"I couldn’t find the stupid signal," Derron said, his face edging into unhappy lines. "I had to ride that damn balloon four times. Finally found it right under my nose." He shook his head. "I thought I’d cost us the race…."
His words trailed off but I knew what he’d meant. He thought he’d cost them the race until he saw us still sitting here. I glanced over at Joel as he emerged from the changing tent, all hard, compact body and stocky legs. He was a soldier, and incredibly fit. I had no doubt he could do this challenge easily. Judging from the smug expression on Derron’s face, he thought the same thing.
The judge cleared his throat. "Liam and Katy?"
We leapt to our feet, all tension returning. "Yes?" I squeaked, my voice sounding ridiculous as I straightened.
"Your penalty is over." He held out the disk. "You may continue on to your next task."
I gave Liam a look of excitement, and he grabbed our bags as I raced for the disk. I glanced over at Derron, who’d gone stiff with frustration, his gaze on his partner in the ring. He wouldn’t look over at me. That was for the best, since I couldn’t hide my excitement.
As Liam came to my side, I read the disk. "Make your way to the finish line for this leg of the race. Return to the Goreme Open Air Museum and look inside for Chip Brubaker."
"Come on. We need to run it. We gotta make up time," Liam said, grabbing my hand just as the judge blew a whistle. Joel had just finished the task. Already.
We exchanged a look, then ran for the museum as if our lives depended on it. Liam’s hand clasped mine so tight that I thought my knuckles would break, but I couldn’t say that I wasn’t doing the same to him. We rushed back to the Air Museum and circled the grounds, looking for the finish line.
“There!” I spotted it just as Joel and Derron turned a corner behind us. Liam cursed and we surged forward.
We got to the finish line seconds before Joel and Derron did.
"Is it wrong to be so intensely attracted to someone like Katy and hate her brother so very, very much?" – Liam Brogan, Cambodia Leg of The World Races
Twelve hours later
"Make your way to the Angkor Wat temple grounds in Cambodia. There, you must search the grounds for the marked mat and receive your next clue. You have thirty two dollars for this leg," I read aloud, then glanced up at my partner. "Guess thirty two dollars won’t get us another hotel room."
"Now that’s a shame," he said, leaning in to lightly kiss the tip of my nose. "I’m still bummed about this last round."
We hadn’t had enough money saved to cover food and a room, so we’d opted on eating. Liam had taken a quick shower at a local hostel and we’d catnapped in chairs at a movie theater. Not the most restful of options, but cheap with our limited money. Of course, it meant that we hadn’t been able to have more alone time together. We’d had to settle for furtive kisses and groping in the dark of the movie theater.
And I’d originally thought I’d be fine with us not getting more privacy, but it turned out I was totally lying to myself. Every time Liam looked in my direction, I got all hot and bothered once more, imagining his mouth on my skin and his c*ck sinking deep inside me, filling the ache between my legs.
It didn’t seem that I was the only one affected by this. Liam constantly touched me, his fingers brushing against my skin, as if he needed those quick, soft touches to anchor him. And of course, those touches just made me all fired up all over again. I got caught up imagining his tattooed body over mine, my hands gliding over the black lines on his arms—
"—Travel agency," Liam murmured in my ear.
"Huh?" I blinked back to reality, my dirty daydreams instantly disappearing.
"We should find a travel agency," Liam repeated. "See what flight gets us closest to Angkor Wat."
"Oh. Yes. Of course." I tucked the clue under my arm and took the hand he offered me, and we sprinted away from the starting line to a nearby row of cabs.
An hour later, we arrived at the airport and booked flights to Siem Reap, Cambodia. We’d just missed the prior flight a half hour ago, and ours wouldn’t leave for another hour.
We were still firmly in last place, and the other teams would have at least an hour jump on us thanks to the flights. And that was on top of the several hours we’d had to wait out for our penalty.
Liam sat down on the floor at the airport and patted his side. I moved next to him and curled up under his arm, pillowing my head on his shoulder and trying not to think of the logistics of things. "We’re screwed unless there’s a miracle of some kind," I told him, ignoring the camera-man that hovered nearby and taped our cuddling.
"Mmm. We’ll catch up," Liam told me, his fingers idly playing with one of my blonde pigtails. "Don’t lose faith."
"I won’t," I told him, linking my fingers in his free hand. My other traced the lines of one of his tattoos, even as he stroked my hair and then my shoulder. Crap, now I was getting all turned on again. "I just worry that we’re going to get booted before we even get started."
"We’ll have a chance," Liam told me. "Worst comes to worst, we can just trade the Ace to Abby and Dean for a chance to get ahead or something. I bet they’d do it."
I said nothing, my stomach giving an awful clench of dismay. For once, I was glad that we were the last ones at the airport, because then no one could tell my partner – my sexy, gorgeous, hard-working partner – that I’d screwed us both and given the Ace to my lying brother.
Abby, it turned out, was right on the money with her advice. Make good TV? The producers will knock themselves over trying to save your asses.
