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A Symbol of His Love

"...she turned to gaze at Roxton's sleeping body lying next to hers..."

With the sky still blanketed in dark shadows, Marguerite awoke slowly and realized she was not alone in her small bed. The before dawn scent, drifting through the open window, blended with the familiar aroma of the man whom she had spent the better part of the last two years with, and then she remembered last night.

A smile spread across her face as she turned to gaze at Roxton's sleeping body lying next to hers. Knowing it was safe to stare at his ruggedly handsome face, with no chance of being teased by Malone or Veronica, she took full advantage of the moment.

She sighed deeply, for the hundredth time since the handsome hunter burst into her room uninvited the night before. How could one man have such an affect on her emotions? He was the only man so far in her life that had brought her to tears during lovemaking, tears of release and passion.

These sweet remembrances were quickly replaced with the unpleasant thought of how it would look when Roxton left her bedroom to the stares of the other treehouse residents. It would no doubt produce smirks from Malone and Veronica, and they would all have to listen to those embarrassed grunts from Challenger. Marguerite knew she wasn't ready to explain why Roxton had spent the night in her room instead of his own.

"Wake up, John!" Marguerite leaned in to John's face and shook his arm. "Wake up."

John opened his eyes suddenly, expecting the danger that normally awaited him when his sleep was disturbed so abruptly.

His body relaxed as his eyes rested on his new love's face. With his large calloused hands, he pulled her face down to his, kissing her lips gently as he whispered, "You're awake early." He kept kissing her lightly around her face and neck saying, "Is there something you need this morning, my love?"

"John, you have to get up. You have to go back to your room before the others wake up." It was becoming more and more difficult to resist his urgent advances, so she pulled away and sat up reaching for his pants still lying crumpled on the floor next to the bed. "Here, get dressed...and hurry. It's almost dawn."

He sat up reluctantly and wrapping both arms around her naked shoulders, pushed her long dark hair to the side and began brushing his lips across the nape of her neck. "That's not what you said last night," he murmured against her warm skin, as his other hand slid down to caress her breast.

"John, please....I don't want the others to know you spent the night in here. I'm not ready for this ....this...well, you know what I be public knowledge. Let's keep it between us, for now."

"Oh... sweetheart.. don't you think they already know about us?"

"John, maybe they know how we feel, but I don't want them to know we slept together."

"Marguerite, you're acting like a school girl. We're not teenagers any more, we're both consenting adults." John slowly pulled his khakis up over his long sturdy legs, and a bit of sarcasm crept into his voice. He turned to see she had wrapped a sheet around her naked body, that exquisite body that had taken him to the brink of ecstasy last night and tumbled him into the abyss called heaven on earth.

He reached out to pull her pouting body back into his arms, and she softly moaned as his lips found their way to hers. "But if it makes you happy and puts a smile back on that face I love, then I'll go back to my room."

On the way to the staircase, he grabbed his shirt and boots which had been flung across the room the night before and turned, taking one last look. "This....has only begun, Marguerite. I will be back."


When his bare, brawny back turned the corner of the stairwell taking him out of sight, Marguerite almost faltered wanting desperately to call him back. Outside her window, she could hear the pre-dawn birds already beginning to converse with each other. She knew the others would be up soon, and in her heart she was sure she'd made the right decision.

She turned to face the empty bed, picked up the pillow and brought it up to her face, breathing in Roxton's scent that now permeated the fabric of the linen case. As she laid back down, she crumpled the pillow carefully to her body, squeezing it close to her breasts and stomach imagining it was the body of her new love and lover. Lover...what a curious sound. Lover. She and John...lovers.

With those words fresh in her memory, she closed her eyes drifting back into that sweet slumber that only comes after a night of blissful revelations.


"Not a word, Malone...not a word to anyone."

John walked lightly across the bare, wooden-planked floor of the treehouse, and smiled at Marguerite's fear of being 'found out'. His mind hearkened back to previous escapades with the women in his past. He could remember sneaking out of many a bedroom before sunrise in an effort to save the reputation of his current conquest.

He knew in his heart though that Marguerite meant much more to him than a conquest. His feelings for her, and the pleasures they brought to each other last night, were so foreign from anything he had experienced before. But it felt right having the love of one woman.

