"I bet his ears wants to know what silence feels like. Doesn`t surprise me." He grinned. "All men above a certain age need to restore their strength once in a while." "And what age is that?" "As far as I know, men reach their peak around 26. After that it goes downhill," she said as he gave his lower regions a tell-tale look. "That might be true for some men, but not all," he seemed to bristle slightly. "Ah, you`re crossed that line, haven`t you? Oh dear, if I remember correctly, you`re closing in on the 30 number, aren`t you?" "I`m only 27. Still, men are like wine. Improves yearly." She laughed. "Depends on the wine. Most just turn to vinegar." "Sounds more like bad decision making. Suits you right if you choose the wrong brand." His mother just stared at them as if she was baffled by their exchange. She shouldn`t be. They had been talking like this every time they met for the last years, ever since Lena decided to quit being a doormat and started fighting him instead. Elsa seemed to sense a short pause in their tirade, and she tried to steer the conversation into safer territories. "It seems that it will start snowing soon, don`t you think? It`s fantastic winter weather we have up here," Elsa said and looked at them both with a polite smile on her face. "Not as cold as the inside," Devon chuckled softly as he gave Lena a wink. Lena opened her mouth to retaliate. It was either that or using her fists, and she knew she would never be able to win over Devon in a fistfight. At least without resolving to use some unfair methods. In the heat of the moment, she was even willing to use illegal methods to pin him down and he seemed to understand that since his smile widened. But before Lena could do either, his mother stepped between them, probably to protect her firstborn. Just like a mother hen would protect her chick. In this case, it was hardly needed, since her chick was a head taller than Lena, and had muscles enough to lift her more easily than Lena wanted to admit. "So, you really are single again, dear?" Elsa asked Lena. Lena wanted to sigh. What was it about the older generation and their desperate need to get everyone partnered? Just six months ago, Lena had been in a relationship, but it had not ended well. He had left her, and she still had no interest in starting another. "Yes, I`m saving my virginity for that special person," Lena said with as much conviction as she could muster. Devon was laughing so hard that he held on to his stomach. "Is there something wrong with that?" Lena asked him haughtily. "You shouldn`t spin such stupid tales to my mother. She might believe you." "I always speak the truth," Lena said. "Even when I say that you`re a scumbag." She gave him a fake smile. Her mother came over to them and intervened. "Elsa, could you help me with the sauce, please?" "Why, certainly," Elsa seemed to welcome the interruption. Lena`s mother gave her a stern look as if she ordered her to behave herself. Lena pretended to be ignorant. As the two ladies disappeared, she suddenly realised that she was left alone with Devon in the hallway. Shit! Her strategy stunk. What a mistake! She had been so busy thinking about what insult to throw next that she had allowed herself to be outmanoeuvred by their mothers` matchmaking plans. Maybe she should have just opted for the long reddit lecture of the benefits of marriage instead of trying to avoid it. Oh well, she could always find some other excuse to leave him. Her quick thinking had saved her in plenty of similar circumstances. "Excuse me. I need to unpack," she said as she turned and tried to flee. "Not so fast," he said as he grabbed her arm and prevented her from leaving. An electric current seemed to travel from his hand and into hers. He was an expert in unsettling her. She wanted to pull her arm away from him, but that would be more childish than she wanted to appear. She sent him an icy stare. "Did you want anything?" "What are you offering?" he asked as his eyes seemed to ignite. She saw his eyes wander down to her lips and she couldn`t help herself from wetting them with her tongue. Down girl, she reminded herself. He`s not interested. He`s only aiming to win, no matter what it takes. In the last few years, their arguments had become riddled with sexual innuendos, and if she backed down now, he would only think he was winning. He had started it, probably as a strategy to make her blush and bow to his superiority. But she was not going to bend to him or any other man. "To you? Nothing," she said sternly and lifted her chin in order to make an insult out of her words. "I could help you with that virginity problem," he said and moved closer to her. "Who said it was a problem? It`s hymen. A thin piece of extra skin. It`s not a problem." And she had lost it years ago, Lena wanted to add, but Devon was the last person she wanted to share such details with. He leaned