Death Be Not So Annoying

by: DinoDachsies

Summary: More Deathly encounters.

Note: Many thanks to the incredible beta-readers (Rann, Monica, MissMeganJane, and Ariadne) with wonderful logic points and grammar repairs.

Disclaimer: Borrowed the characters.

In brief: sometime into Season 4

"Marguerite!"
"Marguerite Krux," Challenger repeated, his voice drifted off with the memory. He backed closer to Roxton, both men's rifles aimed toward the bushes. "What on earth made you think of her?"
Roxton's pulse slowed as the bellow of the raptor faded. "I don't know. It's funny the memories that flash before your eyes when you're running for your life."

*******

The dirt made a hard pillow. Slowly Marguerite turned onto her back. The wound from the raptor's claws had scabbed. She'd been unconscious for maybe...
"Two hours."
The woman's voice was vaguely familiar. "Veronica?" Marguerite squinted against the sunlight trying to make-out the nebulous form. "When did you get here? Veronica?"
"Hardly." The woman's words flared within a corrosive laugh. "But let me be of some assistance."
The blurry form moved a little to the left, blocking the harsh glare.
Marguerite looked into the eyes of Death. "Not you again."
The heavily cloaked arms folded across the chest. "That's not very nice." The robed figure moved, letting the bright light strike Marguerite's face again. Small hands almost lost in the sleeves stretched up, pushing the hood down.
Marguerite willed her right arm up to block the sun on her eyes. "Go away," she spat.
"Can't."
Her arm dropped across her chest as Marguerite realized the woman's meaning: if Death couldn't go away, then she, Marguerite, was dying. "Roxton!" Her cry was lost in a gasp of pain.
Death shrugged off the heavy cloak. It disappeared as it touched the earth. "Don't waste your strength. He and Challenger are on their way back to the treehouse."
Marguerite drove the panic from her mind. There was an explanation. She just had to think of it. After the raptor... the branch broke. Marguerite glanced around. Leaves and limbs were strewn about. She definitely wasn't smashed on the canyon bottom. The woman pushed herself up using her good arm. Her ankles hung over an edge. She was on a ledge... a very narrow one. The explanation was simple. "They've merely gone to get rope and a stretcher."
"Actually," Death tossed her long red hair back and pointed at the sun's location in the sky. "They've gone for lunch. It's almost one. Strapping men such as Lord John Roxton require nourishment."
"Oh, please. John Roxton strapping?" Marguerite winced from the pain and statement. "If he's your idea of 'strapping', you need to get out more. Monte Carlo. Paris. Even a London pub on a Saturday night would yield more strapping men than Lord John Roxton."
Death bent down. Her black lifeless eyes stared into Marguerite's. "That sounds like the voice of frequent experiences, Marguerite. Shared these stories with Lord Roxton?"
"Haven't you crossed some line by annoying me before I've died?"
Her breath brushed Marguerite's face like a cold wind. "No." Bending down, she produced from her cloak an hourglass. Grains of sand dropped a few at a time as a smirk played across her lush lips. "This is for you."
Marguerite forced herself to be calm. "Unless I'm dying within the next three hours, I have nothing to worry about. They'll be back for me." She closed her eyes against the sunlight. "Roxton would never leave me."

*******

"Well, it's nesting season." Roxton hung his backpack on a hook near the elevator. "Challenger and I can certainly attest to it."
"Most definitely," the scientist agreed.
Veronica scrutinized the two men as they walked to the table. There were no visible wounds.
"Both of you still in one piece?" Malone set down two more plates.
"Yes." Challenger was a scientist first, but he enjoyed telling a good tale. "Some strange creature distracted the mother raptor long enough for us to get away. Unusual looking animal. Black mane, pale white form. Great bush of a tail."
"A tail?" Roxton disputed. "I thought it was a spine."
"Spine?" The scientist motioned behind himself, his hand flapping near his own belt. "No. The way the fur flared out." His voice faded. "It could have been a spine. Yes. I believe you are right."
"Professor," Veronica added cutlery to the sides of the plates. "You two sure you saw the same thing?"
Roxton and Challenger looked at each other for a moment. A fleeting glimpse of something taunted the fringes of their memory.
"Yes," Challenger spoke for both of them. "There was a spine."
"A large one. Almost like a woman's skirt jutting behind her," Roxton continued, rubbing his eyes, trying to rid himself of the odd details of the creature.
"It's dead now," Challenger shrugged.
"Well, boys, there's plenty of food in the larder, so no one needs to venture out the next few days." Veronica freshened the fruit bowl.
Roxton broke into a wide smile. "Expectant mothers are nothing to trifle with."
"Especially when they're raptors." Challenger leaned near a pot hanging over the stove fire. "Whatever is cooking smells delicious. I am famished."

*******

Marguerite woke to darkness. "Am I dead?"
"Not yet," a voice replied irritably.
"Then why...?" The question trailed away.
"Haven't they come?" The Death looked thoughtful, then continued, "Well, your friends are very busy. Malone is writing in his journal. Roxton's cleaning..."
"What have you done? I don't doubt for one second that they would come back for me. You've done something!"
"I'm only able to deal with aspects of death." She stretched leisurely to one side, then the other. "You couldn't hurry it along could you?"
"Put a sock in it, lady. I'll go when I'm ready." Her voice sounded as gravelly as her throat was dry. She knew she lay flat... so her backpack was where? Marguerite felt around her. Dirt and sand stuck to her fingers as she searched the area by her injured left arm. Reaching over her head, she discovered the backpack mingled with leaves and small branches. "You could help, you know."
Death smiled. "Oh, you don't want my help."
With a groan she pulled the pack next to her. "You're probably right." A heavy sigh followed her slow crawl to the ledge wall. "You might as well sit down or go back to Hell. This is going to take a while."
"Not too long." She gestured at the hourglass now sitting on a nearby rock. "Your clock is ticking."

