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Heroine

Chapter 7

She was a beautiful woman with auburn hair, deep-set sea blue eyes and adorned for supper in a slightly scandalous yet stylish off the shoulder deep-pink silk gown. A diamond necklace hung around her long neck. “Lord John, so good of you to come!” the Baroness exclaimed, clapping her slender white-gloved hands together joyfully as he approached their table.

The lady’s bright smile weakened slightly when she saw the spectacular accessory, brunette in an elegant beige-beaded gown, attached to the handsomely tuxedoed Roxton’s arm. Her hand was tucked comfortably in the coziness of his own. The lady could be no other than Miss Krux. The Baroness had been told of Marguerite’s beauty, about those large stormy eyes, high cheekbones and her enviably clear-smooth complexion, but the description did not worry the also gorgeous baroness until she saw her competition, face to face.

Baroness Felicia Emily Noble, sister of Baron Geoffrey Duff, widow of Baron Fredrick Augustus Noble, and socialite extraordinaire had caught sight of Lord John Roxton yesterday afternoon. He and Professor Challenger had just come from the ship’s telegraph office and were walking on the upper deck. The men were discussing the good news just received, two weeks into their voyage, regarding their friend, Ned Malone.

The journalist was now standing upright. He was still weak and continued to have a fever, which puzzled his doctors, but the telegraphed message said the paralyses appeared to be departing. As far as they knew their friend was well on the road to recovery and, if the communication was accurate, Malone’s journals - the first few chapters published just this week - were a huge success in The United States.

Roxton was just expressing his desire to let the third member of their party know about Malone, when they were approached by the smiling baroness.

“Oh gentlemen, you simply *must* join me on Thursday at my table for supper.” she urged, "Some of the finest families in England and America will be there. I’m certain they’d love to hear your own accounts of the adventures you had in The Lost World. And John,” she simpered with an implied confidentiality, “we have so much catching up to do!"

Challenger observed how Roxton nodded and smiled politely but did not look overly comfortable.

*///*

The Duff family had been casual friends of Roxton’s parents for a very long time. Gregory Edward Duff, Felciia’s father, was an ancient coin enthusiast, as was Roxton senior, so their elders had that in common. Often times Lady Roxton and Baroness Duff, Felicia’s mother, would host teas together for charitable causes but the women had never been devoted friends.

As young men and women their children all attended most of the same functions, including dances and formal balls which John and William thought incredibly dull. However, Felicia and her sister Marian, both very attractive and beginning to bud, had immediately caught their attentions.

William had taken extroverted Felicia out on many an outing, had bought her jewelry and bouquets of flowers, and they were close for quite sometime. Many thought John, the younger and more adventurous Roxton son, would be a good match for quiet and uncomplicated Marian - that she might be able to reign him in - but John had other ideas. Beautiful though she was, Marian did not appeal to Roxton as either a wife or girlfriend. They had nothing at all in common and Miss Duff seemed to understand. She was less interested in his fascination with weapons, and how they worked, than he was of her endless needlepoint projects.

John Roxton understood it was his duty to eventually marry a labeled lady but William, the future title holder of Avebury, shouldered the burden of propriety over his little brother. John was spoiled by this doting mother and father, given much latitude, and he was grateful. Besides, never one for overly frilly, sweet-tempered proper girls, whether they be pretty or not, John Roxton decided he would much rather keep company with as many straightforward young women - preferably those without a title - as possible before being tied down to some simple-minded attraction with an impressive pedigree, substantial bank account, and little else to offer.

By the time Autumn came there had been some kind of falling out between the elder Roxtons and Duffs. Felecia and Marian returned to school and their parents, seeing their prospects not working out quite as planned, found what they thought were more suitable matches for their ripe young daughters. The chosen boys were going to attend The Royal Military Academy at Woolwich and that was important to the elder Duffs.

William was broken-hearted when the announcement of Felicia’s engagement was announced but John was glad. Love was blind. Felicia was a flirt, snob and opportunist, and as far as he could see, would have made his brother miserable. William needed to live life to the fullest before marrying and John and his father discussed it … and six months later he and William went to Kenya.

Roxton saw Felicia a few years later, after she had wed and produced Baron Noble his first heir.