toward her, slowly crowding her against the wall before he casually placed his hands on each side of her waist. He leaned toward her, allowing her to take in his masculine scent and giving a close-up of his muscled chest behind his thin shirt. She could not help the gasp that she emitted by his domineering action. Ooh my, she thought suddenly. She had always had a weakness for muscled men with a nice aftershave. Not to mention a man that went for what he wanted. Damn it. He was pushing all the buttons that she never wanted to admit she had. She could feel her pussy getting warmer and a small drop of liquid in her panties only accentuated the truth. She knew her face was probably showing her surprise at the instant reaction in her body. Oh shit, she thought as she took a deep breath and inhaled his manly scent. Then he ruined the moment by saying something. "It`s still blocking the way to pleasure. You will not regret losing it." His words were like a bucket of cold water right into her veins. She placed her hands on his chest and pushed him away. Hard cam. "You`re too late. As always," she sneered before she turned and walked briskly away from him. Shit, had he put her into a trance or something? For a brief moment, she had actually wanted to lean against his broad chest, letting his strength transfer his heat into her body and comfort her. "Good. Blushing virgins are such a bore. I much prefer training someone that doesn`t bleed," Devon said nonchalantly. She turned abruptly. "Stay away from me, Devon! Or you would be the trainee. Not me!" "I can`t wait, honey. When do we start?" She ignored him, hoping that the following week would pass as quickly as possible. *** Lena watched as her cousin and her husband played in the snow with their two kids. They always looked so happy together and Lena felt her mouth turn into a smile just looking at them and listening to their laughter. "Watching the model-perfect family?" a familiar male voice asked behind her. She jumped in surprise. She hadn`t even noticed he was there. He seemed to have a sixth sense for ruining every happy moment. She sighed. She didn`t want to fight him right now. She felt tired after a long day. She had got up early in order to pack everything, then she had worked for a few hours before driving into the mountains on the slippery roads. "Has the cat got your tongue?" he asked. "What do you want, Devon?" Lena sighed and turned to him. "You know what I want," he said enigmatically. "Honestly, I don`t. I`m not a mind reader. I just know that it would be easier for both of us if we avoided each other." "Easier for whom?" "Look, Devon. I`m really tired and I don`t want to argue with you right now." He seemed surprised for a moment. She turned her attention back to the small family. They were building a snowman right beside the road. Moments later, she heard someone approach and suddenly a cup was held in front of her. "Drink this." She glanced up and met Devon`s grey coloured eyes. "What is it?" "Cappuccino. Coffee to wake you up and cacao to sweeten your temper, puss." He gave her his usual grin as she accepted. She just gaped at him. "Thanks," she said as she started sipping the warm liquid. "Have you decided to play nice for a change?" "No. I prefer a kitten with claws, that`s all." "A few hours of sleep are all I need." "I don`t mind sharing." He winked at her. "Being afraid of the dark is quite normal, I hear." She paused before adding, "...when you`re five." "I wasn`t thinking of sleeping." "Nightmares makes sleeping difficult, but I`m sure that there are plenty of motherly women around here that will take care of you is you ask nicely," she said ironically. "Sounds as if the coffee is working," he said and laughed. He moved closer to her. "Maybe I prefer the sleepy kitten after all." "We don`t always get our wishes fulfilled." "You know where to find me if you want to do something about that," he said before he walked away. "Braggart!" she said to his back. She just shook her head and walked over to help with rolling the large snowballs. *** As it turned darker, they all went inside the cottage. Her parents owned one of the largest cottages in the area, allowing a good number of guests to visit at the same time. It was almost like a house in size, with a large main room in the middle and two wings with bedrooms and bathrooms on either side of the main room. The guests were always placed on the left-wing, while her family had three bedrooms on the right-wing. Her parents even had an en-suite bathroom beside their room, something that Lena had her brother always envied them. Still, now that her brother wasn`t here, she would have the bathroom all to herself. Lena hurried into her bedroom to remove some of the extra clothes. Outside it was freezing, but as soon as she came inside, all the woollen clothes were making her sweat and it started to itch. It became