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Heroine

Chapter 1

The woman sat still on an armless, uncomfortable wooden stool located in the hospital’s desolate and rather austere waiting room. Saint Catherine’s was filled to capacity, she knew. It was over flowing with patients whose families were too frightened to visit them. It was sad but true.

Marguerite’s dark gloved hands were folded together, resting on her burgundy skirted lap, as she stared blankly, through her fashionable hat’s thin netting, at the stark white door opposite her. It was June, a normally warm time of year in jolly old England, yet the weather was unseasonably cool in London. She glanced briefly at the tall wooden coat hanger where her soggy maroon cloak hung. It seemed to always be raining these days, not just in the United Kingdom but everywhere she traveled. Over the last month it had been raining in Shanghai, Cameroon, Venice, New York and it was even raining in Paris the day she and Roxton ….

Briefly, Marguerite closed her eyes. She could not think of that now. She would lose all self-control if she did.

“Miss Krux,” A stout nurse wearing a white surgeon’s mask, to keep away dangerous microorganisms Marguerite assumed, pushed open the waiting room door and looked at the elegant, brave and obviously wealthy young woman. “He’s awake. You can see him now.” She spoke in a monotone, with a slight tenor that exhibited fatigue and irritation. Before Marguerite could pass through the entry the nurse placed a firm hand on her slender shoulder and asked, “You have been inoculated, yes?”

“Of course, Sister. Hasn’t everyone?” Circumspect, Marguerite followed the woman. The inoculations did little to no good and everyone knew it. Yet, the serum was distributed all over the world, as if it did mean something. It lulled the few unaware into a false sense of security. A small portion of Marguerite’s great intellect knew this could be a good thing. ‘At least they won’t panic before they meet their maker.’ she thought, with more realism than callousness.

“You can’t be too careful.” The nurse murmured and led the way, “So many are sick and are getting sicker. Healthy men, women and children. No one understands it. No one at all.”

Marguerite listened but kept silent. It seemed she and her companions had returned to a world with a very serious problem. A terrible disease, with the initial symptoms taking on the characteristics of a bad flu had suddenly erupted in England and abroad. Later, the victims would be assailed by delirium, seizures then lapse into a coma from which they would not awaken. No place seemed impervious. Scientists and doctors, including Professor George Edward Challenger, were busily working on a cure for the sickness but, so far, nothing could be determined.

It seemed even the strongest man, as healthy as a team of strong stallions, could not escape infection.

“Roxton hates it here.” Marguerite whispered to herself in a knowing manner as she and the nurse walked, trying to ignore the pain filled coughs and agonizing moans from various rooms as they passed. Roxton, she knew, would want to suffer alone, at home in his estate. He would not want the fuss; the mostly pitying but exhausted eyes of over-worked doctors and nurses and those who wished him well but knew there was no real hope, coming by and casting sad glances in his direction.

“Here.” The nurse stopped abruptly and indicated the closed door of a hospital room, “Don’t stay long and don’t wear him out. His people, including an attorney, were here this morning and …”

“I won’t.” Marguerite assured, not wanting to hear the rest of what the woman had to say. There had to be good grounds for an attorney’s visit but Marguerite was not yet ready to acknowledge the reasoning.

Steeling herself, Marguerite prepared to enter.

“You’re immune, aren’t you?” The nurse suddenly asked, suspiciously. Then, not really expecting an answer, she walked away.

The question, which was more like a statement and barely disguised accusation, stunned Marguerite. She knew what the nurse was really asking: ‘Why *you* and not me or someone in my family?’

Gently biting the inside of her lip, once again steeling herself for what was to follow, adjusting the fashionable hat on her dark, well coiffed head, Marguerite entered the hospital room.

*////*

Lord Roxton did not look as bad as she thought he might. He had lost weight and was pale, having not been able to spend time in the great outdoors, but otherwise - as he rested on the bed with his eyes closed - he looked well. ‘Handsome as ever.’ her subconscious noted. She could almost picture him lying beneath the stars, his hat tipped forward to cover his face. She could see him strong, confident and unafraid, as he had been on the plateau …. “John?” she whispered, hesitantly.

His eyes blinked slowly opened. He watched her as Marguerite approached. “You came.” he murmured, disappointed.

Nervous, she asked: “Did you think I wouldn’t?” then smiled timidly although her voice was firm. She looked at him with raised brows as she tugged the form fitting gloves from her hands. “You should know better than to try and hide from me, John Roxton. You’re *not* good at it.”

He sat up a little straighter in the bed and adjusted the covers over the white night shirt he was forced to wear. “When I lost you in Paris …”

“I’m sorry, John.” Marguerite said sincerely and with a deep regret but wanting to forget. She laid her gloves on the nightstand beside his bed. “I was distracted …”

“For awhile I was living in a fool’s paradise.” Roxton said, “I should have known better.”

