Author's notes: Not too long ago, Christine (CMS) asked me to write her another um...romantic story, something to follow up A Moment in Time. I told her that I'd write it and present it to her as a Xmas present. A special thank you to Christine for giving me the incentive to write something new after a long hiatus. Another very special thank you goes to Zak, who went well beyond the call of duty and beta'd this story for me on Xmas day (while on vacation, no less!) simply so that I could keep my word to Christine and have her story done for Xmas. Friends like these I truly do not deserve. Thanks guys!

INSIDE

The day we found the secluded cove not 30 minutes walk from the treehouse shines like a burning beacon amongst the hodgepodge of memories collected over my last three years on this plateau. To the casual observer, this might seem like such a small, insignificant thing; a circular pool of crystal blue water surrounded by steep walls of rock, fed by a ribbon of water cascading twenty feet from above. The waterfall makes a wonderful shower, the pool below just deep enough to completely submerge oneself in the cool, clear water. What makes this pool special is its accessibility, or, more importantly, the lack thereof. The surrounding rock walls make this little corner of the plateau dinosaur proof, granting the others and myself something we sorely lack; a safe place where we can enjoy the solitude one needs and deserves when living amongst four other people in very close quarters. Please don't get me wrong. The last thing anybody will ever call me is shy, and joint trips to the bathing pool with Veronica and Finn can be fun in their own right, but there is most definitely something to be said for having a place to bathe, relax and, most importantly, lose oneself in unsettling thoughts while enjoying complete privacy.

Those aforementioned unsettling thoughts occupy my mind while making my way to the bathing pool. It is a warm day, and I can feel the trickles of sweat on my back where my pack lies heavily against my white blouse. It's your own fault for packing everything but the kitchen sink, I think to myself with a laugh. I planned to spend quite some time at the pool and had packed several towels, the lovely, scented hair shampoo Challenger had recently presented to the ladies as an unexpected gift, and even a book to read while I was lounging about; the makings for a perfect, relaxing afternoon. If only the thoughts running wildly through my mind would cooperate and grant me a moment's peace.

Four weeks had passed since the day Roxton and I were trapped in that blasted cave, which meant that four weeks had passed since the day Roxton and I had made love for the very first time. Made love. I still find it difficult saying the words out loud. Can you believe it? Marguerite Krux, the woman who could write a book on the subject of using sex as a weapon, sex to get what you want, sex to get and keep control, tripping over her own tongue trying to say the words "made love". I am no blushing virgin, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. I've done what I wanted, when I wanted, refusing to adhere to hypocritical rules of conduct that I had no say in creating. If a man could enjoy the benefits of guiltless liaisons, then, by God, so could I. Looking back now, I can see that many of my choices in life were more about proving a point and less about any real feelings I may have had for the men I was with. Then the war came and, before I knew it, my knack for beguiling and enticing men became something useful, something that made me valuable to a country that I love deeply, though some might find that hard to believe.

It's better now that Roxton knows. He doesn't know all of it, of course, but he knows enough, and he still doesn't hate me. Any time I start to doubt that, I remember the look in his eyes as he finally put the pieces together, the look of pride and admiration on his face as he realized exactly what part I played in the war, even while staring down the barrel of Drummond's gun, even knowing what my role and his crucial silence had cost him.

A sudden sound in the brush to my right pulls my thoughts out of the past and to the here and now as I silently berate myself for letting my mind wander yet again. Gripping the rifle a little more tightly, I breathe a sigh of relief as I see the small, brown monkey scamper from one tree to another. Just because the bathing pool is safe from predators doesn't mean that the trip there and back doesn't have its dangers. Veronica had volunteered to escort me to the pool, promising to give me whatever time and space I needed while bathing. I had respectfully declined her offer, giving her my word that I would be careful. My young, blonde friend is annoyingly observant. I'm certain that she's noticed that things haven't quite been the same between Roxton and me since that day in the cave, and I'm sure she didn't press the issue for just that reason, recognizing my need for some solitude.

I keep my hands on my rifle, my eyes on the trail and my awareness on the surrounding brush for the remaining 10 minutes it takes me to get to the pool. One last turn around a sharp outcropping of rock and I've arrived at my destination, the lovely blue pool shimmering in the afternoon light, the tinkle of the falling water and the gentle breeze through the surrounding trees lending their peaceful music to the serene setting. Swinging my rifle strap around my shoulder, I carefully climb down the bamboo steps of the homemade ladder, grateful that the strong winds and rain from the plateau's most recent storm hadn't dislodged it. It certainly wouldn't do good things for my current state of mind to have hiked all this way only to find the promise of a relaxing bath denied me.

Who am I kidding? the voice in my brain said loud enough, I was sure, for others to hear.

