One Desire by Colorado

It was hot. So hot no dinosaurs had been seen for days. A few birds cried out to each other in their misery, but that was only occasionally. It was like a wet wool blanket had settled over the plateau, and no relief was in sight.

Veronica leaned against the palm tree and closed her eyes. How she hated the heat. In all her years living alone, there was only one other time that she could recall the temperature climbing this high, but it had only lasted a day or two. This heat wave was entering its second week.

She toyed with her knife and looked out at the watering hole. The water line was receding. It was only as cool as tepid bath water, but the pond was bringing Marguerite Crux some relief. The attractive brunette swam in the shallow end.

"Why don't you come in, Veronica?" she called. She sounded positively mellow.

"No thanks. I'll just keep watch," Veronica replied. The only time Marguerite seemed to be in a good humor lately was when she was bathing. The searing heat was making everyone irritable, especially Marguerite and Roxton. He had snapped at her earlier that morning about leaving her gemstones lying about. She had said something equally cutting back to him.

Veronica stabbed her knife in the dirt When will this heat end? She sighed and looked around for any predators, but there were none.

Marguerite slowly walked to shore.

"Feel better?" Veronica asked.

"Oh yes." Marguerite dried off and slipped on her camisole. "I just wish I didn't have to wear all this clothing."

"You don't." Veronica stood and brushed off her backside. "I could make you an outfit like mine."

Marguerite looked at the young woman's tan, firm muscles. "No, thanks. Only you can successfully wear an outfit like that."

Veronica shrugged and walked towards the water's edge. Marguerite smirked at the thought of her, an heiress, strutting around in a little loincloth like Veronica. That would set London society back a little, she thought wryly. She slid on her twill skirt and white blouse. Suddenly she grabbed her arm.

"Damn it, can't I have a moment's peace?" she yelled at no one in particular.

"What is it?"

"Something bit me."

Marguerite pulled the blouse off her shoulder, revealing a small red bump rising a few inches down on her right arm.

"Put some salve on it back home," Veronica advised.

"Oh no, not that green slime of George's. It stinks like dinosaur dung."

Neither woman noticed the small white spider climbing out of its hiding place inside Marguerite's collar, nor it speeding down her back, its work accomplished. It was slight, delicate, like a piece of fine lace. It dropped to the ground and scurried off into the watering-hole mud.

Journalist Ned Malone tried writing down his impressions of the late afternoon, but frankly, he was too hot to care. He had expected the temperature to be unbearable this high up in the treetops, but the unpredictable plateau weather had given the tree house steady cooling breezes. Still, it was too hot for anyone to do chores.

Arthur Summerlee dozed over a book, his steady breathing a comforting sound. Lord John Roxton sat next to him looking unbearably bored. A man of action, Roxton had tried to chop wood in the morning, but the heat had driven him inside. He kicked at the floor absentmindedly. Marguerite slept in the hammock on the terrace. She had been there all afternoon, Malone realized. Well, as rich as she was, she could sleep whenever she wanted to. Prof. George Challenger, genius and visionary, was in the kitchen preparing indo nuts and fruit for dinner. Malone grimaced. No matter how much protein Summerlee claimed indo nuts had, he didn't like the taste. But he couldn't blame Challenger for preparing the light fare-no one felt like starting a cooking fire.

"Is supper ready?" asked Veronica upon entering the room. Malone lit up like he always did when she walked by. She tossed her blonde hair in a spectacular way, he thought.

"Yes, dinner is served!" announced Challenger with extra flair.

Roxton yawn and stretched. He glanced over at Marguerite who hadn't stirred. He noticed appreciatively the graceful way her waist tucked in above her hip. No, no, he chided himself. It's too hot to be thinking about that.

"Come on, sleeping beauty, you've been at it all day," he called.

Marguerite let out a slight moan and sat up. She felt ill, queer. A horrible taste had settled in the back of her throat and her arm was throbbing. She tried to shake it off as she stood, but only succeeded in stumbling into a chair.

"Are you alright, my dear?" Summerlee asked.

"I don't feel well," she said faintly.

Challenger set the platter of fruit down. "This bloody heat. I'm surprised we aren't all ill. Come here, Marguerite, let me look at you."

"Yes, do come, Marguerite. Unless you're too weighted down by your diamonds," jeered Roxton, referring to their morning quarrel.