As the Lord of Avebury, Roxton attended a function with his ailing mother, who would pass away later that year, and they ran into the Baron and his lovely spouse. When they danced, Felicia told Roxton that he was the man she had always felt the better connection with, not William, and was so sorry they never had the opportunity to begin a relationship. Although John Roxton had changed - had grown gloomy and strangely driven - Felicia was not discouraged. Noble wasn’t overly bright but even he had to of seen his wife openly flirting with Lord Roxton.

The terrible part about the whole situation, Roxton would later reflect, was that he was sincerely tempted for a time to take the woman up on her offer of an affair, despite how dear departed William had felt about her. They had kissed and made plans in secret … John was battling inner demons, was wretched and angry and, at this point, did not care who he hurt. All Lord Roxton wanted to do was hunt, find answers and bed the first beautiful willing woman who would give him release, for a time, from his misery.

Yet, in the end, he did not give in to their desires. Despite everything, William’s memory was too strong … and John Roxton had loved his brother.

*///*

*Two Days Before the Dinner:*

She had caught him departing from the great ship’s infirmary.

Marguerite nearly turned and walked the other way, attempting to steer clear of Roxton as she had for most of their time so far aboard ship, taking meals in her cabin and being certain Challenger was about when she did make an appearance on deck, in Roxton‘s presence. Yet, when she saw him, nodding at the ship’s doctor during his exit, reaching up and touching the back of his head, Marguerite recalled his injury and became quickly fearful.

She approached and called, “John, are you all right?”

He was surprised by her appearance and the sound of concern in her voice but he wasn’t going to make it easy for Marguerite, “Why do you care?‘ he asked, walking briskly passed the woman, aware that she was following. He was tired of it. Roxton could be as stubborn as she … and what business was it of hers if he decided to see the ship’s doctor?

“I do care.” she said, “Look, I’m sorry if by keeping to myself it made you believe that I’m heartless but, Roxton, you know how it is with us …"

“No, that’s just it. I don’t know anything.” Roxton stopped in the narrow hallway of the large ship and looked at her, “Just when I think we may have something you put up barriers and pull away. I don’t know if it’s stubbornness or … maybe it’s something personal.”

“Like what?” Marguerite stepped back and looked up at him, defensive.

“I don’t know. Maybe I just repel you in general, Marguerite. You can’t help yourself. If that’s the case then perhaps you’re right. Maybe we should keep as far away from each other as possible.”

“Is that what you want?”

“*No*." he said without pause, "But, I don’t think I’ll ever get what I want so …” he began to move away again.

“Roxton please, stop.” she grasped his arm, preventing him from moving forward. Once again they looked at one another. “John, I just don’t want you to get your hopes up. You don’t know me, not really, and there are things I must do … do without you; do without *anyone*.’

“Why? What are these things you must do?”

“I need to repair some old regrets. Please don’t ask me what they are, Roxton. It’s just too complicated.”

“But maybe I could help you.” Roxton pressed, his voice softening. “I’m not without influence, Marguerite.”

Expecting he would say as much, Marguerite looked somewhat bashfully down as her polished boots and smiled. “That’s just it, John, you *cannot* help me. It’s a matter I must take care of *on my own*. I know how unacceptable that is for a man like you.”

He could not say anything for a moment, unsure how to interpret her comment. Roxton just stared at Marguerite and blinked.

She continued, “No matter how hard you might try, Lord Roxton, my personal business is something you wouldn‘t be able to keep your nose out of *if* I were to give you details, which I won‘t.”

“And that‘s why you won‘t take a chance with me? Even after the plateau, the catacombs and the pond …?” he asked.

“*One* of the reasons.” she replied then, with a dead-pan expression, said: “That and your appalling lack of social graces.”

Roxton‘s eyes widened for a moment and he was about to rebuttal when he saw the sudden amusement in her expression. He sighed and spoke, “Yes, I really must remember not to use my dessert spoon for the main course. That always gets me in so much trouble.” he quipped then spoke a bit more seriously, “You know, Marguerite, despite what you think, I don‘t tell everyone in my life all *my* secrets either. Do you suppose, if I promise not to meddle, we can still be friends?”

“A simple friendship?” Marguerite considered it for a moment. “Yes. I would like that, John. But that means no more taking advantage of a situation. When I take a bath I like to do it in privacy.”

Now, Roxton chuckled. “I promise next time we find ourselves in the Amazon together I won‘t jump into the pond you’re occupying without an invitation.”

“I appreciate that.”

