Summary: Marguerite decides it's time to tell Roxton about an important event in her past.
Disclaimer & Note: See Part I
Part II : Oh no, it couldn't be. He couldn't have been the Jack that "rescued" her only to take her virginity anyway. No, it couldn't be. Lord, let it not be… "Me?"
Part III: Time to Savor
~~~The Lost World~~~The Lost World~~~The Lost World~~~
She nodded, brow furrowed as she watched the anguished thoughts flash across his face.
"Jack – it was me who bought you at that bloody auction?" For a moment his stomach turned and he feared he would be sick. He'd ruined her! He'd seduced her! He'd -
Marguerite pulled her hand from his and cupped his face with both hands, forcing him to focus on her, speaking sternly. "Yes, it was you, John. You rescued me. You were my knight in shining armor that night, and you were my first lover. And don't you dare ruin my memory of that by vomiting up the contents of your stomach at the moment you find out!"
He groaned and swallowed back the bile under influence of the vulnerable, pleading gaze so at odds with the steely tone of her voice. But he couldn't mentally reconcile himself to the truth as easily as he controlled his physical reaction. "No! How could I do that – even stone drunk, how could I betray you like that?" And almost as confusing and disturbing – if she'd really thought of him as her hero, why had she taken his cash and run off? There had to be a logical explanation, but he couldn't find it, torn between remembrance of the aftermath of his insane chivalry and the awful weight of the knowledge that he'd bought and used Marguerite. The distraught nobleman tried to separate himself from physical proximity with the woman he loved.
Determined to make him understand what had happened, she twisted with him and, when he tried to push her away, ended up straddling him, her skirt riding up her thighs as she bodily pressed him against the woven ropes of the hammock to keep him getting to his feet.
He froze as she settled on him, all-too-aware of the soft, warm curves pressed against him. She quickly regained her balance, and he winced at the flash of anger and determination evident in her storm-grey eyes.
"John Richard Roxton, you listen to me!" she demanded, leaning forward to pin him to the back of the hammock with a hand on each shoulder. "Jack – YOU – came up with the only idea that was remotely feasible, the only plan that made any sense for a seventeen year old girl with limited skills and no connections. You did NOT betray me," she glared fiercely down at him.
"There's nothing you can say that would –" He was silenced by her mouth sealing his as she kissed him, long and hard. Combined with her position on his lap, he knew in seconds that he'd lost the battle, his body responding to hers quite instinctively regardless of his emotional turmoil.
Marguerite didn't hold back one iota, and by the time she broke off the kiss he was clasping her as closely as he could, given his painfully-tented trousers. Although she was flushed with equal ardor, she met his gaze with all-too-familiar determination. "John," she pleaded huskily. "Please hear me out."
He rested his hands on her hips, absently caressing with his thumbs as he tried to get his own breathing under control again, not an easy task when he could see how his touch made her shiver. Foggily, still distracted by the feel of her body so temptingly atop his own, tried to remember what had they been talking about.
Seeing that he was temporarily bemused, Marguerite took advantage of the opportunity to present her defense of his younger self. "The only way to keep me from being at the mercy of others was to give me the tools I would need to become a first class courtesan." She winced as his grip on her hips abruptly tightened again and his gaze narrowed onto her face, but now that she had his full attention again she doggedly continued. "You didn't ruin me, John. You taught me everything I would need to know so that I could move in the highest circles instead of ending up in some lice-ridden bordello or out on the streets servicing anyone and everyone."
Roxton glowered at the thought of her in such a vulnerable position, and uttered the first thought into his head. "I could have asked you to marry me," he shot back. "You were young and impressionable. You'd have said yes, and then we could have been together all this time instead of you going through these years alone. I could have helped you find your family. You would have been safe."
Marguerite's lips parted in a silent gasp of surprise. Her expression softened, and she leaned forward and kissed him again, tenderly but briefly. "You are the most adorable man," she said affectionately. "You're wrong, of course, but it was a lovely notion, and I thank you for it."
"What do you mean, wrong?" he frowned.
"Just think what your mother would have said if you'd taken me home and told her you bought me at an auction," she grinned.
He grimaced. She had no idea he already knew exactly what his mother would have said about his buying a virgin at an auction.