We arrived at Siem Reap on schedule, got in the marked car left for us, and drove out to the Angkor Wat temple grounds. We blew through the first challenge – counting devas listed on the temple walls. It was time-consuming, but not too awful. As we counted, we’d also seen a group of musicians at the center of the temple, and Polly from the Olympian team working on a task. She finished up just as we approached, racing past us to return to her partner.
The first individual task? To select one of the traditional Cambodian musical instruments and learn to play a tune for the nearby judge. Liam had taken the task, and one of the instruments was a stringed instrument – a krapeau. Within a short time, he managed the strings, was humming the melody, and played it for the judge, who handed us our next clue.
That one had been almost too easy.
For my task? We’d had to turn around and race back to Siem Reap and head to a nearby restaurant, where Khmer Cuisine was served. The second individual task was there, and as soon as I saw that it was at a restaurant, I knew the producers were rigging things to get us to stay. I was the only one on the race that had culinary school experience. If there was a challenge I was going to excel at, it was going to be cooking.
Sure enough, when we arrived at the restaurant, I saw that not only was Summer there, working on the challenge, but Brodie and Abby were both there as well. We’d caught up with the other teams somehow.
"Good luck," Liam told me, and gave me a quick kiss before I dashed to my table.
For this challenge, my clue read, you have a table full of traditional Khmer ingredients. You must taste the provided dish to determine how to prepare it and then make it from scratch. A judge will taste your dish to determine if it has been made properly. Once you have completed both dishes to his satisfaction, you will receive your next task.
I sat down at the only empty table – right next to Abby, who gave me a queasy smile. Her table was torn apart, ingredients spread and sprinkled everywhere, and both of her ‘taster’ dishes half eaten. I picked up the first one and studied it, blanching. "Are these ants?"
"They are," she told me. "And they taste every bit as nasty as you’d think."
"Lovely," I said, and gave Liam a grateful smile when he dropped a bottle of water off at the corner of my table. Good man. The other plate seemed to be full of wiggly tentacles on a stick. Okay, that was not nearly as bad. I’d just think of that as the local calamari dish.
As soon as I sat down, Brodie got up and sprinted to the exit, his task completed. Damn. Well, that was all right. The other two teams were still here. I studied my table ingredients, and didn’t recognize many of the spices or herbs. The easiest thing to do would be to taste the dish, then taste each spice until I figured out which ones it had been made with, and go from there. Steeling myself, I grabbed a pair of chopsticks and took a tiny bite of the ant mountain. It was bitter tasting, but there were spices mixed in, and it wasn’t so terrible as long as I didn’t think about what I was eating. Lemongrass, I decided. There was lemongrass in there, and garlic. I took another bite, contemplating. Lemongrass, garlic, and something else I couldn’t identify.
Abby took one look at me, and swigged more water, clearly having issues with the challenge. "I am not so good with insects."
I set the plate down and licked the tip of my finger, then stuck it into a plate of what looked like spices. It was hot and unpleasant, and I swigged more water. Not what I was looking for. I did notice a bit of greenery at the corner of the table, broke off a small blade, and chewed. There was my lemongrass, at least. I pulled my bowl of ‘fresh’ ants closer and set the lemongrass next to it, contemplating my next spice.
"You guys are doing really well," Abby told me, leaning in to whisper. "Making good TV?"
"Guess so," I said, and couldn’t resist a blush. I pointed at the lemongrass at the corner of her table. "You need some of that."
She tore off a handful and shook her head. "This is going to be it for Dean and I, I think. If you turn in the wrong dish, they make you start over, which means you have to keep tasting over and over again, and my stomach can’t handle it right now." She patted her lower belly. "Maybe in another seven months."
My eyes widened and I forgot all about eating. "You’re pregnant? Are you supposed to be racing? Isn’t this dangerous?"
She grimaced and swigged more water. "Keep it down. I haven’t said anything to Dean."
I glanced over at her husband. There was a look of concern on his handsome face, brows furrowed as he watched his wife chug bottles of water. But he clapped his hands and gave her a supportive thumbs up when she looked over at him. "You’re doing great, baby," he called out. "Don’t get discouraged."
"Why are you on a game show if you’re pregnant?" I asked, leaning in to taste another one of my spices. Ugh. Bitter as hell, but possibly in the ant dish. I set it aside in the maybe pile.
"I didn’t realize I was. By the time I did, it was too late to back out. You know I hate these sorts of shows, right?" She shook her head and shuffled a few of her spice dishes, contemplating the mess of cooking on her table. "I swore I’d never be on another one of these things, but Dean’s coach passed away a few months ago and he’s been in a funk. He needed a distraction and when they called and offered, I thought it’d be a good idea." She scrunched up her face and tasted the ant dish again. "I didn’t figure out about you-know-what until a few days before the race, and by then it was too late to change my mind. I figured it couldn’t hurt anything, right? But I didn’t think I’d be eating spicy bugs, either." She shook her head. "I can’t keep them down, which means we’re done."