Marguerite awoke alone. Throwing on her dressing gown, she padded barefoot to Roxton's room. It was empty and the bed still neatly made. Dejected, she returned to her own room and dressed. She was still buttoning her blouse when she started up to the main room.
The lovely aroma of freshly brewing coffee put a smile on her lips and wings on her feet. She burst into the room to find Roxton placing a heaping plate of food on the table. "The coffee smells wonderful," she explained her hasty entry.
"Good morning," he looked up, greeted her with a broad smile, and pulled out a chair for her. The specters of defeat which had assailed him for the past few days had been banished. The loss of his friends and family would always grieve him, but his future was crossing the room toward him.
"Not hunting today?"
"Today's hunting I figure to do indoors," he replied with a wolfish was standing in front of him. He leaned down and added suggestively, "I don't expect a difficult chase."
"You seem awfully sure of yourself, you Lordship."
"Any reason I shouldn't be?" he asked, taking her hand and drawing her close.
"Many," she replied breathily, "but right at this moment, I can't think of even one." She melted easily into his arms. When their lips met, breakfast and even coffee were forgotten. Marguerite linked her hands behind his head and pressed against him suggestively.
"Um," the hunter noted, "not much of a chase at all." He nuzzled her neck, enjoying the quiet sighs of his beloved. Marguerite's fingers found their way to his shirt front and began busily unbuttoning the crisp garment. She slipped her hands beneath the blue fabric to revel in his firm, muscled chest. Following her lead, Roxton made short work of her flimsy blouse. As his lips caressed the inviting creaminess of her shoulder, his hand found the camisole's fastenings.
The grinding of the elevator ended their interlude.
As they hastily pulled their clothing together, Marguerite suggested hopefully, "Veronica?"
"Or Malone," Roxton added. They waited while the elevator made its interminably slow ascent, but when the cage came into view, appeared to be empty.
In disbelief, the heiress asked, "But who sent the elevator?"
"Yes, good question," Roxton replied heading for the gun rack.
The elevator ground to a halt. There on the floor lay a heap of dirty and bloodied rags. A low moan emanated from the rags as they shifted. The couple hurried over and helped Professor George Challenger up and into the room.
Laying him on the couch, they fussed over him and examined his injuries. He had a deep laceration across his forehead which seemed to be his worst wound. He was covered in cuts and scrapes, but he was also dehydrated and appeared to have not eaten in days.
After cleaning him up, Marguerite got busy and sewed the gash on his forehead. Roxton forced water down the semi-conscious man's parched throat.
Fevered, the scientist slept on and off for the next several hours. He was barely cognizant when awake. His friends feared that the cut on his head had caused serious damage to his intellect.
They sat with him most of the night. Finally, his fever broke and he slept peacefully.
It was late the next day when Challenger finally rejoined them, fully attentive.
"George, old boy," Roxton said jovially, "we thought we'd really lost you this time."
"I wasn't so sure you hadn't," was the scientist's answer.
Bringing him a steaming cup of tea, Marguerite asked, "How did you escape? Roxton has been back every day looking for you." The hunter shot a quick, questioning look at her. He hadn't realized that she'd known where he went each day. But he should have – she knew him so well.
Challenger took a long, grateful sip of the tea which was heavily laced with honey, then began his story. "I assume it was Roxton who caused the commotion with the trog's fire. They seemed panicked. They snatched me from the pole and threw me into a small cave in the cliff-side. I didn't know what they'd done with Marguerite, so I had to believe that you, Roxton, had saved her. I lay there alone in the dark for some time, until my eyes adjusted to the low light. Then, I saw a small opening just barely large enough for me to squeeze into.
"The tunnel would narrow, then widen only to narrow again. A few times it was so tight I was nearly trapped. After hours of crawling in pitch blackness, it finally opened into what felt like a very large cavern. I couldn't even see my hand in front of my face, so I felt my way along.
"At some point, I found a stalactite, or rather, it found me," he indicated the wound on his head. "I have no way of knowing how long I was unconscious, but when I woke, I was completely disoriented, so I just stumbled along trying to find a way out, hoping to find water. When I finally saw light ahead, I was afraid it was no more than an illusion. Feeling that fresh air reach my lungs and the sun on my face was pure bliss.
"I don't know how I made it back here. I don't remember leaving the cave entrance."
"It doesn't matter," Marguerite smiled, "you're home now."
Roxton got up and walked out onto the balcony. Marguerite watched him with concern and then turned to Challenger, "Anything you need," she smiled, "just let us know." She patted his arm and followed Roxton. He was leaning heavily on the railing. "John," she worried that his self deprecation had returned. "Are you…"
He didn't give her a chance to finish. Turning, he captured her in a hug which nearly smothered her. The tears he hadn't allowed himself before were streaming down his face into her hair, yet he was smiling.
Not being good with emotional idiosyncrasies, she just let him hold her. Roxton felt whole. He had the woman he loved, his best friend was safe, and he was living in a place he enjoyed. Best of all, he felt forgiven.
For the first time in ages, he was whole again.