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Chapter Two
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"Good morning, Veronica." Challenger called from the breakfast table, concentrating on a tablet of paper he had been jotting notes on for the last half hour. He heard the jungle beauty step off of the treehouse elevator. "Did you have a good swim?" he asked.

"Wonderful." she replied blithely, swinging her slightly damp golden hair behind a shoulder. "And I'm starving. Any toast?"

Malone, who had been spreading a fruit substance on his own bread, mimed to the plate which held five slices of toasted bread, "There's plenty. Marguerite isn't up yet and Roxton left early to go to the hive. I think he wants to make certain honey is on the table before he has to confront her again."

Veronica glanced in the direction of Marguerite's room then back to the table, "It's getting kind of late, even for Marguerite. Has anyone checked on her yet?"

"Thought we'd let her sleep in." Challenger spoke, distractedly flipping a page in his notebook. "She needs rest."

"It couldn't hurt." Malone added.

"You two are just cowards." Veronica teased with a short chuckle and listened to their honest laughter. She took an enthusiastic bite of her bread then flipped it onto a clean plate, intending to eat the rest later, along with fruit, tea and perhaps even some oatmeal if she could talk Marguerite into make it. The woman was a disaster in the kitchen but if there was one thing Marguerite was good at preparing, it was oatmeal. No one could quite figure it out, especially since Marguerite loathed the stuff. "I'll go see if she's feeling better."

"It's your neck." Malone jested, "If Marguerite tries to claw your eyes out tell her we have coffee. That always seems to calm her down."

With a conspiratorial chuckle, Veronica left the men and walked the short distance to Marguerite's bedroom.

Entering, she adjusted her eyes to the dark after having been in the bright sunshine all morning. The curtain had yet to be pulled back from the bedroom window and Marguerite, it seemed, hadn't moved a muscle. She rested exactly where Roxton lay her last night.
 
Veronica stepped down a couple stairs into the room, "Come on, sleepy head." she called, "It's a beautiful day, Marguerite. Time to greet it." Veronica waited for a groan, curse, movement or anything from the direction of the bed but Marguerite remained still.

The smile slowly faded from the jungle girl's face and she walked further into the bedroom. "Marguerite ..." she called, sensing the first tingle of dread to the back of her scalp. " ... it's getting late." Uneasy, she looked down at the silent, unmoving woman.
 
She was so pale.
 
Concerned, Veronica picked up Marguerite's hand and was stunned by how cold it felt. She dropped the limb in sudden fear and realization ... 'She's not breathing.' ... and took an fearful pace backward, "Marguerite?" she asked, her voice just barely above a whisper. Veronica's bottom lip began to tremble. "Oh God." Her eyes grew wide as panic overcame her, "Challenger! Malone!" Veronica screamed and moved forward to shake the still body in front of her, "Marguerite, wake up! Wake up!" she cried.

The two men were by her side in seconds.

"She won't wake up!" Veronica exclaimed, stepping back and allowing Challenger to examine Marguerite.

Methodically, years of scientific training coming to the rescue during a tense, emotionally wrought time, Challenger opened Marguerite's eyelids, looking at the dilated pupils. He then placed his head at her breasts listening for a heartbeat, feeling for the pulse at her neck and finally, when all else failed, he pulled back and murmured: "No, it can't be. I won't accept this." He moved forward again, attempting mouth to mouth resuscitation, to no avail.

Malone, eyes wide, stared at the scene. He couldn't move. Even Veronica, standing beside him, weeping and saying over and over: "Please Marguerite. Try. Please try ..." barely sunk in. His breaths were shallow and only one thing came into his head: 'It was the tea. I gave her the tea last night. I must have put too much in ...'

Challenger, beside himself, took Marguerite's jaw in his hands, the woman's lifeless eyes staring back at him, and he shook her. "This isn't funny, Marguerite." he stated in a nonsensical and lost way that proved to his companions only one thing: There was nothing they could do.

"Challenger?" Veronica questioned with a sob when she saw him bow his head, looking away from Marguerite, as if he might be sick.

"She's dead." he announced.

Malone licked his lips, "It can't be." he said, his voice quaking.

"Stiffness is already beginning to set in ..." Challenger continued, attempting to sound professional but failing miserably. He closed Marguerite's eyelids. "She must had died shortly after we ..." He stopped suddenly as a terrible, unspeakable thought entered into his mind. "Dear God ..." he murmured.
 
No, it was just a harmless sleeping potion. It couldn't have been ... but if she were truly ill, perhaps having some disorder they weren't aware of ... an allergy perhaps ... Challenger's mind raced.

Then they heard it. The elevator.

"Roxton." Veronica whispered, aghast.

No one moved. They only listened. They could hear the elevator stop. They listened as Roxton's heavy, booted feet made their way into the kitchen area, they could practically see him placing the jars of honey on the kitchen table. Then the inevitable ....

