By Kate K.
A Tale of the Lost World
All rights reserved to The Over The Hill Gang and New Line Television
"I am so small, I can hardly be seen. How can this great love be inside me?
Look at your eyes, though they are small, they hold enormous things." Rumi
Lord John Roxton was very perplexed. Though, he had to admit to himself, with matters concerning Marguerite Krux, perplexity was not an uncommon occurrence. Nevertheless, this was getting to be past confusing and leading into worrisome.
In the beginning, not much seemed amiss. She looked a bit pale, and was a little more tired than usual. At first, he was afraid she was pulling back into herself again, trying to shut him out when she didn't stay for late chats or go on long walks. Yet, when he would peek in her room before retiring, she was curled up, snoring softly and out like a light. She didn't complain about it, and didn't neglect her chores any more than usual, so John attributed it to slow exhaustion after their most recent batch of adventures.
It seemed to get worse, not better. Marguerite was grouchy more, saying she was feeling a bit achy, as if all the sleep she was getting wasn't resting her. She was only picking at her food and smells seemed to upset her stomach. She also complained that the flavors of certain dishes had changed, but they all tasted the same to everyone else- which was just odd. Marguerite had never been a delicate eater. John was concerned that she was ill, but she waved his concern off. She just drank peppermint tea or ginger water and told him to stop fussing.
The next unusual thing, Roxton overheard Marguerite ask Veronica if she had some soft cotton or linen batting to line one of her camisoles with. When Veronica asked why Marguerite griped that the undergarments just seemed to be rubbing her raw. That led into a discussion between the two about changing the composition of the laundry soap. Laundry was usually Marguerite's department, as was mending, and she liked to supervise the soap making. This was a far more delicate business than John would have ever thought. Marguerite liked mild soaps that smelled pleasant. Roxton and Veronica had to have soaps that were odorless to keep from attracting predators or alerting prey. The laundry soap had to be strong enough for the abuse they put their clothes through, but mild enough not to take off their skin or damage the fabric.
Roxton checked his own shirts. His skin felt fine. Veronica's leathers weren't washed in the same way so wouldn't use the same soaps as the other clothes. He debated asking Challenger, but the old boy could wear burlap and not notice. Of course, Marguerite's under-things had to be soaked in vinegar like the other whites, but that was always the case so he couldn't see how that would matter only now.
Lately, she seemed increasingly distracted. When he tried to talk to her about it, she told him he was imagining things. John wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt, but she seemed to be avoiding being alone with him - but only sometimes. On the dark nights when he would slip quietly to her room to wake her with a kiss and a stroke of her dark hair, she welcomed him into her bed. They would make love gently, tenderly, maddeningly slowly, and almost silently - the sounds of their desires swallowed in the breath of the other - and she clung to him afterwards merged with his body, kissing him again and again, showing him the love she felt. Afterwards, she would lie in his arms as they dozed together for a little while before he had to return to his own bed. But when morning came and he'd ask if she'd like to come on a hunt with him, there was inevitably something else that she needed to do at home.
The events of the last few nights convinced John that something had to be very wrong.
The first night it happened, he wondered it he'd dreamed it. He'd been fast asleep when it was as if the weight on his bed shifted and a shimmer of coolness went across his skin. There was a feeling of warmth behind him, curled the length of his back, close but not quite touching. There was a scent, a soft feminine scent that he knew anywhere. After a short while, he felt the lightest touch on his shoulder and then the presence was gone.
Roxton had dreamed of Marguerite coming to his bed in the night a thousand times. In none of those dreams had she come in, lie beside him and then left without at least a kiss or a cuddle or even an argument. They didn't make love in his bed; it was too close in proximity to the rooms of the others and would risk disturbing them. If she wanted to invite him to hers, she had her ways. A touch, a kiss, and a whisper - she'd never had to worry that he'd misunderstand her. She had yet to refuse him when he slipped in and asked to join her, even if they were so tired all they wanted was to kiss and hold each other.
The following night, it happened again. He wasn't so deeply asleep, and was sure he wasn't dreaming. This time when he felt the weight, he shifted, rolling onto his back. His night phantom gently lowered the blankets and disappeared. The night after, nothing occurred.
Two nights later, John watched Marguerite pace around restlessly after dinner, finally settling to some sewing, but making such crooked stitches, she'd had to pull them all out again. He had some fresh coffee before bed. He didn't want to sleep too soundly that night.
He made sure to rest on his side and kept his breathing deep and regular. This time he actually heard her soft step before she reached the bed. She stood beside for several moments before she lifted the blanket and crept in behind him. She rested next to him, barely a hair's breath between them.
If he weren't so concerned, it would have been wonderful to have her there. He would love to have her sleep beside him every night, wake up to see her face at the start of the day. But she wasn't ready to lay the fact they were lovers bald-faced in the open before the others. It flew in the face of respectable convention, the rules of conduct that they all understood. Marguerite had broken most rules of social order before in her hard life and compromised all respectability in service to her country - and paid a tremendous price in self-respect in her heart. She wasn't ready to do it again in the home they'd all carefully made. Though the others were sure of their fondness and affection, the physical aspects of their relationship were still kept very discreet.