*******

Usually soothing nighttime sounds replaced the threatening roars and screams that interrupted the day. There was no such juxtaposition when nesting season arrived. Dinosaur packs never slept, guarding their eggs night and day. "Day and night," Malone shouted back at the roar nearby, slamming his journal closed.
"Since we're going to be stuck in the treehouse for a few days," Roxton opened a drawer and pulled out a deck of cards. "How does a marathon session of cards sound to everybody? Malone, why don't you choose the first game?"
"Well, ladies and gents," Ned's eyes sparkled. "How about poker? Five-card stud."
Veronica pulled up a chair. "Isn't that the only card game you ever win?"
Challenger waved a finger. "I'll accept that challenge... Under the condition that when I beat you this time, all of you finally acknowledge that the secret to poker is logic."
Veronica rubbed her hands together in expectation of another clean- up. "The secret to poker, boys, is the ability to read your opponents' eyes."
Malone set a tray of multi-colored pebbles on the table. "The secret to poker is patience. As I have demonstrated victoriously many times."
Roxton passed the deck to Challenger. "I think even Marguerite would acknowledge luck as the winning ingredient to any poker hand."
Malone snickered. "Marguerite's secret to poker is cheating."
The room went silent.
Challenger's voice shook slightly. "You're doing it again, Roxton." The scientist stopped shuffling the cards. "Why do you insist on bringing up Miss Krux again? That's twice in one day out of the past three years." He motioned toward the reporter. "And now you've even got Malone doing it."
Veronica counted out the "chips". "Doing what, Professor?"
"Recalling Marguerite Krux."
"I don't know why I said that," Malone shrugged, sitting back in his chair, nervously rubbing his lips.
"I've... I've heard that name before." Veronica glanced across the table toward the bedrooms.
"I'm confident one of us mention her before," Challenger snapped, cursing a bad shuffle.
"Or maybe you read it in one of my journals," Malone considered.
Challenger tapped his head. "That's the most sound explanation. I know when Malone was in the spirit world you must have read each of his journals six times."
Veronica's red cheeks belied her protests.
"And to answer your question, young lady, Marguerite Krux was the financier of this expedition."
Roxton took to his feet, pacing around the room as though looking for something. "As I recall she mandated she would accompany the expedition."
"As I recall," chuckled Malone, "she nearly blew off..."
"My kneecap," Roxton interrupted.
"I don't recall you having your legs crossed."
Veronica caught the innuendo and laughed with everyone else. "So why didn't she come with you?"
Roxton dropped into his chair. "Something happened." He rubbed his forehead as though forcing the answer out.
"Constables showed up at the ship and..." Malone stared into the shadows trying to finish his thought.
"And they inquired as to her whereabouts." Roxton struggled with each word. "She hadn't checked out of her suite at the hotel."
"Summerlee had the ship wait until the captain's patience and the tide almost disappeared." Challenger dealt the first hand.
"I wonder if we'll ever find out what happened to her?" Malone made a face at his cards then requested five more.

*******

Marguerite fumbled one-handed through her backpack until she found it. She mouthed a thank you when she confirmed the weight. The canteen was full. Two sips later she leaned back with a contented sigh.
"For pity sake, it's only water," Death snarled. "I haven't drunk something so mundane in, hmmm, how long has it been?"
"I don't care. And maybe you should revisit those mundane things in life. It might help your disposition."
"Ha. And what would you know about mundane things, Marguerite? You would never settle for mundane. Certainly nothing about Lord John Roxton is mundane."
Marguerite wedged the canteen between her legs. On the bottom of the backpack she found a linen towel. "You know, our conversation always comes back to Roxton." She poured some water onto the towel then hesitantly pressed it against her arm. Hiding a gasp of pain within her words, Marguerite snapped, "I think you're infatuated with the man."
A glass of champagne appeared in her hand as Death leaned back against the darkness. "Man being the operative word, my dear." She took a long sip. "Men do me no good."
Marguerite freshened the towel with more water. "Your only contact with humanity is to release the soul at death. So if Roxton had agreed to stay with you in your dominion and not killed himself, then he would have been outside of life and death."
Death tossed the glass over her shoulder. After a few seconds the sound of shattered glass echoed back. "Eventually... he too would die."
"Wither, don't you mean?"
The woman hissed at her. The perfect face wrinkled slightly under the eyes. "He owes me. After all the times I show up and he manages to sidestep by touch..."
"And the touch of death is cold. Even to a pure soul." Marguerite openly assessed the woman, looking her up and down. Abruptly her gaze fixed on the lifeless eyes. "How long did the others who you tricked into your lair last?"
Snarling, Death faded into the black.
"About bloody time," Marguerite sighed, slumping onto her right side in exhaustion.

Roxton kicked the linen blanket from the bed. The warm breeze and exotic smells were replaced by a cold draft from Avebury. One of his Mother's maids, he could never remember her name, kept a proper distance from the robed-clad master of the house. "No. We'll join my Mother in the dining room for breakfast."
A high-pitched giggle erupted from the aged face. "Oh, sir. Lady Roxton left last night to stay with Lady Nelson in London. She told me to be sure and tell you she'd be gone at least a week."
"Ah. Thank you for relaying the message. Then my wife and I will be down later."
"Shall I inform the cook to prepare the mid-day or evening meal, sir?"
Roxton broke into a wide smile. Besides a few stable boys, he'd been the only bachelor in the house. Everyone else knew very well about honeymoons. "Lunch will be fine." He needed to ask Jenkins what the hell her name was.
Roxton closed the door behind him. "I gave the maid the morning off."
A black mane shook out the night's tangles. "Then you may build up the fire."
The two logs he added did little to warm the December morning. He returned to the side of his bed. "Mind if I join you?"
She lifted the bedding and patted a spot next to her. "Take off the robe, please. Wool against my bare skin itches."
He tilted his head following the soft skin of her shoulders down to the fingers that reached for him. His eyes ignored the scars. Roxton took a deep breath and nodded.
"And the flannel bottoms, my love. They're easier to remove outside the covers."
The English lord suppressed a chuckle. He was no stranger to this woman, but here in the master's bedroom... it was different.
She stretched her arm across him and tucked the covers around him. Her foot glided along his leg until her thigh pressed against his own.
Marguerite!" Roxton sat up, wiping the sweat from his face. A dream of soft hands stroking his fingers, teasing up his arm then caressing his chin usually resulted in certain discomforts, trembling hands not being one of them. Leaving his room he turned to the right, only to recall the room next to his was vacant. And no one in the other rooms would be interested in his weird dream.
Buttoning his shirt, Roxton walked to the kitchen. Even awake, the dream woman's eyes stared at him. He took a few sips of water then splashed the rest on his face. This woman. He knew the lines around her mouth, the flecks of green in her gray eyes. He filled his glass again. None of them had seen Miss Krux more than those two times in London. There was that evening in Challenger's library. She wore a cotton camisole that night. The English lord laughed at his presumption. Of course she wore a camisole beneath that red jacket. The image of her blazed in his thoughts. It had been red. And fitted. Much like the blue shirt she sometimes wore. He replaced the water in the cup with liquor. He had never seen Marguerite Krux in a blue blouse, but now he imagined her sitting across from him laughing, unbuttoning the top button and fanning herself. He watched a small line of perspiration ooze under the camisole. Roxton swigged down the cup's contents and filled it again.