so unbearable that it was better to just change and get it over with. She pulled off her sweater before opening her ski pants and pull them down. "Ah, striptease. My favourite," a deep voice said behind her. Lena froze immediately and turned to the open door behind her. Devon was leaning casually against her door frame and he winked at her. "What are you doing here? The guest wing is on the other side of the living room," Lena informed him. "I know, but it was full. Your mother placed me next door to you." "Why? That`s Ben`s room." "It was vacant, I guess." Devon shrugged his shoulder. "Or she might have another mischievous reason for putting me near you." Lena just rolled her eyes. She knew exactly what sort of reason that would be. Matchmaking. Again. She sighed. "Go away, Devon," she said as she slammed the door in his face. "Hey, I wanted to see the rest of the show." He laughed heartily. "Try the Internet!" *** As soon as Lena had changed her clothes, she went in search of her mother. She`d better have a very good explanation for placing Devon next door to her. Eventually, Lena found her in the kitchen where she was busy doing the final preparations for the dinner. "Ah, perfect timing. I need a helping hand or two," her mother said as soon as she spotted her. "Mom, why have you given Devon Ben`s room? He`s next door to me." "Where else could I put him? It was the only room that was vacant." "No, there are plenty of rooms in the guest wing." "Not now. All the rooms are taken except the small one and we can`t place him there." "Why not?" Her mother laughed. "He wouldn`t fit. Haven`t you noticed?" "As in width?" Lena felt confused. He was broad-shouldered, but still, he didn`t seem to have any excess fat on his body apart from his muscles, so he was definitely not fat. He was both muscular and brawny, but the worst was his presence. He had the ability to make every set of eyes turn in his direction whenever he entered a room. As if he was someone important and your eyes were simply drawn toward him. It had always annoyed her immensely that she was just as foolish as all the other women that were watching his every step. She had tried to ignore the nagging sense that she needed to turn and watch him. In the end, she had no way of ignoring such a basic instinct. It always felt like defeat when she sneaked a peek at him, even when it felt as unavoidable as eating or sleeping. "No, dear. He`s too tall. His feet would be hanging outside of the bed. It`s a child`s bed, after all. Even you would find it uncomfortable." "Ah, I see. Still, he could use a chair." "A chair?" Her mother chuckled. "Poor man. That wouldn`t help much. Remember, he`s our guest, so he must be allowed to sleep well. No, your brother`s room was the better alternative. But you can always move to the guest wing if he scares you," her mother teased her lightly, knowing very well that Lena would never move out of her room. "Whatever gave you that idea? He`s just annoying as hell, that`s all." "Yes, I figured you two could easily manage to share a bathroom for a few days." "Share a bathroom?" It suddenly dawned on Lena. They would both have to use the bathroom on the other side of the hall. Her parents had en ensuite bathroom so they wouldn`t mind having another guest in the family wing. She sighed. "It`s about time that we bought a larger bed for that guest room, Mom." "I`ve thought about it, but I don`t think we can close the door of we do that." Lena realised that it would be no point continuing the discussion. "What did you need help with?" she asked instead. *** Later, as they sat down by the table to eat dinner, Lena mysteriously found herself facing Devon at the opposite side of the table. She lifted her eyebrow as if she wanted to ask him why the heck he was placed there. He nudged his head to the side, to indicate his mother`s smiling face. Oh great, Lena thought. Matchmaking. She just hated it when the elder generation decided to save the younger ones from the terrible situation of being single. Still, being single was far more preferable than being stuck in the company of a man that she didn`t like. Demonstratively, she turned to her table partner beside her. She immediately became aware that her cousin was busy talking and cutting up food for her youngest daughter. Which meant that she would not provide any help in avoiding Devon. It was a clear example of expert table seating. Lena felt outmanoeuvred. The elder generation was obviously cleverer and a lot more devious than she would have suspected. The situation screamed of some powerful strategists being involved in the seating arrangements. "You can`t avoid talking to me," Devon said and smiled at her. "I can easily keep my mouth shut and just eat my dinner." "I doubt that. Women like you like to jabber constantly." "Women like me? And what is that supposed to mean?" "Most women in my experience, but