John didn't press her. He had once told her he'd accept her on any terms she chose. With slow patience, they had come this far together. His own hopes were that she would be his - now and always, before God and all. If it had been up to him, he'd go down to the Zanga village tomorrow and ask the Shaman there to marry them. Then when they'd get back to London, he would just drag her to the first registry office they saw and get the marriage legally recognized. But she wasn't ready for that, he knew. And yet, he still had a blue silk scarf, her ring, and a folded piece of paper with the doodle of a woman's wedding dress and the words 'Lady Marguerite Roxton' written over and over to give him hope.
The problem with the night visit, she wasn't sleeping next to him. She wasn't relaxed; he could feel it through his skin. Any time he moved or if his breathing changed, she tensed up - ready to bolt. Why? Why wouldn't she hold him, let him comfort her? What was wrong? He couldn't be sure how much time passed as he struggled to remain awake, itching to reach behind him and pull her arm around him. Or roll over and draw her close. Or pin her down and demand she to talk to him. Or… risk her running away, closing him out, denying everything, or making up a story to fob him off? Could he risk scaring her away, when she at least had sought him out, even if he wasn't supposed to be aware of it?
Marguerite touched his shoulder gently with her fingertips, a whisper of a touch. He felt a kiss brush the hair over his ear. Without a sound, she was gone and he was alone.
That clinches it. Roxton thought. In the morning, I'm going to find out what's going on.
Mid-morning, John went into the kitchen and prepared coffee. He assembled a tray with a cup and saucer for coffee, and a plate full of some generous slices of bread with berry jam slathered over them.
"Morning offering to her highness?" Veronica asked, not unkindly, as she worked slowly stirring a pan full of scrambled eggs.
"Peace offerings never hurt." He replied with a smile.
"Well, hopefully that will suit her more than my cooking has lately." Veronica said wryly.
"I don't think it's just your cooking, Veronica." John told her with concern; he'd hate to think the feisty younger woman's feelings were hurt.
"I think you're right." Veronica's brow furrowed. "She's not been eating much of anything lately, just nibbling here and there. It's not like her. I hope she's not sick. Has she said anything to you?"
"No. But I'm going to find out." Roxton said firmly.
"Ah. So, this isn't a peace offering - you want to soften her up." She grinned as she added a dash of salt to her eggs. "Well, certainly can't hurt. Wait!" She set down her wooden spatula and went over to a flower arrangement on a sideboard. Taking a lovely red bloom from the vase, she laid it beside the cup and saucer. "There. Perfect."
"Thank you, Veronica." He smiled to her conspiratorial wink and headed towards Marguerite's bower.
John spoke her name softly outside her door. There was no reply, not even a groan. He passed through the curtain. He turned to the bed and found it neatly made. Confused, he looked around. Marguerite wasn't there.
Roxton went back to the kitchen. "Veronica? Have you seen Marguerite? She's not in her room."
"What?" Veronica looked up, surprised. "No, not all morning. Did she say she was planning a trading trip?"
"No, not today. Not to me." John went to check for Marguerite's pack. "Her pack's gone and one of the rifles. And one of the bedrolls."
"If she needed a bedroll she wouldn't just go off on her own." Veronica took her eggs off the heat. "This is Marguerite, she won't sleep on the ground if she can help it."
"I'm going to go look for her." John went to the gun rack and pulled down the holster for his pistols. He was putting it on when he heard the groan of the lift rising. "Marguerite?"
"Hardly." Finn replied as she stepped out. "She left hours ago."
"Where have you been?" Veronica's brow furrowed.
"Down in the garden. I couldn't sleep any more and got up early. Boy, the birds are noisy at sunrise! Anyway, a little after that, Marguerite got up, made us some tea and got ready to go." Finn took off her gloves, completely unperturbed.
"Go where, Finn?" Roxton asked, his voice sharp. "Did she tell you?"
Finn looked at him with apprehension, clearly not liking his tone. "She said she was going stir crazy and was going to go rock hunting. I figured you two had a fight or something."
"A fight? What?" Roxton was getting more confused and angry by the minute.
"She didn't look happy. She looked icky like she's been lately, but her eyes looked red. I told her to wait until after breakfast, but she said she wasn't hungry and wanted to get a head start. She made some of that gross tea she drinks for her stomach." Finn wrinkled her nose. "Then she just took off. So, what did you do?"
"I didn't do anything!" Roxton snapped.
"Then why is she avoiding you? Oh, sweet." Finn spotted the bread and jam and grabbed a slice. "Where's breakfast?"
"What makes you think she's avoiding Roxton?" Veronica asked before John ran out of patience.
"She said if she waited one of you two would want to come and you'd just be bored to death watching her dig. She wanted to be on her own. Like I said though, her eyes were seriously red, so I just figured she wanted to get away from him." Finn gestured to Roxton. "So, what did you do to make her cry?"
"I didn't!" Roxton defended himself. Finn snorted, clearly unconvinced.
"Finn, I don't think that's what it's about." Veronica folded her arms. Then she gave a quick glance to Roxton. "It's not, is it?"
"No!" John's voice rose in protest. "We didn't have a fight, I did not make her cry!"
"You say so." Finn took a bite of the bread.
"Finn, did she say where she was going?" Veronica asked, her voice showing her impatience with their young companion.
Finn chewed her bread slowly, clearly weighing options before she answered. Finally, she shrugged. "Well, she didn't say not to tell you. She said she was going to the lower foothills, wherever that is. But if she's mad, I never said anything. Ooo, eggs!"
