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Chapter Three
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Slowly, she blinked open her weary eyes to be greeted by a canopy. It was a light maroon color with lace trim, filmy and billowing in and out from a gentle, refreshing breeze flowing in through the opened French doors only a few meters away from the large bed. In the distance she thought she could hear an ocean.

Yards and yards of expensive material, Marguerite thought drowsily, again looking up at the canopy. She felt the silky sheet beneath and all around her, against her skin, and marveled at the softness. Her senses were alive and fulfilled. Such sensuous luxury. How she missed it.

Leisurely, her head turned to take in the rest of the room. Lustrous wood paneled walls, costly antiques, silver candle sticks atop a hand-made chest of drawers ("From the finest craftsman in England ..." she recalled someone saying), the delicate moldings, high-priced nic-nacs and ....

Marguerite sat up suddenly, her eyes wide and frightened. Where am I? She then looked down at herself and realized she wasn't wearing a nightdress. A very human emotion crossed Marguerite's face and she pulled the sheet up to cover herself.

"Good morning, my darling." His voice was seductively low, beside her in bed.

"Roxton?" Her heart raced, confusion over-coming fear.

He gently grasped her arm and pulled her down beside him. "Lady Roxton." he replied, attempting to kiss her bare shoulder.

Alarmed by what might normally be a welcomed interlude, Marguerite pushed him back and stared. Roxton was unclothed in bed, like herself, but the surroundings did not seem to strike him as out of the ordinary. "Lady Roxton?" she questioned, "What do you mean? How did we get here ... like this?" Marguerite inched slowly away from Roxton on the bed, unnerved.
 
She had been feeling so ill last night ...

His expression changed from seductive, to teasing, to concerned. "You don't remember the wedding? Our wedding night?" he asked, sitting up. Roxton reached out to touch Marguerite's cheek and watched as she shied away. "When was the last time you took your medication?"

Stricken, Marguerite slapped his hand away. "Roxton, what the hell are you talking about?" She got out of the bed, pulling the sheet with her, "Where are we?" she asked again, looking about the grand bedroom.

"Not again." he whispered, now appearing very troubled. "Marguerite, we've been back in England for six months. Can't you remember? Challenger finally fixed that blasted balloon. We made it back and were hailed as great heroes. The press was relentless, especially when they learned you and I were to marry. They hounded us day and night. It got to your nerves. You began to forget things."

Marguerite backed up as he spoke, unbelieving, and eventually into the wooden chest of drawers. Something unexpectedly caught in her memory. She ran a deliberate hand over the surface. "You had this made for me ..." she whispered unexpectedly. "An engagement gift."

Roxton took a breath, relieved."Yes." He then drew her attention over to a chair with a tall back. Laying across its arms was a white wedding gown. "You told me you shouldn't wear white but I insisted." he said, getting up out of bed. "We waited to make love for the first time until last night ..."

" ... and as far as you were concerned I was your pure and perfect bride." Marguerite finished for him as he drew near, drawing on the memory, not resisting the placement of his hands on her shoulders.

"Not too pure, I'm pleased to say." he teased, tongue firmly in cheek.

"And this room?" she asked, her eyes traveling.

"We are on our estate in Avebury."

It was like a dream. Marguerite could see glimpses of the last six months. She had grown weak, needing a doctor's care, but Roxton's devotion had never wavered. So many of her secrets had been revealed, causing Marguerite further stress. She thought Roxton's love would be forever compromised when he learned of her background, how much of a peasant she truly was, but his love was absolute. If anything the revelations had lit a fire deep inside of him.
 
He had promised Marguerite they would one day find her original birth certificate if it still existed, he had men checking on it right now, and some day she would be whole, both emotionally and physically. But, for now, she would just have to settle for his love. Never had Marguerite felt closer to him. Roxton's words had made her feel so vulnerable that when he asked for her hand in marriage Marguerite could only accept. She wanted nothing more than to be ....

"I'm Lady Roxton." she whispered, in a daze.

"One of them." he chuckled in that way only Roxton could, "Mother is still alive, you know."

Yes, that sweet silver-haired woman who had welcomed Marguerite with opened arms.

Marguerite could see she and Summerlee at the wedding reception talking and ....

"Summerlee ..." Marguerite whispered, stricken.

"We found him." Roxton assured, "He made it to England, after all. Beat all of us here."

The smile on Marguerite's face lessened. No. Wait. That wasn't right. "We found him." she repeated.

"Yes, round and happy Summerlee. He and Challenger immediately tried to put some cash together for a return trip to the plateau. After all, Challenger promised to return for Malone and Veronica. I contributed as much as I could, of course, but ..."

Marguerite's smile turned into a frown. She could feel the color drain from her face as she stepped back from him, "Summerlee didn't make it back to England. Remember our talk with Campbell and Hamilton? When we asked them point blank they said he had never returned."

"They were mistaken."

"No." Marguerite gulped, noting how her surroundings were suddenly beginning to lose clarity. The walls were beginning to drip like an over-flow of candle wax. "No, they weren't. You're not who you're pretending to be and this isn't his estate. We're not in Avebury!"