This was definitely not a fling, or a one-night happening. This was real, and he wanted to hold on to her forever. Now that he had found the one great love of his life, he wasn't about to lose her. That's why he had agreed so quickly to the secrecy Marguerite had pleaded for in her bedroom. He would do anything to keep a smile on that enchanting face, and an open invitation to her bed.

Before he had time to cross the length of the kitchen, Malone came stumbling out of his room heading for the water canister. Nearly colliding with Roxton, he said, "You're up early."

"Just needed a quick drink of water."

Malone nodding sleepily said, " too." Then added, "Uh...Roxton...did you sleep in your clothes last night? And....what are you doing with your boots?"

Roxton gently nudged his friend's shoulder and said, "Malone, you ask too many questions. Just get your water and go back to bed."

Malone, almost wide awake now, realized Roxton was coming from the direction of Marguerite's room, carrying his shirt in one hand and boots in the other. He gave him a crafty look and said, "Uh, huh....I could suggest the same to you."

Roxton turned and pointed a warning finger. "Not a word Malone....not a word to anyone."

"Roxton sank back on his bed...drifted back to sleep...Marguerite..."

As he descended the stairs to his room, a feeling of satisfaction flooded his senses once again as he remembered the way he and Marguerite had surrendered their secret desires to the astonishment of the other just the night before. Why had they waited so long? It certainly wasn't because of any obstacles he had thrown in the path.

He knew Marguerite had trouble trusting, most especially men. She must have been hurt badly by someone in her past. He had to find a way to prove her trust wouldn't be misplaced with him, that his love for her would take the place of all those tarnished relationships.

Roxton sank back onto his narrow bed, clutching his pillow as though it were Marguerite's soft warm body. Surrounded by that special glow that visits all people who are in the first throes of love, he drifted back to sleep feeling as though he were about to embark on the greatest adventure of his adventure named Marguerite.


Butterflies fluttered in her stomach as Marguerite ascended the staircase from her bedroom to the kitchen, hoping John would be waiting for her at the breakfast table. Oh, she knew she'd have to share him with the others, but what a pleasant change it would be to be greeted by someone who was truly happy to see her.

Usually, she had to listen to sarcastic remarks from Malone for sleeping late, or chastising from Challenger for not helping with his latest project. And, let's not forget the reproaching looks from Veronica for not helping with the dishes the night before.

But this morning, she was on time for breakfast, no pending projects for Challenger awaited her, and she had volunteered on her own to help tidy up the kitchen last night. And now, her new lover was waiting for her. Could the day get any better?

She entered the kitchen fully dressed, in her stocking feet, and her eyes were quickly drawn to Roxton whispering something to Veronica at the stove. Generally this was a familiar sight, but today a sudden sting of jealousy coursed through her heart.

She remembered now why she was always reluctant to enter a relationship. The green-eyed monster is never far behind a night of bliss. She told herself to forget it, Veronica and Roxton are always chatting cozily about something. She was definitely overreacting.

"There she is." Roxton crossed the room in several giant strides, meeting Marguerite at the table in time to hold her chair while she sat down. He lightly touched her hair as his eyes met hers, holding them for a fraction longer than usual. He leaned in to nuzzle her ear with his nose and whisper, "I'm impressed. You're on time for breakfast. I was sure you'd sleep late this morning."

Challenger and Malone gave the glowing couple perplexed looks, but couldn't see that two letters had been exchanged and deposited quickly into their respective skirt and pants pockets.

"Marguerite, you look like you had a good night's sleep for a change," Challenger remarked. "Your face is practically luminous this morning."

"Yes, Marguerite, " Malone teased, "you must have had some kind of pleasant dream to look this happy."

"Well if I did, you'd be the last to know," Marguerite said, squinting her eyes at the young journalist.

"Okay, you two," Veronica said, setting down a heavily laden plate of food in front of Malone. "Marguerite, your usual...tea and toast?"

She breathed in deeply and leaned over Malone's plate. "No, I think I'll have what he's having."

All faces turned in her direction with amazed looks.

"What?? I'm ravenous this morning."

"You must really have had a good night," Malone said.