"Roxton? Do you want me to come with you?" Veronica turned to Roxton, ready to follow. "She might just be rock hunting, but this is Marguerite. She can find trouble crossing the room."
Roxton went back to the gun rack for his Webleys and his rifle. He snatched up his hat and headed to the elevator. "No, but thanks. You're right; she's probably just got cabin fever and wants to replenish her treasure hoard. But I want to talk to her anyway. If we need help, I'll send a mirror signal."
Roxton picked up Marguerite's trail rather easily. She was headed toward the foothills of Krux Mountain, just like she had told Finn. That reassured him. He hadn't realized he feared she might be running away until he felt the relief that she hadn't. He followed on, seeing hints of her path ahead.
John saw her rather sooner than he expected. She wasn't making as good of time as she normally would. He saw her to the side of the path as he moved around a curve in the trail. She was leaning against a fallen log, her head lowered, fanning her face with her hat. She looked pale and tired. Finn was right; her eyes were red and a little swollen, as if she'd been crying.
How on earth did she think she was going to fill her pack with stones and get back when just getting there is exhausting her? John wondered.
Roxton moved toward her, with only a slight rustle. She responded instantly, dropping her hat and lifting her rifle. John moved into her view, hands open. "Marguerite, it's only me."
"Have you ever considered wearing a bell, John?" She said, less spirited than usual, lowering the gun.
"What are you doing out here alone? I've been asking you for days if you would come with me, and you always have an excuse. This morning you disappear before anyone is up. I would have gone with you. What's going on, Marguerite?" Roxton asked. Marguerite only sighed, bit her lip and looked away, not meeting his eyes. She set the rifle down, leaning it against the log.
"I just needed some time alone. I... It's just getting so crowded lately, I can't hear myself think at the Tree-house." She was trying to keep her tone light, but it was completely unconvincing. "What with Challenger crashing around and Finn making racket going in and out."
"Then why not come hunting with me? What is it? Have I done something, said something?"
"No, John, no. It's nothing like that, believe me." Marguerite met his gaze, beautiful eyes wide. She was so pale.
"Then what is it? Don't tell me it's another one of your secrets come back to haunt us. What are you hiding? And don't try to tell me you're not." His frustration was rising, making his tone angrier than he wanted.
"I don't... I'm not trying to hide... Look, please, you have to give me a little time. I... just need to think. John, please." She couldn't keep the traces of fear out her voice, which hit Roxton as hard as a blow. After all they'd been through, and she still found it so hard to trust him.
"For God's sakes, Marguerite. Why can't you trust me? What's wrong? Are you sick? What are you afraid of?" He was hurt as well as angry.
"What is it? Tell me." He moved closer to her.
"I'm...I'm pregnant." The words burst out of her, and in the next instant her hand went up over her mouth, as if she could stop them escaping.
John felt like the wind had been knocked out him with the words. Inexplicably, tears pricked his eyes. Pregnant. She's going to have a baby, our baby. Our baby.
Her eyes shone with unshed tears, and the hand over her mouth trembled. Her lovely face was drawn with worry. He lowered his voice, speaking slowly in shock. "A baby? Our baby?"
Slightly, almost imperceptibly, Marguerite nodded. Her body was stiff, as if she were bracing herself for his reaction.
She turned to Stephen in the bed, cuddling up to her husband. "Darling?"
"Hmmm?" His voice was sleepy.
"I went to the doctor's office today." She tried not to sound as nervous as she felt.
"Thank god for that. You've been looking awful lately. What's making you sick?" His voice was drowsy.
"A baby. Our baby." She smiled slightly, and kissed his shoulder. Stephen stiffened and sat upright.
"What? A what?"
Marguerite drew back herself, instantly wary. She pulled the sheet up over her breasts. "I'm going to have a baby, Stephen."
Stephen laughed then, a short bitter sounding bark. "Oh, Maggie, your timing is just amazing. Now you decide to launch a son and heir on me. Just when I was planning to head us back to Asia." He shook his head and finally smiled. "Well, we're going to have to stay here at the villa, aren't we?" Marguerite felt the tension ease out of her slightly. "A son and heir. Another South African Buccaneer." He laughed and pulled her back, close to his side.
"I don't understand. I was being careful, I was." Her hand trembled. but she sounded frustrated. "Dammit, it wasn't as if I weren't taking precautions! Oh, god, I've made a mess of it."
"Marguerite." John moved close, putting his hands on her upper arms, holding her gently. He struggled to keep the pain out of his voice. "What are you so afraid of? That I'd be angry? That I'd blame you? Do you think I'd leave you - leave our child?"
Instantly, her hand went from her mouth and up to his face. She shook her head, her eyes wet, lips shivering. "No, John, No. I know you could never turn away your child -"
"Or you. You, Marguerite." His tone was firm, wanting to leave no doubt. "We'll deal with this together. Together." He wanted to reassure her. "Are you worried about our friends?" He smiled gently at her. "Don't be silly. Veronica loves babies, for one. And just think what kind of inspiration a toddler would give Challenger for inventions." She actually smiled a slight, hesitant smile to John's relief. "Now, I don't know about Finn, her nose might get a little out of joint." He joked. Roxton set his own rifle next to hers. "We aren't in this alone. Our friends will be there to help us. I know we aren't married, but they'll understand. They wouldn't judge us."