They all saw what happened next, but in pieces. Malone noticed Marguerite's breathing was heavy. Veronica saw her hands tremble. Summerlee saw the color drain from her face. Challenger observed her eyes dilate and roll back in her head.

But Roxton saw it all.

"John!" Marguerite staggered towards him, then crumpled to the floor in a heap.

He was at her side in a second. "Marguerite, can you hear me?" The others rushed over.

"Carry her to her room," Malone said. "No, wait. The sun is bearing down in there. Put her in my room."

Roxton scooped her up. He swiftly walked to Malone's room and gently laid her down on the bed. Challenger examined her.

"She's burning up with fever. Marguerite, Marguerite." He rubbed her wrists but got no response. "We need some cool compresses."

Veronica turned and ran from the room.

"Challenger, what is it?" Roxton asked anxiously. Marguerite's breathing was shallow and rapid. He reached down for her hand.

"I don't know. An infection, perhaps. We have to cool her down. Uh, um, Veronica, we need to remove this blouse," he sheepishly called to the other woman as he took off Marguerite's boots.

Veronica returned with a bowl of water and rags. She swiftly undid the buttons of Marguerite's light cotton blouse. "Here, help me get her arms out," she instructed the men. She pulled Marguerite to her and felt the awful heat of her feverish skin. Summerlee carefully took the blouse off Marguerite's left arm and started on her right.

"Dear Lord!" he exclaimed, stepping back.

"What the hell is that?" Roxton demanded, peering over his shoulder. A large red welt about four inches wide had risen on the back of Marguerite's arm. Its center was a dark purple. Red streaks resembling crude paint strokes lashed out from it.

Challenger slowly touched the welt, bringing a small whimper of pain from Marguerite.

"The bug bite!" Veronica remembered and told the others what had happened at the watering hole.

"What could cause a wound like this?" Malone mused.

"I don't know," she responded incredulously. Roxton felt a cold hand of fear on him for the first time. There wasn't anything in this jungle Veronica hadn't heard of or dealt with before.

"What do we do?" he demanded.

Challenger rubbed his brow. "We need to bring her fever down, but that bite..."

"I'll go to the Zanga village. There's a medicine woman-Akean-she must be nearly 100 years old. I'm sure she'll know what this is," Veronica said.

"I'll go with you," volunteered Roxton.

"No, Roxton, stay here with Marguerite," was Summerlee's calm voice of experience.

"I'll go," Malone said.

"What can I do?" Roxton asked, angry and frightened. Summerlee pulled up a chair by the bed. "Sit with her," he said softly.

The summer sun was setting late in the sky, but the heat hadn't abated. Veronica and Ned went through the jungle underbrush at a quick pace. He cursed as salty sweat stung his eyes, but Veronica was too focused to notice the sticky perspiration that made her clothes melt into her, the dirt cake to her legs and chest. She acted positively angry at the weather. They paused only to drink water.

They entered the village after dark and went straight to Assai and Jarl's hut.

"My friends, what brings you here?" Assai jumped to her feet in surprise with a jar of water. Ned handed it to Veronica, who gulped it down.

"Our friend Marguerite is very ill. We've come to talk to Akean," she finally replied.

Assai and Jarl exchanged a quick glance. "Akean has gone to the gods," Jarl said in a slow, deep voice.

Ned's knees buckled under him. Jarl helped him sit and handed him a jar.

"But her granddaughter, Sinnia, is here. She is our medicine woman now. I will find her," Assai said. She returned a few minutes later with a tall, bronzed woman. Her dark curls were tightly wound on her head and she wore a large gold hoop in her left ear. She was of indeterminate age with wide-set brown eyes that were large, regal, and kind.

"Tell me what troubles your friend," Sinnia commanded. Veronica and Ned explained what had happened. Sinnia's eyes grew larger, if that was possible, as she listened. She said something in her native language to Assai and Jarl.

"What did she say?" Ned asked Veronica as the other young couple hastily exited the hut. Sinnia turned to them.

"I have sent them to gather my supplies. We must go to your friend now."

"It's already dark. Wouldn't it be better if..." Malone began.

"No. If your friend has what I believe she does, we do not have a moment to spare."

