"Honestly, I don't think I feel a spark with any of them. They're all nice lads, and I can see being friends with most of them… but I've definitely not been swept off my feet."
Henrik flopped on the bed, with a mischievous look on his face.
"No prizes for guessing who you fancy then?" he laughed, his eyes not quite matching his chirpy words. He gazed at the paused screen, where Fox sat speaking to the camera.
"I know, I know," Lucas grinned sheepishly while closing the laptop. "But it's hard to tell just from watching. I'm sure we'll both be surprised when we get in there."
"Fair point!" Henrik rummaged around for his phone. "I like the look of Lottie too but I'm not convinced she wouldn't eat me."
Lucas snorted, as he began scrolling through his own feeds. There wasn't much new info - Fox was a fan favourite along with Bobby, people were suspicious of Hope and Noah, Priya would be in high demand with the glossy mags when she exited, and the memes around Gary and Rocco were going strong.
He hadn't been able to find out much about Fox - her job description seemed intentionally vague and there were no friends stepping forward to grab headlines on her name.
Mindlessly scrolling didn't do much to calm his nerves, and he felt his anxiety starting to flare. He fished for his headphones, opening spotify on his 'relax' playlist.
Henrik started giggling, probably lost in memes again, and Lucas was glad he wasn't going in tomorrow by himself. He'd been a bit taken aback by the young Swede at first, not used to someone who spoke their mind so directly, but they got on well. Unfortunately they seemed to have similar taste in women, both keen to impress one girl in particular.
Still, hopefully Fox would get the spark she was looking for. It was with embarrassment that he'd admitted even to himself how much he was looking forward to seeing her in the morning. It's not like she was the only woman in the villa but… Lucas couldn't explain it, not really.
He needed to meet her.
Henrik had barely got back out of the pool he'd cannonballed into on arrival, when a happy greeting sounded behind them both.
"Hey there!" Fox grinned, completely at ease as she welcomed them. Wearing a striking bikini, both men found it a little difficult to get their words out.
Lucas introduced himself, as did Henrik, and he noticed the other man puffing up his chest a little.
"The others are still asleep, though I'm sure they're not far behind me," she explained.
"You didn't wake them?" Lucas smirked. "How cheeky! I love it."
She beamed at him, biting her lip slightly and his nerves started to recede, replaced by something else.
"You've gotta tell me," she continued to both of them, "how bad are the memes?"
Doing their best Rocco impressions (not hard to be fair), he watched her reaction closely for any sign of protectiveness towards her current partner. Instead he realised she was letting her gaze linger on him with a smile.
Before he could react the other girls were upon them. Drowning in bikinis was not a bad way to go, and both men laughed at the onslaught of questions.
Lucas tried hard not to cringe when questioned about his 'poshness', an attribute often used as one of his major drawbacks, and something that Henrik had soon realised was a dangerous area for jokes. As they all made their way to the firepit for further questioning, he realised Fox was the only girl that hadn't smirked at that conversation, instead only smiling and then looking… concerned?
Huh. About my being 'posh'... or could she tell I was uncomfortable?
Arriving at the date location, Lucas had a little time to reflect on the previous discussion at the fire pit. Gary was obviously uncomfortable with the new arrivals but he didn't seem jealous so it would probably pass. Bobby was fun, Ibrahim seemed a little reserved, Noah was cool but hidden behind Hope, and Rocco was definitely feeling threatened.
He smiled to himself a little at that. As for the girls, both Priya and Fox had definitely seemed interested with Fox again seeming to pick up on his discomfort, this time reassuring him and giving a little flirt later on for good measure.
Even if the previous was my imagination, that definitely wasn't.
He also noted that both Lottie and Priya seemed to look to Fox a lot of the time, as did all of the guys including Noah. Henrik had definitely been soaking up more female attention, and his very unique brand of humour had certainly won everyone over.
It still felt surreal, seeing the Villa and everyone in it up close, but he didn't mind being the centre of attention as long as everyone was in good spirits.
Now all he had to do was pick three girls for dates, and drink wine in the Spanish countryside. Life was not bad at all.
He didn't know why he was so annoyed. Obviously Henrik would pick some of the same girls, and they'd be juggled so the dates took up the same amount of time.
Still, he couldn't help glancing over at Henrik's table during the first dates, as Fox laughed at the Swede's over the top flirting.
"You look worried," Hope smirked as she leaned forward, her eyes twinkling a little.