"No, they wouldn't. We could manage. For now... And later...if it comes to that, you won't have to worry after we get home to London."
"What do you mean?"
"I'll take the baby with me, we won't interfere with your life in England. We'll disappear, nobody will ever be the wiser." Her face looked resigned and sad, but there was a hardness too, that John hadn't seen in a long time and didn't like to see now.
"No. Don't be ridiculous, Marguerite. You'll do nothing of the sort. How can you consider such a thing?" He forced himself to ask, dreading her reply. "Don't you...don't you want to have a child with me?"
"Oh, John. There's no one else I'd rather - No one. Please, please believe that." She balled her fist and struck her thigh. "It's not you. It's us! It's the world we live in. Do you think your cousins are going to stand aside for a bastard child you've got off an adventuress who doesn't even know her own name?"
"You'll have a name! You'll have my name! Good God! Are you saying you think I wouldn't marry you?"
"Well, are you so sure that I'd want to marry you just because I'm pregnant? That I'd buy my way into respectability with our child? That I'd trap you into marriage this way? No thank you, Lord Roxton!"
"No, no, no you don't! Don't you play that! Are you trying to tell me that if I'd proposed to you yesterday you'd have said yes? Don't even answer. You can't have it both ways, saying I'd only ask if you were pregnant, but you won't let me ask you when you aren't. That's not fair, and you know it! You bloody well know how I feel!"
"Don't think that slapping a ring on my finger will solve our problems! I don't have a birth certificate; it would be a legal fiction. We can't marry here, and it would be too late when we got back. There would be whispers and suspicions and questions we can't answer. The baby will be sussed out by anyone who can count, and there were two other unmarried men on this expedition." She snorted. "The lads at the club will say you're living in cloud cuckold land."
"Not anyone who wanted to keep all of their teeth in their head. You think I can't handle a few snickers and some gossip? You think that matters?"
"It should! You're a member of the House of Lords and I'm hardly Caesar's wife!"
"I'd marry you tomorrow, Marguerite, baby or no! I wouldn't give a fiddler's damn what anyone said, my cousin or the bloody King!"
"Easy to say when you know you can't!"
"Be damned! I'll go the Zanga village tomorrow and talk to the tribal Shaman. He helped bring back Malone from his dream journey to London, I can be pretty sure he can handle a simple wedding. I'm sure Assai will agree to it. We live as man and wife, and go to the registry in England and present witnesses that we were married in a local ceremony and restate our vows there. If they won't do it without your birth certificate, then we find it. We'll go to Shanghai, Paris, Timbuktu, if we have to! You're not driving me off!"
"It wouldn't be real, John!"
"It might not be legal under British law, but it would be real to me. And don't you say it wouldn't be real for you." John's voice was stern. "I...Am...Not...Leaving...You. Don't think that this makes it over between us."
"Oh, John, I wish it were only that simple." She turned, resting her forehead against her palm, rubbing her temple.
"Of course it's not that simple. It's you. Nothing with you is ever that simple." He threw his hands up. "One of the reasons you're so fascinating."
"I'm going to look so horrible, John. You have no idea. Trust me, you won't want me."
"You're grasping at straws now." He slipped an arm around her. "You can't think that. Come on, I've already seen you with a bad head cold, covered in a mud bath, and more besides. You'll always be beautiful to me. Can't drive me off with that, so don't let that idea scare you."
"For Jesus' sakes, you look terrible. I thought women in your condition were supposed to glow. You look like a scraggly barn cat that swallowed a football." Stephen remarked as he downed a whiskey.
She pushed her lank hair out of her face and turned away so her hurt didn't show.
"No, I'm not afraid of that. Not that. Well, not much." She looked like she was struggling with herself. She moved away and turned, leaning on the log. He moved behind her, eased the pack off her shoulders and set it down. He rubbed her shoulders; she reached up and put her hand over his.
"Then what is it? Tell me."
A tear rolled down her face, followed by another. "The doctors - they told me...I'd probably never carry another pregnancy to term."
"Madame Archer? Can you hear me? You are at the hospital of St. Vincent. I am Doctor Le Vasseur. You have been badly injured." The soft voice, coming from far away in a patch of bright light, then a gentle hand one her arm. "You have suffered a concussion, broken ribs, and fractured your wrist and your shoulder blade. There has been bruising to your kidneys, and internal bleeding. Do you understand, Madame?"
"My baby..." She whispered.
"I am sorry, Madame Archer, but no. No."
"Another pregnancy? You've been pregnant before? You have a child?"
"No." She shook her head, shoulders quaking.
"You lost the baby? Marguerite, many women have miscarriages. Lots of them go on to have healthy babies. My own mother had one before she had both William and I. Challenger and Veronica have Summerlee's notes, and she's bound to know all the local midwives. Shouldn't happen again."
"I didn't just have a miscarriage." Her voice was so low he had to struggle to hear her. "I was - hurt. Badly hurt."
"We cannot exclude the possibility of damage to the womb. It is most common with such injuries. You will probably not conceive again. If you did it is very unlikely you could ever carry another child to term. It would be terribly dangerous. I am most sorry." The doctor's voice was sad and firm. Marguerite turned away from him so he wouldn't see her grief.