some nag more than others." He lifted his glass of red wine and slowly sipped it. Lena watched as his tips turned a deeper colour, making them wet and fuller by the red liquid. She felt confused that she had never paid any attention to his lips before. He had nice, full lips for a man. Lips like that were just taunting you to kiss them, Lena realised, and she started to wonder what he would taste like if she ever got close enough to kiss him. She knew she was staring and quickly she lowered her eyes to her plate and started to push her food around the plate. Don`t blush, she tried to command herself, but the more she tried to avoid it, the more inevitable it seemed to become. Usually, she tried to avoid looking at him. Not wanting to start a conversation when she didn`t have to. "Right now, you`re doing most of the nagging," she said as she concentrated on cutting a small piece of meat and placing it onto her fork along with some vegetables. She carefully lifted the fork into her mouth and started chewing as she glanced over to him. He seemed to have followed the procedure to the minute detail as he stared at her. She stopped chewing, surprised at the heat in his eyes. "Is something wrong?" she asked. That seemed to shake him out of his trance. A slight redness emerged on his cheek and she wondered if he was blushing? Why? Had he been thinking about something in particular? The blush seemed to disappear just as quickly, and she wondered if she had actually seen it or not. Still, it puzzled her as he moved their conversation into safer territories, approving both the food and the chefs. Her mother was beaming with pride and she realised that her nemesis did indeed have some charm once he put his mind to it. She took the opportunity to just sit and relax, eating her food and not participate in the conversation. As they were waiting for the dessert to be brought in, Devon looked at her. "Tired?" She glanced at him in surprise. "Yes." "Why don`t you go to bed?" "I will. As soon as we`re done here." "Worried that we will eat all the dessert?" "I`m trying to be polite. I know it`s not something you`re familiar with," she said. "Right now, I`m more worried about you, than manners." "That`s where we differ." "If you were mine, I would have carried you off to bed right now." Her eyes widened at his statement. "I make my own decisions and that Alpha-male routine is just boring," she said icily. "Is it?" She raised her chin in defiance. "Trust me. It is." "I bet you`re wetting your panties right now just, imagining what it would feel like if I lifted you onto my shoulder and carried you away." If only he knew how right that assumption was, Lena thought in surprise. She wanted her body to cooperate with her mind. She didn`t like this man, so there was no reason why she should feel aroused by his words. She snorted. "You`ve seen too many porn movies. The real world is very different." "Then how come your eyes glaze over with arousal?" "You`re delusional." "I doubt that. You`re just hiding the truth from yourself." "And what truth is that?" "That you want me." "Do I? Really?" Lena added a slight laughter to make it into an insult. He was really too full of himself so it wouldn`t hurt to cut him down a peg or two. "Yes. You`re just trying your damnedest to deny it." She snorted again. Trying to make light of his words, knowing that if she played her part, he would never know how much he could affect her. "But I can be patient," he said while he made another sip at his wine. "Maybe you should concentrate on the food instead of lecturing your table partner," she scolded him. "I much prefer doing some other sort of lecturing." "Find another victim." "I prefer you. You`re so adorably reluctant." "Spare me. I`m not into non-consent," Lena said as she got up and walked away from him. She had no idea where she was heading. She just needed to get away from him and the constant irritation that he provided. She walked into the hallway and entered the bathroom. The long day was catching up on her. She longed to go to bed, but she didn`t want to be the first to crash. Her pulse was running so high that she doubted she would be able to sleep at all until she was completely exhausted. That meant she would have to endure his comments for a few more hours. She took a deep breath before she splashed some cold water on her face. It would have been a lot easier if he would stay far away from her and talk to some of the other guests. Instead, he seemed to be constantly in her face and judging by his mother`s smiles, they were purposely throwing him in her direction. She resented any sort of help that would change her single status without her consent and right now, it was all too obvious that they intended to make a couple of them. After all, they were the only single persons in the group, making it even more obvious why they were being forced together.