"It's just so weird being here," he covered with a laugh. "I feel like I've stepped into a television!"
"I know exactly what you mean!" Hope launched into a long explanation of her work in television and something about… squids? He couldn't quite remember.
"Wow, you look amazing," he rose to greet Fox as she smiled at him warmly.
She was wearing a bold red dress, and seemed perfectly at ease as they sat down.
"Aww thanks, Lucas," she blushed slightly.
"Um," he hesitated, his words disappearing from his mind as his nerves took hold.
She smiled at him, encouragingly, as he floundered.
"Are you glad I picked you for this date?" he asked.
Whyyyy. I'm an idiot.
"There's nowhere I'd rather be right now."
Is that politeness or flirting?
It was his turn to blush as he realised she wasn't at all phased by his slight awkwardness. Recovering, the rest of the date went smooth as silk as Lucas felt back on his game, asked a question a friend had recommended, and he even got confirmation she wasn't feeling her current coupling.
A kiss on the cheek before she turned to leave, sent his thoughts back into a tailspin.
"At the end of the day, I'm only here because I want to find the right person," he began, before she left. "And I know it's early days and everything, but I really feel that might happen-"
Noooo, way too full on!
"-Not that I'm saying it might be with you or anything!-"
"Not that that, like, wouldn't be be nice if it happened, or-"
KILL ME NOW
"I'm just trying to say, it's not like I'm saying that…"
Fox laughed, and put her hand to his chest to signal him to stop.
"It's cool, I get it, " she smiled at him, stopping his mind from yelling obscenities at himself and making his heart flutter beneath her palm all in one.
"Thanks," he laughed in relief. "Wow, that was embarrassing. I bet they'll put that disaster on TV and everything."
"I thought it was cute," she reassured him with a blush.
"Ah, well that's all I needed to hear," Lucas grinned, as choirs of angels broke out in his mind. "Thanks for the date, Fox."
He drummed his fingers on the table as he watched her walk away, and smiled to himself. The date hadn't exactly gone as he'd planned but perhaps that was a good thing. He could do smooth and suave, but it often resulted in his awkward side not being received well. And the less said about his anxious side the better.
Fox seemed to have her own field of calm, and an exceptional skill at reading him. He knew from watching a previous challenge that she was a good judge of character and honesty, but very few people had looked at him and seen him so quickly.
He'd been hoping for a spark but instead he felt the pull of something far stronger… and scarier. He could only hope she felt it too.
"Lucas, Henrik! Come on in!"
The men beamed at Fox as she cut through the social barriers of the villa that evening. It wasn't that the others hadn't been welcoming - Noah in particular had made an effort to keep them included - but she was a natural at keeping everything flowing and noticing when anyone needed a little help.
Gary was turning a game into a hive of innuendo, and while normally Lucas would laugh along, the crane enthusiast's tension was grating against his own anxiety unpleasantly.
Fox seemed a little more distant from Gary than she'd been in previous days, or at least on the show highlights, and he wondered if Lottie had made her move on him yet. Henrik had confirmed to him with a sigh that the Australian was definitely taken, even if her prospective suitor didn't yet know it.
It was odd, coming in with some prior knowledge but not really being able to use it, or know what was genuinely true and what had been edited into a narrative.
As Hope and Noah followed Gary onto the lawn, Lucas asked Fox if she'd chat with him up on the roof terrace. It was quieter up there, and comforting to get away from the claustrophobia of the ground floor.
"Sorry to get you away from the party," Lucas rubbed the back of his neck as he leaned against the wall. "I wanted to say thank you for making me feel so welcome. I don't want to be stepping on anyone's toes though. But it means a lot, so thank you-"
I already said thank you argh
"-which I've now said too many times and now it sounds weird… what am I like?"
A total, utter-
"You're totally welcome," she smiled before adding with a cheeky wink, "and definitely not stepping on any toes."
"I appreciate that so much," he grinned in relief. "Both parts. It's weird coming in when everyone is already coupled-"
"Fox?" Rocco called from below. "Where you at?"
"Speak of the devil," Lucas gave a small scowl.
"Oh?" she asked with a glint in her eye. "I thought the devil was in front of me."
"Ha!" he laughed, blushing. "I like that. I'd better go find the other newbie and make sure he's not standing in a corner staring into his drink."
He paused before going down the stairs.
"Talk again soon?" he asked, hopefully.
"Count on it," she grinned.