She nodded. "I was barely more than a schoolgirl. Your family would never have accepted such a match, and back then I'd never have known how to help you with what you were going through. Besides," she added, gaze darkening, "if I had married you then there would never have been a Parsifal. As difficult as my life sometimes was, I'd do it again, John. Parsifal was needed. It may sound conceited, but the war might have ended very differently if not for Parsifal."
John didn't like it… and he still didn't understand how it could have happened, but there was nothing he could say other than to agree. "I know enough to know you're far from conceited to believe your work was vital to defeating Kaiser Wilhelm," he acknowledged somberly, raising one hand to cup her cheek. "But I love you. I don't have to like the danger you were in, Marguerite."
She turned her face to press a light kiss to his palm, and again deliberately misunderstood him in order to get back to the topic at hand. "Being a courtesan isn't all that dangerous, John, not when you consider the alternatives. It was a logical solution."
He frowned at her for doing it again, but didn't call her on it. A courtesan… Much as he hated to entertain the concept, he had to admit that his younger inebriated self had miraculously stumbled across the most viable plan available. A courtesan had been the safest and most likely profession to offer a beautiful young lady any chance at a decent future, given the circumstances she'd been in at the time. Was it possible that this made some kind of macabre sense after all?
"You taught me about the pleasure human bodies can experience, the things a woman can do to please a man, and how a man could and should arouse and satisfy a woman." Seeing that he was truly listening now, beginning to understand and believe her, she smirked and risked teasing him a little. "And did you ever satisfy me! You really were a wonderful first lover, John, I promise you."
He couldn't help but chuckle at the lusty pleasure in her tone and expression. He also recalled how she'd admitted, earlier, that she'd kept her distance from him when they'd started on the expedition because she could easily feel too much for him, based on her experience with Jack – with him! – and that she'd long ago come to believe that any kind of deep feeling was dangerous, again, because of what she'd already had with him! Amazing! But deciding what to do with this new knowledge would have to wait; she was still speaking and there were still facets of this that he needed to know.
Encouraged by his thoughtful expression, she warmly confided, "You also gave me my first pistol and showed me how to use it. And the next day you took me shopping and saw to it that I had not only a carpetbag but also a proper travel trunk full of decent clothing and toiletries. You hired me a maid, a French girl who wanted to get back home to her family, and you personally drove us to Dover and secured a private cabin on the first ship sailing to Calais. When you escorted me onto the deck of that ship, you bowed over my gloved hand and kissed it as we said goodbye, as if I deserved your courtesy and respect. That captain and his sailors treated me like a duchess every second of that trip, and saw me safely to a reputable boarding house when we landed in France, because of the deference with which you treated me. You did everything you could to give me the best future permitted by my lack of respectable options. Oh, and did I mention that you insisted on my taking every last bit of currency you had available?"
So that was what had happened to his pocket money! It probably wouldn't be a good idea to tell her that both his mother and the Roxton family lawyer had repeatedly and severely berated him for impoverishing the Estate to buy a virgin who'd then stolen every cent he had – or so they'd all assumed back then, since no one had any idea what became of the girl. He must've done a very good job covering up the process of slipping her out of the country, because her trip to Calais had never been discovered by either his lawyer or the people hired to try to recover what had been "stolen".
Roxton decided it wouldn't be a good idea to tell her that his family estate had been forced into serious economies to recoup the erosion of its principal after he'd made good on his auction vowels. Also better never to let on that many of his subsequent trips "adventuring" had been for the sake of bringing home trophies that could be sold to contribute to the estate coffers to make up for that single act of knight errantry – not that anyone, including himself, had realized that it had been a noble gesture. His poor mother and their lawyer, and indeed, John himself, had considered his drunken purchase of the virgin to be a flagrant bit of profligacy that had nearly ruined the family.
Marguerite apparently didn't know about this aspect of their first meeting – an astonishing fact, considering her counter-intelligence expertise! He'd have to express his appreciation for the amazing level of discretion shown by the family retainers! Knowing how deeply his lady doubted that she deserved his love, it would be best to keep the financial costs of their initial meeting to himself. He didn't regret it now – in fact, now that he knew the whole story, he was bloody delighted to realize that some good had come of his intoxicated impulse to bid on her. But he'd make himself crazy if he thought too much about the fact that he was the one that had set her on a life path that had led to so much hardship for her, regardless of the fact that the difficult path had enabled her to become Parsifal and eventually brought her back to him.