Roxton shot him a warning glare.

"That was the last of the eggs, Marguerite. There weren't that many left."

"Here," Malone pushed his plate across the table. "Have mine. Veronica can fix me another one."

"Why Ned, how sweet. I take back all those bad things I said about you. And, they're cooked just the way I like them...over easy, firm white," Marguerite cooed, as she dug into the wild turkey eggs she and John found in a nest on last week's hunt.

"I thought you were watching your figure...Would you like to volunteer..."

Roxton leaned over with his napkin to dab a bit of egg yolk trickling from the corner of her mouth. "I do love a woman with a healthy appetite. But, I thought you were always watching your figure."

"I've decided to let someone else watch it for me. Would you like to volunteer?" she simpered, while gazing hard into his eyes.

Challenger rolled his eyes upward and said, "Well, I've had enough of this scintillating repartee. Far too early for me to get involved. I'll be in my lab if anyone wants me."

Before leaving the kitchen, he turned to take one more look at Marguerite devouring the greasy potatoes and the last of the eggs, and shook his head in disbelief.

Halfway through her unusually large breakfast, Marguerite looked up to notice Roxton and Veronica silently mouthing something to each other. Tension tightened in her stomach, and another sharp pain went through her heart.

"Is there something you two want to share with the rest of us?"

"Roxton thought we might all pay a visit to the Zanga village today. We're running low on supplies....salt, know all those essentials every kitchen on the plateau needs," Veronica smirked, trying to make a joke.

"Very funny, Veronica." Marguerite pushed the empty plate a few inches away and leaned back, satiated from the huge breakfast. "Yes, a long walk sounds like just the ticket after that big meal. While you finish your breakfast Malone, I'll get my hat and boots."

She stood up and headed for her bedroom when Veronica called after her, "Marguerite? Why are you wearing Roxton's socks?"

Marguerite stopped, whirled around and stared down at her feet. She gasped and raised her face with startled eyes and crimson face to see Malone and Roxton snickering into their napkins.

"Well....uh...I...uh.... I wondered why they felt so big," she sputtered.

"Marguerite, what have I told you about mixing my laundry in with yours?" Roxton teased, coming to her rescue. Walking toward her, he said "They're obviously too large for you. You'd better take them off before you trip and fall."

She sat down on the nearest chair and began pulling them off, handing them to Roxton one at a time. "You did this on purpose...I know you did," she whispered.

He leaned over and whispered back, "What did I do on purpose?"

"Left them in my room this morning."

"Well, I didn't know you were going to wear them to breakfast for everyone to
see," he hissed.

"How was I to know they were yours. I just put on the first pair I found."

"I thought you were the one who didn't want anyone to..."

"Hey you two," Veronica interrupted, "you're not alone."

"Yeah, and we can hear everything you're saying," Malone added.

Marguerite looked pleadingly at Roxton, then menacingly at Malone as she stood up and tromped barefoot back to her room.

Roxton walked back to the kitchen table, and tucking the socks into his pants pockets gave his two friends an embarrassed shrug. "She's always mixing up the laundry."

"Yeah...right," Veronica and Malone said in unison.


"Marguerite pulled the letter from her skirt pocket the latest letter from Roxton."

Safely out of sight in her room, Marguerite pulled the letter from her skirt pocket and standing by the open window, read the latest letter from Roxton.

My darling Marguerite,

Last night was amazing for me, and I hope for you as well. You've known there've been other women in my past, but after last night, there can be no one for me but you. All others pale by comparison.

You keep insisting we may not have a future together when we leave this plateau and return to London. I won't press you for a decision. For the moment, it is enough to know you love me and for you to know I love you. The future usually has a way of taking care of itself.

Let's make the most of our days and nights while we're here, and when we return home I hope, with all my heart, to have convinced you that we belong together.

Your lovingly devoted,


John went quickly to his room to pack for the short trek, and to read the letter Marguerite had exchanged with him at the breakfast table. He sat on the edge of his bed and opened the letter.

My dearest John,

Words can't describe how I felt this morning waking up beside you. For the first time since we've called this treehouse home, I was thankful my bed is a small one. It made it needful for us to sleep that much closer to each other.