Rocco was very easy to wind up. It's not that he was a bad guy per say, and in other circumstances Lucas might have - okay no, we'd never have got on, let's be real.
But he had the distinct feeling Rocco was already looking for another partner, and he knew from Noah's quiet information that Fox had not in fact done any bits with the guy. So there was no harm surely in pushing him that bit further along, right?
Priya was enjoying their back and forth, and he noticed her waving to someone approaching. Calculating his odds, he shut Rocco down particularly hard before confessing he was just teasing him.
He turned to see an amused Fox watching them both.
"Lucas was just telling us all about his plans to travel and help people around the world for Doctors Without Borders," Rocco explained.
"Rocco thinks his food truck is the same thing," added Lucas, with a slight smile.
"Motorbike or truck, what's the difference?" scowled the food truck owner.
"Neither are bad obviously," Fox replied with a raised eyebrow before turning to Lucas, "but I do think it's amazing that you want to join Doctors Without Borders."
Priya agreed as Rocco scowled further.
"I bet I could take you to places you've never been," he crooned at Priya, as the air turned distinctly frosty.
Fox rolled her eyes, before looking at Lucas with a smile.
"I'm more interested in the places Lucas could take me," she smirked. "Did I hear you say you own a motorbike?"
"Sure do," Lucas replied, grinning. "I'd love to take you for a ride sometime, if you're up for that."
He threw her a wink, delighted at her cheekiness. Rocco made his excuses and left, though Lucas barely noticed due to the celebration in his mind.
"Well that was…" he trailed off.
"That was Lucas," Priya sighed.
"I'm sorry babe," Fox turned to her friend with genuine concern. "He's so focused on himself, he doesn't even realise when he makes women uncomfortable."
"You're not bothered by it?" Priya relaxed and Lucas realised that he hadn't seen how tense she'd become in the last minute.
"I'm not bothered with him to be quite honest," Fox smiled at her. "Only on your behalf"
"Aww, you sweetie," the girls hugged before Priya's phone beeped loudly.
"Does anyone mind if I have a turn?"
"Listen to how polite he is!" Hope cooed. "You go ahead, honey."
With a slight blush, Lucas picked the top card from the pile. The game was essentially 'Kiss and Tell' as the guys and girls competed to answer questions by kissing the right person on the opposite team.
"The girl who was once kicked out of a club for dancing on the tables…"
The boys huddled together.
"Surely that could be any of them," Gary laughed. "I think only Hannah definitely wouldn't have done that!"
"It's gotta be someone who'd also get kicked out for doing it though," Bobby mused.
"And someone loud enough to be caught," Noah trailed off. "Though otherwise I'd say it would probably be Fox."
"Really?" asked Ibrahim, "She's pretty out there but she's not really attention seeking I'd say."
"It's not attention seeking if you're drunk though," Gary hesitated. "Uh, not that I'd know or anything. At all."
"She is a really good dancer," mused Bobby.
"How do you know that?" asked Henrik.
Bobby tapped the side of his nose with a wink. Lucas felt the stirrings of jealousy before remembering that Fox had said to camera she could see Bobby being her new best pal.
"I could see Fox doing it," Rocco supplied, snapping him back to the present. "Or Marisol. Or Lottie. Or-"
"Alright mate, we get the idea!" Lucas smirked.
"It's a tough one," summarised Noah, "but given the odds I'd say… give it a shot."
As the boys went back to their spots, Noah threw him a surreptitious wink.
"Ladies, are you ready?" asked Lucas, putting on his best swagger as he strolled straight over to Fox and leaned in for a kiss.
His heart was hammering in his chest at how close they were, his nerves swept aside by the mischievous twinkle in her eyes.
She closed the gap and kissed him softly, short enough to not be scandalous, but lingering far longer than the pecks she'd given Gary on the previous rounds.
Up close she smelled like spring, somehow fresher and clearer than even the Spanish sunshine. He pulled away with a smile, slightly flushed.
Oh, I'm sunk.
"Good answer, but wrong!" Priya announced.
"What? How?" Bobby put on his best exaggerated shocked face.
"Obviously it's Hope," laughed Priya.
"I should have seen that coming, to be fair," Noah smiled innocently as Lucas passed him with a grin.
Marisol picked the next card, tasked to find the boy who got a monthly back, sack and crack wax. The guys already knew this one, and Lucas wondered whether they'd guess the innocent looking Bobby correctly.
Instead, Marisol broke away from the discussion and marched straight over to Rocco, pouncing on him for a full open-mouthed kiss.