*******

"Wake up, Malone!"
"What's wrong?" Malone's words slurred together.
"We've thirty minutes till dawn. That's enough time to get ready and be on the trail by first light." He tossed the younger man's pants to him.
The suspenders slapped him on his cheeks. "Where are we going?"
"Back to where Challenger and I found that raptor's nest." He paused in the doorway, his back to the young reporter. "God help me, I think that was a woman we saw."
Veronica stood in the hallway clad in a thin blanket, suppressing a yawn. "It's been almost twenty-four hours. You'll be lucky if you find any trace, Roxton."
The man whirled around, eyes darkened from fear and a lack of sleep. "At least nothing is something. I have to know!" He brushed past Veronica and disappeared into his own room.
"What's going on?" Veronica watched Malone pull on a shirt
"Apparently we're going to look for a ghost." Malone turned his back as he tucked his pants in.
Veronica tightened the blanket around herself. "I'll go get dressed."
Malone pulled his boots from under the bed. "I'll go wake Challenger."

*******

Roxton cut enough bread for all of them, then laid out the slices on a plate in the middle of the table. "Eat up everybody. I want to get going."
"John," Challenger reached for a slice. "What do you expect to find out there? Are you seriously suggesting Marguerite Krux somehow made it on the plateau and...?"
"No. I'm not suggesting that at all. I have memories of this woman I couldn't possibly have and no clue why or how. But in the very least, George, you as a scientist should be interested in the mysterious creature that saved us."
Challenger washed down his bread with a long sip of water. "Well, yes. But my curiosity could be satisfied after the raptor eggs have hatched."
Roxton wrapped the remaining bread slices in a square of linen, then tucked it in his backpack.
Malone passed him a full canteen. "I've got a bad feeling about this. Going back to a raptor's nesting area is asking to be attacked."
The hunter slid his backpack on. "I'm going. You three can come or not."

*******

They kept their chatter to a minimum and their eyes on the surrounding jungle.
"Here are my boot prints." Roxton scrutinized the narrow clearing before them.
"I was near the boulder directly across from here," Challenger pointed.
Roxton stepped into the open. "Heads up, everybody. We know there's a nervous mother around here."
Veronica advanced carefully, looking for any tracks in the sand. "Here's Challenger. And... Roxton. Here's another set next to his. Smaller. More like a woman's boot imprint."
Roxton squatted down. "They go off behind the boulder. Running."
"Dear God," Challenger whispered. "It was a woman." He looked down at Roxton. "How? Who?"
They heard it too late. The raptor leapt from the jungle's edge landing next to Roxton. Its teeth found his shoulder. Claws slashed into Challenger's arm. Malone jumped back. Claws caught his shirt, ripping cloth and flesh. Veronica circled the creature, leading it away from Roxton. It lunged for her. The hunter attempted to lift his rifle. The bullet struck its leg.
"Stay down, Professor!" Malone drew his pistol. He fired into the creature's chest.
Veronica rolled away from the snapping jaws. "Aim for the head!"
He fired once. Then again. And again. Blood poured onto its jaw. The raptor continued to lash out. Roxton felt the foot claws slash his leg. Malone fired again.
Veronica threw her knife into its neck. Blood coated most of the huge creature. Its furious roar was almost lost in spurting blood. Malone fired his last bullet. The raptor fell against the rock then slid to the ground.
"Roxton!" Veronica ran to him. A huge patch of blood already soaked his torn shirt. Puncture marks showed white from the exposed bone. "Don't move. Let me look at the wound."
Challenger tried to push himself up. Malone caught him as he swayed and eased him back to the ground. He ripped open the sleeve around the wound. "Are you hurt anywhere else?"
"My head," the scientist complained. "Wretched beast knocked me into the rocks."
"Ned," Veronica removed what was left of Roxton's backpack and dug through it. "I need you here!"
Malone knelt beside her. He paled and looked away.
"Ned," Veronica called calmly. "I need your help."
"I'll be fine," he exhaled. "I'm fine. What do you want me to do?"
Veronica began tearing a linen sheet into strips. "Thank God there was the backpack or she would have bit clean through. We've got to stop the bleeding." She passed a huge square of linen to Malone. "The rest of this one's pack are probably hunting. We need to get out of here before they come back." She nodded at his chest and the thin line of blood spreading across it.
"I'm okay. I fell over my own big feet, so she missed me."
Veronica smiled, fighting back tears. "He's hurt bad, Ned."
The reporter noticed Challenger stand. "Professor, will you be able to walk?"
"I'll manage just fine. We've got to get Roxton back to the treehouse."
Ned tied the makeshift bandages tight about Roxton's knee. "I don't think his leg's broken."
"It's not," a voice rasped.
Veronica laid her hands on his back. "Stay still, Roxton."
"The tracks. The woman," he wheezed.
"Will you forget about it? If she ever existed, she's dead." Veronica poured water over his shoulder. "Which is what we're going to be if we don't get moving." She pressed a wad of linen against his bleeding shoulder and another on his chest as Malone wrapped strips over them. "That'll do. We don't have time to build a litter. Do you think you can walk?"
Roxton grunted through clenched teeth.
"Professor," Malone steadied him as he retrieved his rifle from the ground. "May I have your belt?" Veronica tucked herself under Roxton's good arm. Malone grabbed around his waist. Within a few minutes, Roxton was standing. Using Challenger's belt, Malone strapped Roxton's arm to his chest.
Veronica awkwardly brandished her knife in one hand and supported Roxton with the other. Ned positioned his reloaded pistol in his waistband.
Challenger took point.

*******

Marguerite woke to gunshots. "Roxton." She forced the word out again. "Roxton!" Louder. "Roxton!"
There was no answer.
Sweat covered her body. Her arm felt on fire. "Where are you, Roxton?"
"That is the most single minded individual I have ever encountered." Death angrily tugged on her tight dress smoothing out any wrinkles. "Can you believe he was beginning to remember you?"
Marguerite wiped her face with the back of her hand. "What do you mean 'remember me'?"
Death shook her head, a smug smile spreading across her face. "Oh. I forgot to mention this, didn't I?" She sat on an invisible chair. "Well, I know I mentioned I possess control over all aspects of death. That includes grief. And in my desire to assuage the pain of grief from Roxton and your friends, I had them forget you." She snapped her fingers. "No pain. No tears. No grief." Suddenly she was inches from Marguerite. "No Marguerite Krux."
"That's cheating."
"No, it's bending the rules. And that is why I love this plateau. It's so easy to bend the rules here." Death stiffened, staring the direction of the gunfire. Her cloak appeared at her feet. Another hourglass took shape within its folds.
"No!" both women exhaled.
"Who is it?" Marguerite demanded.
Death extended her arms. The cloak rose and enveloped her.
"Who is it?" Marguerite screeched.
It was the baritone rasp of Death that spoke. "This isn't what I had planned. I've got to do something." The form vanished.
"Roxton!" Marguerite screamed.