It isn't the bath that brings me here, but the events of four weeks ago. I had nearly died. That was nothing new. Certainly not in this place where my imminent death has been a guarantee more times than I can count. I had nearly died and..I had made love to Lord John Roxton. What I can't work out in my anxiety-riddled mind is the agonizing worry that the latter happened solely because of the former. I don't know which infuriates me more, the fact that Roxton and I haven't discussed the events in the cave since they occurred, or the fact that I'm so worried about why the events haven't been discussed. The Marguerite Krux of four years ago wouldn't have cared in the slightest, would have detested the weakness of feeling I now find myself succumbing to. The Marguerite Krux I am today looks back at the woman I was and sees somebody cold and empty, exactly the words Roxton viciously hurled at me in the cave.

I set down my rifle and my pack and begin to remove the contents before unbuttoning my blouse and draping it on a nearby tree branch. Within seconds my jodhpurs, camisole and panties join the blouse. I take a moment to enjoy the light breeze over my naked body before I make my way slowly into the chilly water, careful to leave the towels and shampoo in a dry spot within arm's reach of the water. Moving carefully through the pool, I make my way to one of its best features, a small rock formation in shallow water forming an almost perfect imitation of a lounging chair. The warm sun makes this shallow section of the pool warmer and dries the exposed skin of my upper body while the spray of the nearby cascade cools it, creating a blissful temperature. I lay my head back and close my eyes, willing the tense muscles in my back and legs to relax while trying to make sense of the flood of thoughts and emotions fighting amongst themselves for precedence in my awareness.

Marguerite Krux. Adrienne Montclair. Ms. Smith. Other names that I can scarcely remember, swirling around in a sea of memories, a lifetime of identities casually assumed and removed like so much clothing. Orphan and heiress, spy and patriot, bride and whore. I am all of these and none of these. I've played so many parts in my 32 years that sometimes I can scarcely remember what lies beneath the layers.

What is inside me and is it something that a man like Roxton could ever really love?

Unbidden, a memory from long ago surfaces. Fordham Manor was one of many schools I attended as a child. The school had a small garden in which sat a statue of a giant deer. Every semester, the child that scored the highest marks would get to pick the color of the deer and Miles, the groundskeeper, would repaint the poor thing. To my knowledge, the original paint was never removed, simply painted over. Blue, lavender, polka dotted, striped. Layer after layer of paint, one on top of another, year after year. I remember asking Miles one day if he knew what the original color of the deer was. When he said no, I asked if he ever thought about removing all of the layers to see what was underneath. He told me, in his soft, Yorkshire lilt, that he figured that the only reason the deer had stood as long as it had was because the hundreds of layers of paint gave it strength. At the same time, he also figured that all of the paint had probably eaten away at the structure underneath. I remember imagining stripping away the paint and finding nothing but dust underneath. My layers give me strength. My layers helped me through a pitiful excuse for a childhood and through the traumas of war. But have they also eaten away who I was inside? Will Roxton peel away the layers and find nothing inside but dust?

And there it is, finally out in the open. The question that all of this mental and emotional trepidation is leading to. The question I am terrified to ask myself.

Has he decided what happened in the cave was a mistake?

The question rattles around in my head, like voices echoing through an empty concert hall. Time appears to have come to a standstill, as I have no idea how long I've been lounging in the pool. My quiet, restful form does not betray the wild musings of my mind. I am perfectly aware of everything going on around me, as I am perfectly aware that he has been watching me for some time, staring at my naked body with hunger in his eyes. Stealthy as a jungle cat, he is, yet, I can feel his proximity. I can hear the flutter of his heartbeat, the catch in his breath. His body remains fully clothed, yet I feel the heat emanating from his flesh. He doesn't yet know that I sense him, and it takes every ounce of control I possess to keep my body from responding to the nearness of his. I hear the sounds of clothing being carelessly discarded and the swift intake of breath as passion-heated skin meets chilled water. Though he barely makes a sound while moving through the pool, my sensitive skin feels the alteration in the currents and ripples, the subtle change in temperature. Even with eyes closed, I can still see him, see the rippling muscles, the smooth, sun-drenched skin, the reflection of the water dancing in his beautiful green eyes. One finger tentatively reaches out toward me and draws an invisible line across the center of my body, from the hollow of my neck, between the mounds of my breasts and down to the junction of my thighs. Even with my supreme control, I can't keep the low moan from escaping my lips.

Though my rebellious body isn't the least bit interested in his motivations, my mind can't help but speculate as to his intentions. After all, he is expecting a lot, considering we've spent the last four weeks dancing around this very issue.

"Oh George", I utter silkily while keeping my eyes closed and allowing a seductive smile to play across my face. "I've been waiting here for you all day. However did you dart away from that awful bore, Roxton?" I don't consider it beneath me to tease him just a wee bit for his forwardness, even if it is simply an attempt to mask this wretched anxiety within me. However, as the words are spoken, the hand that has been carelessly tracing patterns around my swollen nipples comes to a sudden stop, as does the breath of the man it belongs to. Mere seconds seem like an eternity as I ponder the wisdom of my taunting, cursing myself silently for resorting to the same old vindictive defense mechanisms of my youth.

Old habits die hard, but, damnit, I refuse to be a slave to my past, I think to myself with frustration.