Roxton paced the living quarters like a caged tiger. He hated feeling helpless, especially where Marguerite was concerned. Challenger and Summerlee were working tirelessly to bring down her fever. He could do nothing-he was only underfoot at her bedside. He remembered the look on her face as she fell, how she called out to him. But he couldn't stop her from falling. Just like he couldn't save his brother, William.

He smacked one hand into the other. How could he have said that callous remark about diamonds when she clearly was ill? They bantered and bickered, but when the chips were down, she was always there for him. She had needed his help, not his insults. How could he have spoken to her that way?

He crossed the room over and over again, his thoughts spinning. Her laughter was like music to him; the sparkle in her eye-whether she was hunting for diamonds or planning a scheme-always brought him to life; her lips, so soft and inviting, made him feel things he hadn't felt in years.

"She has to be alright!" he said aloud.

Summerlee left the sick room slowly.

"Is she...?" Roxton couldn't finish the question.

"I believe she is cooling. Her fever might break soon."

"Summerlee, give me a job, something I can be doing."

"We do need more fresh water and more rags for compresses," the older man suggested. Roxton quickly set upon his task. Summerlee leaned on the table for support. Seeing Marguerite so ill and Roxton almost out of his mind with worry and guilt only reminded him of his beloved Anna and her lingering illness.

"Merciful Father, please heal her," he whispered much as he had when his wife was dying.

Veronica, Ned, Sinnia, Jarl, and Assai raced along the path Veronica and Ned had crossed earlier. It was completely dark now but torchlight lit the way. Jungle insects and birds painted a backdrop of noises as the group tore through branches and leaves.

"We must rest for a moment," Assai said, her breath coming in deep gasps. Sinnia nodded, also breathing hard. Malone bent over, resting his hands on his knees, as the others sat on some rocks up a hill from a nearly dried-up stream.

Veronica drank her water greedily. Tears of sadness and exhaustion pricked her eyes.

"Veronica, what is it?" Ned's voice was soft and caring as he sat down beside her.

"Right after my parents left, it was hot like this. Only for a few days, but I was alone in the tree house," Veronica paused. "I sat and waited. I just wanted my mama to come and give me a sip of her berry punch. But she never did."

He pulled her to him and his lips brushed her cheek. "That must have been so frightening for you." She let herself relax in his safe embrace.

"I've never told anyone that before," she confided and kissed him on the lips.

"We must go," Sinnia announced. "How long ago was Marguerite bitten?"

"The sun had been in the sky for three hours," Veronica answered.

"Her fever will be breaking soon," the medicine woman declared.

Ned smiled in relief. "Isn't that a good thing?"

Sinnia's face was grave. "No. It isn't."

Roxton tore up another one of his shirts with a vengeance. That made three. Oh well, I can always get more shirts, he thought. Summerlee slept in the chair across from him. Candles were ablaze in the tree house. It was nearly 4 in the morning when Summerlee awoke with a start.

"Anna?" he called.

"Just me, old boy," Roxton whispered. "Challenger says Marguerite's fever is almost gone!"

"Thank you, Lord." He studied the younger man closely. "Do you pray, Roxton?"

"No, not really. I was raised in the Church, of course, but after William died... Well, it didn't make sense to me really."

"I find praying helps strengthen me for the tasks at hand. I like knowing someone else is in control."

Roxton gathered up his rags. "I like knowing what I can control."

"You love her, don't you?" Summerlee smiled.

"What? She's the most exasperating woman I've ever met! She's willful, spiteful, greedy..." Roxton sputtered.

"And you love her just the same."

Roxton never got the change to answer Summerlee's question.

"Oh God!"

Challenger's exclamation and the ensuing shriek brought the other men running.

They heard Marguerite's screams before they even saw the tree house. As exhausted as Malone and Veronica were, they broke out in a run. The anguished cries ripped through the night like a knife.

"Here, Sinnia, Veronica, you go up first," Malone said as the elevator reached the bottom.

The scene that greeted the two women sent shivers down Veronica's spine. Marguerite was still on Malone's bed, but Roxton now sat behind her, her head and shoulders across his lap, her dark hair thrown about wildly. His hands held her arms tightly. Deep in thought, Challenger stood nearby, thumbing through one of his medical books. Summerlee looked ashen. Suddenly, Marguerite's whole body convulsed. Roxton held her as she screamed. She wasn't awake but her white face showed the amount of pain she felt.