In all my life, there's been no one I could look up to or depend on for support. I know you want to be that person, but forgive me if I'm not able to let go of the past that easily.

If anyone can bring me closer to what I've longed to be all my life, you are the one who can succeed where others have failed. Just be patient with me. Old habits are so very hard to break.

All my love,
Your Marguerite


Marguerite emerged from her room fully her own socks...and the others were waiting with their weapons and enough water canteens to sustain them in the jungle heat for the short walk to the Zanga village.

Challenger emphatically stated he preferred to stay at the treehouse. The high temperatures of the summer season were beginning to make him feel his age, and besides he had some long overdue experiments he wished to pursue. He had to admit to himself, silence in the treehouse was just what he needed at the moment.

As they entered the elevator, Veronica remembered something she had forgotten and told the others to go ahead without her. She would catch up in a few minutes. Marguerite looked perplexed as Veronica was the consummate light traveller. She never took more than her weapons, a water canteen and a small supply of food in her knapsack. So, she wondered what she possibly could have failed to pack.

Nevertheless, she and the men descended to the floor of the jungle and proceeded on their short journey. Within a few minutes, true to her word, Veronica caught up with her friends and they were on their way at last.


"Roxton reached out and took her hand in his..."

Walking along the well-worn path to the village, Marguerite and Roxton led the way a few yards ahead of Veronica and Malone.

Roxton reached out and took her thin, delicate hand in his large, sturdy one and clasped it firmly. "You don't think it too forward of me to want to hold your hand in public, do you?"

"Now who's being a school boy?" she replied coyly. "I think at sometime over the past two years, you've been known to take my hand in front of the others. So I doubt anyone would think it odd if you do so today."

Roxton looked behind him to see a small smile on Malone's face, and said, "Who knows, we might be a good influence on those two." He paused briefly, then said, "I read your letter this morning before we left the treehouse."

Marguerite's eyes cast downward, and Roxton thought he detected a slight blush in her cheeks.

"I'll wait as long as it takes to have you trust me. Not knowing what exactly in your past you wish to keep secret, makes it bit more difficult in choosing the right words for my letters to you."

"Your words were perfect this morning, John. I'm trying to be more trusting, honestly I am. Just don't give up on me."

"Never," he said huskily, gripping her hand tighter. "You know me, my dear," he said more lightly, "I love a challenge. And, I believe you'll be the most rewarding challenge of my life." He leaned in to kiss her lightly on the cheek, an action that didn't go unnoticed by their travelling companions.


The fiery, jungle sun was burning close to high noon when the small group arrived at their destination. After clearing the front gates, they walked directly to Assai and Jarl's hut. Assai had seen them coming and was waiting outside for them, ready to welcome her friends from the treehouse.

"But, where's the Professor? He didn't come with you today?"

"He decided he needed some peace and quiet at the treehouse for a change,"

Veronica replied. "Where's Jarl?"

"He's with a hunting party. He should be returning sometime today."

While Marguerite helped Malone unpack their gear in the main room of the hut, Roxton and Veronica stayed outside, talking in quiet voices with Assai. She vowed she wouldn't let Veronica or Malone know she was bothered by all the attention Roxton was paying to Assai. What could they possibly be talking about that was taking all his attention? Her curiosity got the better of her when Veronica returned inside without Roxton and Assai.

"Where's Roxton?"

"Oh....he said to tell you he'd be back later. Something about...uh...someone he had to see about....uh...well something."

"...she watched Assai and Roxton walk through the village...and felt that vise grip her heart..."

What was she talking about? And, what was all that double talk? "Where are they going?" Marguerite demanded while staring out the open door as she watched Assai and Roxton walk through the village.

Her interest was piqued even more when they stopped walking and Roxton appeared to be handing her something. Assai threw her arms around Roxton's neck and kissed him on the cheek.

Marguerite took in a sharp breath, and felt that vise grip her heart for the third time this morning.

"What's she doing?" she shrieked.

"Marguerite, jealousy doesn't become you. Come away from the door. Someone might hear you carrying on."

"What about the way they're carrying on? What does he think he's doing? Letting her kiss him right there in front of everyone. She's a married woman, for pity's sake."