Anger now appeared on Roxton's handsome face. "You little fool." he hissed, his voice changing to a sinister echo.

Then she disappeared into a fog.

*****

Veronica had managed to get her tears under control and walked from her bedroom into the treehouse living area. At least two hours had passed but Roxton had yet to peak from Marguerite's room. At least that's what Challenger said when he had come to Veronica fifteen minutes ago. Of course Roxton would take it worse than anyone else. He was so enamored of Marguerite, seeing past so many things the rest of them only thought galling.

Challenger said he was now conducting tests on the sleeping powder. He was certain there was nothing amiss but he had to know for sure. He didn't say it but Veronica knew if Challenger found anything wrong with the chemical combination he had ground together, the Professor would never forgive himself. The research was as much for Challenger's own piece of mind as theirs.

Veronica looked to the sofa, noting one of Marguerite's light coverlet's had been left behind last night. Poor Marguerite. 'How could I have been so cruel?'. Veronica had accused her of not truly being sick, happy with their deception, eager to knock the woman out so she wouldn't have to wait on her anymore. And now Marguerite was dead, probably from a mysterious jungle fever, and she had lived out her last gasping moments while the rest of them were in the living area, talking and playing games, laughing at Marguerite's expense.
 
They had turned on the gramophone last night, confident it wouldn't awaken Marguerite. Could she have called to them at that time? Had Marguerite cried for their help but they did not hear?

Taking a deep breath and dabbing her red eyes with an already damp handkerchief, Veronica looked to Malone who was standing pensively on the balcony, staring silently out into the jungle. He and Marguerite had never been particularly close but there was a friendship there. Often times Marguerite, when angered or teasing, would refer to Malone as the irritating little brother she never wanted. But, with that, there was a bit of affection. Despite her annoyance with the writer and the often over-blown things he'd scribble in his journal, Marguerite liked him enough to refer to Malone as family, as her brother, and that was saying a lot, particularly coming from Marguerite Krux.

"I think I gave her too much." Malone whispered, sensing Veronica was near.

"What?" she approached and stood by his side.

"The powder. I told you I gave her half a teaspoon but I gave her more. A full teaspoon. I just didn't think it would work with so little and we wanted her to have a goodnight sleep ..."

Veronica touched his arm, "Ned, it was a mild sedative. You could have given her three teaspoons and it wouldn't have killed her. Might have made her sick but wouldn't have ..."

"She's dead, isn't she?" Malone bit back slightly.

"I'm sure it has nothing to do with what we did last night. I think it was Marguerite's time to ..." but as she said it, Veronica's eyes welled up again. No. How could it be Marguerite's time to die? She was young and beautiful and so very accomplished. She had helped them and saved each of their lives on more than one occasion. Marguerite should be alive and well.
 
It made no sense. None of it.

"Oh God, Veronica. If it is my fault I don't know what I'll do."

"Challenger's doing tests right now, Ned." Empathizing, Veronica turned Malone to her and put her arms around him, letting his head rest on her shoulder. "Everything is going to be fine. It's not your fault, my fault ... None of us are to blame." she spoke soothingly but, if Malone had been looking into her eyes, he'd know Veronica wasn't feeling the conviction of her words. "You watch, Challenger will make everything fine ...."

****

John Roxton sat next to her bed, his hands firmly on the chair's arms, sometimes convulsively gripping the wood. He did not move from this position. He just sat and stared at Marguerite, willing her to move. Twice he had tried to pull the sheet over her head but stopped. He couldn't do it. Not while there was still hope.

She wasn't dead. If Marguerite was truly dead he would know it. Challenger and the rest were wrong. All he need do was wait her out.
Marguerite was never a patient woman and sometimes Roxton could appreciate her determination. It was her steely resolve that both intrigued him and made him quake with fury during those times when she wouldn't take no for an answer. She could be so damn stubborn ... and he loved her for it.

Roxton leaned forward in his chair, clasping his hands together.

Marguerite was so different from any other woman he had ever met. So many secrets and hidden desires. One day Roxton hoped to be at the top of her desire list but until then he could accept being a mere runner up. She had trusted men before and had been hurt. That's what the others didn't understand. Marguerite, despite her confident outward appearance and resolve, was a flesh and blood woman-child who, like most human beings, responded to love and affection. Even if there were times when she could not return his declarations of affection, Roxton understood that Marguerite and he were destined to be together ... forever. She would come to realize that in time as well.
 
They were soulmates. Roxton didn't know when he had unearthed this revelation but he had felt something between them from the very first moment they met, way back before the journey, when confronting one another in Challenger's home. Marguerite had since admitted that she felt it too.

"Roxton ..." came Marguerite's voice.

Roxton drew in breath and nearly collapsed to his knees beside her bed.

"Come to me ... in the jungle."

Her face was still so pale and her lips did not move. How was she speaking to him?

"Please John ... Come to me .... I'm waiting ..."

"Marguerite," Roxton's voice was a quaking but intense whisper, "Come back to me!"

"Go to the jungle, near the Summerlee River. Go John ... I'll be waiting for you." Then: "We will be together forever ...."

****