No, much better to dwell on the remarkable truth that his appreciative gaze had been the first to see her delectable body, to touch her and to introduce her to the realm of physical gratification. According to her, it had been as good as he'd wished it could be for her. He could be thankful for that, at least. His lips began to turn upward as his determination to look at the bright side opened a slew of other connections. Suddenly much more began to make sense as scenes from the past few years flashed through his mind.
"What?" she asked at his growing smile.
"This is why you were so irate with me in Challenger's study when I was scarcely civil to you and then disparaged your ability to cope with such an expedition. You were barely ruffled by the other men's condescension, but the sneer of the man who once told you never to let anyone treat you as anything less than a lady stung you much more deeply, didn't it?" he teased. "I guess I'm lucky you only shot between my legs instead of a little higher."
Marguerite chuckled. "Yes you were. You were also lucky I didn't do more than bite your lip when you kissed me our first night here in the treehouse."
Roxton waggled his brows. "But you were such a tempting trophy, my dear!" She was right, though. His blatant lust in pursuit of a lovely conquest was the absolute antithesis of all he'd stood for in her memory of her first lover.
It was only natural, after such a poor showing on his part, that she'd resisted his advances at the onset of the expedition; she'd known who he was, and she'd known that his initial "rescue" and his amorous skills of so long ago had left her both physically and emotionally vulnerable to him, regardless of whether he remembered her or not.
Marguerite nodded, and confided with a rueful smile, "My view of you as Jack, my knight in shining armor, made it all too easy to trust you and follow your lead those first months after we were stranded here, in spite of your cavalier behavior and disapproval of me. I knew there was more to you than the brusque, oft-callous and brash persona you'd adopted in the years since our original meeting."
"Just as I suspected there was more to you than met the eye," he said, gently cupping her cheek. He'd always thought, given the strange semi-antagonistic relationship that had existed between them at the start of Challenger's expedition, that it must be the solid reputation he'd built through years of hunting and adventuring that led her to trust him, albeit reluctantly back then. Instead, he now knew it had been the tender emotions she still cherished for her very first hero that explained why she'd so often turned to him, against all reason, to get them out of trouble.
"Even if you were my Jack," she admitted, "I had to be careful."
"You were protecting us from who you'd become, from Parsifal and Xhan and all of the associated dangers."
Marguerite turned her head and kissed his palm in thanks for the way he said it, as an accepted fact. It was balm to her soul, after his initial doubt about her reason for keeping her secrets for so long.
Seeing the shadow growing in her face, and guessing at the memories his words had provoked, he swiftly offered, "So was it your tender emotions for Jack that had led to your willingness to listen as I talked out my feelings about losing my vampiric senses after you freed me from Calista? And was that what you were referring to in Paradise when you asked me to let you be who you are instead of who you were, you know, when you were under the influence of Kirin's eternity fruit? Not to mention a plethora of other mixed signals you've evidenced over our years here," he added with a smirk and a quirked brow.
She chuckled. "Yeah," she admitted fondly, "I daresay those tender emotions for Jack definitely accounted for quite a few mixed signals. Especially if you take into consideration my feelings for the man I've discovered you to be since we met again."
Wait a minute – that reminded him that she'd said he hadn't remembered meeting her when their paths crossed only a couple years later. That meant he must have met her again at least four or five years before their memorable meeting in London. How in the world could he have missed a gem like Marguerite the next time they'd met? Why didn't he remember meeting her prior to Challenger's seminar?
"Marguerite, you said you found out about my drinking after investigating that time in my life because I failed to remember you the second time we met. I stopped drinking after… after… you." He had to remember to watch what he said. He'd almost said 'after I decimated the family fortunes by buying you', and that would never do. He moved on quickly, "How is it that I don't remember you before Challenger's lecture?"
She wrote off his odd hesitation as his continued discomfort with the fact that he'd taken her virginity under less than favorable circumstances, and instead focused on the fact that he was now willing to hear more. "It was in Monte Carlo, not long after Adrienne's death," she answered promptly. "I was at a house party, and you dropped in for a few days on your way back to England. At the time, I was carrying out Adrienne's and my plan to find a handsome prince." She paused for a mere fraction of a second, and then flushed a little as she admitted with carefully casual candor, "When I first saw you from a window, I thought fate was blessing me with a dream come true. I waited for you outside your chamber and tried to talk with you when you emerged for dinner the night of your arrival. Naturally you must have thought I was just another fortune or title hunting female trying to ensnare you – which, of course, is exactly what I was and what I hoped," she smiled with self-deprecating humor.