"You were hurt? Was it...was it during the war?" Roxton remembered the peril she must have danced with during that dark time. She'd had to move through so many circles between England and Germany, with so many dangerous men in her intelligence work. She might have had to let herself be seduced by some German official to keep her cover and gotten pregnant as a result. The idea was horrible to him, but if it may have helped her save so many young men's lives, men like Malone and himself, how could he ever judge her for that? In his own way, he'd sacrificed his honor just as much. A seduction or something much worse? A serious injury would have been so easy to happen to her then.
"No, no. It was years before. I was married, then. I was very young. Only twenty-two."
"What? What happened? An accident? Did you fall?"
"No. It doesn't matter what happened. It was my fault, anyway. It doesn't matter, not anymore. Please, I don't want to talk about it." Her shoulders hunched, her arms crossed in front of her body.
In that moment, watching her, John could finally feel it - the presence of the mystery that slouched between them, keeping them apart. That barrier that seemed to have nothing to do with how they felt, but kept Marguerite from believing in them, in the love they were building. His heart ached at seeing her in pain, but he couldn't let the mystery lie. Not this time. He rolled over her choice of words in his mind, and an ugly suspicion rose. Carefully, he asked. "You were hurt? Or did someone hurt you?"
"It was a long time ago, John." She stiffened. John pressed on.
"That's not an answer, Marguerite."
"It was my fault. Please, just leave it at that." Her voice was raspy, and it tore at him.
"How can it be your fault? What do you mean? How?"
"John, it just is!" Her face was flooded with emotion. She tried to turn away from him. He seized her by her upper arms and firmly kept her still, facing him.
"How is it your fault, if someone hurt you? Tell me - " he demanded.
"Because I married him! I was the stupid, trusting fool who married him!" She burst out on the edge of hysteria. She sagged a little in his grip, her head falling forward, unable to meet his eyes. He eased her against the log, but didn't release her.
"You married him? Your husband? He hurt you so that you lost your baby?" He was confused, and he took care not to let show the murderous anger rising up at the very idea that any man caused her such physical pain. He didn't want to scare her now. She had mentioned her husbands before, but he'd not given them too much thought. He'd never known when she was being serious about previous marriages or if she was just teasing him.
Tears were streaming down her face; she brushed them away and then rested her hand on his wrist. "Yes." Her whisper was barely louder than her breath.
Stephen turned and grabbed her, shoving her against the wall by her dressing table. He tore open the bodice of her dress, pawing at her maternity corset. He yanked out a fistful of bank notes roughly, torn lace catching on his nails. "You lying bitch." He growled softly.
He dropped the notes on the table and noticed one was a folded piece of paper among them. Marguerite held her breath. He turned it with two fingers, to read it. It was a continental train timetable with a list of fares. He looked at her, brown eyes like dark amber glass. "You thinking of jumping ship on me, Maggie?"
"Stephen - " She whispered, very afraid. He backhanded her with enough force to set her ears ringing.
"You goddamned cheap whore. Think you can steal from me? Walk away from me?" He struck her again and she fell against the dressing table, sending scent bottles crashing. " You treacherous bitch. I fucking own you!"
She grabbed a china powder jar under her hand and flung it at him. It clipped him at the hairline. He hit her with his fist and she slammed back into the table, sending it tipping, cosmetics crashing to the floor.
"What the hell kind of a man was he? Marguerite- how can you think you're to blame?" John struggled with his temper, trying to understand what she was telling him.
"He found out I was selling my jewelry and hiding the money." She shook her head sadly, wiping her face with her cuff. He handed her his handkerchief. "He wasn't a thug from my shady past, John. Stephen Archer was a millionaire, a colonial adventurer. He had gained a diamond mine after dust of the Boer War settled. He was handsome, charming, rich, everything a girl is supposed to wish for. It made it so easy for him to slip through my defenses." She sighed. "He also lost the mine to the government because of tribal wars, had everything mortgaged to the hilt, and borrowed bad money from Europe to Asia. He was broke within three years. He could also be an arrogant bastard."
It was so rare to hear her swear; Roxton couldn't help but give a small smile. Then he turned serious again. "And the violent temper?"
"Showed up when he was drinking too much. I didn't see it until a year after we married. I found out about it when I confronted him about Mistress Number One."
"Good God, how many did he have?" The idea that any man would want a mistress when he had Marguerite in his bed was beyond comprehension to John.
"Only two, so far as I know. The first was a fast American girl we hired to be a secretary. She had dreams of becoming another Madeline Astor." Marguerite gave a tight, humorless smile. "The second was the wife of one of his closest friends."
"You bastard. You utter bastard."
"Oh, leave it alone, Maggie. It's not worth it. She was just a diversion. I'll pay her off."
"Leave it alone? Is that what you'd do if it were me and some other man? Just leave it alone?" She snapped in fury. Stephen's eyes darkened, and she barely saw the movement before his hand made contact with her face. She staggered, and turned to him in shock for a mere moment. Then she slapped him back with all the force of her arm. He had been completely unprepared and knocked over a small table. A decanter hit the floor with a crash. He rose back up and knocked her down. He'd knelt besides her, pinning her to the ground.
"Don't you ever say that, don't ever think that. If I ever find out you've had another man, I'll snap your beautiful neck."
