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Heroine

Chapter 10

 
(thank you to caty for your help on this chapter)
(thank you once again kendall for typing the last few pages of this chapter)

***

The rain came in the form of a light shower and a low rumble of thunder which threatened to eventually get worse but, for the moment, was quiet and pleasant.

Roxton and Marguerite quickly trotted a short distance to a small café where they ordered hot tea and warm croissants. They sat near a large window looking out into a pretty if soggy courtyard and then - when the silence they shared became uncomfortable - the couple took a good look at one another, damp and slightly disheveled, from across the small round table that came between them. They laughed gently.

"Some things never change, do they?" Marguerite quipped, looking at her cohort with an eloquently arched eyebrow. She sipped from her steaming cup.

"Yes, I see you're still getting into trouble, Miss Krux."

"At least it wasn't an apeman." she shrugged, "Muggers. What are you going to do?"

"What we did not do." Roxton replied with a wary expression. Only a few minutes after they had left the alley Roxton found a policeman, gave him directions, and told him to take the unconscious assailant in; that Miss Krux wanted to press charges. However Marguerite, intervening quickly, told Roxton to forget it. She was not hurt and the man had probably awakened and was long gone anyway. "Really, why didn't you want to …?"

"Where are you staying, Roxton?" Marguerite interrupted, changing the subject.

"Hotel Etoile Pereire." he said with a sigh. There was no getting information from the woman if she didn't want to give it.

"That's interesting. So am I. If I believed in coincidence I would have to say …"

"If not a coincidence then perhaps it's ... fate?"

Marguerite rolled her eyes, "What are you doing here, Roxton?"

"Business." he said a bit too abruptly. "Stocks, land and papers to sign."

"Sounds very exciting."

"Not really." He spread berry jam on a croissant, "And I take it when you're not being attacked by mysterious men in alleys that you're lecturing?"

Marguerite looked over the brim of her teacup, "Yes. And quite lucky you just happened by like that. One would think you were following me or something, Lord Roxton."

He paused in his preparation then quickly continued, "A real fluke, yes."

"How long are you going to be in Paris?" Marguerite asked.

"A few more days." Then, just before he bit into his bread, he asked: "You?"

"I was going to leave tomorrow afternoon but I might be persuaded to stay on a little longer if I had a good reason." She looked slowly upward to meet his eyes.

"Well you know," Roxton leaned in a bit and cleared his throat gently, "I've been to France maybe two times during my entire life whereas, if I recall it right, you lived here at one time and - correct me if I'm wrong - know a great deal about this wonderful country and its captivating people."

"So," Marguerite gently placed her tea cup onto it's matching saucer, "you're looking for a tour guide?"

"And an interpreter." he grinned.

"My services don't come cheap, milord." she teased, "But I could show you the sights. The Eiffel Tower, Palais de Chaillot, Louvre, Place de la Concorde …"

"Yes, I'm sure you could show me many things, Marguerite."

They gazed at one another for a few moments.

"Roxton …" Marguerite spoke his name tentatively, as if she had something she wanted to impart which was significant, but could not be certain how to go about it.

"Yes?" His return gaze was expectant.

Changing her mind, clamping down on an emotion and attitude she had kept suppressed for many years, Marguerite looked down at their croissants and said, "Bon appétit."

>>>

The sun broke through for a brief respite.

They stood at the bottom of the structure and looked upward.

"Some say it's majestic." Marguerite said, glancing over at her companion's inscrutable expression, "Others, like Léon Bloy called it a 'truly tragic street lamp'. What do you think?"

"I say it's the Eiffel Tower." He returned her amused smile, "And I have many French friends who would say the same."

Marguerite chuckled and looked upward again.

Roxton gazed at her for awhile, admiring the lovely but enigmatic representation, the restraint she displayed. He had questions and a lot of them. Roxton could not resist what he said next. "I also have German friends, despite the fact we fought during the war … and I recognize the accent, Marguerite." he said, meaningfully. "Now, why would a German - of all people - be mugging you in an alley in Paris?" he asked seriously. "The man did not look like a common street criminal."

Her expression and back stiffened as Marguerite looked over at him, the mirth gone. "Let it go, Roxton." she said then turned from the gate surrounding the structure. Marguerite walked over to a nearby street vendor. His stand held all the latest publications of the day as well as one sheet newspapers and a variety of periodicals.

Silently, Roxton followed her and watched as Marguerite picked up a newspaper.