“It was a mistake.” Marguerite looked down at the stitching of the blanket which covered him to the waist. “There was so much to do and so many things …”

“What was the mistake, Marguerite? Us?” Roxton unexpectedly growled.

She hesitated. Then: “No, I didn‘t mean that.”

“Yes, you did.” He said lowly and closed his eyes.

Marguerite could only stare at him, stunned by his vulnerability and mind set. She hadn’t noticed it until now but Roxton was physically very weak. It was taking all the energy he possessed just to sit up and confront her. Somehow she had to make it up to him. She had to. “Paris was beautiful, John. I swear it was.”

His eyes opened once again to look at her. “Then why did you leave without a word?”

“I was not myself.” she fumbled, “I had things to do, John.”

“That’s not an answer!” He nearly sprang forward in bed, angered by her too pat answers, but a pain had caught him in his right side. Instead, Roxton lay flat in the bed once again, preventing the moan which threatened to escape between his lips.

Initially flustered but clamping down on ever present self-control, Marguerite shook her head back and forth and said, “I didn’t come here for this. I made another mistake. I honestly didn’t want to do this to you … I’m just making things worse by being here. Maybe I should go.” Marguerite made a motion to reach for her gloves.

“No. Don‘t go.” Roxton requested weakly, his tone apologetic. “I shouldn’t have lost my temper.”

“Wouldn‘t be the first time.” Marguerite smiled mildly and reached out to touch his dark hair as it lay on the bleached pillow.” His hair, swept back away from his face, had grown far too long but it was still soft to the touch.

“Why *did* you come, Marguerite?” He eyed her steadily, his own self control now present and his tone curious. Roxton noted that Marguerite was trying valiantly to put up roadblocks but he could see right through them. She pitied him. Was their any doubt why he didn’t want her to see him like this? Still, there was more. He could sense it.

“I heard you were ill.”

“You heard I was dying and wanted to say goodbye?”

“No, no.” A fire had lit in her eyes, “You’re not going to die, Roxton. I forbid it.”

He smiled mildly, pleased to see that blaze again. Marguerite’s stubbornness, one of the things he loved most about her, was still intact. As it had been while they were in those caves, half starved, on the last leg of their journey from the plateau. She was determined that they would succeed. Even after they were forced to leave Summerlee behind …

That seemed like a lifetime ago when in reality they had been returned for only six months. “I wish that were true, My Queen.” he whispered and gently chuckled at her recognition of the familiarity of his pet name for her, “But I would not be here,” Roxton looked about his spacious but rather dull hospital room, “if there were a chance …” Having a title granted him special favors; the privilege to ride out this illness in privacy for one. Others who were inflicted were not so lucky. Many were piled five to a single small hospital room.

“Are you in much pain?” Marguerite asked in a whisper.

“Some.” He gulped and turned away from her, distressed for a moment that she might have seen something he was trying so valiantly to disguise. He felt her fingers reach out and touch his hair once again. Roxton turned to gaze at Marguerite. She was sitting on the corner of his mattress, looking down at him with an urgency in her eyes that so mirrored that time three months ago in Paris. But then she had been wearing a lovely negligee that slid so gently over her silky shoulders. She had reached for him, caught up in a moment of desire and passion that was, in a sense, forbidden but also wildly exciting and inevitable.

A weak hand reach up to touch her cool cheek.

“John?” she asked.

“Do it for me once more Marguerite … please.” he whispered, “You know how I love it when it‘s ...”

She nodded, suddenly understanding and unable to hide tender emotions as hard as she tried. Marguerite removed her expensive hat and the alluring veil then pulled the pins from her hair, causing it to fall, covering her shoulders, long and wavy and free, just as it had been on the plateau.

He reached up, his hand nearly shaking from the effort. “So beautiful.” Roxton whispered, staring at her and allowing his fingers to touch the soft tresses. “It begs to be touched.” He smiled as both her hands grasped his free hand, her fingers squeezing his almost desperately. “It wasn’t so bad in The Lost World, was it?” His eyes glazed over slightly, remembering.

“No.” Marguerite gulped and her lips trembled when she saw the deep regret in his expression, “I suppose it wasn’t.”

He did not respond, merely looking out into space.

“John please … Don’t give up.” she spoke breathlessly, nearly pleading.

“I wish we would have had more time …” he murmured.

“Don’t use up your strength. Just rest. Sleep and I will be here when you wake.”

He focused on her, his voice low and sincere, “Promise?”

“Yes,” she said, “I swear.”

Nodding, his eyes closed and his fingers squeezed her own, “I have always loved you Marguerite.” he said and waited for her reply.

*///*