Roxton bit back a groan, knowing full well how coldly and rudely he would have repulsed an apparently bold, predatory young woman in those days so soon after he'd become the target of matching-making, scheming mothers and daughters, especially if she'd behaved with what he'd have perceived as unwarranted familiarity. She would have expected a warm greeting from an old friend, still thinking him to be her hero. It must have hurt Marguerite terribly to have him curl his lip in disdain and set her aside without so much as a first glance.
Worse still, his idiotic self-absorbed attempt to protect himself had prevented him from meeting her and possibly saving her from the hardship of the experiences she would soon face, still alone and vulnerable to those who would use her. Two chances to become part of her life – gone due to his character flaws! If he'd only been less pompous, they could have been together years ago! He could have – should have – helped her, and instead, he'd added to her pain.
When he said as much, though, she shrugged as if his treatment of her this second time around hadn't bothered her. "Once I knew the facts, I understood why you snubbed me when I accosted you so informally and improperly. It took me several days of asking discreet questions to gather enough information to figure out that you had no idea who I was, and to accept that you truly didn't remember me at all. By then," she smiled wryly, "You had already continued your trip."
She must have been crushed, at least at first! It would have been yet another reason for her to regard him warily when they'd met the third time – and yet, miraculously, she was now his! He silently vowed to himself that he would use what he now knew to give her what he should have given her then… starting immediately. Their relationship had been building for much longer than he'd realized; she had waited for him for far too long now. "Why didn't you come after me?" he asked gruffly, bending his head to nibble softly along her jaw toward one ear.
Marguerite's lashes fluttered as his teeth closed over her earlobe. "M-my resources were not unlimited at the time. I…" her voice trailed off as Roxton's tongue dipped into her ear and slowly licked. "I- I had no means of following. And even if I could have -" she swallowed hard as he blew lightly across her lobe. "You weren't the gentle, patient lover I remembered so fondly. I didn't know you well enough to know which was the real you – oh, John," she breathed, arching against him as his lips moved to the vulnerably erotic zone beneath her ear.
"Good?" he teased against her skin as his lips moved on down her throat. "Did I do this to you that first night, Marguerite? Or this?" He lightly kissed her wildly-beating pulse point.
Breathlessly she retorted, "Oh now you want the details?"
"Definitely," he murmured as he laved moist kisses back up her neck and along her jaw, pleased at the tremors he could feel race through her slender frame. "I think I should be privy to every bit of information about such a memorable occasion. In fact, I'm strongly of the opinion that we should reenact it as soon as possible, so that I can share in at least a little part in your memories of that encounter…" He claimed her lips and she melted against him, responding eagerly to his enticing kisses. "Don't you agree?" he whispered as he nipped her now-swollen lower lip.
Marguerite was rapidly losing her ability to concentrate. One of his large hands was massaging her scalp, something he knew she found very arousing, while his other hand was lightly stroking her side, tantalizingly close to her breast, but not close enough… She squirmed against him, shamelessly delighted with the resulting twitch of the solid mass where their lower bodies met.
He groaned at the almost painful increase in his arousal, but continued his sensual ministrations while he considered how to proceed. So, as her first lover, how would he have introduced an uncertain young virgin to the delights of the flesh? He'd had a good deal less technique back then, but he'd been far from inexperienced. She'd said tonight that most of what she knew of physical pleasure had come from that first liaison with his younger self. He fully intended to use his new knowledge to overcome any further objections she might raise to his ultimate goal.
"Did I do this, Marguerite?" he whispered, and she swallowed hard as she followed his gaze down to where his fingers deftly twisted open first one blouse button, then another, and a third…
"Roxton, Marguerite? Are you still out here?" Malone called.
Frozen, they stared at one another. "Maybe he'll go away," she whispered.
Regretfully shaking his head, John re-buttoned the lowest ivory disk. "Maybe if it was Veronica or Challenger, they'd turn back if we didn't answer," he whispered back. "Not Neddy. He'll keep coming."
