Marguerite Krux brushed a strand of dark hair out of her blue eyes and glared at the handsome adventurer.
"I twisted my ankle, alright? If you would just give me a minute to rest, I'll probably be able to move faster than you."
Roxton sighed. "Fine. We'll stop for five minutes. Then we're moving on."
"You're too kind," she muttered under her breath. She sat down on a fallen tree and removed her boot. She started rotating her foot while rubbing her ankle. She looked up at her hiking companion.
"You're still angry with me, aren't you?"
"Why should I be angry?" Roxton said sarcastically. "Just because you nearly got us killed!"
"How was I supposed to know that statue was booby-trapped?"
"Sometime, your greed will be the death of us."
"We're not dead yet." She said tartly. "Meantime, I pay for this expedition. What's the harm in me making a return on my investment?"
"The harm is things like spears and poison darts that show up whenever you try to remove a jewel that was never meant to be removed!"
"Nobody says you have to follow me around. I can look after myself you know."
"You were doing a fine job of it back at that temple! If I hadn't shoved you out of the way, you'd be dead right now."
"And you'd all be better off without me, right?"
"I never said that." Roxton said, his tone softening a little. "I for one am rather glad you didn't die back at that temple."
"Careful Lord Roxton, you almost sound like you care."
"I do." He said softly. Then he straightened up, "How's your ankle? We've got to get moving."
Mariket sighed. The man asked for the impossible. Dark hair, blue eyes, perfect figure, spirit to be broken. Some days, it didn't pay to get into the slave-trade business. Mariket walked through the jungle wondering where he was going to find the requisite harem member-to-be.
'Why did I decide to specialize in wives?' He thought ruefully to himself. 'I'm stuck with it, though. With my reputation, I couldn't trade a regular slave if my life depended on it.'
He sat down on a tree stump and started emptying the rocks from his boots when he heard voices.
"We're lost, aren't we, Roxton?" Exclaimed a female voice.
"We are not lost!" The man's voice answered.
"Yes we are! I told you to ask that man for a copy of that jungle map he had." The female scolded. "Why is it men will never ask for directions!"
Mariket listened to this exchange with growing interest. The female had spirit; that was for sure. Now, if she only had the physical requirements, he could take her and collect his fee. The man he could do without. He pulled out his hand-held crossbow. He quietly loaded it and hid himself in the trees. Very soon, the bickering couple came into sight.
He looked at the female and nearly shouted in delight - she was EXACTLY what the man had asked for. The male looked to be a good specimen too and Mariket once again rued the day he decided to make a name for himself as a procurer of wives. He crouched lower in the bushes to await his chance to take her.
"You know Roxton, sometimes I really don't like you." Marguerite said crossly. "Why must you always pick a fight?"
"Me? I'm not the one who lets greed rule my heart."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"You wonder why people don't like you? Greed shuts out love. Where one cannot get love, one cannot give love."
"Very deep," Marguerite said. "You should have been a philosopher. It doesn't matter what I do. It all comes down on the side of money. People have never liked me. They liked my money. So why shouldn't I become what people like? Rich."
"Maybe you never gave them a chance to like you."
"Oh, I gave them a chance." Marguerite said bitterly. "I told you, it was my money they liked and I just ended up getting hurt. Well, I decided a long time ago that I didn't like being hurt like that, so I used my money to win friends and influence people and left my heart out of it. Now can we change the subject?"
"I'm sorry you feel that way," Roxton said, somewhat surprised by her candor. "You'll be a very lonely woman."
"I said, can we please change the subject?" Marguerite said, fighting back her tears (not wanting to let him see her cry).
"What do you want to talk about?"
"Something other than how selfish and greedy I am."
Roxton stopped in front of the bush that hid Mariket. The slave trader thanked his gods that this was going to be so easy. An arrow in the back of the male and the female would be his. Oh, she might run, but he lived for the chase.
Marguerite sighed as she looked at the man who was giving her so much frustration. She decided that he really wasn't always so bad. God knows he could be very kind when he wanted to be. He was handsome too. She smiled to herself as she looked at him. When they coined the phrase 'the eyes are the windows to the soul', they had Lord John Roxton in mind. His beautiful eyes were so expressive that she could see exactly what he was thinking. Right now, they were conveying his remorse at upsetting her so.
She smiled at him. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have snapped at you like that."
"You had every right to be angry with me."
"Well, yes…" She said with a sly smile. "But I still shouldn't have…"
Marguerite's attention was just over Roxton's shoulder. She suddenly realized what it was she was seeing and where it was aimed. Roxton…ROXTON!
Marguerite moved forward, catching Roxton off guard. There was a whistling in the air as the crossbow arrow was released. She pushed him out of the path of the arrow, only to find herself its replacement target.
Roxton didn't understand what had gotten into Marguerite; suddenly she was running at him as though he were an oasis in the desert. Suddenly, he heard the whistling in the air behind him and realized what she was doing - too late.
He was shoved over and down as she hit him full force. As soon as he hit the ground, he rolled and, pulling his pistol, fired two shots into the bushes.