"How long has she been like this?" Sinnia asked. No introductions were exchanged. Challenger summed Sinnia up in a glance and stepped forward.

"For an hour. And look." He showed Sinnia the bite, now covering the entire back of Marguerite's arm. The dark center was black and the angry red streaks reached down to her fingertips, lapped over her shoulder and across her chest, and inched up her neck.

"I need wood salt. And the juice of a theook root," she said to Assai, who had just entered the room. The young girl's hands fumbled in weariness but produced what the medicine woman wanted from her bag. Roxton rolled Marguerite on her left side and Sinnia carefully applied the salt on the edges of the bite, then squeezed the root dry on it. Marguerite took in two short breaths, then her body relaxed.

"Come. The pain is stopped for now," she said directly to Roxton. He disentangled himself from Marguerite's limbs, made sure she was resting as comfortably as possible, and followed them into the living area. His shoulders were sore and his hands were cramped, but he didn't notice. His mind was numb from listening to her cries. Please don't let her remember this, he said to whomever might be listening.

Sinnia surveyed the bedraggled group in front of her. "Your friend has been bitten by the nomigid spider."

Challenger glanced at Veronica, Assai, and Jarl. It was clear they had never heard of the creature.

"The nomigid only comes to life when the land burns in heat. I have never seen one, nor had my mother, but Akean told me that when she was a child, the nomigid caused much pain and suffering for the Zangas.
"It is small and white and lives near the water's edge, but only comes out when the heat grows. In Akean's day, there were many such days of heat, and the people cried out for water. They went to their wells, their creeks, and were bitten. A deep sleep fell on them, then fever, then terrors."

"Like Marguerite," murmured Summerlee.

"Now that we know what it is, we can cure her, right?" Roxton's voice was ragged. Sinnia looked at him intently.

"Everyone dies of the nomigid's bite."

No one said a word. Roxton turned and walked back to Marguerite.

"Oh no," whispered Challenger. "There must be do something we can do."

The medicine woman slowly sat down and rubbed her brow.

"Well, there is one thing," Sinnia hesitantly said. "Akean said their medicine woman tried to make a cure. It was so long ago. I don't know if I can remember what she told me!"

"Please try!" exclaimed Veronica.

Sinnia agreed. "Veronica, you and Ned must rest. You cannot help me in your weariness. I will need you later."

She spoke with such authority they didn't even try to protest. Nearly blind with exhaustion, Veronica walked to her room, Ned to Marguerite's,

"Assai, Jarl, the sun is rising. Go find the berries of the cile bush. Also the powder off the menga tree. I'll need lots of fresh water. Hurry. And you..." she turned to Challenger.

"George Challenger," he helped her.

"Chal-len-ger. A great name in our village," Sinnia smiled. He beamed back at her, noticing for the first time her high cheekbones and strong jaw line. "You must boil the water and add wood salt and root juice to it until it is thickened."

"Is there a chance she'll live?" he asked seriously.

"If the gods are favorable."

Roxton sat beside Marguerite. Dark rings circled her eyes and her nostrils looked pinched and bluish.

"Here, let me help you," he said. He swept her long, dark tresses to one side of her head and reached for Malone's hairbrush. "This will never do, you know. You can't leave me like this, Marguerite."

His heart thumped heavily as he stroked her disheveled hair. He tried not to look at her face, because when he did, he saw what the medicine woman had said was true. He began to braid her hair. "I won't let you go, my love. Not like this. Not now."

One plait, then the next, his voice growing in determination. "I won't let you go. I won't let you go."

"I am forgetting something!" Sinnia cursed as Challenger stirred the last of the berries into the brew. "I know there is another part!"

The room was silent. Veronica and Ned stood at the doorway, still tired from their cross-country race, but better. Jarl and Assai had taken their place in bed.

"You're tired and must be hungry. I could cook some eggs..." Veronica began.

"Eggs! That's what is missing!" Sinnia exclaimed. "The shell of the egg of the monster, ground into a powder!"

"The monster? You mean T-Rex?" Challenger asked sharply.

"T-Rex, yes. We need one egg shell."

Veronica stepped forward. "I'll go. I know where the nesting area is."

"I'm afraid I have to object, Veronica," Roxton said entering the lab. "I will get the egg."

