Loss
Chapter 9
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Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Epilogue
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*~~~*

They sat cross-legged in the middle of a grassy clearing surrounded by a ring of Brazilian orchids. The reverberation of bird chirps, monkey squeals and the wail of a far off dinosaur serenaded them as they snacked. Roxton brought a few pieces of fruit with him and shared a juicy apple with Marguerite.

Marguerite chewed slowly while listening to Roxton’s memory of the time he shared with Danielle. She was his one time lover, a woman he admitted to despising but also cared for despite the horrors she had inflicted upon him in the past.

“I should have known I was under her spell. Nearly from the first moment I saw her there was something strange, mysterious and almost too appealing about the woman. But I didn’t want to believe Danielle was anything other than sensual and disadvantaged. To me she was a lady with an incredible knack for self preservation, keeping herself alive in the jungle all alone, but she was also someone who needed me.”

Listening, unsettled by a sense of familiarity, Marguerite sipped from her canteen.

“Thanks to Danielle I felt whole for awhile. Or, at least, *wanted* for more than my hunting and tracking skills. It made no sense really, the way we came together, but when she was in my arms it was like …”

“… thunder and lightening?” Marguerite offered, unsmiling but accepting.

Roxton, who had been looking down at the pear he rolled from one hand to the other whilst speaking, now looked at his companion. “Yes. Very nearly, Marguerite.” He continued: “She told us her family, all her people as a matter of fact, had been murdered by Trogs and she was looking for sanctuary. Veronica and Summerlee sensed right away that there was something wrong with Danielle – that she was not at all what she seemed - and Danielle knew it. We’re living in Veronica’s treehouse so, when the warning drums finally stopped beating, I took Danielle away. She had me right where she wanted me. She used her powers to keep the others away while I was completely oblivious. I still can’t believe what a dupe I was.”

“Some women,” Marguerite whispered, not quite looking at Roxton. “Have a great talent for making men believe just what they want them to believe. It wasn’t your fault, John.”

He eyed her for a moment, getting the distinct impression that Miss Krux wasn’t necessarily speaking of just The Voodoo Queen. He then proceeded, “When I finally realized what Danielle was all about, the evil she epitomized and how I had stepped right into her trap, I tried to get away. But I failed and she held me against my will.”

“Locked you in a cage.” Marguerite recalled, screwing the cap onto her canteen.

“Yes.” Roxton said and glanced once again at Marguerite, curious. “I had a hunch that the water she was giving to me was drugged so I didn’t touch the bowl she put in my cage. Meanwhile I waited, hoping beyond all hope, Challenger and the others would catch on. Then, just when I thought I couldn’t take the heat anymore, when I was nearly seduced into drinking the tainted water, I saw Summerlee. He’d gotten past Daniel’s guards – in costume mind you – and poured salt into their drinking water! Why he wasn’t infected by the spells and curses Danielle cast on the rest I don’t know but, God love him, Summerlee came through. We made eye contact when he walked passed my cage and he undid the bolt. I waited and when the time was right, when I eventually saw Malone, Veronica and Challenger hiding in the bushes - and the natives were becoming disoriented - we bolted.”

“But how did she …?” Marguerite lifted a hand to touch her own throat. “Danielle’s face …”

“The following day Veronica and I returned to Danielle’s encampment. I had to know what happened after we left. We were both well armed this time. We found her.” Roxton looked into the jungle now, beyond them, recalling something he had long tried to forget. “She had been attacked by her subjects, beaten with in an inch of her life. Danielle had been knifed with her own dagger and stabbed by spears; cut and scarred … Her legs had been broken and her eyes ….” He cleared his throat, nearly choking on the memory. “They destroyed their wicked queen. Suddenly free, the natives – Trogs and human alike - ran off to parts unknown. They thought she was dead and she very nearly was.”

“You couldn’t leave her.” Marguerite exhaled a pent up nervousness. Roxton’s description, the way his voice held a deceptive monotone, was eerie.

“I felt … responsible.”

“She tried to kill you, John. Danielle would have if …”

“I know.” He acknowledge, “But if you had just seen her, Marguerite. Even Veronica, who believed Danielle deserved everything she got, was moved to tears. If we left her, broken and half blind, we would have been no better than she.”

“’An eye for an eye’ I always say …” Marguerite began then softened when reading Roxton’s pain, “What did you do? Take her back to the treehouse?”