She read the headline out loud: "La plupart meurt de mysterieux virus." (MORE DIE FROM MYSTERIOUS VIRUS). "John, do you think this is what Malone died from?" she asked, genuinely wanting Roxton's opinion while again attempting to steer him away from his current train of thought.

"Malone became ill on the plateau, from a jungle fever."

"That's what we assumed."

"I doubt this virus had anything to do with his death."

"But he managed to stay alive for so long, John. It wasn't until we brought him home …"

"He was strong but was sick for too long before we could get him proper medical care. It finally just did him in, Marguerite, as it would with any of us. It was his time. I've finally come to terms with that. So should you." Roxton waited a beat, eyeing her absorption of what he said, then added: "Challenger is working with various scientists from London, Auckland and New York to see if they can cure this thing."

Marguerite looked up from her paper, "You mean he and the zoological society are not preparing a return journey to the plateau?"

"This is more important." Roxton mimed to the paper then, quieter so that the vendor could not hear, he said "Challenger told me in secret that it's developing into a modern day plague."

Marguerite's eyes widened, "Plague?" she returned his whisper. No wonder Challenger had left her and lecturing so abruptly. Marguerite sighed, "Poor Veronica …" she let slip.

"Veronica?" Roxton asked, curious.

"I was just thinking how undecided she was about leaving the plateau to come here with Malone. I wonder, since she has only the immunities given to her in The Lost World, if she might not have been one of the unfortunates to come down with this horrible sickness."

"We'll never know." Roxton murmured, "She's going to live out her life on the plateau. Maybe she will find her parents. Wouldn't that be grand?" He smiled, happy with his mental picture.

Laying the newspaper down on the vendor's counter, Marguerite moved in a few paces to stand a little closer to Roxton's side. She gazed up at his profile, "You wish you were back there, don't you? You miss it."

"A little." he admitted, thoughtfully. "The responsibilities I inherited sometimes come at a great cost. Living on the edge of paradise wasn't so bad. Part of me thinks I should have stayed there." He then looked sadly down at Marguerite.

'To escape painful memories.' she thought but said nothing.

"But there have been compensations." Roxton added.

"Ah yes," Marguerite smiled, "You've come home to your land, title and wealth." She nodded, understanding. "You have a history Roxton and it should not die with you. You need to find a young wife who can …"

"I meant that I am where you are. That is my compensation, Miss Krux."

Marguerite looked up into his warm hazel eyes, unable to pull away. He had no business saying such a thing. They were friends. They had made a pact -- friends only. He was speaking foolishly and she needed to put a halt to it. But why at this moment could she not stop staring into his eyes? Why wasn't she verbally rebuffing what Roxton said?

Suddenly, despite all she knew, all she had told herself in the past, Marguerite found something inside of her anticipating his soft lips. Why was the intense vibe and excitement she often felt, while they were on the plateau, when he was close, so prevalent now? The Lost World was far behind them. It made no sense. Was it because of familiarity? Only a few short hours ago he had saved her life, as he had in the past, and Marguerite had felt safe for the first time since returning to civilization.

"Roxton …" she said, struggling but trying so hard to focus on something other than the man, he who was moving in on her, tilting his head.

"Yes." he said.

"We're in Paris." she whispered, feebily.

"Yes."

And finally, the agreement they made, that which had given her such comfort, just did not matter anymore.

"Kiss me, Roxton." and her tone was nearly a plea.

"Oh, yes."

Their lips barely touched, had hardly tugged, when a familiar voice broke into the ambiance.

"Lord Roxton, Bonjour! Comment allez-vous?"

"Can't be." Marguerite whispered, deeply dissatisfied.

"It is." Roxton replied.

Baroness Felicia Noble approached, wearing a deep blue and very smart walking suit, accompanied by a younger female companion holding an umbrella and an older man, in black, Roxton recognized as her man-servant. "Isn't this amazing?" she gushed, leaning forward to give Roxton a quick peck on the cheek, "Who would have thought, so many weeks after our voyage, that we three would meet again here in Paris, France?!"

"How are you, Felicia?" Roxton spoke low but politely.

"Excellent! I'm having a gala party tomorrow night at Joie de vivre, a great hall near The River Seine, and John, you simply must attend!" She then looked at the visibly peeved Marguerite, "Oh, you too Miss Krux. It will be formal. I do hope you have something suitable to wear on such short notice."

Marguerite's jaw clenched as Roxton, apparently without thinking, said: "Of course, Felicia. We wouldn't miss it. Thank you."

>>>>>

It was late by the time they came to Hotel Etoile Pereire and the sky above let loose with a fury of rain to match at least one unsmiling woman's ferocious mood.