"Where is everyone?" he called.

***

"And whose the hero now?" John Roxton murmured to himself, in the elevator, as it took him up to the treehouse. He looked at both sealed jars and smiled, proud of himself. The bees that had produced the honey weren't quite as big as some of the other flying monsters he and the others had seen on the plateau but they were still a lot larger than any he had ever encountered during his other travels in South America. Roxton decided he was lucky to get away without being stung. Yet, even if he had it was worth it. They were stocked for awhile and Marguerite would be thrilled. She might even throw a kind word his way.

Roxton chuckled privately at the last thought. Probably not. She'd find out they had deceived her last night and throw a huge over-emoting tantrum. Probably wouldn't even talk to him for days. But eventually she'd get over it and they'd make up. It was the making up Roxton enjoyed most. There was just something so wonderful about having a hot, fiery fight with Marguerite Krux, getting her blood to boiling, then enjoying the passionate kisses that followed, when all was said and done. It was probably rather juvenile of him to think in these terms but Roxton could not deny the satisfying outcome. It was getting to the point where he liked to bait Marguerite just to see what might follow.

When the elevator stopped Roxton got out and moved to the dining table. No one was in sight although they couldn't have gone far. It looked like they were only halfway into breakfast and no dishes had been cleared. He looked about, "Where is everyone?" he called.

There was no immediate answer and his eyes narrowed. Roxton then heard the squeak of foot-fall on a stair, coming from Marguerite's room, and he cautiously moved in that direction. Something wasn't right. He could sense it although he didn't entirely understand why he felt as he did.

At the curtained front to Marguerite's bedroom he paused, watching as the material slowly parted and Veronica stood in front of him. Her expression was a combination of fear and ... grief.

"Veronica, what's going on?" he asked, noting how she clasped her own hands and didn't appear able to meet his eyes with her own.

"Roxton," she whispered, "something bad has ..." she faltered.

He looked beyond her to where Malone stood and Challenger knelt by Marguerite's bedside.

"Marguerite." he murmured, face stoic and body growing stiff, functioning on automatic as he brushed by the jungle girl on his way into the bedroom.

Malone stepped away as Roxton moved passed him. Like Veronica, he could not look the man in the eyes.

"John." Challenger whispered, unable to say much more. He watched, sympathetic yet fascinated, as Roxton kneeled calmly at Marguerite's bedside, across from him, staring at her, brushing dark hair away from her face.

"Sleeping in again?" Roxton asked, smiling strangely.

Challenger blinked. The man was in shock and, for the moment, in total denial. The scientist didn't know what to do or if he should do anything. He glanced at Veronica, who stood in the doorway and Malone, who was halfway between he and the jungle girl.

"You deserve it." Roxton said, talking to Marguerite as if he might if she were alive and listening. "You've been ill." He took her chin in his hand, caressing it with tender fingers, then very gently shook her. When there was no response he let his hand rest at her throat. "Perhaps you were more ill than we thought. Yes, you just need to rest longer." and he pulled the bed sheet up over her, covering her breasts, a finger straying to touch her cold left cheek. "You'll wake when you're ready." Roxton whispered, "You always do."

Witnessing the scene was too much for Veronica. She put a hand to her mouth, turned and ran from the room, crying.

Malone closed his eyes and also turned away, breathing heavily. 'Too much.' his mind raced, 'You put in too much. You poisoned her. Too, too much ...'

"John ..." Challenger moved to place a hand on Roxton's shoulder, attempting to get him to face reality, as horrible as it was. "We need to talk ...."

"Sh!" Roxton's head snapped to look up at the scientist, his expression firm, eyes blazing with threat. "Leave us alone, George." he spoke very clearly and his mouth clamped shut briefly, lips pressing together, as he looked from Marguerite up to Challenger again. "You're not needed right now."

"Please, John ..."

"Get out and take Malone with you." Roxton pressed, his expression no nonsense, "I mean it, George." He looked down once again at the woman laying before him.
 
The woman he loved and planned to wed and have a family with ...
 
"We'll be fine." Roxton whispered, touching her hair yet again, "Just fine."

"Professor," Malone, sensing they should do as they were told, took the older man by the arm. There would be time to sort out Roxton when they got themselves under control. "Come." and he steered a confused Challenger to the room's exit.

When they were gone, when the curtain was drawn, and there was only he and Marguerite, Roxton took her hand and rubbed it gently. "Did I ever tell you about the time ..." he said, "... my brother and I went to Kenya?" He then paused, looking up as if remembering or hearing Marguerite say something, "Yes, you're right. I did tell you that story. Sorry." Roxton then paused, another thought coming into his head. "Did I ever tell you when it was I knew I was falling in love with you?"

The body before him was still and unresponsive.

Roxton closed his eyes, laying his head on her creamy shoulder, and he began to cry.