"You loved him?" It hurt him to say.
"I..." Tears sprang again in her jade eyes. As much as it hurt him to hear the truth, John could see how much it took for her to tell him. "I adored him."
Stephen had held her in his arms as they lay together on a Persian carpet on the roof terrace of a house in Morocco. The sun had been setting, and the last call to prayer was echoing through the streets. The stars were coming out; he'd kissed her every time he'd seen another one emerge in the sky.
They'd ridden hell for leather across the Egyptian sands to the Pyramids. Laughing, they raced to the top of one of the smaller ones. Marguerite had won. Looking out, she felt like she could see the whole world. He'd put his arms around her and looked over her shoulder, kissing her ear.
In India, he stood by quietly and watched when she bargained for a pouch of lovely orange sapphires in Hindi, getting them at half the cost. "My God," Stephen said, admiring. "You bargain like an Arab trader."
He'd taken her to Venice for Carnival, waltzing with her at ball after ball, until they came back to the hotel and fell into bed. Feverishly, they made love still wearing the lovely hand-painted masks.
Every memory a flash, a dream of that one beautiful year, like a story about some other girl, one who deserved a happier ending.
"And he broke your heart."
"He broke more than my heart, John."
Monte Carlo had been everything Marguerite and Adrienne had dreamed it would be. Marguerite missed her friend dreadfully as she walked around shops, polo matches, nightclubs and casinos. She had a case with the most beautiful dresses she'd ever owned and her few jewels were real, not the paste that she'd draped on while she sang in the Fatman's bar. Nothing as beautiful as Adrienne's treasure trove, but they were lovely and all her own. She walked among the beautiful first class people, fine and as light as butterflies, and they never once suspected that she was not one of them.
Marguerite first saw him at a small cocktail party she'd been invited to by a British girl she'd struck up an acquaintance with. He was a tall man with a handsome, strong face, dark, almost black hair and amber fire in his brown eyes. His mouth was full and sensual and he moved with a predatory grace unusual with the old British upper crust. He had the rough edges and absolute confidence of a self-made man. He reminded her of a leopard set loose at a garden party. He promptly caught up two cut-crystal flutes of champagne and walked over to her. He handed her one with a smile. "My God, your beauty will blind me." He'd softly told her, eyes shining with sincerity.
She closed her eyes and slumped against him. John responded instantly, putting his arms around her, hugging her to his chest, pressing his face against her soft, dark hair. "Oh, Marguerite." He whispered.
"I was weaker and more cowardly than even Veronica could have imagined. But I tried. I loved him and I tried to be true to my marriage." Marguerite shook her head. "It started as everything we dreamed of, Adrienne and I. It was supposed to be my happy ending. It turned out to be everything I wanted the most in the worst possible way. It was poetic justice, maybe? For abandoning Adrienne and taking her jewels. I had stolen her dreams, her future and tried to make it fit as my own."
Roxton pushed her back and held her by the shoulders. "No! You can't think that. Don't you believe that, Marguerite. Don't you ever believe that! You are the bravest woman I believe I've ever known." He caught up her face and looked in her eyes. "Adrienne was your friend, she never would have wanted to see you hurt."
"I should have known better. I should have seen through him. It's not like I was a schoolroom miss who had never seen the world." Her face tightened in regret.
"You'd never seen that world. How were you to know that drawing room sets eat their young just as much as anywhere else? Heartless bastards aren't distinguished by class, it's just the high brow ones are better dressed. Be fair to yourself, Marguerite. You were dazzled by the wealth and the luxury. You were young and in love, swept off your feet by a total son of a bitch. It wasn't your falling in love that was wrong. He was wrong." He stroked her cheek with his thumb. "I wish I could go back in time and break his neck for hurting you."
"I wish..." She swallowed. "I wish you had found me first." Marguerite touched his face. She moved from his embrace and went back to lean on the log again.
Roxton thought back to the man he was then, haunted by the deaths of his brother and father, and floundering, taking needless risks, drunk a great deal and rarely with an empty bed. "You might not have liked me so well then." He admitted. A thought occurred to John. "You were selling your jewelry? Were you planning to leave him?"
Sadly, she nodded. "Yes. I wasn't going to take much. Just enough to make a fresh start for the baby and me somewhere. Of course, the ironic part was he found out because he wanted to sell them himself."
"Jesus." Roxton said in disgust. "How...badly did he hurt you? What happened?"
Marguerite closed her eyes. "I came home and found him going through my jewelry boxes. He hit me and I fell into my dressing table." She turned her face away, ashamed. John touched her shoulder. "He...he...kicked me while I was down on the floor. I was found by the housekeeper, but by then it was too late... for the baby."
Marguerite had dragged herself up and gotten to the bathroom. With a shaking hand, she soaked a flannel in cold water and held it to her bruised face. She was in horrible pain, but what frightened her more were swollen patches on her back that were growing numb. One of her hands was bruised and hot. She felt dampness between her legs, and she wondered with shame if she'd wet herself.
The first cramp doubled her over with a gasping cry.
"What happened to him?" John wanted to know. He was using every bit of his self-control to keep his rage down. Her husband wouldn't have been arrested; no court anywhere would have convicted a man for beating his wife, as repulsive as Roxton found that fact. Had anyone taken pity on her, helped her escape?
