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Heroine

Chapter 5

The explorers settled in.

Malone, who was taken to the campsite on a stretcher, was place in a tent to be carefully tended to by the rescue party's physician. Dr. Greer promised to give the explorers a full report on the journalist’s condition when he was finished examining him. Satisfied, Roxton and Challenger ate, drank and rested, then talked with a few of the other men near their area fire.

Marguerite, after eating her fill and assuming the doctor would take awhile before approaching them with his diagnosis, made a beeline for the pond not far from their camp. Three weeks in those blasted catacombs with hardly more than a sponge bath every few days was arduous. During the final week of their trek she couldn’t even ask for *that* small indulgence. Water was in short supply and the caves were unbearably hot. They needed to drink their water not splash it on their heated, dirty skin.

She had scoped the pond carefully as they passed it earlier in the day, before the rescue party brought she and the others to their camp. It appeared safe ... Or as safe as it could be in a jungle swarming with cannibals and ferocious jungle animals, even if they were not dinosaurs. Nevertheless, as far as Marguerite could see there were no caiman, vicious flesh-ripping fish or any other life threatening creatures to cause a problem if she were to take just a few minutes to soak and cleanse the grime from her grunge-saturated body.

She *needed* a bath and no one was going to stop her!

As she came upon the pool, Marguerite unbuttoned the closures to her thin blouse and thought about the day. She smiled. Marguerite was amused by the expression of wonder and fascination on Challenger’s face before she left the men at the campfire. He desperately wanted to know *everything* that had happened since they were gone. Some things never change. Knowledge was everything yet Challenger barely blinked when told by Carpenter, the leader of the rescue expedition, that the scientist’s wife - Jessie Challenger - had never lost hope.

“Of course not.” Challenger had reasoned, “I told her I would return.”

Marguerite’s smile lessoned as she removed her blouse and camisole. A letter, written by Summerlee, was still in the pocket of her jacket. She would present it to Challenger tonight, just before they turned in for the evening.

Continuing to undress, Marguerite was struck with something else she needed to do. For some reason Roxton thought, just because they shared a celebratory kiss together when rescued, that she wanted to sit down and have a long, deep conversation with him. “Let us get out of the Amazon first, Roxton, then we’ll chat.” Marguerite told him rather flippantly as they walked to the campsite. His disappointed expression as he walked beside her did not escape Marguerite. She honestly did not want to hurt him but rationalized that she - all of them - simply had too many things to take care of now that the plateau was behind her ... and them Roxton needed to understand this.

Perhaps one day, that is if Marguerite ever found herself in Lord John’s company again, she would try to explain herself to him in a quiet, rational manner ... but not yet.

No, not yet.

*///*

Randolff, one of Carpenter’s young survival trainees with an innocent eye for lovely women, lent a fluttering lashed Marguerite his single stash of bar-soap. She took full advantage of the situation. There was no telling when she would be able to do this again. Marguerite washed her legs, torso, face and hair. She then washed her clothes, laying the well rinsed blouse, socks, undergarments and jodhpurs against a suitable boulder at the lip of the pond to dry. She lounged in the water, loving every moment of its welcoming coolness as it lapped comfortably against her trim shoulders.

“You just never learn, do you?”

Startled, Marguerite swiveled in the water, “Roxton!”

He stood, balancing the weight of his body on his left leg. The barrel of the hunter’s long rifle was securely leaning on his right shoulder. Roxton wore that slightly mocking but often times charming smile that both annoyed a woman and made her heart beat a little faster. “This is familiar.” he said, “I would have thought you’d learned a lesson after last time.”

“This pond is fine. I thoroughly examined it when …” she started then, realizing the situation for what it was, sighed deeply - “Roxton, go away.”

“I’m not sure I should leave you alone.” he said, smile still in place. “What if an undesirable shows up?”

“One already has!” she huffed, “Besides, unlike you and Challenger, I *care* that I look and smell bad. This bath is a must!”

The hunter took on the appearance of a man who was thinking seriously about what she just said. “You may have something there, Miss Krux.” Roxton placed his rifle near the same boulder where Marguerites clothes were drying. He then began to slide the braces from his shoulders. “I might as well …”

“What are you doing!?” Marguerite asked, her eyes widening.

“I’m not a savage, you know. The water is inviting and I need a bath as much as you do.” He took off his blue outer shirt then pulled the white T-shirt underneath over his head.