*******

They resorted to a makeshift stretcher after Veronica determined nothing followed them. After an hour, she noticed the line of blood on Ned's shirt widening. "You need to stop!"
"I won't be able to get up if we stop." He panted between each word. "Let's just keep going."
Another hour and the treehouse stood before them.
"Thank God," Malone swayed, forcing his knees to lock before he fell.
Challenger activated the gate behind them. "Ned, let me help Veronica get Roxton into the elevator."
The reporter barely possessed the strength to nod.
Veronica sent the elevator back down, then she and Challenger dragged Roxton into his room. Challenger knocked off some dirty clothes and sat the man on the side of the cot. Veronica steadied him as the limp form collapsed to his side. They turned him onto his stomach.
"I'll start the water boiling and check on Ned."
Challenger stared down at the bloodied form. "John, I'm not sure what to do." Veronica and Ned stumbled past on the way to his room. "After I clean the wounds should I sew-up them up or let them drain?" He clutched his own bloodied arm. "I don't know what to do. Summerlee, I need you here."
"Curious. I was so engrossed in something else, I didn't hear you all come up." Confusion showed on his face. "I can't even remember what I was doing."
Challenger's mouth dropped. He blinked several times before the words sputtered out. "He's hurt bad, Arthur. Raptor bite on his shoulder."
Summerlee rolled up his sleeves. "My goodness, this does look bad." Gently he lifted the shirt collar. The material was stiffening and drying onto the flesh. "I need hot water."
"Coming, Professor," Veronica shouted as she dashed by toward the kitchen.
"Do fetch the first aid kit, Challenger. And make sure there's a pair of scissors or a knife." The man pulled a chair up to the bed. Age forced him to sit slowly. "Roxton, I must say, this was not one of your brightest moves."
"Tell me about it," the patient inhaled.
"Think you could manage a little brandy, my boy?" He wiped the blood from Roxton's cheek with a handkerchief. "It'll dull the pain a bit."
"Whatever you say."
Veronica pulled in another chair and set the bowl containing the hot water upon it. "What else do you need?"
"Clean rags. And a bottle of your parents' brandy, child."

*******

"Ned's asleep. He can wait if you need to rest a few minutes, Professor," Veronica whispered helping him to his feet.
"You needn't whisper. He's sleeping like the dead. I just hope he wakes from it." Summerlee adjusted the bandage on Roxton's shoulder. "I want to give those wounds a few hours to drain any infection that's started." He studied his handiwork through worried eyes. The man felt his age as he gazed into the much younger face. "Let's go check on Ned." *******

It was night. Her imagination answered the question of Roxton's fate in all the worse ways. She never realized she knew so many ways to suffer and die. Marguerite forced herself to drink.
Death appeared, pacing along the edge.
"How is he?" Marguerite's voice shook from concern.
Death set another hourglass on the ledge. The sand poured steadily down.
"What does that mean?" Marguerite compared the flows of the two hourglasses. Hers emptied steadily as well.
"It mean's that Lord Roxton would quite literally walk through a raptor's nest to get to his lady-fair." She glared at Marguerite. Her eyes darkened. The perfect skin tightened and paled a pasty white.
Marguerite shuddered and turned away. "But... but he'll be all right, because you want him alive."
The pacing calmed Death. Color returned to her face. "Let's just say I don't want him dead."
"Well, this whole situation is your fault," Marguerite accused. "If you hadn't caused them to forget me..."
"I need you out of the picture. Despite his claims, it will make him vulnerable to me. Don't fret. I have the situation well in hand."
Marguerite contemplated the sand flow of the two hourglasses. The flow slowed ever-so-slightly for Roxton. Hers continued at a slow but steady drain.
Death halted her pacing and sauntered to Marguerite's side. "That wound of yours is not getting better. It has to hurt."
"Thank you for your concern. And yes it does. Come closer and I'll show you how much."
Death grinned. Her white teeth gleamed unnaturally in the moonlight. "You know, I like you. If it wasn't for Roxton, you and I could get along splendidly."
Marguerite laughed softly. "I don't think so. I'm very picky about the few friends I have."
Death's hands waved theatrically about. "Just consider for a moment what I could do for you. You could marry and your rich husbands could die quickly and suddenly."
Marguerite's laugh was as cold as Death's.
"Or I could tell you about your parents." She leaned down; her lips close to her ear. "I know," she whispered.
Marguerite fought the temptation to ask. "Go away." She pointed at the hourglass that was hers. "I've plenty of time yet. You and the other vultures can return later."
Death faded into the black.