The man and woman smiled at one another, happy to be on the same side again. They may not have gained substantial ground in their relationship but at least they weren’t at odds.

“Now, to go back to the original topic …” Marguerite squared her shoulders and looked up at Roxton, “Will you please tell me *why* you were seeing the ship’s doctor?"

“The gash on my skull needed attention.” he confessed.

“Infected because you didn’t have it taken care of when we were in Chicago or New York?” she asked.

Reluctantly, he nodded. “I wanted to wait until we got back to London but Dr. Jodphrey said it needs suturing right away.” Then Roxton added, “But he did say whoever it was that cleaned and bandaged the wound initially did an excellent job. If it hadn’t been cleaned and tended to regularly during our journey I could be in serious trouble.”

Marguerite arched an eyebrow and folded her arms in front of her, knowing a compliment when she heard it. “If you had just let me suture the wound when we were camped …”

“You‘re right, of course. But it was nothing personal. I’m having doubts even about Dr. Jodphrey right now. He wants me in his office first thing tomorrow. He assures me it will be quick and easy -- but must be done.”

“And will you go?”

“It depends.”

“On what?”

“Will you assist him?”

“He hasn’t asked me.”

“*I* am asking you.”

Marguerite stared into his eyes, seeing the sincerity and - yes - twinge of apprehension in them. Roxton really was afraid, she realized. Strong Lord John, the man who faced dinosaurs and man-eating apemen, was scared. “Yes, my friend.” she whispered, “If you want me to be there I will, John.”

And she was.

*///*

Roxton tugged his cohort forward, closer to his side. “This is Marguerite Krux,” he announced proudly, to their dinner companions. “Professor Challenger will be here shortly and apologizes for his tardiness.”

Marguerite was surprised when, shortly after the minor surgery this morning, Roxton turned to her and asked that she accompany him to Felicia’s dinner party this evening. At first she thought it might have been the drug Dr. Jodphrey insisted he take with water before they started, especially when Roxton looked up at her with those drowsy, doleful eyes, but soon realized that this was an engagement Roxton was not looking forward to and he needed support. While Challenger might be good company during most occasions, Lord Roxton required someone of the female persuasion to get him out of this particular sticky situation.

“Is she that bad?” Marguerite asked Roxton as he filled her in on some of the details. They were walking to his room from the infirmary, the surgery a complete success. The ship’s doctor told Roxton to get bed rest for a few hours and not to take the bandage from his head until the evening. Marguerite wanted to make sure Roxton got to his room without incident. He did seem a little wobbly on his feet.

“Have you ever heard the expression ‘barracuda’?” Roxton asked.

“Oh my. And a married one? Not good form.”

“A widow of seven months actually. But it's still uncomfortable.” At the door to his quarters Roxton let himself in then turned to look at Marguerite, “I’m asking you - as my friend - to help me out.”

“To pose as your girlfriend? And what‘s in it for me?” Marguerite inquired because she thought it was a good time to do so.

“My *date*.” he corrected, “You’re a member of The Challenger Expedition and will add much to enliven the table conversation. And, if helping a friend isn’t enough for you,” Roxton mocked disappointment, “then there is the added incentive of being in the company of a lot of rich and influential people, just dying to hear your story.”

Marguerite smiled slightly, “Blue bloods for me to dazzle?”

“Yes, which shouldn’t be too difficult for you.” he complimented.

Nodding, a satisfied Marguerite left him to rest.

Roxton picked her up at eight thirty at her quarters and was struck still for a count of ten when Marguerite opened her door. She looked absolutely magnificent.

*//*

“No need to tell us who this fine lady is, ole boy." Percy Lipton, a handsome but somewhat infamous gentleman-playboy, stood and took Marguerite’s hand. He kissed it gently. “Miss Krux, how did you ever manage to retain such beauty and poise while facing dinosaurs and dangers in that savage land?" he asked, eager to hear.

Marguerite glanced quickly at Roxton, amused, and spoke easily. “Not too difficult when you’ve prepared yourself for any eventuality, Mr. Lipton.”

As he pulled her chair out, allowing the woman to sit, Roxton sneaked Marguerite and sly wink. They would be home in another week but, meanwhile, Roxton wanted to watch Marguerite work.

Baroness Noble saw Roxton and the woman exchange a glance, something significant passing between them, and decided straight away that she did not like Marguerite Krux.

*///*