"Marguerite, calm down," Malone sneered. "Assai's a good friend, to all of us. Maybe she was congratulating him on some new conquest," he added with a tease in his voice.

Marguerite whirled around to face the journalist with a scowl. "Conquest!!" Could John have told Malone about last night?

"Is that what he told you? Well, if that's the game he's playing, I'll show him how it's really played."

She stormed out the door heading in the direction of Assai and Roxton. She wasn't sure what her plan of action was yet, but she had always been able to think quickly on her feet. She'd figure out something before she got there.

"Now, Marguerite," Veronica called after her, "don't do something stupid....."

Malone stopped her with, "Let her go Veronica, she's a big girl. She can take care of herself. Let's take advantage of the opportunity to be alone. It's been a long time, you know."

Veronica reluctantly let Ned lead her out of the hut, straining to watch Marguerite disappear into the crowd of villagers.


That night as shadows were lengthening across the jungle, Veronica and Malone entered the hut to the sounds of a woman crying. Veronica first thought it was Assai, but at further glance was surprised to find Marguerite huddled in a chair at the table, hands over her face sobbing uncontrollably.

"Marguerite?" Veronica called out.

The crying heiress startled from her melancholy, stood up brushing her cheeks dry with the backs of her hands. The hiccups from the sobs though could not be put aside so easily. Her chest heaving from holding back the tears, she stuttered, "Oh...I...thought...I..was alone."

"Marguerite, why were you crying?...tell me what's wrong..."

"Marguerite, why were you crying? We just saw Roxton setting up a tent for the night and Jarl's staying in his father's hut tonight. What happened?"

At the sound of Roxton's name, Marguerite lost control and sat down again, head in hands and wailed, "I've been such a fool."

"What are you talking about? This morning at breakfast....on the way two were floating on clouds. What's happened?"

Feeling uncomfortable at the turn this conversation was taking Malone said, "Uh...I think I'll go out for a while. Maybe I'll go over and talk with Jarl and Roxton."

Veronica turned and grimaced at Malone for mentioning Roxton's name. "That's probably a good idea Ned."

"Be back later. Uh...Marguerite....," he started, searching for the right comforting words. After 'uh...Marguerite', no other words came to him so he closed his mouth, shrugged and left the hut. This was definitely a time for the two women to be alone. Veronica would know what to say.

Veronica sat down in the chair beside her friend and said, "Okay, Marguerite....he's gone. Now tell me what's wrong."

"I'm such a fool. I know better. I've been down that road too many times," she babbled. "It's always the same thing. I knew better than to believe all those things he said last night."

"Last night?"

Marguerite nodded, fighting back the tears.

"So, you mean...last and Roxton..."

The raven-haired heiress nodded again.

"So, what makes you think he didn't mean what he said?"

Veronica could see that Marguerite was having a difficult time confiding what might have gone wrong, so she began hesitantly, "Okay, I wasn't supposed to say anything. But, you're wrong about how Roxton feels."

She hesitated, then began again, "Ohhhhh...I know I'm going to regret was supposed to be a surprise...but...." She put both hands on Marguerite's shoulders turning her around.

"Remember this morning when I went back to the treehouse and told you to go ahead without me, that I'd catch up with you? Well, actually I went to your room and took one of your rings out of your jewelry box."

Marguerite looked perplexed and shook her head with, "I...I don't understand, why would you want one of my rings?"

"Roxton asked me to sneak one out, so he could find out what size you wore. This trip to the Zanga village was all Roxton's idea. It seems that on one of your trips looking for a way off the plateau, he found some stones in one of the caves, sapphires."

With widened eyes, Marguerite said, "He didn't tell me about that. Why didn't he tell me about them?"

"He held onto one of them for a special occasion, and...well...he must have thought last night was special, because he wanted to have his own gold ring made into one for you. I told him Assai would know someone in the village who could make one, and...."

Marguerite raised her hands to her face and said with dread in her voice, "Oh, God! What have I done?"

"Marguerite, what have you done? And, does it have anything to do with Roxton looking like he just lost his best friend? And, Jarl not sleeping in his own hut tonight?" She gently shook her friend's shoulders saying, "What did you do?"

"I...I...I saw Roxton handing Assai something this morning..."