*******

The doorman opened the door for her, a wide smile painted on his face. Inside the latest perfume hung in the air. To her right a large, mostly female, crowd gathered.
"So dashing," one woman commented.
"Handsome," another added through a sigh.
"Roxton!" Marguerite pushed through the layers of smartly-dressed women. "Roxton!"
That characteristic grin greeted her. "I'm sorry. Do we know each other?"
"What do you mean? I'm Marguerite."
"Sorry, but that doesn't ring a bell."
"Doesn't ring a bell? I spent years on that damned plateau with you."
Roxton chuckled. The crowd burst into laughter. "I think I'd remember that." He gestured at a young man stacking books. "Ned, do you remember Marguerite?"
Malone appeared from behind several tall stacks of books. "No. Is she the one that put a spell on you that second year? So many stories. Let me check." He opened one of the books and flipped through the pages. Stopping his search, his finger slid down the page. No, that was Danielle." He continued to flip through the pages. "Roxton, there's no Marguerite in my journals."
"You published your journals?" Marguerite gaped at him incredulous. "What did Veronica say?"
A loving expression washed over the young man. "We're using the money to build a small castle on the fringe of Avebury."
"What? She left the plateau? Did she find her mother?"
"Buy a book and find out."
Grabbing his arm, she tried to pull Roxton aside. "Don't you remember? We were hunting. Challenger, you and I had been hunting. Okay, Challenger rarely hunted. You were hunting. Challenger and I were searching for a berry of some sort." With all the people it was so hot. Remembering was difficult. "Or was it a leaf?"
She shook the uncertainty from her mind. "But that's not what matters. As usual we were in that damned jungle where we shouldn't have been. Challenger and I waited for you at a group of boulders. You stepped from the jungle. None of use saw the raptor until it stood next to you. I aimed my rifle and fired. You dropped to the ground and the beast disappeared back in the jungle.
"It was the putrid smell that made me turn. Another raptor lunged for me. From the corner of my eye I saw you scrambling to your knees to fire. The terror on your face told me to duck. Claws tried to snatch me, but they only caught my sleeve and arm. I somehow managed to slide between the beast and the boulder. You fired at it."
"Ohh," chorused the ladies.
"The raptor roared; my ears rang with the sound. As I ran, the stench told me it was still behind me. Closing in. But there was no more shooting. There was no time to reach for my own pistol. I just ran. It herded me to a cliff. A huge tree clung to the edge, roots deep in the rocks, branches sweeping over the abyss. I had nowhere else to go so I dove for a thick limb. It held my weight, but the raptor leapt on it too. Our combined total shattered the wood. I slid down the limb onto a ledge."
Malone applauded enthusiastically. "Excellent story!"
Marguerite clutched her aching arm. "It's not a story!"
A condescending smile tugged at Roxton's lips. "Then why don't we remember you?"
"It's Death." Marguerite tried to explain. "She-she made you forget me.
"Sorry." He held up one of Malone's books. "But that's my story."
"Chapter Seventeen," Ned added.
"No!" The floor disappeared beneath her. She stood on the ledge looking up at the crowd.
Roxton knelt precariously near the edge. "I don't remember you."
"You have to remember me. You love me."
There was an audible gasp from the numerous women.
Shaking his head, Roxton gave them a wink and an exaggerated frown. "How can I love you? I don't know who you are!"
"You love me." She sobbed.
Roxton stepped back. The herd of whimpering women scuttled away.
"You told me!" Marguerite dug into the dirt trying to climb to him. "I told you! You said you'd always be there for me. Always!"
He was gone.

*******

"How is he?"
Summerlee puffed on his piped as he settled into a chair in the main room of the treehouse. "I've stitched all of the punctures closed. You got him back here fast enough, so no infection had time to set in. We still need to get up again tonight, Veronica, and apply that salve." Summerlee studied his pipe, tapping it on the arm of the chair. "Before we get off this plateau, I will convince that Zanga witch doctor to share those ingredients for that salve."
Challenger slid his notebook away. "If anyone can do it, it will be you, Summerlee."
"Why, thank you, George. That was an awkward compliment but I shall accept it nonetheless."
Ned chuckled, then inhaled sharply, his hand gingerly touching his chest.
"Have you applied the salve today, young man?"
A blush showed through his tanned cheeks. "Veronica wouldn't let me out of bed until it was applied."
Summerlee nodded at Veronica. "Well done, child." He glanced toward the bedrooms. "Curious. Roxton called out for Marguerite Krux several times. Have we determined what could be causing this memory of her?"
"Professor, I've been thinking. Could it be an alternate reality?" Ned scooted over on the bench making room for Veronica.
A harrumph came from Summerlee's direction. "Between talking lizards, demons and dinosaurs, I'd have to ask what would constitute an alternate reality?"
"And how would we know anyway?" Malone laughed, again holding his chest.
Challenger reached and patted Summerlee on the shoulder. "You have been missed, old friend."
The laughter quieted. "I know I've been busy, but you've seen me every day, George."
"That was an odd thing to say, Professor." Ned glanced over his shoulder at Summerlee as though expecting a ghost.
"I have an idea on convincing Roxton about this Marguerite Krux." Veronica retrieved several of Malone's journals from a shelf. "Let him read your daily accounts, Ned. That way he'll see it's only been the five of us."
"And Finn for a while," Challenger added sadly.
Veronica smiled briefly at the memory then set it aside. Since a child she had dealt with loss and had learned acceptance then moving on was the only way to deal with it. She selected one of the leather-bound books. This one had been a gift from Assai. The leather was tanned T-Rex. It's grayish sheen contrasted with its cow cousins. "Here. Pick an event you recorded and I'll read it to Roxton when he wakes up."
He accepted the book. "Just casually reading to pass the time."
Challenger picked up on the plan. "Then he'll realize Marguerite Krux is no where in our chronicles and he'll let go of this notion that she's here."

*******

Marguerite woke from the dream, tears still fresh on her cheeks. "This is not fair! I shouldn't be dying." She wept harder from the pain and fear. The sand dropped faster. "I wouldn't still be here if it wasn't for you, bitch!"
"Ow." Death walked out of the afternoon shadows. "Sticks and stones."
"You have no right to change the present." Marguerite wiped her cheek on her sleeve.
"Complaining again. No wonder it was so easy for your friends to forget you."

*******

Malone opened his journal. "Any requests?" he smiled. A few seconds later he selected a page. "Friday. Roxton and Marguerite started the day arguing." He looked up at the surprised faces. "This doesn't bode well. Their arguments usually make for a long day. Veronica and I conspired to go wash clothes. Marguerite..." His voice faded.
Mouth still open, Veronica snatched up another journal. "Roxton took the lead. As usual he glanced back to check on all of us. I noted his smile was answered by one from Marguerite. I think Challenger is right about those two." Veronica slammed the book shut. "This is crazy. I can't even picture this woman's face."
Challenger reached across the table and flipped open another journal to its first page. "Veronica still looks for him. We all do. But it's been so long."
Summerlee puffed on his pipe. "Is that about me?"