Marguerite stiffened, and her paleness turned gray. "Don't ask, John. Please, if you care about me, don't...don't. You don't...you won't want to know..."
"Maggie! Maggie!" Stephen shouted, slurring. She couldn't tell whether he was angry or remorseful. It didn't matter anymore. Her baby was dying inside her. All that she could feel was the pain and the emptiness. The smell of the blood was making her sick to her stomach. The wetness from the blood stuck her petticoat to her legs, making it harder to move.
Marguerite never remembered taking the gun from its hiding place. It was just there in her hand, cold and heavy. She rose up and walked slowly and painfully toward the sound of his voice. Stephen was close to the top of the stairs. He was looking over at her when she lifted her arm. She met his gaze when the gun fired.
Marguerite watched him from the doorway of her bedroom as he fell backwards down the stairs, crashing to the bottom, landing motionless at the foot.
John moved closer, touching her, concerned and confused. What could be worse than what had happened to her? "Why? Did you run? Are you still married to him? I swear to you Marguerite, he'll never hurt you again."
"No. No, John." She whispered. "He's dead."
"Then what's wrong?"
"No, don't. Please." She looked sick. "I'll lose you...you won't...no... please..."
"Marguerite." John put his hand over hers. "You will never lose me. Never. There is nothing you could have done that will change that. I love you. I love you, Marguerite. If you don't believe anything else in this world, believe that."
"I killed him." Her soft voice broke. "I killed him, John. He came home later that night drunk as a tinker and yelling for me and I shot him on the stairs. I loved him, and I shot him dead. I murdered him."
Roxton had the answer to his question. Who helped her escape? Nobody. Nobody but herself. He took her by the shoulders and tried to turn her around to face him. "Marguerite..." He whispered.
"Don't look at me. Please, don't look at me." She was in tears now.
"Marguerite." He kissed her temple. "Marguerite. You will not lose me."
"You shouldn't…" She gave a wet laugh that was full of bitterness. She stood motionless, frozen and stiff in his arms. "You shouldn't have sympathy for me. I got away with it. Without even trying - I got away with murder. They never suspected me at all. I was just this poor pitiful wife, this victim of her husband's enemies."
"Your husband's enemies? I don't understand."
"Madame Archer, I am Segueirre, Inspecteur Principal. Can you tell me what happened to you?"
"I don't remember. You'll have to ask my husband."
"Madame Archer, I am sorry, but your husband is dead. He was shot dead. You were found beaten and bloody upstairs. Do you remember anything? Even the smallest thing could be helpful."
"No, Inspecteur, no, nothing." Her voice was empty; sounding like it belonged to someone else.
"Your husband was involved with some very dangerous men, borrowing large amounts of money. Do you know anything about that?"
"No, he told me nothing."
"Oh, he had plenty of enemies. Men he borrowed money from, gamblers he owed debts to, the husband of his mistress, the list went on and on. The police inspectors were sure that my attack was some kind of warning to him from his enemies. They thought, oh, they thought he had come home and was shot trying to save me. How's that for a trump?"
Roxton pulled her close and held her against his chest, fingers twisting in her hair. He whispered to her. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. You didn't murder him. You were defending yourself. You shouldn't have had to do it."
"Don't be so sure, John. I don't remember getting the gun out or hiding it again, but I must have. The police never found it. They found blood on the garden terrace that they thought was mine - from one of my assailants, they thought, left there when they made their escape." The words tumbled out. "First Adrienne. I used her birth certificate to get married with, John. I took her name. I betrayed her. Then, the baby, Stephen…and more besides. All tainted, ruined. All because of me."
"No. I know you better than that. More than you realize. Adrienne - I know you would have done anything to save her. You couldn't. I'm sorry, but you couldn't. When you used her papers, she was past being hurt. Stephen," John had to struggle just to say the man's name. "He betrayed you over and over, Marguerite; he courted his fate. He was supposed to love you, care for you, and protect you and your child. You were already trying to escape. For you and your baby. You had the right to save yourself, Marguerite. You did. You had the right to save yourself and your baby."
"All I wanted was to go somewhere safe and have the baby. That's all, John, that was all I wanted." She cried into his shoulder.
"I believe you, love. I believe you." Roxton held her tight. "I'm grateful you killed him. Otherwise, I'd have to hunt him down and do it myself."
"Can you tell me if you could tell? Would the baby have been a boy or a girl?"
"Madame, please. It will only haunt you to know."
"What did you do afterwards?" He wanted to know the rest.
She sniffed a wet sniff. "The creditors and bailiffs came while I was in the hospital, and stripped the house bare. They even took my vanity set for the silver. The bank took the villa. The tribal wars had the mine. I didn't even have a hairbrush left to my name. So, I got the money that I had hidden in the garden shed. The bailiffs hadn't found that. Made some fake documents and made a new name. I bought a ticket to Vienna, and disappeared. Mrs. Stephen Archer didn't exist anymore. Neither did the marriage or the baby. I put it all in a grave and buried it."
Marguerite sat in the second-class train compartment, altering the passport. Using a bit of grease and some wax, Mrs. Adrienne Marguerite Archer was gone, and there was only a Miss Margerta Mruher remaining. She took her wedding ring, wrapped it in cotton and slid it into the spine binding of her old copy of Ivanhoe, an English edition she'd saved from her early childhood. She leafed through it, glancing at the illustration of the Saxon Princess with her knight returned and kneeling before her. No knights for her, she was no princess. She shut the book. She counted the money and hefted the small velvet pouch of her Padparadscha sapphires. She was better off alone.