“No. Veronica knows a native tribe with an exceptional shaman, one of the best healers on the plateau, and they took her in. At first I would come by once every couple weeks, just to see how she was. Danielle stayed in bed for a full month before she could even begin the process of walking again. But, with encouragement, she did walk.” He paused, “Then, when I knew she was out of danger, I stopped my visits.”

Marguerite felt Roxton had probably left a large part of what really happened out of the description of events but she pretty much got the idea. She would not press him further on it. “And she still wants to see you.”

Roxton nodded and bit into the pear.

“She might still be dangerous, Roxton.” Marguerite thought aloud, “As far as you know has Danielle ever been tempted to practice the black arts again?”

“The shaman tells us no. She has no desire and wants to be a healer.”

Marguerite couldn’t help a sarcastic snort of laughter.

“I know. I felt the same way.” Roxton admitted with a scowl.

“And that’s why you stay clear of her?”

“That and,” he hesitated, “my mind is lucid. I feel pity for Danielle but I’m not in love with her, Marguerite. I never was. I wish she could see that.” Roxton slid the hat from his head and waved it in front of his face, partly to wave off a memory and partly to cool himself from the late afternoon sun.

*And she hurt you.* Marguerite thought but said, “Maybe some day she’ll find someone else.” But it was said with little conviction as she tossed her apple core into a nearby bush. Marguerite recalled Danielle’s hold over her Roxton and could only guess how he must feel. She was about to verbalize further thoughts on the subject when she felt warm fingers gently touch the hand she had resting on her lap. Startled, Marguerite looked up to see Roxton’s eyes meeting her own. His hat lay by his side. She felt nervous excitement but also inexplicable fear. “John?”

“I could never feel for her what I feel for you.”

Marguerite glanced down at his hand on hers again and began to breathe a bit more unevenly, “John, I’m leaving tomorrow.” She reminded, her neck growing warm.

“I know.” He averted his eyes briefly before looking into hers again. “You need to go back to where you belong. You need to go back to *him*.” Roxton leaned in slowly, his face just inches from hers. “But I have to let you know how I feel before you leave, Marguerite. I have to show you and thank you for what you’ve given to me.”

Marguerite knew she should be pushing him away but her strength left her as she felt Roxton’s hot breath caress her cheek then felt the gentle touch of his soft lips on her neck. “John …” she hummed in feeble protest.

“Think of me as a slightly flaw copy of the original, Marguerite.” He whispered in her ear, “Anything you like.” His tone was nearly pleading and husky with want. “Just don’t turn me away … please.”

“But John …” Marguerite repeated. The woman’s mind was swimming with conflicting emotions. The pulse in her throat raced madly. Slowly, as his lips found hers, as they yielded to the insistent pressure of his need (not to mention her own), and as she allowed her hands to crawl up his chest to rest on broad shoulders, Marguerite felt herself fall slowly backward onto the welcoming grass.

*~~~~*

“Gentlemen, you are ingenious!” Malone praised, his hands placed firmly on his hips as he looked at the impressive temple. It stood before him as a perfect projection.

They all observed the illusion just outside of the electric fence and marveled at their accomplishment.

Veronica nodded and grinned, with Malone, at what Summerlee and Challenger had created. “I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it for myself.” she marveled.

Summerlee adjusted one of the mirrors, causing the image to flicker ever so gently. “This may not only get Marguerite back home but it might also, in the long run, prove useful for *us* as well.”

“That’s right.” Challenger spoke enthusiastically, “With a few more mirrors, a little time for model making, and alterations we could use this process as camouflage for the treehouse.”

“Just imagine,” Malone addressed Veronica, “No more fierce native tribes or ape men attempting to get the jump on us in the treehouse. When they look up all they will see are branches and leaves.”

Veronica chuckled, “And here I thought the electric fence was Challenger’s greatest creation.”

Challenger, knowing the jungle beauty’s sense of humor, ignored the comment and said, “First thing tomorrow morning we go to where the temple foundation is located, pinpoint that pit, then set up our projector and illusion. Marguerite will be on her way before she can say ‘translocation’.” Challenger looked up into the sky, “We only have a few more hours of daylight. Hope Roxton and Marguerite are on their way back.”

“I’m sure they are. They’ll be home any minute.” Veronica said. She then quickly left the men to head to the treehouse elevator, “I better check on my stew.”

*~~~~*

“No, wait! We have to stop!” She struggled to sit up.

Alarmed, Roxton gently pushed away from Marguerite and, quickly swiveling to a kneeling position, reached for his rifle which was lying beside their reclined bodies. He looked around them, peering into the foliage, thinking Marguerite had been alerted to danger. “What? What’s wrong?”