*******

Death's laughter hung in the air even after she was gone.
"How does she do that?" Marguerite snarled, swatting at the sweat and tears dripping down her cheek. For a moment the world blurred... and she was home at the treehouse. She laughed at herself. The very idea of that place as home... Better than this current alternative.
"Malone," she called, "Is that what you titled your book? Home. Or maybe Home Is Where the Jungle Girl Is." She laughed at her sappy creative choices. "Oh, well, I guess Wizard of Oz was taken."
"Roxton," she mumbled suddenly drained. Through half-closed eyes, she watched grains of sand slip down in the two hourglasses. Maybe sleeping wasn't such a good idea.
"So, Malone, about your book. What was your title for Chapter Seventeen?" Her voice lowered with exhaustion. "I'll bet Chapter Seventeen would be, oh, let's see, Roxton Meets Death. Roxton Beats Death. Too obvious even for Ned. Roxton Conquers Death. Too much like a Tarzan novel. Roxton Flirts With Death. Roxton Pisses Off Death One Time Too Many. Roxton Foils Death. Roxton Meets Death, Risks the Lives of His Friends, Almost Shoots His Lover and Himself." She was babbling. Her eyes darted toward her hourglass as more sand dropped. "Roxton Figures Out the Hourglass Is His Time Until Death." That made her think. "Roxton Inadvertently Stops Death by Stopping Time." With only one arm, Marguerite crawled then dragged herself to her hourglass. "Roxton Restarts His Time by Breaking the Hourglass." Marguerite pushed the huge thing onto its side. "Roxton Shatters Death's Hold on Him by Breaking Hourglass." With the last of her strength, she shoved it over the edge.
As the echo of shattered glass reached her ears Death appeared in its cloaked fury. "You spoiled everything. Bitch!"
Marguerite plopped onto her back. "And proud of it, sister." Marguerite rolled to reach the other hourglass.
Death seized it and disappeared.

*******

"Oh my God." His journal dropped to the table. "Marguerite." Memories flooded his mind. Her temper, her smiles, her teasing. The image of the beautiful woman took shape. "We've left her back there." Malone bolted to the elevator.
Challenger quickly joined him. "It's been over three days." He heard Marguerite scream as the raptor claw dug into her arm. He watched her disappear between the rocks followed by the huge beast. He remembered standing there with Roxton. Then they both just turned away. "Good Lord, could she still be alive?"
"She has to be." Veronica gathered up the first aid kit and linen towels. "Professor, you stay here with Roxton."
"We'll need the litter." Malone eyed the various objects hanging near the elevator. "And ropes." Summerlee dumped the ashes from his pipe into the cooking fire. "I'd best come along. She's going to need medical attention."
Malone locked the gate behind him, then trotted past Summerlee to catch up with Veronica. "Hold up. You're going too fast." He glanced behind him. "Professor, are we going too fast?" Summerlee was no longer behind them. Malone knew there was no use in calling for him. "Sometimes I hate this plateau." He quickly caught up with Veronica.

*******

Rifle aimed, finger on trigger, Malone stood over Veronica as she searched the ground for tracks.
"Through here." Veronica easily slid between the two boulders. Malone took a few minutes trying to squeeze through.
"Do I need to get on the other side and push?" Veronica teased.
"It's the heavy bandage you applied." Malone protested, finally slipping through.
She bent over taking wide steps around the tracks. "There was definitely a raptor after her."
He pointed at several spots in the dirt. "Is that blood?"
"Yes." Veronica straightened up. The ground turned rocky up ahead. "Didn't Roxton say he shot at it? It could be raptor blood."
They paused on the rocks, seeing not the beautiful view but the abrupt cliff in front of them. Malone took a deep breath. "Would she jump rather than be eaten."
"No," Veronica stated. "But she might climb. Ned, check out that tree." She pointed to their right. "One of the branches has been broken off recently."
Malone treaded carefully upon the loose rocks as he approached the edge. "Marguerite!" He listened. "Marguerite!"
Veronica laid a finger against his lips.
A very weak echo rose from below the cliff. "Malone."
The pair smiled at each other. "She's alive!"
"We're on our way, Marguerite!" Veronica grabbed Malone's arm, halting his rush to the edge. "Wait. The ground slopes and there's too much gravel." Removing a rope from her backpack, she knotted one end around her waist.
Malone wrapped the other end around his bended arm. "Take it easy."
Veronica smiled at his advice. Slowly she advanced toward the precipice, following the direction of the faint voice. At the edge, she leaned forward, hazarding a look over the edge. A wave of relief passed over her. "Sometimes you are so lucky it's scary, Marguerite."
The woman lying on the narrow ledge giggled with relief. "About bloody time."
Malone knotted their ropes together, then tightened his end around a near-by boulder.
The jungle girl tested the knot's strength. "Ned, stand guard. Don't look away from the jungle for a second."
During times like this Ned's ego dissolved in his respect for the woman. He aimed his rifle at the sounds emanating from the jungle. "Go on. And be careful."
In a few minutes Veronica stood over Marguerite. She laid a gentle hand on her face. "You're feverish." She noted the canteen lying open beside her. "I'm going to bandage that arm while we're still on the ledge. Once we get to the top, we've got move. There's a raptor's nest very close-by." After shedding her backpack, Veronica removed its contents. "You need water?"
"Yes. That would be nice."
Gently she lifted her friend's head and guided the canteen to her lips. Marguerite drank and asked for more. "You've got a nasty bump back there. How long have you been without water?"
"Just since this morning." She caught the jungle girl's hand. "Veronica, how's Roxton?"
Veronica stopped her bandaging. "How did you know?"
Marguerite forced a smile. "Long story. He's all right, isn't he?"
Veronica tore off the mangled sleeve and cleansed the wound. "One of the raptor's bit him. Mostly it got a mouthful of backpack, but there was some damage. He'll be mending for awhile."
"Good," the other woman winced as Veronica knotted a linen strip around her arm. "I can live without raptor stew for a few weeks." Marguerite's words slurred together. Exhaustion and relief set in.
"Don't pass out on me, Marguerite. We've got to get up the cliff."
Marguerite's dark eyes fluttered open. "And then may I pass out?"
"With my blessing."