Marguerite gazed for a moment, appreciating the broad shoulders and lean muscles of his superb upper body. Like she, Malone and Challenger, Roxton had lost weight but not, thanks goodness, in the *wrong* places. His stomach muscles were looking very firm.

Roxton grinned, noting her interest. “See something you like?” he asked, removing his boots.

As if she had been physically shaken, Marguerite snapped back into a ‘proper‘ attitude. “Roxton, you can’t come in here while I am in here.” she called, sounding affronted. “At least turn around so I can get out and put my clothes on.”

“Your clothes are still wet, Marguerite. Relax and look the other way if it makes you feel more comfortable.” Roxton reached down and began to remove his trousers.

Marguerite, a little astonished by the man’s audacity, quickly about-faced in the water. “Six months on the plateau have obviously not improved your manners, Lord Roxton. You remain insufferable and *no* gentleman.” She then attempted to show Roxton that his manners did not have as big an impact as he intended, whether it was true or not. She called over her shoulder: “This is brilliant. *How* are you supposed to protect the both of us if you’re in here without your rifle? Hunh?” When he did not reply Marguerite, continued: “Perhaps we should call for Challenger and Mr. Carpenter as well? Why not the whole camp? We’ll all strip down and go swimming while the cannibals size us up for …”

It was too quiet.

Turning her head warily to the left, trying to catch Roxton out of the corner of her eye, Marguerite saw that he was no longer there to be seen. Roxton’s clothes were laying next to hers on the boulder but the man himself had disappeared. The first thought in Marguerite’s head was of the cannibals. Carpenter had told them that the Amazonian natives where several miles away from their encampment and that they were not known to hunt in this area during this time of year -- but mistakes had been made in the past so why not now? “Roxton?” Marguerite called, shivering in dread. “Wh…where are you?”

Suddenly, a fierce tugging on Marguerite’s left leg, below in the murky water, alerted the woman to danger. She cried out sharply and sprang back, stumbling, recalling a certain caiman that nearly devoured her six months previously. “No!” she shouted, fearful.

Then up out of the water popped the man whose safety she questioned. “You called?’ he asked with the same foolish grin he had at the water‘s edge. Roxton laughed at his joke.

“You idiot!” Marguerite verbally lashed out then swung at him.

Roxton had been prepared for her anger and caught Marguerite’s hand in mid swing, “What are you afraid of? You said there was nothing to fear in here!”

“Only you!” she cried, yanking her wrist out of his hand. She then, appearing stricken, touched fingertips to her mouth and turned her bare back to him. Marguerite began to weep, her shoulders shaking with pent up emotion, “You have no idea how frightened I was Roxton …” she keened.

“Oh.” Roxton immediately felt bad, never realizing Marguerite might be sensitive to such folly. She had always been very brave and cool on the plateau. He had meant it all in good fun. Still, sneaking up on her like that was rather silly. “Marguerite …” Roxton reached a hand out to touch her upper right arm.

“Don’t touch me, you brute!” she wailed, both of her own hands now hiding her face, “My first husband was killed and eaten by a crocodile. I never told anyone this before …”

Roxton was appalled. What a fool he had been! “I’m so sorry, Marguerite.” Roxton’s tone was low and apologetic, “I didn’t know … I didn’t mean to …”

She sniffed and looked over her shoulder, listening.

He spoke tenderly, “I know I can be such an unthinking dolt at times, Marguerite, but you have to believe me when I say …”

She turned a little more and grinned. Marguerite hadn’t been crying into her hands at all but hiding an expression of great hilarity. “Roxton, you are *so* easy.” she chuckled.

“You little fake!” he exclaimed. Roxton could not believe she would do such a thing. The woman had a wicked streak he’d never seen before in any other female. Growling low in his throat, he moved in on Marguerite, threatening to take her in his arms and show her who was boss. “That deserves a penalty.”

“Oh no you don‘t.” Marguerite lifted the soap as a threat then laughed at his curious expression. “You’re in here and there is nothing I can do about it now *but* you are still filthy and smell terrible.” She glanced at the soap and back at Roxton, “Let me wash your hair, milord.” she said, sweetly.

“I don’t know if I can trust you.“

“Don’t be silly. We’ve both had our fun. Now it’s time to get clean.”