With a frustrated sigh, which bordered on comical, Marguerite realized what Roxton had thought and she sighed. “No, I mean we can’t do *this*, Roxton.” Her fingers spread over the flattened grass, “It’s just not right.” Marguerite saw that the two top buttons on her blouse had somehow popped open while she and Roxton were occupied. Self conscious, she adjusted her blouse and began to button up.

“It felt right to me.” Roxton sighed and relaxed, resting his weight on the back of his legs. “It still does.” Disappointed, he laid his rifle down once again on the grass and raked aggravated fingers through his own dark hair. “Marguerite, I thought we had something …”

“We do.” She barked harsher than intended, “John,” Marguerite’s tone became docile but pragmatic as she tried to explain, “I know a man back in my world. He looks like you, sounds like you and touches me … and *feels* all of the things you do – and I care for him very deeply.” Marguerite gazed down at her hands, gathering her thoughts. “When I look at you I see him and everything seems right but, deep down inside, I know you are two totally different men.”

“You feel like you would be betraying him.”

Marguerite nodded. “Against my better instincts and a personal history that tell me I’m out of my mind, I decided to take a chance with the Roxton in my world. I can’t ignore that.” She then gave an enigmatic laugh, “Interesting paradox isn’t it? She rolled her eyes. “I was almost unfaithful with the same man I decided to take a gamble on.”

“I hope he knows how lucky he is to have you, Marguerite.” Roxton spoke sincerely, barely disguising the emotion in his tone.

“You know, I think he does. I’m not exactly a low maintainece companion. He’s put up with quite a bit from me.” Marguerite looked up and tried to meet Roxton’s eyes but he looked away from her, “I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, Roxton. But, on the other hand, neither is he - although, he is still such a remarkable man. Until I met him I never believed such men could …” As she spoke Marguerite watched as Roxton’s lips pressed together into a thin line. He stared out into the jungle. Sympathetic, she asked, “Are you all right?” She would never admit it out loud but Marguerite felt as disappointed as he about her flight into morality, despite what she had said.

With an outward breath, Roxton pick up his hat and examined the brim. “I’ve been doing some thinking myself. You know, Challenger might be wrong.”

“Wrong?”

“He theorized that the reason you came here was because there is no Marguerite in our world. But I think there *is* and she’s still back in England. *My* Marguerite is out there somewhere, waiting for me, and it’s more important than ever that I get off this damn plateau, so I can find her.”

“John, I hope you’re right. I truly do.” Marguerite reached up and touched his face. “But, if you do ever find her please be patient. Don’t expect her to welcome you with open arms.” Marguerite watched his brow crinkle with puzzlement, “I don’t say this to be unkind. She’s going to be defensive and will probably ask you to leave before you can even ask her out on your first date. She’s been hurt and has … a very complicated life. Do you understand?”

He looked down at her now and smiled sadly. “I’m sure I will.” He placed the hat on his head and stood erect. Roxton then held out his hand and felt hers slip into it. He helped Marguerite to rise, “We better go home and see how Challenger and Summerlee are doing with the projection.” He effectively changed the subject, “Besides, Veronica is cooking you a special supper. She’ll be upset if we we’re late.”

They picked up their belonging then headed down the path that led back to the treehouse.

“By the way,” Roxton asked, “Why did you come to see me?”

“Reasons. They’re not really important anymore.” Marguerite murmured. There was silence for a few moments as Marguerite looked up at his profile, “Look on the bright side, Roxton. When it comes to hunting I’ve been nothing but bad luck for you. I don’t think you’ve shot a single beastie since I’ve been here.”

“True enough.” He struggled to chuckle and managed to smiled. Roxton wanted to tell her he would be quite willing to give up hunting altogether if she chose to stay. Yet, he now knew Marguerite’s heart belonged to someone other than himself. He sincerely hoped that John Roxton treated her well because if he didn’t - come hell or high water - this reality’s Roxton would find some way to reach Marguerite in her world then he would throttle that Lord Roxton silly.

“John, will you let me do something before I leave?” Marguerite gently bit the inside of her lower lip, an inscrutable smile curving her mouth.

It was Roxton’s turn to look at her profile. For some reason he felt slightly apprehensive. Still, what type of adventurer would he be if he didn’t take a risk? “Of course, Marguerite. What do you want to do?”

“Give you a hair cut.”

***