*******

"What's all the noise?" Roxton tried to roll to his side, but gave up.
"A storm. I had hoped they'd be back by now." Challenger lit the oil lamp and set it on the tiny desk across from Roxton's cot. "Go back to sleep, John. I'll let you know when they get back."
"Who gets back?"
"Malone and Veronica. They've gone after Marguerite."
Roxton twisted to see Challenger's face. "Marguerite," he repeated unsure of the sound. "You remember her?"
Challenger adjusted the bandage on his own arm. "Don't you?"
Roxton tried to separate the dreams from his actual memory. "I-I do." His face paled even more. "We left her. George!" He tried to rise from the cot. "Bloody hell, we left her!" His voice dropped to a harsh condemning whisper. The pain on his face was not physical. "I left her."
A clap of thunder almost masked the noise of the elevator locking into place. Veronica called for Challenger.
"Lie back down, John." The scientist snatched up the oil lamp. "I'll be back and let you know how she is."
Roxton wedged his arm beneath his chest and pushed himself onto his side. "Dear God let her be alive," he whispered.
Malone rushed past his door, Marguerite in his arms. Carrying blankets, Challenger followed. A few minuets later he returned, pausing to give the now frantic man an update. "She's alive, John. High fever. We've got to get that down. Veronica's brewing Zanga bark-tea. The wound on her arm doesn't look that bad. God willing, we reached her in time."
After several minutes, Roxton managed to sit up. Veronica rushed by with a tray. Another few minutes passed and somehow Roxton forced himself to stand. Veronica halted in his doorway. "I don't have time to tend to you too if you suffer a set back. Lie back down!" she ordered.
"Give me something to do, Veronica."
Veronica heard the tremble of hysteria in his voice. "Malone, get another chair in Marguerite's room and sit Roxton in it." She turned back. "I think Marguerite knows who or what was behind our memory loss. If," the command in her voice disappeared. "When she wakes, find out. I want someone to blame."
Supporting Roxton, Malone shuffled slowly down the hall into Marguerite's room. He wrapped a blanket around the wounded man's shoulders. "Here's a cold compress. Keep it on her face. The effects of the bark-tea are slow to take hold."
Roxton smiled his thanks. "We'll be fine, Ned."
A fevered Marguerite reacted to his voice. "You left me." She shook off the compress.
Roxton winced as he scooted the chair closer. "I tried to get back to you." He ached with the memory. He eased the compress along her neck, then up to her cheeks. "I tried. I don't understand how it happened..."
"Oh, sure you do." Death loomed in the corner of the room. The brown cloak slid off as she posed sensually before the hunter. She brandished an hourglass. "Time's up," she stated with a cheery voice.
Roxton straightened. "You! You have no business here." He pointed at the hourglass, it's top almost full. "There's still plenty of sand left in that thing."
"Oh, really, Lord Roxton. What's a few minutes between old friends?"
"You can't take her."
"It's time."
Roxton jabbed his finger toward the hourglass. "She still has time."
The scythe waved in the air.
"No! You'll have to take us both!" Roxton threw himself across Marguerite. A cold enveloped him.

*******

Malone shoved a terrified Veronica out of the doorway. "No!"
Death recognized his voice. "You!"
"Yeah." Malone hurled his cup at her. "Me!" He grabbed the teapot and threw it. "Me!" Then the tray. He had to distract. "Me again!" Keep the focus on him. The stool struck her in the chest. Now he stood directly before her. He couldn't see them, but he knew Death's eyes were locked on his. "What does it take to be rid of you?" Malone leapt up and snatched the hourglass. "Veronica!" Before Death could grab it back, he tossed it over his shoulder. The jungle girl dove to the floor, barely catching it in her outstretched arms.
"It's for Roxton!" Malone shouted.
The hunter knew what that meant. Heaving himself from Marguerite, he struck the floor with a scream of pain. Veronica placed the heavy object in his hand. Together they smashed it against one of the legs of the cot.
Death's angry protest shook the treehouse. "Someday, Edward T. Malone!"
"I don't think so. I know you too well." He backed away, keeping himself between Roxton and the bellowing cloaked figure.
Then she was gone.
Challenger helped Veronica to her feet. They both struggled to return Roxton into his chair.
Malone bent over grabbing his knees. He shook uncontrollably.
A small hand grabbed his arm. "For Heaven's sake sit down before you pass out."
The young man glanced around to see Marguerite swinging her legs off the bed. His lips twitched into a grateful smile. From beneath him, he yanked a blanket then wrapped it around her. His arms lingered until the shaking stopped.
"You saw Death without the mask, didn't you?" Marguerite asked, sensing him trembling through the blanket.
"Yes," the young man acknowledged, quickly rising and turning away from his friends.
Her voice was weak, but Marguerite now understood about Malone. "I only saw her angry. She turned the color of bleached bone. The skin aged about her eyes. It got a little scary."
Malone dropped back on the bed. "You should see her when she gets really mad. It gets a lot scary."
Veronica squatted in front of him. "Are you all right?"
"I should have told you." His head hung down, eyes locked on the floor. "I just didn't think you'd believe me." He glanced at a very ashen Roxton. "But after you related Roxton's encounter, I should have told you mine." He looked up into deep blue eyes. "I wasn't strong. I was just so scared."
Veronica touched his cheek. "Ned, what?" Her fingers brushed through his hair. "Tell me."
"I told you how Askwith and I fought for the parachute. As we fell, he was screaming for me to let go. I almost had the stupid thing when something jerked me away. I thought it was the airship drawing me back, but then I saw the cloaked form of Death. I assumed I had hit the earth and... and died. Next time I opened my eyes I was in a room. It had a bed, a dining table, a huge hourglass and a beautiful woman reclining on a sofa. She wore a tight black dress and had long red hair. Her eyes were dark like shadows in flames. I asked her if I was dead and her reply was: not yet." He tried to smile. "I musta had a million questions and she sidestepped them all. Eventually I got tired and fell asleep. And I dreamed. I dreamed of London, my family, the treehouse." His hands slid over Veronica's, "You. That became my life. Eating, sleeping and talking to her. Finally it got through this thick head that I couldn't be dead. Dead people don't eat or sleep and they certainly don't dream.
"The next realization was that when she was with me, sand passed quickly from top to bottom in that hourglass. And after she'd leave, I'd sleep. Hours? Days?" He shrugged and tried to turn away. Veronica wouldn't let go of his hands. "I had no idea how much time passed. Of course, I wanted to escape. There were plenty of doors in the room but none of them would open. After awhile, I realized the bulges that appeared in the folds of her cloak were other hourglasses. Finally I put two and two together: if she really was Death then that hourglass on the table was mine and it was the control she had over me. At that point it was an easy stretch to see that breaking the hourglass would get me out of that room, either through final death or out one of those doors. I picked a time when she was gone. I lifted my hourglass and hurled the thing into the wall." Malone let out a long sigh. "Almost immediately she appeared in the middle of the room. That brown cloak lay at her feet." His fingers dug into Veronica's palms. "What little skin that remained on her festered with white pus that dripped from her skeleton face and body. That black dress was little more than maggots and worms undulating around bone. She warned me that outside the door was the spirit world. I begged her to send me back to reality. But she laughed, at least that's the closest word to the sound she made. I convinced my feet to move and walked out the closest door." He stared at his reflection in Veronica's eyes. "And the rest you know."
"Why didn't you tell us?" Veronica clenched his hands.
"I humiliated myself, Veronica. At times I begged. I pleaded. I dropped to my knees." Out of the corner of his eyes, he glanced at Roxton. "I even crawled."
Roxton let out quick snort recalling his experience with the Grim Reaper. "So did I, Malone. So did I."
"C'mon, Ned." She stood, pulling him up with her. "Let's go start dinner." They left the room but turned the opposite way from the kitchen.
Challenger jerked his eyes from where Death had stood. "Well, I guess if we're going to eat tonight, I have to cook. How do eggs sound to you two?"
Marguerite felt herself turning green, but nodded.
"Sounds delicious, George," Roxton called after the man. He gazed at the pale woman. Touching her forehead, he let out a sigh of relief. "Fever's down. That tea must be working. It's been three days since you've eaten. Think you could manage some toast?"
Supporting herself against the wall, Marguerite awkwardly got to her feet. "Will you quit worrying about me and lie down?" Blood showed through his bandage.
"You've been on a ledge for three days, Marguerite, exposed to the elements. I think..."
"I'm still in better shape than you are. Now, lie down." She extended her hand.
He pulled it to his check. "Do you forgive me?"
Her fingers caressed his grizzled chin. Her voice softened. "For what? That time with Death? Really who..."
"I left you, Marguerite." His eyes turned away from her. His voice cracked as he repeated his words. "I left you behind."
She laid a finger against his lips. "Lie down and forget about it. It wasn't your fault."
Deliberately and slowly he moved from the chair to the bed. "I left you. I promised I'd always be there for you. I broke that promise."
She pulled a blanket over him as he lay down. "John, there are some things you can't fight and win. When it truly is your time, you won't win against Death. You... you can't fight Destiny."
"I don't need to fight Destiny. My destiny is with you."
A smile tugged on her lips despite the tears in her eyes. "There's nothing to forgive."
"I left you behind, Marguerite. I see that raptor lunging for you. Then Challenger and I are walking away. I can't excuse that. How could you possibly forgive me?"
Taking a deep breath she sat in the chair next to the cot. Her back straight, she focused on the wall. "Okay. Okay. I'm sure you remember that manifestation of Adrienne."
He nodded.
"Well, the real Adrienne and I stole from a very unscrupulous man. After she disappeared, I was desperate to leave town. I stole from men too drunk to notice their wallets missing. I'm a simple, petty thief, John." Finally her posture relaxed as she looked down at him. "Do you forgive me?"
He twisted to remove the pressure from his shoulder. "On behalf of all the drunken lords, I forgive you."
"But do you forgive me?"
"Marguerite, I don't care." He fumbled for her hand. "I did some things to get over William's death that..."
Each word was a question. "Do you forgive me?"
"But that was..."
"Me." She held his chin and forced him to look at her. "Nothing possessed me and forced me to do it against my will. I wasn't a spy or a triple agent. I was a frightened girl trying to get out of Paris to avoid the same fate her best friend suffered. I took from rich and poor men."
"It's different, Marguerite. I left you behind to die. You did what you did to survive."
"Drop any and all excuses, Roxton. What I did was wrong. Can you forgive me?"
He pulled her hand until she lay next to him. Lifting the hair from her face, he whispered, "I forgive you. There is nothing I would not and will not forgive." He stared into her eyes. "Except leaving me."
"Then I can forgive you." She laid her hand against his chest. "And while on this infernal plateau, I will not leave you, John."
He opened his mouth to speak. She pinched his lips closed as an empty smile settled on her own face. "This subject is closed. Nod your head that you understand," she teased. Removing her fingers, she lightly kissed his forehead, avoiding the question in his eyes. "Now rest and dream of George's cooking." His somber expression didn't reflect her smile. "I'll be here when you wake."
She moved back to the chair. Tucking the blanket around him, Marguerite watched him until his eyes closed in exhaustion. Relaxing in the chair, she thought of London and what is was like before their journey and what it could be like when they returned.