"Roxton? Marguerite?" Now they could hear Ned's footsteps nearing.
The Great War's most fabled triple agent scrambled backward off the lap of her startled lover, and grabbed his hand. Placing a finger on her lips, she tugged him from the hanging chair.
Bemused, he instinctively mimicked her silent movements as he followed quickly after her – straight to the window of her bedroom! Marguerite released his hand and, with one smooth continuous movement, perched on the sill just long enough to draw her legs close to her chest as she swiveled and slipped soundlessly through the curtains into the dark interior.
Roxton blinked, staring at where she'd just been. Had she just voluntarily revealed another secret for the sake of continuing their lovemaking?
A slim arm reached back out through the cloth panels, and her small hand grasped his shirtfront and yanked him forward.
Startled back to the realization that Ned was nearing the curve of the balcony where he'd be able to see this section, John let the momentum of Marguerite's pull carry his upper body through the window, then gave a push off the sill with his hands and dove into a rolling landing that brought him to his feet well within her bedroom, only saved from stumbling into her bed by her arm around his waist. She guided him backwards into the deepest shadows of her room, and his arms settled around her as they stopped. They both held still as they heard Ned halt on the other side of the bamboo wall.
"It's not that late; I was sure they'd still be up," the reporter said in disappointment. "I was hoping Marguerite would translate this for me tonight."
"I told you," Veronica said patiently, keeping her voice low. "I know she says this is her favorite spot on the balcony, but I've hardly ever actually seen her here."
Roxton snickered. So he wasn't the only one she'd pulled this vanishing act on over the years! And now he'd seen her do it! He smirked at the thought of this fodder for teasing her.
"Her light's out, too, so you'll have to wait until tomorrow," Veronica continued. "That coffee you made to bribe her should be ready by now. Come back to the great room and have a cup."
Roxton could feel his lady's shoulders shaking with laughter, her face buried against his chest to muffle the sound as the younger couple headed back to the main section of the treehouse, Ned protesting that the coffee hadn't been a bribe. As soon as their fading voices proved they were far enough away not to hear her, she raised her head and asked in rueful amusement. "This was a bad impulse, wasn't it? You're never going to let me hear the end of this, are you?"
"Absolutely not," he confirmed, smiling down at her. "I'm delighted that you let me in on this particular trick. It's not something I'd care to do too often, but I have to admit I can see the attraction. I wasn't in the mood to share you with the others."
She nodded, and as his gaze adjusted to the darkened room, he caught a glimpse of a twinkle in her eyes. "No," she agreed huskily, "That's not what I was in the mood for, either." She hooked a finger through his belt and sidled backwards toward her bed, towing him along. "Now where were we?"
"Allow me to remind you," he murmured, willingly following her. He lowered her to the herb-and-rush stuffed mattress and stretched out at her side. Bending his head over hers, he covered her mouth with his and kissed her with tender, lingering passion.
The lovely brunette responded with equal passion, aware that he was once again working to undo the buttons of her blouse. She'd always reveled in his kisses, and anticipation of what was to come only heightened her enjoyment. She was soon lost in sensation again.
Enchanted with her whole-hearted ardor, her suitor seized his moment. "Marry me, Marguerite," he whispered against her lips. "Make me the happiest man alive. Say you'll have me as your husband…" He continued to kiss her for a few more minutes, and asked again, this time against the wildly beating pulse point at the base of her neck. "Marry me, Marguerite?"
"Yes," she whispered back, trembling under the assault of his hands and mouth.
"Promise?" he breathed across her bared shoulder.
"Oh yes," she agreed.
Roxton raised his head, gazed into her eyes, and smiled. "Thank you, Marguerite."
It took a moment for her mind to clear. She blinked and stilled in his arms. "Oh. Oh… oh, that wasn't fair, John. That was really…" she bit her lip in consternation.
"I love you. You love me. We belong together. It wasn't right when we met before, but it's the right time now, Marguerite. Challenger could preside over our vows, with Ned and Veronica as our witnesses. You know they'd be ecstatic."
She shook her head. "John, you know we can't."
"Do you love me?"
"That has nothing to do with it."
"Do you love me?" he persisted.
She sighed. "You know I do."
"Do you have any doubt that I love you?"
Her eyes rolled. "You're an idiot who doesn't know what's best for him," she retorted without heat.