Roxton nodded, reluctantly but - truth be told - the idea of Marguerite washing his hair stimulated more than his urge to simply bathe.

Marguerite was pleased when he grudgingly nodded, bending down a little so she could lather his thick wet head of hair. Any number of vengeful ideas came to her during this time. She could be very vindictive and cause great turmoil but, in all honestly, having Roxton before her like this, physically vulnerable and trusting her to do as she promised, touched a chord of warmth in the woman. Besides, she had always admired his hair …

Roxton pressed his lips together tightly, valiantly trying to not say the wrong thing or make an erroneous sound as her magic fingers massaged his scalp. Marguerite apparently was not aware that this position gave Roxton a very clear view of her lovely cleavage, although the waterline obscured what lay below. The way things were progressing, however, Roxton was sure he would see that beautiful prize very shortly.

“Your hair has gotten very long, John.” Marguerite commented as she cupped water in her hands and helped him rinse away the lather. “It’s suitable for a savage hunter in the wilds of South America but you *will* need a nice trim before reentering British society.”

“I’m not exactly conventional, Marguerite.” Roxton sputtered as his head was doused, “As a matter of fact, I think those who know me well back in England would be far more surprised if I returned well groomed than if I had a five day growth on my face and hair down to my a…”

“No wonder a woman will not have you.” Marguerite commented but smiled pleasantly at Roxton as he lifted his head to look at her.

Carefully, he moved in on Marguerite once again and put his arms around her. “Some women know a good thing when they see it.’ he said confidently and bent forward to kiss her.

“John …” Marguerite remained in his arms, intoxicated by the feel of his bare skin against hers, but her tone was resolute. “We shouldn’t. There are things you don’t know about me ...”

“And there are things you don’t know about me. It’s time to learn.” He nuzzled her ear and gently kissed her cheek and neck.

“Don’t you think we’re rushing it?’ she asked, weakening.

“We’ve lived together in a treehouse treating each other like siblings for six months. But we’ve *always* known … and no, I *don’t* think we’re rushing anything.” His voice was nearly hoarse with desire.

Tentatively, her hands reached forward to touch the burnished gleam of his tempting chest. Their foreheads came gently together and they looked into each others eyes.

“Will you respect me in the morning?” she asked, her tone sounding less innocent than seductive.

“I will respect you *every* morning.” he replied.

“Roxton! Marguerite!” Challenger called, coming upon the couple.

The man and woman could not have broken away from each other faster if someone had cried “Piranha!”

“It’s Malone! Dr. Greer says he’s awake!” Challenger trotted to the apron of the pond and looked out at his friends, “He’s lucid and I knew you would want to know …” It promptly occurred to the wise professor what it was he may have interrupted, “Umh … He wants to see you both.”

“We’ll be right there, George.” Roxton called in a voice that was as casual as anything he could manage.

“Yes,” Marguerite piped, clearing her throat ever so gently. “It will just take us a moment to get … dressed.” but her voice destabilized by the final word.

“I’ll tell him.” Challenger said and abruptly turned about, feeling awkward. He then walked stiffly back to camp.

With a deeply frustrated sigh Roxton looked across the distance that separated he and Marguerite, “I’ll turn around. You can go first.” he said.

Marguerite nodded and tossed the soap at him so he could finish up. She was just as disappointed as Roxton and regretfully waded to land.

*////*

Dr. Greer, a man in his middle fifties with a sandpaper complexion and serious brown eyes, paced slowly in front of the explorers, “I think Mr. Malone is going to be fine. The fever is lessoning but his condition, too long untreated, is causing a temporary paralyses of the extremities.”

“Paralyses?” Challenger questioned.

“He cannot feel his legs. He told me it came onto him shortly after a convulsion.”

“But he *will* walk again, correct?” Roxton asked, worried.

“I can’t say for certain, Lord Roxton. He needs to be taken to a hospital. Preferably in the United States. They have specialists there. More than anything he needs to go home and relax.”

“As do we all.” Marguerite murmured.

“Miss Krux,” Dr. Greer looked carefully at the woman, “Malone said he would like to speak with you first. If you will.” He nodded to the tent where the journalist lay.

Hiding trepidation, Marguerite nodded. “Of course.” she said and walked to where she was directed. The bad thing about having sick people speak with you was when they vented anger you were not allowed to yell back.