Sitting on the dusty stone strewn floor, Roxton held her possessively from behind.
Grateful, breathing into her dark disheveled hair, he – both of them - rested after their
ordeal. A large pit had opened up before them as they journeyed through the temple. Marguerite, walking in front, nearly fell
to her death. Thank God he had been there to rescue her, to pull her to safety, to feel his companion’s touch and gratitude
when Marguerite caressed his arms as he wrapped them thankfully around her waist.
They had been in similar situations
before and, no doubt, this booby-trap would not be the last. However, Marguerite’s near fatal fall in combination with
numerous heated arguments earlier in the day, was the last in an ever increasing stack of straws that had been place on a
more than tolerant camel’s back. Unexpected, Roxton – without realizing he had spoken aloud - whispered his feelings,
uttering the dread words in such a pained and unexpected manner it caused her to stiffen against him.
expressive grey eyes were wide with disbelief as she turned in his embrace, “John?” The warm blood in her veins
immediately grew cool when she realized those words were not imagined. Lord Roxton had said them whether he intended to or
not and there was no taking it back now.
Roxton saw the confusion as Marguerite gazed at him, trying to read what
was in his eyes. She was waiting for clarification and he could not lie. “It’s just … at times like this,
Marguerite …” Roxton looked away from her, unable to bear the woman’s anguish, “… I really wish
you had never come to the plateau.”
Irate, her mouth clamped shut, lips pressing tightly together, and Marguerite
pushed away from his embrace, scooting away from Roxton as she might from someone who had just announced he had a communicable
disease. “Well, there are times when I wish I hadn’t come either, Lord Roxton – like right now!”
she spat back at him.
This had been an especially rough trip, the couple arguing constantly, and saying so many hurtful
things they did not mean. Terrible considering it had started out on such a positive note. They had both been looking forward
to a three day getaway, culminating in a short visit to the Zanga village, trading information and wares. It would be just
the two of them. With thoughts of romance, sleeping beneath the stars, and whatever else might occur when a man and women
found themselves alone in paradise, Roxton was more than eager to get going and Marguerite had warmed to the idea very nicely.
they should never have taken on *this* excursion into a sacred Chiconi temple.
Roxton knew what she wanted here, the
hidden gold and great wealth promised by a treasure map given to Marguerite by a Zanga merchant, and it had nearly gotten
her killed. “You heard me.” He remained in place, sitting on the apron near the cavern where Marguerite nearly
lost her life, “You’ve gone too far this time, Marguerite. What you did to Malone, taking his journal without
permission and selling it to that Zanga merchant, is one thing -- but this obsession you have for ... trinkets!”
Roxton!” Marguerite returned his annoyance, “*Gold*. Specifically, I gave the merchant Malone’s journal
for a very tasteful necklace that any girl would be proud …”
“And that’s it! *Personal wealth*.
That’s all there is, right?”
“I was given the map as an *extra*, Roxton!” Marguerite attempted
to explain, “I just thought, before we returned to the treehouse, the two of us could …”
in his expression was obvious. “You stole from Malone then dragged me here as your accessory. You betrayed us both,
Marguerite, and I don’t want to hear anymore.”
Marguerite looked away from him. “As you wish.”
she replied, tightly.
‘Of course,’ Roxton seethed silently, knocking dust from the knees of his pants.
‘She’s hiding again just like she always does. No room for apology and certainly no room for Lord John Roxton!’
If he had been in a better frame of mind Roxton would have realize he was being unfair but her silence and indifferent attitude
exasperated him all the more. “Is it any wonder I sometimes wish you never came to the plateau, Marguerite?” he
asked with disgust, “I’ve tried to understand but you just cannot be honest with me!”
there are reasons, Roxton.”
“Trying to tell me there is another Oroborous around here somewhere, Marguerite?”
Roxton regretted the comment the moment he said it. It had been instinctive but cruel. “I’m sorry.” He apologized,
noting how she turned to look at him, “I didn’t mean that.”
“Yes, you did.” Marguerite
whispered, her voice calm, fighting the emotion threatening to overcome her, “After all this time you still don’t
know me. Not like you think you do, John.”
“I want to. I really mean that. I want to know you more than
any person I have met in my life. But Marguerite, there are just times when you don’t make it easy ...”
and you wish I had never funded the exploration to the plateau.”
“It doesn’t mean I don’t love
you. But yes, every so often, yes.” Roxton looked down at his hands. “When your actions hurt our friends …
hurt me … and you get that look in your eye that tells us nothing means more to you than yourself ...”
how long has it been, Roxton, since you saw that woman …?” Marguerite began but suddenly shivered.
an unpleasant tingle eased over Marguerite. It had less to do with *feeling* than physical reality. It started at her lower
back then raced quickly upward as she stood.
“Marguerite?” A chill of fear overcoming him, Roxton also
stood, watching her.
Something was wrong; horribly and terribly. “I feel strange, Roxton.” Marguerite whispered,
lifting her hands, rubbing thumbs against fingers, feeling the electrical charge move through her body. Then, stunned, she
remembered: “The cave wall.” she said in a frightened whisper, and met Roxon’s eyes. “The inscription!”
stared at her, immobile, stunned beyond words until he saw Marguerite beginning to lose cohesion. She was disappearing before
his very eyes! “No!” Roxton felt panic and lifted a hand, moving forward. It wasn’t possible!