"Of all the impertinent, self-serving, insensitive things to do …." Livid, Marguerite marched heavily down the hall, grumbling all the way to her hotel room. "I'm not going!" she repeated for the third time to the damp but fastidious figure who was following her.

"Fine Marguerite, you don't have to go!" he called to her.

"Oh, and you would just love that too!" she turned abruptly at her door.

Roxton tried to sound reasonable but he could not stop his left hand from clenching. The woman was maddening! "I don't understand why you're so upset!" he said to her, "There are going to be a lot of wealthy and influential people at this party. I thought you'd be thrilled."

"Oh yes!" she roughly inserted the key into the room's door lock. "Like it did me a lot of good aboard The King George! I doubt any of those people even remember my name. Let's face it, Roxton, the only reason you did what you did was because you are enchanted by Baroness Noble and you want another chance to prove it."

"Are you kidding?"

"Oh, I've seen it happen before. A man dislikes a woman intensely but is so drawn to her beauty, the mystery of what they never shared, that he changes his mind. He decides he wants to taste that forbidden fruit after all. And what better excuse than making a return visit to a party the lady in question is throwing! And in Paris of all place! So convenient! Romance abounds! You probably followed her here …"

Frustrated, Roxton exploded: "You are out of your mind, you know that!?"

"Oh, that hit a nerve, didn't it?" Marguerite verbally slapped him, opening her door. "Once in your life, Roxton, be honest with yourself …" she said as she prepared to enter.

"It did hit a nerve!" Roxton barked and unexpectedly took her by the arm, preventing Marguerite from entering. "You want to know the truth?" he asked, an angry fire in his voice caused his tone to lower and turn gruff. "I'm not here on business, Marguerite. I'm here because Challenger gave me your itinerary. I knew you would be in Paris before you came home to England ..."

"You're spying on me?" she asked, offended but also strangely satisfied. Memories of Swiss chocolate came to her.

"I wanted to be with you!" he exclaimed, thoroughly troubled. "I've missed you more in the last month than any woman I have ever known. While I've been trying to get my life put back together I've been following you in the papers, hearing about your great success, and feeling so proud of you, Marguerite." his voice softened, "I knew you, out of all of us, would make the most out of our journey." His eyes searched hers and the pressure on her arm loosened, "And I knew once you had that great success you wouldn't need me anymore. Not that you ever really did in the first place …"

Marguerite's eyes widened as she listened to him. She could not speak.

"I knew … I know you have things to work out in your own life, Marguerite. I know you have secrets ..." He rolled his eyes and gave an ironic laugh, "And you must have a lot because I can never get you to stay on one subject long enough to get a clear answer from you."

Even Marguerite, now looking down at the hall carpet, had to smile.

"But I was hoping one day, maybe when you find yourself alone and needing someone, I could come into your life. Maybe we could make something together … and share secrets. Maybe at long last - together - we could be happy. Really happy."

Marguerite stepped back slightly, closed her eyes, and gulped. "The type of relationship you are looking for, Roxton, requires more than I can give - ever." Her expression grew taught and she appeared to be bracing herself as she looked upward, meeting his eyes without a flinch. "I could never love a man like you, Roxton. I am sorry. Your trip to Paris was a waste."

He stared at her for a long while. Disappointed by her answer, Roxton let go of Marguerite's arm. "You couldn't be honest to save your soul." He walked passed her and pushed a key, procured from his pants pocket, into the lock of the door right next to hers. "By the way, our rooms are adjoining just incase you need help during the night."

Silently, Marguerite watched him until he disappeared inside and closed the door behind him.

>>>>

The room was dark and the night was quiet. He should have slept irresistibly but Roxton's eyes were wide as his head lay motionless on the stark white hotel pillow. 'Damn the woman.' he thought. This wasn't the first night he had lost sleep over her. Only the contradiction that was Marguerite Krux could make a man feel so befuddled and ill at ease. Sometimes he wished he had never met her. Then there were times when he thanked the Almighty for bringing such a mysterious angel into his life.

With a deep sigh Roxton turned over on his side. From this angle he could see underneath the door which parted he and Marguerite's rooms. He saw movement, a shadow passing between she and the new electric light the grand hotel had been refurbished with a few years ago.

Roxton stiffened when he realized the door was slowly opening. A shaft of light passed over his face.

Her head popped in to look at him. Seeing he was still awake, and not surprised, Marguerite said: "You're right. I haven't been totally honest with you. There are many reasons …" she stepped.