The smell of raptor stew assaulted their senses as they stepped from the elevator.
Veronica covered her noise.
Marguerite dropped her laundry basket loudly on the table. "Roxton!"
The man at the stove flashed a guilty smile. "Malone and Challenger had work to do at the wind-mill. You and Veronica had laundry." He gestured at the pot over the cooking fire. "This was the very least I could do."
Hands on hips, Marguerite stomped toward him. "No. The very most you can do is sit on your," her eyes darted toward Veronica, "keister and mend."
Roxton backed away from her wagging finger. "Marguerite, the stew will burn if someone doesn't keep stirring it."
Veronica shuddered. "I'll hang up the clothes to dry and stir every so often."
"Back to your room," Marguerite ordered.
"I'm fine. Really. As a matter-of-fact, I'm feeling so much better I'm going hunting with Malone tomorrow."
"What!"
Veronica's laughter rang behind them.
Roxton's head bobbed in embarrassment. "Marguerite, Summerlee always said exercise helps healing."
Marguerite closed the curtain behind them. "This entire plateau is an infection waiting to happen. Do have any idea where that raptor's tongue had been?"
He motion at the red whelps visible on her arm. "Do have any idea where that raptor scratched?"
Snatching up his holster and belt from the desktop, Marguerite hurled them at him.
He caught them. His grimace of pain quickly gave way to a loud moan as they dropped from his hand onto the floor. With an exasperated grunt, he plopped onto his cot.
Her point made, Marguerite planted herself in front over him."You're not going anywhere tomorrow... even if it means I have to sit on you."
"That would stop me," he agreed. His temper faded in a mischievous smile. "And how exactly would you do this? Would you prefer me to be lying down when you...?"
"Lord Roxton!" Marguerite gasped. Her feigned outrage disappeared in her snickering.
"Perhaps, then, when I'm sitting up." His reflexes were back. Before she could react, the hunter pulled her onto his lap. "If we do this tomorrow, I'll definitely forgo that hunting trip. But you may just need to stay here to prevent me from sneaking out. I do rise earlier in the morning than you do."
She folded her arms deliberately across her chest. "Every scandalous story I heard about you in London was true, wasn't it?"
"In spirit, perhaps."
"Really. Someday we'll have to compare notes. I'd be interested in separating the gossip from the truth."
"Something tells me the gossip would be much more fun." He leaned her back, the fingers of one hand weaving through her long locks. Reflexively, one of her hands locked behind his head. "It was reported that I did this with Lady Julie Nelson." His other hand outlined her chin, drifting to her lips. "It was supposed to be late one afternoon." He kissed the tip of her nose. "In one of the gazebos near the pond on Avebury." His breath was ragged in her ear. "I've always been curious if it could be as pleasurable as she said it was."