. Hannah was so gullible., Why didn’t Morgan say anything? Morgan was in her thirties; old enough to know better.

She glanced at Rob, whose smile grew even wider. “Some of them win,” he said.

“Actually, they do,” Morgan said. “I’m sure some scripting goes on and the producers stick people in situations guaranteed to show their rough spots, but the contests are real and several people have walked away with the five million dollars.”

“Remember that guy last year who used the money to refurbish a whole block in his inner city neighborhood?” Hannah chimed in. “I read a follow-up article about him. He turned around the lives of a bunch of people. They have testimonials from the families on the website.”

Bella did vaguely remember that. She never watched the show—she didn’t have time—but Hannah watched it religiously and filled her in on the latest gossip every week. Her receptionist cried with relief each time the poor contestant won and got the money, as had happened once already this season, if memory served her. And if the rich contestant won, she’d stomp around angry for a week.

“Okay, so maybe it’s not all fake. So what? I’m just a country vet who’s going broke. I bet they get thousands of interesting applicants—what makes you think they’d pick me?” Satisfied with the height of the blinds she turned around in time to catch the look Hannah and Morgan exchanged. Hannah began to blush, and since she was blonder than Bella—her hair a corn-silk tassel compared to Bella’s honey locks—the red stain was all too obvious on her pale cheeks. Rob leaned forward, as if eager to see how this next bit played out.

Uh oh. Warning bells went off in Bella’s head. “What did you do?” she demanded.

“Submitted your application,” Hannah said in a small voice. “Three months ago.”

Bella’s mouth dropped open. “Take it back! Make them delete it—I don’t want to be on some stupid reality TV show!”

“It’s too late.” Hannah cringed as if she thought Bella would jump the divider and tackle her. “They already picked you.”

Morgan hurried to add her two cents. “When Hannah first told me what she’d done I reacted like you did, but after I thought about it, I decided it’s a great idea!”

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