"No, Roxton, I've had some rest. You've been up all night."

"No," his strong jaw was set stubbornly. "You're all doing something to save her. Now let me do what I am good at. I have to do something to save her," he added grimly.

"Not without some backup," Malone said firmly, grabbing his gun. Roxton nodded, got his rifle, and the two men headed for the elevator.

"Ned!" Veronica exclaimed. "Be careful!"

He smiled boyishly, cocking his head to one side. "A T-Rex nesting ground? No problem!"

And the elevator dropped out of sight.

The two men trudged several miles without saying a word. Malone wondered what he would do if it was Veronica in that bed. He tried to get the thought out of his head, but he knew he would move heaven and earth to save her. Roxton stopped at an open field and pointed to a ravine darkened with overhanging trees. They walked to the edge and peered down. The air was filled with a pungent, fecund smell.

"Roxton, there!" exclaimed Malone. Down an embankment to their left were three eggshells. "Grab one and let's get out of here!"

Roxton sure-footedly edged down the rough terrain and quickly put a shell in his bag just as the earth began to tremor. "Mama's coming home!"

Bursting through some trees a few hundred yards away, a T-Rex sniffed the air, then let out a powerful roar. Roxton and Malone ran without looking back. The steady pounding from behind let them know she was on the trail and was angry.

"Malone, here!" Roxton ran towards a large outcropping of rocks. They dove behind it while the dinosaur lumbered past them. Malone cautiously looked over the rocks. "That was a close one!"

But Roxton wasn't listening. He gazed up above the tree line to the distant mountains. "I believe those are clouds gathering. It might rain."

Grasping his bag, he slung his rifle over his shoulders and they rushed home.

Assai stood in the doorway of Malone's room, watching as Roxton sat and stared at Marguerite's face. The fierce red stripes were now up to her jaw line. Jarl took his wife's elbow and led her back to the living area.

"Oh, Jarl. They are like Niftil and Daria," she said sadly.

"Assai, that is a story told to children," he chided her. She stubbornly shook her head.

"No, it is a true story. I believe Lord Roxton and Marguerite are as much in love as Niftil and Daria were."

"Don't tell this to Lord Roxton, Assai. He has enough to worry about."

Inside the room, Summerlee tapped the hunter on the shoulder. "Roxton, come get some rest. Or something to eat," he gently said to the younger man. "You must keep your strength up."

Roxton looked up with red-rimmed eyes. "She's dying, Arthur. I can't be anywhere else but with her."

Malone ground the eggshell into a fine white powder as Challenger stirred the boiling medicine. "Let's hope it works better than it smells," Malone said.

Sinnia gazed intently at the mixture. "Now, add it now."

Ned carefully spooned in the powder as Challenger stirred. At last they were done. Sinnia spooned the bubbling liquid into a cup.

"May the gods bring her long life," she whispered over the cup and said several words in her native tongue.

They raced to Marguerite. Sinnia carefully spooned the reddish-colored liquid into the sick woman's mouth. Spoonful after spoonful the skilled medicine woman was able to force down her throat until the cup was empty.

"Now we wait," she pronounced.

An hour passed, then two. Veronica and Malone stood on the balcony watching the clouds Roxton had noticed earlier billow into thunderheads in the distance.

"It's ending, finally," she said. He draped his arm over her shoulders. "It's finally going to end."

Jarl and Assai knelt outside Malone's room, whispering prayers to their gods. Sinnia and Challenger stood by Marguerite's bedside. Before their eyes, the scarlet red stripes slowly faded. The large welt on her arm had shrunk to half its size. But Marguerite didn't wake up. Another hour passed and her breathing became more labored and her lips had turned blue. Sinnia, showing the first signs of weariness, covered her face with her hands.

"Come, come," said Challenger. "You and I need to rest. Your cure is working-it's clear as crystal. We just need to wait a little bit longer."

Roxton was slumped down in his chair, unable to tear his eyes from his love's face. "It's not working, is it?" he asked without emotion but his lips were tremulous.

"No, it is not. We were too late," Sinnia said and walked out of the room.

"No, no, no!" Challenger angrily cried out. She and Veronica had become like daughters to him. "Her whole life people have given up on her, abandoned her. I won't do it!"

The others rushed to the room.

"What is it?" Veronica demanded.