I sit up and face John Roxton, expecting, as always, to see hatred, or, at the very least, hurt in his eyes. Nothing surprises me more then seeing the smile on his face, the blatant sexual desire permeating every feature, every nuance of his being. He's looking at me, through me, inside me. He knows the good and the bad. Lord knows he has seen the bad; yet, here he is in front of me, staring at me the way a man stares at what he treasures most in the world. I've been possessed by men, selling myself to the highest bidder, the strongest cause. Yes, I've definitely been a possession, an adornment, and a prize to be won. Until now, however, I've never been a man's treasure, and that thought burns bright as a beacon of light in the pitch darkness.

"Challenger apologizes for his tardiness as he was caught up in another one of his experiments. He asked if I was willing to take over for him. I told him that I'd do him this one favor, but that he'd owe me for quite some time."

The humor cuts through the tension like a hot knife through butter. I can't help but smile, silently wondering if there has ever been anybody in my life that I have felt this at ease with, and knowing instantly that there never has been and never will be another man in my life like John Roxton.

Even in the chill water, our bodies are hot and fevered, each of us waiting anxiously for the other to make the first move. I remain seated on the rock lounge, submerged to my waist, my breasts exposed. In an instant I am in his arms. I am carried out of the pool and gently deposited on top of a soft blanket that Roxton must have brought with him. He lies beside me, his arousal insistent against my thigh, his green eyes staring hungrily into my gray ones. A bead of water collects on my left nipple, and I shudder as he leans over me and licks the drop from my breast. The sensation is like a lightning strike, sending shock waves dancing through my body. I gasp as he takes the whole nipple in his mouth, using gentle pressure with his lips and tongue. His mouth leaves my breast and greedily claims my lips, stifling my cries as his fingers enter my body. He is in complete control, and for the first time in my life, that fact doesn't bother me. My body responds to his in the same way that an instrument responds to an expert musician. As his fingers continue to delve inside me, I find myself slipping towards the edge of reality. When his mouth intimately continues in place of his fingers, there is nothing left to do but tumble over the edge and into the void.

Our lovemaking has left me content and relaxed. I fall asleep in his arms, my long, dark hair strewn across his chest, his heartbeat a pleasant rhythm on the edge of my awareness. And I dream. I dream that Roxton and I are walking the grounds of Fordham Manor. I'm afraid that he's going to ask me about the deer. I try to avoid it, showing him other parts of the gardens, but with every twist and turn of the walkways, we seem to end up back at the deer.

What is inside me and is it something that a man like Roxton could ever really love?

The words are mine, the voice mine, but they appear to come from the deer. Roxton, however, doesn't seem to hear it. Only me. The same words, over and over, coming from the open mouth of a deer statue painted a sickly shade of chartreuse.

"Well, that won't do at all", Roxton says as he begins to rub at the deer, somehow managing to peel off the green paint and exposing a layer of red paint underneath. "This isn't right either", he says, and, before I can stop him, he's peeling off the red paint and exposing yet another color. What is inside me and is it something that a man like Roxton could ever really love?

I watch in horror as he continues removing layer after layer of paint, almost crazed in his attempts. Tears fill my eyes and I find it difficult to breathe as I watch each successive color removed.

I can't watch anymore, and I turn my back on Roxton's efforts. He is nearing the end. I can feel it. He will remove the last layer of paint and see what I've always feared was inside. Nothing. Emptiness. Dust.

His sudden gasp forces me to turn around, fully expecting to see a macabre version of the statue looking ravaged and carrion-eaten. What I see before me, however, is completely unexpected, and I can't help but allow a small gasp to escape my lips as well. With Roxton's hand firmly gripping mine, I marvel at the sight before me; the deer of my childhood stripped of all its layers and gleaming like a newly minted silver coin in the afternoon sun.

What is inside me and is it something that a man like Roxton could ever really love?

These are my last thoughts before the feel of Roxton's hand in mine and his warm breath on my neck draw me back from the world of sleep and dreams. And, finally, the answer comes to me. I still have many questions and still desire a lifetime of answers, but this one will suffice for the moment. Roxton is inside me. I don't mean that in the physical sense, though, if you must know, it is currently the truth. I mean that Roxton has meandered his way into my soul, into my being, into the embodiment of who I really am inside. Even as the years of identities and deceptions have eaten away at the person underneath, a good person I silently hope, I can feel the essence of John Roxton filling in the gaps and strengthening the core.

"I love you Roxton", I say softly, my fingers brushing through the soft brown of his hair.

I look up at his smiling face, the look of absolute wonder in his eyes, and feel a moment's awe that I am somehow responsible for the happiness I see in the man. I can feel his body respond again to mine and hear my own sighs of pleasure as he flexes himself up and into me again.

"I love you too Marguerite, and I always will," is the response that makes my heart swell with joy. I hear the words and feel the words inside me, a tangible and reassuring presence no less a reality then the feel of Roxton moving in and out of my welcoming body. And, at least for now, there is neither doubt nor fear nor unsettling thoughts. And, if you will beg my pardon, no more need for words.