He said nothing, merely stared at her, the dark hair loose about her head and shoulders, the pale skin, lovely face softened in the dim glow of the low light and, last but not least, the rare apologetic expression.

"But it started so long ago, John, and there are so many thing I cannot talk about with anyone." She moved further into the room to stand by his bed. "You have no idea how much I want to tell you everything. If I could my life might make sense to me as well as you but …"

"Tell me." he urged, softly.

"What I can tell you will disappoint you, John, and what I can't might clear up a few misconceptions but I'm sworn to secrecy."

"Who swore you to secrecy?"

"If I could tell you that …" she closed her eyes and shook her head back and forth at the futility of it all.

Masked vulnerability, he thought, and nearly smiled. "Leave it to me to fall in love with such a complicated woman." Roxton stopped abruptly and looked upward, meeting her staggered gaze. "Don't tell me you didn't know."

Once again, in his presence, she could not speak.

"Why do you think I came to Paris in the first place? I thought about you everyday after we left the ship, Marguerite. I could barely concentrate on my duties. You should have seen how badly my retainers allowed my estate to fall into disrepair after only six months. I wanted so badly to join you while you were on tour but I couldn't. I didn't even know if you wanted me … there."

"John," she spoke in a exposed voice. "I thought about you too. Often." she admitted then whispered, "But you would have hated it, talking to all those men and women, hearing their praise and feeling their love but knowing it was only sincere until the next attraction came along." Marguerite gulped, "You are more than that, Lord Roxton. " Fearing overwhelming vulnerability, she then quickly changed the subject as was so common to her, "You're lonely. Perhaps the Roxton family estate needs a woman's touch. You should find someone, John …"

"I have found someone, Marguerite."

"Not me." She was firm, "Compared to you and all you have, everything that you are and the people you know, I am nothing. I have no family and background. No bloodlines I can …"

"I don't care."

"There was a time when I would have said the same thing, John. I would just take a man because he was wealthy and wanted me - he would benefit me - but, when it comes to you … " Marguerite looked up and met Roxton's eyes without wavering, "I do care." she then gulped, "But I will never be accepted in your circle and you should not have to abide that."

"What makes you say that?" and there was a small smile on his face.

Marguerite stared at him for a moment, unsure for a split second if Roxton was making fun of her or just being annoyingly clever. "I'm common, John. And don't think it makes me happy to admit it."

"There is absolutely nothing common about you, Marguerite." Sitting up, he reached forward to take her hand. "I want us to be together. I hope you feel the same way."

"Tonight?" she asked, an easy smile of desire replacing her expression of despondency.

"Tonight. Tomorrow. Forever." His fingers moved from her hand to travel up the arm to her smooth silk clad shoulder.

"I can promise tonight." Marguerite pushed back from him slightly, feeling a little pain when the warmth of his fingers parted from her skin. She watched as his smile darkened, wondering what she was going to do. Marguerite pulled the thin robe from her shoulders and gazed at Roxton, his toned body was naked from the waist up, the bed covers hiding the rest. She wondered suddenly, the tip of her tongue creeping into the corner of her mouth, if he wore anything when he slept. "Do you like my negligee, John?" she asked, and tossed the robe to the foot of his bed. She turned about for his intimate inspection.

It was sheer, white and delicately lacey.

"Yes." he whispered, dazed by the sight of her. "You're so beautiful." Then, when the straps of her gown began to fall Roxton regained focus on reality and, taking a shallow breath, said: "We can't."

Startled, Marguerite stopped her seductive strip and stood completely still. "We can't?" she ask, staring at him. "But I thought you …"

"I want you more than anything, Marguerite." Roxton gulped a breath, "You've got to believe that but … I want more than one or two nights with you. You are worth more than that. And if we do this, if you are sincere in us never being anymore than what we are, it will just remind me of what we can never have together."

Thwarted but accepting, understanding the man's principles and reluctantly respecting him for it, Marguerite pulled the straps of her gown upward once again and reached for her robe, "You're sure?" she asked.

"If you could just give me some hope, Marguerite, that maybe one day you and I .."

"It would be a lie." And her voice cracked sadly at the admission, "And I can't be economical with the truth about this, John. Not to you. I'm sorry."

"So am I."

They looked at one another, taking in their misery for a moment longer.

With a disappointed sigh Marguerite said, "Goodnight, Roxton." and entered her room, closing the door behind her.

Roxton pulled the pillow from beneath his head and, frustrated by his own ethics, wondered if he made a mistake. He placed the pillow over his own face and allowed a muffled howl.

>>>>