Marguerite screamed, realization dawning, dissolving.
“No Marguerite, I didn’t mean it! I swear! No! Come
Roxton reached forward, horrified, but could do nothing to stop the inevitable.
awoke to the sensation of his right arm falling, bouncing gently before it lay still at his side. “Damn.” Lord
John Roxton groggily mumbled, raising the hand yet again but this time sliding it to the back of his head, slowly rubbing
tense fingertips downward until he felt the loose collar of his white T-shirt. Gradually, Roxton sat up on his bed and winced.
He had a stiff neck and back. He slept badly again, twisting and turning, last night.
His fingers massaged the tightness
underneath his hair, the dark locks having grown much too long again. Roxton kept telling himself he needed to have someone,
maybe Veronica, cut it but a small part of him - perhaps the unkept savage which dwelled within - continually asked him why
it was necessary. ‘Who do I have to impress?’ Hell, some of the attractive native women he and his companions
had met since coming to the plateau thought a man with long hair damn sexy.
Roxton’s smile faded and, with a
groan, he noted from his bedside window that the sun was just beginning to ascend. The hunter tossed his long legs over the
side of the mattress and paused. Curious, he looked closely at both of his hands now. In his dream he had been *reaching*.
What had he been trying to attain this time? This wasn’t the first morning Roxton had awakened to either seeing or feeling
his arm collapse to the bed.
Perhaps, in his nighttime imaginings, he was reaching out for someone. Maybe he was still
trying to save his brother. Roxton quickly stood. He didn’t want to think about William. Whenever he did he became depressed
and moody. His companions did not understand why he often appeared unaccountably distant. He had never discussed the loss
of his older brother with any of them and probably never would.
There were moments when Roxton wished he could talk
with Challenger about it, get an opinion from the learned man he swore to follow to hell and back. Yet, when he watched him
- so intrigued with his science and little else – Roxton thought better of it. Challenger would never truly understand
and neither would young Ned Malone. The reporter reminded Roxton of William in so many ways, when both he and his older brother
were younger and the world appeared an open book to them. But Malone was a member of the press and everything, even the private
confidences of his friends, were written in his journals. Whether Malone intended it or not, Roxton did not want to open a
newspaper one morning, once back in England, and discover his private woes displayed for all to read. He had had enough of
that when Pierson-Rice had published his own lurid account of the event.
“Time to wake up, Roxton. The raptors
aren’t going to wait.” she called through the curtain that separated his bedroom from the hall which led up into
the common room.
“Be up directly, Veronica.” Roxton replied and stood, reaching for his pants. ‘Nice
girl.’ Roxton thought absently while struggling into his clothes. The explorers really did owe her so much. Veronica
was like the little sister Roxton never had. Sometimes he felt he could talk with her about his past, how the death of his
brother- the horrible memory of how he died - sometimes overwhelmed the English Lord to the point where he just wanted to
stay in bed and never get out. But no. She was an innocent. Veronica was just not worldly enough to understand. Maybe some
day that would change.
Already Veronica was taking care of Ned. That had to be a sobering experience. Since the reporter’s
accident, during the first year of their stay on the plateau, the jungle girl had been very attentive to Malone. Roxton suspected
the two were quite in love.
Slightly jaded, Roxton sighed as he slipped on his outer shirt. *Love*. There was no time
for such feelings affection. He personally had never experienced the emotion and doubted he ever would. Love was for the young
and idealistic. He would leave them to it.
“It’s tragic the bullet that killed the ape also killed
your brother but that was not your fault …”
“What the hell?” Alarmed, Roxton stiffened
and looked about his quarters. There she was again. That voice. He had heard her before and pictured, in his mind’s
eye, a beautiful woman with long dark hair, large stormy eyes, an enticing face and figure … and a smile … *a
smile that could melt the polar ice caps*. “You’re going loony, Roxy. That’s all there is to it.”
Shaking off agitation, he continued to button the front of his shirt. ‘My fantasy lover.’ Roxton realized, allowing
a half smile. The phantom beauty was his woman of fire and steel but also a passionate ally who might free him from an aching
loneliness. He could tell her anything … he could … “Idiot.”
‘Regrets are making me soft.’
Roxton thought. Too bad such a woman did not truly exist. She never appeared to him in England – either in high society
or in one of the lowly houses Lord Roxton occasionally visited - and, after four years of searching, he now knew she did not
inhabit the plateau either.
Thoughtfully, Roxton slid into his boots.
“John! Your eggs are getting cold!”
Roxton heard Summerlee call.
He paused and looked to the curtain. Why was it every time Roxton heard the kindly professor
speak he felt an element of grief? It was almost as if a part of Roxton felt Summerlee was not *supposed* to be here. He *belonged*,
of course, and more than any of the others, Roxton could talk with him … but his presence, after four long years of
struggling for survival, just seemed out of sync. Roxton could not think of it in any other way.
With an inward sigh,
the hunter pulled the straps of his suspenders over his shoulders. Time was wasting away. He needed to hunt. He needed to
do something … anything or go insane.