"We've done everything we could," Summerlee said.

"Where's your God now?" An anguished Roxton threw his chair across the room. "What good are prayers now or anger or reason? I never got to tell her what she meant to me!"

"Like Niftil and Daria," whispered Assai.

"Who are they?" asked Malone.

"A Zanga legend says they were each other's true love, each other's one desire, but their pride kept them from sharing their feelings. When Niftil was killed in battle, Daria threw herself on his grave in grief."

"Yes." Sinnia said from the back of the room. "Daria pleaded with Niftil to return to her from the land of the gods. She told him she was his true love. Their love was so strong, he fought his way back to her." She walked deliberately up to Roxton. "Call her back. Plead with her to return to you. The strength of your love will return her to you."

"What?"

"I have seen your love for her. It is powerful. If you want her to live, call her back."

Roxton stared into Sinnia's eyes for a long time

"Roxton, we've tried everything I know in science and what Sinnia knows in Zanga medicine. What else do we have left but a little faith?" Challenger asked, defeated.

Roxton turned back to the bed and knelt by it. With the back of his hand, he slowly caressed Marguerite's pale cheek.

"Marguerite, my love. Do you hear me? I...I love you. Yes, I love you! I've loved you since the first day we met. I will love you forever." He stopped as Marguerite's breathing became harder. "Sinnia, it's not working!"

"Say the words. Say you are her true love," the medicine woman directed him. At the same time, she started to rub Marguerite's feet briskly.

"Marguerite, I am your true love. You are my one desire. Come back to me, my dearest. Come back to me...I beg you, Marguerite. Don't die, don't leave me!" he sobbed.

Veronica turned to Malone, unable to watch. His own eyes misty, he rested his head against hers.

The room was silent except for Roxton's murmurings. Quietly Summerlee began to recite the Lord's Prayer.

"Look!" exclaimed Challenger. Marguerite, her breathing more even now, slowly turned her head toward Roxton.

"John?" she whispered. "Where are you?"

"I'm here, Marguerite, waiting for you. Come to me, my love. I love you!"

Her eyelashes fluttered and her eyes opened a fraction of an inch.

"Challenger, help me!" Sinnia cried out. The two began to rub the sick woman's feet and legs.

"Marguerite, I am your true love. Leave wherever you are and come back to me, my darling." Roxton frantically grasped her hands. Marguerite let out a sigh and opened both eyes.

"John?"

"I'm here, Marguerite, right here," he climbed on the bed next to her and gathered her in his arms. "I'm right here."

Groggily, she followed his voice until she saw his face.

"Are you crying?" she asked.

He nodded and kissed her forehead. "It's been a long day."

As the others left the room, a large flash of lightning illuminated the room. The boom of thunder followed on its heels.

"Listen!" said Veronica. The slow and steady patter of raindrops could be heard. They burst into laughter and cheers as the rain steadily fell.

After everyone had slept and eaten-including Roxton, who had to be pulled from Marguerite's side-they sat at the table, reveling in the cool air that blew in from the north.

"So Challenger, what cured Marguerite? Was it Sinnia's cure? Roxton's pleading? Summerlee's prayer?" asked Malone, pen in hand.

The scientist shook his head. "I don't think we'll ever know, Malone."

"I believe it was his cries of love to her," said Assai. Jarl smiled at her tenderly.

"How can we thank you?" Challenger asked Sinnia.

"Perhaps you can visit our village some day," she said, bowing her head to him. Challenger sat straighter in his chair and smiled. "I'd be honored," he replied.

Sinnia, Assai, and Jarl left for home four days later, only after Sinnia had declared Marguerite was cured. Summerlee nursed Marguerite with herbal teas and meat broths so that she was strong enough to sit on the balcony bundled in blankets and wave to the Zangas as they left.

She watched the three figures disappear into the jungle, then leaned back with an exhausted sigh.

"My dear, should we go inside?" Summerlee asked with concern.

"No, Arthur, I think I'll just sit here for a moment," she replied.

He patted her shoulder and went into the house where Veronica was cooking a hearty soup.

"How is she?" the blonde asked in hushed tones.

"On the mend. She is on the mend," he replied. "Where are Malone and George?"

"They're finishing pouring the salt solution around all the area watering holes. Hopefully, we'll never see that spider again."