Mariket felt the bullet pierce his chest. His last thought was that the man had indeed asked for the impossible.
Roxton saw the man fall out of the bush and went over to check him out. Realizing the man was dead, he turned back to see if Marguerite had recovered from her fall. That was when he realized that she was suffering from more than just a bump on the head.
"Oh God, no! NO!" He cried as he ran over to her inert form. He looked at her closed eyes and ashen face before letting his eyes travel down her body to where the arrow had pierced her side, burying itself at least six inches deep.
"Marguerite? Marguerite? Come on, talk to me!" Roxton called desperately. He knelt down beside her and carefully lifted her head into his lap. The sudden change of position brought her around with a groan.
"You get him?" She whispered painfully.
Roxton stroked her hair as he said, "Yeah, I got him. He looked like a slave trader, probably wanted you."
"Oh. You okay?"
"I'm fine. You saved my life. Why?"
"Didn't want to be a slave." She said with a painful smile. "Besides, sometimes my heart does get into the mix."
"Oh, Marguerite!" Roxton sighed. "You just hang on, I'll get you back to the tree house and then…"
"Then what? I don't think I can move. You can't carry me and the blood will attract every raptor on this plateau. Just go."
"I'm not leaving you! I'll look after of you. You can't die on me! You're not allowed."
"Since when do you tell me what to do?" She gasped.
"Since I don't want you to die."
She looked up at him and saw genuine fear in his eyes. "But I am, aren't I? I see in your eyes. You're terrified, but there's nothing you can do. So go."
"NO!" He gently cradled her in his arms.
She moaned as he shifted her position, but soon settled in to a relatively comfortable position. She leaned her head into his shoulder and inhaled his scent. The musky odor that was distinctly Roxton was suddenly very comforting. For a moment, she almost forgot the pain.
She had never had anyone to comfort her before. She had always been on her own and as such, decided that she needed no one to help her. But now, cradled in the arms of John Roxton, she felt a level of safety and contentment that she had never known before. She basked in the warmth of his embrace and let the darkness take her.
"I'm telling you Challenger, they're in trouble," Veronica insisted. "I can feel it."
Challenger smiled down at the girl in the loincloth. "We have no reason to worry yet. They're not due back until tomorrow morning. I still have some research to do on those samples I brought back this morning and I know Malone is off somewhere writing. If they don't come back in the morning, we'll go looking for them, alright?"
Veronica looked at him angrily for another minute before stomping off to find Malone.
"Veronica, there's nothing to worry about!" Ned Malone tried to soothe the agitated blonde woman standing in front of him. "Roxton is very capable of taking care of himself and Marguerite."
"Look, Roxton is a very capable man in the jungle, do you agree?"
"And I think we all know how he feels about Marguerite, right?"
"He would do anything in the world to protect her, wouldn't he?"
"Then stop worrying! He'll take good care of Marguerite and they'll both be home by tomorrow lunchtime."
Veronica sighed. Maybe Challenger and Malone were right. She really had nothing to go on but an odd feeling. She sighed again and settled down with one of her father's old books - trying to take her mind off of her feeling of impending doom.
Roxton stared at the arrow that he had just pulled out of Marguerite's unmoving form. The flared arrowhead probably did a lot more damage coming out than going in - precisely what it was designed for. He looked at it in disgust for another minute before throwing it on the fire that he had just built to keep the raptors away.
He carefully bandaged the wound and pulled a blanket out of his backpack. He spread it tenderly over the unmoving form. He gently stroked her hair for a moment before leaning down and placing a gentle kiss on her lips. Then he stood up and, after stoking the fire, started gathering materials to make a stretcher on which to take Marguerite home.
Marguerite stood beside Roxton, watching him work. She didn't understand what was happening and she wasn't sure she wanted to.
Marguerite spun around at the sound of the voice and saw a woman in white standing in front of her. She hadn't seen this woman in a very long time - so long, in fact that her conscious mind had no memory of her.
"Yes dear. How are you feeling?"
"Am I dead?"
"Nearly." The woman smiled, her blue eyes dancing. "Soon you'll come to me and your father."
Marguerite spared another look at Roxton. She sighed, "Okay, let's go."
"I'm afraid it's not that simple. You see, the final decision hasn't been made yet. Roxton will be able to get you back to the tree house. It's up to you if you want to last that long."
"Really? Then I'd like to stay a while longer."
The elder Krux smiled at her daughter. "Oh, Marguerite. If you stay, you have a long and painful recovery ahead of you and there's no guarantee that you will ever be 100% again."
"Mother, why are you telling me all of this? Am I going to live or die?"
"I'm here to help you make that decision."
"So far, all you're doing is confusing me. If I stay, I have a long, painful recovery. I don't like pain. Besides, I can't have my friends at the tree house waiting on me hand and foot - as nice as that would be. They don't need me slowing them down like that. They'd be better off without me."
"Are you certain of that?"
"What, are you going to pull A Christmas Carol thing on me? Show me the ghosts of the past, present and future?"
"Well, not the past. You know about that. Mainly, I'm going to show you the future. Let's start with tomorrow morning, shall we?"