"Did you not hear us saying it definitely wasn't Rocco?" Hope asked incredulously.
As everyone spun towards Fox for her reaction, she simply shrugged her shoulders.
"What? It's just a game," she dismissed the attention on her with a smile.
The other girls were decidedly less impressed, and Lottie's temper was beginning to crack.
The next card was Rocco's, challenging him to find the girl who cancelled a romantic weekend with her boyfriend to console a friend stood up on a blind date.
Lottie sneered that it clearly wouldn't be Marisol as it had to be someone who put her friends before men.
I've got a bad feeling about this.
Lucas leaned forward to hear the deliberations but Rocco was already walking to the other side where he announced the answer was obviously someone who was "passionate, fiery and always true to what she wants."
He kissed Marisol, at length, as the stage went quiet. They were kissing hard, tongues and hands everywhere. Nobody knew where to look, but Lucas's eyes met Fox's across the stage. Her jaw was clenched but she rolled her eyes with a shrug.
He realised she wasn't too surprised.
Lottie looked at her angrily.
"Uh, nope," Fox offered. "Correct answer was me."
"Babes, that's hardly the point!" fumed Lottie. "These two are using the challenge to get off with each other! You should-"
"Uh, guys," Bobby interrupted Mount Lottie before she fully erupted. "Emotions are running pretty high but we could do one more card. Shall we carry on?"
"Sure," agreed Fox, looking appreciative. "Let's do it."
Bobby grinned with delight and ran to the stack of cards, flicking through them before pulling one out. He handed it over to Fox, whispering something to her before walking back to his position.
"Okay I'm looking for the boy who has…" she turned the card over and laughed, "been caught out naked in public."
"Wait - what?" Lottie burst out laughing, followed by everyone else.
The girls huddled up whispering, and Lucas could just make out Lottie agreeing it could be any guy given the mystery of what happens on lads nights out. His heart started to race again.
As the girls went back to their positions, Fox walked towards him confidently.
"You really think it's me?" he smirked.
She nodded her head, while mouthing the word, "no".
She leaned forward and pressed herself against him, sliding her hands up his back. He wrapped his arms around her waist, tipping her back slightly and taking her weight as she gently nipped his lower lip. Their tongues met as he growled softly, pulling her against his body more tightly.
He really didn't want to stop this kiss, but he reluctantly lifted her back to her feet properly, pulling back with a smile of delight at her slightly dazed expression.
"Completely succulent," Henrik announced, earning a laugh from Ibrahim, before the Swede announced the answer was him.
Something about a swamp monster and a park warden and Lucas didn't really care, his gaze kept returning to her as she laughed at Henrik's story, her hair still a bit mussed from their kiss.
He really needed to kiss her again.
It wouldn't be accurate to say the boys were hiding indoors that evening, but it wouldn't be entirely wrong either. Lucas looked out from the kitchen as a glammed up Fox walked past, heading towards the daybeds were Marisol sat.
"Is it all gonna kick off do you think?" Gary asked, popping up beside him.
"Nah," Lucas shook his head, "I don't think that's Fox's style."
"No, but it is Lottie's style," said Bobby with a grimace. "It's not her fight but she'll take full offence on her pal's behalf, whether wanted or not."
"She loves her mates," Gary was quick with the reply, and more than a bit defensive.
"Can't disagree with that," smiled Bobby, "and I'm not exactly Rocco's biggest fan. Grafting on people is one thing but it's not too much to expect some honesty."
"Especially with Fox," Lucas growled.
"She doesn't forgive dishonesty," Noah spoke up, his voice rumbling through the room. "She mentioned that after the 'two truths and a lie' challenge."
Lucas turned round with interest - a lot of the daily conversations had been omitted from the broadcasts as he'd discovered.
"We were chatting about trust and honesty and that kind of thing," Noah continued, "and she said of all the things that hurt, dishonesty is the one she can't look past. Because she can't forgive someone if she can't fully 100% believe what they say."
"It's a good policy to have," Lucas frowned. "Everyone makes mistakes, but lying is another matter."
"Yeah, I'd agree with that," nodded Bobby, "and I know I joke about that stuff, but honesty is important to me. Dishonesty leads to hurt feelings at best, and broken hearts at worst."
"Depressing topic though, let's talk aliens again!"
From his seat at the fire pit, Lucas saw Marisol storm down the roof terrace stairs and back into the main Villa. Soon enough the other girls passed, all but Fox.