Marguerite listened to their conversation. How could she thank them for everything they had done? Sinnia had told her how Malone and Veronica heroically raced through the jungle twice in that appalling heat to find the medicine woman; how Challenger had feverishly worked to make a cure; how Summerlee had nursed her; how Roxton had...

Marguerite closed her eyes. Roxton. The only time he left her side was to risk his life getting the T-Rex egg. Even in the depths of her delirium, she had sensed his strong arms holding her. When she was dying, it was his voice she heard, pleading with her to return. When she had awaked, it was his face she had sought and found filled with relief and gladness.

And he had said he loved her.

Just then she heard his strong stride crossing the living area to the balcony.

"Can I get you something? Are you warm enough?" he asked as he pulled a chair up next to her.

Marguerite managed a small laugh. "If someone had asked me a week ago if I was warm enough, I would've thought he was daft."

Roxton chuckled and looked out at the tree tops still dripping with rainwater. "Yes, the skies really opened up after you woke up."

An awkward silence followed.

"I-I want to thank you. For everything you did," Marguerite began.

He stood and leaned against the railing. Sinnia had told her about his declaration of love-he was sure of it. But how would she react?

"Do you remember much of what happened while you were asleep?" he asked cautiously.

Marguerite shook her head slightly.

"No. Mostly darkness..." Her voice trailed off.

Roxton turned to her. She was still there, his girl, with all her spirit and fire. But her body was weakened by the spider's venom. It would take her a long time to recover.

"Was there...were you in much pain?"

She saw concern as well as fear written across his handsome face. As if he was her appointed protector and had failed.

"No," she lied.

Roxton knelt by her chair. "I would've done anything to spare you that," he whispered. "Anything."

"I know you would have done...or said...anything to help me, John," she assured him slowly.

She's giving me a way out. The thought raced through his brain. She is letting me off the hook for saying that I loved her. He saw tears glistening on her long, dark lashes.

"Roxton, I'm tired," she said, her face averted.

"Of course." He gently picked her up out of her blanket cocoon and carried her through the tree house.

"Anything wrong?" Summerlee asked anxiously.

"No, she's just worn out," Roxton called back.

"I'll make some tea," Veronica offered.

Roxton carefully laid Marguerite down on her bed and pulled the covers over her legs. She turned towards the wall so he wouldn't see her cry. What a fool I am, she thought. I thought he meant it. I was sure he meant it.

Roxton stood there for a moment, then shook his head angrily.

"Blast and damn, Marguerite," he said. "Yes, I would've done or said anything to keep you alive. But I didn't lie. I meant every word I said. Sinnia said only your true love could call you back to life. I knew-and know-in my heart that I am that person.
"I was afraid at first-of what, I don't remember anymore-but then the thought of waking the next day without you, without ever having told you... Well, I would have screamed it from the mountain tops." He took a deep breath. "You are my heart. You are my one desire. You make me a whole man, a better man. I love you, Marguerite."

Tears streamed down Marguerite's cheeks. Other times in her life when a man had declared his love, she had felt an odd satisfaction or amusement, much like a cat with a cornered mouse. Now she only felt joy.

Roxton cleared his throat. "So, um, you don't have to say anything. You don't have to return the feeling. The legend said your true love would call you back. It didn't say that you had to love me in return."

"But I do," she cried, rolling over. The words were out before she could think. "I love you more than anything."

A smile that began in the core of his being slowly crept across Roxton's face.

"You do?"

"Yes, John, I do." The walls built around her heart were too weak to stand.

Carefully he leaned down and kissed her tenderly. She was so beautiful, her creamy skin losing the dreadful pallor of the last few days. He brushed her tears away with his fingertips.

"So, Lord Roxton. What now?" A familiar devilish grin played at the corners of her mouth.

"First, my dear, you will get better and better every day."

"And then?" Her slim hand reached up to his face and brought it to hers.

"Oh, my love, the possibilities are endless."

Veronica slowly shut the door to Marguerite's room and took the cup of tea back to the kitchen.

"Didn't she feel up to drinking it?" asked Summerlee.

Veronica chuckled. "Oh, I think Marguerite is well on the road to recovery."

Summerlee raised his eyebrows, then smiled. Looking out at the lush, green jungle, he noticed a rainbow stretching across the hills.