She poured the stones into her palm. Even in her cold, numb state, their beauty amazed her. The tiny shapes, full of fire and light, glowing red, orange and yellow like tiny volcanic hearts resting cool in her hand. These were real, they were solid, they had substance unlike the ghosts of friends, of husbands, of lovers, or of dead children. Certainly more solid than angels, saints and mercy. Or chivalrous knights. She poured them back into the pouch and synched it tight.
Yes, they were much safer to hitch your star to, she thought as she tucked the pouch back in her bodice. She turned to the window and watched the continental landscape move by in the twilight.
"I swear on my life, Marguerite, you'll never be afraid like that again." Roxton kissed the top of her head. "You have me now." He rested his chin on the crown of her head. "If something happens with the baby, we'll see it through. We'll talk to Challenger. We'll take every precaution. I'm sorry we're not near a hospital, but we'll do everything possible to make you safe. If we lose the baby, then we'll build a life together, the two of us. I'm not letting go. Neither should you."
"And everyone else? They'll have it whether they like it or not? John, we could stop this now. There are ways. Herbs, other things." The dead sadness in her forced voice cut him to the heart. "Nobody would have to know other than you and me. Your home, everything...avoid the risk altogether."
"No." The only one avoiding risk would be him. Her risk with that could be deadly. "Marguerite, no. It would be dangerous enough if you miscarry. That... You could end up sterile or worse, even if a surgeon did it. I'd rather we risk having the baby."
"You're the most decent, honorable man I've ever met." She exhaled, a sound of relief. "Men like you aren't supposed to exist. Certainly not to be interested in witches like me."
Roxton kissed her forehead and managed a slight laugh. "I'm sure when you met me, you thought I was a son of a bitch."
She actually gave a small chuckle. "Well, yes. But I think you liked having the reputation of a son of a bitch more than actually being one. Believe me, I know the difference."
John laughed and hugged her close. "I think you have me there. Anyway, you aren't a witch. You're much smarter than the ones I've met." He moved back and cupped her cheek. "You know, I think you're a fairy changeling. A fey woman going to lead me into the hollow hills and keep me for a hundred years." He dipped his head and gave her a gentle kiss, tasting salt, feeling the tremor of her mouth as she responded to it.
Marguerite turned away with a smile and wiped her face with his handkerchief. She blew her nose. "You're wrong, Lord Roxton. I can touch cold iron."
"Ah, but do you cry at weddings and laugh at funerals?" John handed her a water bottle, pleased to see her relaxing.
"Depends on who's died." She sounded almost herself again. She drank some water. Then she rinsed the cloth and wiped her face again. Her shivering had stopped. She took a deep breath. "Well, what do we do now?"
Roxton picked his rifle up. "We go home, rest a little and tell our friends to expect a few changes. Come on, Marguerite, we have to tell them. They'll end up noticing anyway." He told her while she sighed. "I'll talk to Challenger, and maybe we can find the best midwives and healers on the Plateau. We'll do our best to keep you and the baby safe and healthy…even if we have to put you to bed for six months." Her disappointed groan was drowned out by a dinosaur call. They both froze looking around.
"Triceratops." Roxton identified it easily. "No big threat to us, but we better get a move on." Marguerite nodded and put on her pack.
Roxton relaxed in his bed, mind too active to sleep. He had started to tell the others several times during the evening. However, Challenger went on about a new invention and John was hard pressed to get a word in. Finally Marguerite herself blurted out, "John and I are going to have a baby." She'd smiled nervously at him, and taken his hand. The first response they received to the news was Veronica jumping up to happily hug Marguerite. To Roxton's pleasure, Marguerite returned the hug gratefully. Challenger looked surprised but also pleased for them. Finn just stared sourly at Roxton.
"What?" John asked.
"I knew it was your fault she was upset."
Later, he and Marguerite talked about her concerns about her pregnancy to Challenger. He nodded seriously. "I'll go through Arthur's notes and the Layton journals. Veronica's mother gave birth to her here; they may have some advice. We'll be cautious and keep you close to home. Don't lift anything; be careful what plants you touch. Our medicine here isn't like that at a London hospital, true. But we've seen extraordinary healing here on the Plateau. We'll do all that we can. Don't forget that girl, Catherine Reilly, she said she was your descendant. There's hope in that, too." He touched Marguerite's cheek in a paternal gesture, and John saw a little of the worry leave her eyes. After she'd gone to bed, Challenger spoke to Roxton alone over a stiff whiskey.
"Well, John, will she make an honest man of you, do you think?"
"One step a time, George. But God, I hope so."
They clinked their glasses on the wish.
John rubbed his face in the dark and closed his eyes. He'd think more tomorrow. He rolled on his side.
He just barely heard her step as Marguerite slipped quietly into his room. He breathed in her scent as she climbed into his bed and curled around him drawing the blanket up. This time, John took her arm and pulled her hand over his heart. She relaxed, and in a short while, he heard her breathing even out as she fell asleep. He sighed in contentment.
In the morning, she was still there.