He was just about to get up and head to the roof terrace when he saw her approach. She was wearing the sparkliest outfit he'd ever seen, a silver playsuit that fitted like a minidress with an incredibly deep neckline.
"Damn," he whistled. "You look deadly beautiful."
"That's me," she laughed playfully, "a killer queen."
"Guaranteed to blow my mind?" he quipped.
"Bingo," she smirked.
"There's a bit of a frosty atmosphere round here tonight," he pretended to shiver, warming his hands by the fire. "Come and join me?"
She smiled, and walked in to sit down along from him.
"What are you doing all the way over there?" he grinned. "I meant, come sit next to me."
She laughed and scooched along to sit next to him, sticking her tongue out cheekily. He moved closer still, so their legs were just touching. She sighed, and seemed a little smaller than usual.
"So, what are you up to?" he asked. "I thought you'd be at the centre of all the drama tonight, but I'd like it if you had time to hang out here with me."
He was pretty sure he was reading the signs correctly, and very sure he was managing to be almost completely smooth with minimum awkwardness. But given that Rocco had been so pushy, he was mindful of giving her an out at anytime.
"It's a beautiful night," she smiled, looking up at the stars before bringing her eyes back to his face. "Why wouldn't I want to spend some time with someone like you?"
He blushed a little at that.
Why am I blushing so much, I never blush!!
"All this drama is doing my head in," she continued, her hand drumming on her thigh restlessly. "There's no escape."
Lucas swallowed down his next line and looked at her more closely. Her shoulders were incredibly tense, and her body stiff.
"I'm all ears if you want to talk about it?" he asked, noting the automatic "no" forming on her lips. "I really don't mind, in fact I'm happy to help."
She blinked at that and looked at him more intently.
"Maybe… yeah actually," she replied, "that'd be good. I have to watch what I say with the girls. They're great but they can pounce on any misstep."
"How are you feeling about everything?" he asked, trying to ban his medical professional voice from taking over.
"Contradictory," laughed Fox. "Which, I know, off to a great start."
"Complex situations give complex feels," he offered.
"Is that the technical medical term?" she joked, and he grinned in response. "I feel both annoyed and relieved. I'm relieved that Rocco finally gave up on making it work with me, even though telling him point blank didn't work previously."
She crinkled her nose, adorably.
"And it feels petty to also then be pissed off," she continued, "but he could have just told me. And Marisol could have just told me. It's not like I'm the kind of person who blows up in anger. I just…"
She trailed off, looking at the ground.
"Would have appreciated the heads up?" he offered.
"Exactly!" she let out a sigh of relief. "Exactly. If I'd known I wouldn't have even blinked, it's not like I had feelings for Rocco and it's fairly obvious, um-"
She blushed, and looked away.
"-that my attention had been caught elsewhere. Erm. So yeah, it's just the not telling me that has caused unnecessary drama. For other people as well as me."
Lucas couldn't help the smile that had broken out on his face, but he tried to shrug it aside.
"Well," he gathered his thoughts, "other people's upset isn't under your control, and you being upset by the dishonesty is just as valid. Moreso in fact. Regardless of where your attention was. Or is."
She looked at him, tilting her head slightly in thought.
"Huh," she said, her shoulders relaxing. "Thank you, that actually helped."
She smiled, seeming more like herself again.
"Y'know, when you came to sit down I was going to offer to take your mind off things," he grinned.
"Well you'd done that already, mister," she laughed.
He breathed deeply, preparing himself.
"I know you have a lot of mixed feelings right now," he paused, frowning a little. "I don't want to make things more difficult for you, but I need to say this…"
She turned towards him further, and he noted she was still relaxed before he continued.
"I can't stop thinking about that kiss we had before…"
He trailed off with a soft smile, his heart hammering in his chest. She smiled at him, and reached out to touch his hand. He threaded his fingers with hers, feeling lightheaded at just a hand hold.
"Well, I just want to say," she responded, "that you look amazing tonight."
"You really think so?" the surprise left his mouth before his brain could stop it and he blushed furiously. "Thank you, that means a lot."
More blushing, jeez.
"And also," she squeezed his hand, "I'll get things squared away with Rocco properly tomorrow. And then we should revisit that kiss."
"I like that plan," he grinned. "Being out here in the firelight, it's been a weird kind of day - for us both - but this definitely makes it better."
She beamed at him, and stood up.
"It definitely does," she agreed, standing to leave. "Sweet dreams, tiger."