"I'll take that to mean you know I love you," he smirked, but then grew solemn. "What you don't realize is that I know exactly what's best for me. There's only one qualification I'm looking for in a life partner; she has to love me exactly as I am."
She studied his handsome face for a long moment before she asked softly, "So I'm going to be Lady Marguerite Roxton?"
"You did promise," he nodded with a lopsided grin. "And I most definitely intend to hold you to it, so you may as well get used to the idea." He pressed a kiss to her forehead. "Besides, do you remember that incriminating paper with the doodled wedding clothes and your name mixed with mine? I still have that, you know."
Marguerite turned on her side and wrapped her arms around him. "I do love you, John," she confided, curling into him.
He smoothed her hair down her back, swallowing an unexpected lump in his throat. She had just accepted his proposal! "You won't regret it, my love" he answered, and his smile widened at the feeling of a butterfly-light kiss pressed to his chin.
"You're a hopeless romantic," she chided, but she smiled as she molded herself more closely to him, with the obvious intention of continuing where they'd left off. She was caught off guard by a wide yawn that interrupted her attempt to kiss him. She blinked and gasped, "Oh, I beg your pardon!"
Roxton chuckled. "It's alright. I'm tired, too, and it is getting late. What say we try for a little shut eye?" he suggested, remembering how exhausting their day had been.
"But…?" she broke off for another yawn before she could finish wistfully, "We were going to recreate the first time we met."
The adrenalin that had carried her through sharing her story, evading Ned, and their interrupted lovemaking was now spent, and he could see that her energy had wholly flagged. That suited his purposes, since he'd never intended to carry through on their lovemaking. Her weariness was the perfect excuse to avoid having that argument with her again. So he brushed her hair back from her forehead and whispered tenderly, "Shh. Not tonight, my love. We've waited this long to relive old memories and make new ones together, we can wait a little longer. Go to sleep now."
Marguerite gave a token mewl of protest, but couldn't keep her eyes open. John continued to stroke her hair, knowing it helped her relax. It worked just as well in bed as it had on their hammock swing, and she was still faintly smiling when her breathing evened out as she slipped into slumber curled to his side.
Roxton stayed awake a while longer, drowsily considering the next steps. He'd already intended to give Marguerite the old pirate ring that had become a Roxton family heirloom. With a little thread wrapped around the inside band, it would do as a wedding band until he could get her something more feminine and reflective of her own beauty. The ring was the only actual item required for the ceremony, so now that she'd finally agreed to marry him, all that remained was to persuade their housemates to arrange and perform a proper marriage ceremony.
Challenger had already hinted privately that he'd be honored to perform the service. Roxton had no doubt that Ned and Veronica would eagerly accept the roles of best man and maid of honor. Flowers and a wedding cake wouldn't be a problem, either. If he wasn't mistaken, they still had one last bottle of the champagne gifted to them by the Hagan. In lieu of an orchestra, Veronica's gramophone would provide the music for a wedding dance...
Dancing! He suddenly recalled Marguerite's surprised amusement when he'd asked her to teach him the waltz, and her laughter at his deliberate clumsiness. Now he understood why that whole scenario had gone so smoothly. She'd danced with Jack, so she'd known all along that John knew full well how to dance. Of course she'd realized it was a ploy on his part to flirt with her, and she'd played along, allowing him his game. Knowing Marguerite, she'd probably enjoyed secretly being in on his plot as much or more than he'd enjoyed revealing his "hidden" expertise at waltzing.
He pressed a tender kiss to his lady's forehead. She was a minx, and she'd doubtless lead him a merry dance for the rest of their lives.
She'd labeled him a romantic, but he'd soon show her what true romance was all about. If the shifting planes of reality and near-daily misadventures of life on the Plateau didn't interfere, he'd be married to his lady within the next couple days. They would honeymoon at the Inland Sea, camped up in the one-room treehouse he'd erected after their last 'vacation' there. During the day they would build sandcastles and swim, enjoy picnic meals as they watched the tide ebb and flow, and walk hand-in-hand along the waterfront. And they'd finish each day together on the beach in the moonlight. He'd learned a thing or two about lovemaking since his salad days and he fully intended to do far more with Marguerite than merely reenact the first time they'd met.
~~~The Lost World~~~The Lost World~~~The Lost World~~~