"The ring from your jewelry box and the stone."

"And, then...I...saw Assai kiss him..."

"Obviously she was expressing how happy she was that he was happy."

"And after that they walked away together and Assai was holding his arm."

"Oh, Marguerite, it was an innocent gesture. Assai thinks very highly of John. Did you and Roxton have words?"

"Not just then. I looked for them everywhere. They just seemed to disappear. I wandered around for a while and when I saw Jarl entering the front gates, I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to make John feel as bad as I did at the moment I saw him and Assai together."

Marguerite looked up to see a reproaching look on Veronica's face, her arms folded across her chest.

"I walked over to Jarl and...I..."

"You flirted with him, didn't you? Tried to seduce him?"

"Well....yes," she slowly admitted. "I knew eventually Roxton would surface. The village isn't that big. Well, he did and when he saw me hanging on Jarl's arm and giving know...those kind of looks...he started fuming. But when I kissed Jarl...."

"...then we had words..."

She could feel and hear the disgusted sighs from Veronica as she looked up quickly. "Just on the cheek!!! Well, that did it. Roxton exploded and jerked my arm away from Jarl. Then we had words. I told him last night meant nothing to me. And that I knew he hadn't meant anything he'd said. That he'd lied about everything. That it was just a matter of us both using each other for the night. Then Assai and Jarl had words and..."

She was crying again and Veronica began to feel sorry for the woman in front of her. She had never seen Marguerite like this. She'd even doubted she had a heart until Roxton began wooing her. see her blubbering away over a lover's quarrel...well it was too much for Veronica. She felt compelled to comfort her, despite the havoc she had wreaked for her friends Assai and Jarl.

She put her arm around Marguerite's shoulder and said, "I bet it's not as bad as you think. Of course, you may want to put some distance between you for now. When I talked to him a little while ago, he said he might be staying in the village longer than planned. He wants us to leave tomorrow morning and he'll follow later. He's still waiting for the ring to be set, you know."

"Frankly, Marguerite, I don't think he believed anything you said today. He knows you have trouble trusting anyone. He told me this morning he almost expected something like this to happen."

"He told you about last night? Is that what you two were whispering about this morning at breakfast?"

"No, I promise you Marguerite, he told me nothing about last night. Just that you and he had finally come to your senses and admitted you loved each other, but that he was afraid you'd have doubts about him loving you. That's why he wanted to have the ring made. He wanted to give you a proof of his love."

"I really have been a fool, haven't I?" Marguerite had stopped crying altogether now. The thought of John giving her a ring made from his own had sobered her back to her old self. He always wore that ring, never took it off. Her heart felt like lead when she remembered the mean words she had said to him today.

"I hear Assai coming. Listen to me Marguerite, right now you need to put everything right with Assai and Jarl. Roxton will keep till tomorrow."

Malone walked in with Assai, and could see by Marguerite's dry eyes Veronica must have said the right words.

"Everything okay?"

"Malone, you carry your journal with you everywhere, don't you? I need a couple of blank pages."

"Well, sure Marguerite. You need to make a shopping list." Malone chuckled trying to make a joke.

"Not now, Malone. Just give her the sheets of paper."

Malone took his journal out his back pants pocket, ripped out a few pages and handed them to Marguerite.

"And, a pencil Malone," Veronica added.

"Oh, right!"

"Thanks Ned. I promise they won't be wasted." Marguerite turned to follow a sulking Assai into the bedchamber. "Assai, I need to talk with you."


Marguerite woke the next morning, and with her eyes still closed instinctively reached out for Roxton. Then she remembered. How different the situation was today compared with yesterday. But Veronica had said Roxton planned to stay behind to wait for the ring. Would he really give it to her, or was he so upset he wouldn't want to talk to her again? Only time would tell.

Malone shouted into the hut, "Is everyone ready to leave?" At Veronica's suggestion, he had slept in the tent with Roxton. She felt Marguerite would feel more comfortable in her efforts to make amends with Assai if there were no men present.

Malone noticed her eyes looked red and puffy as though she'd had a rough night. Would the redness have been caused by more crying or lack of sleep? Either way, he didn't think it prudent to tease her this morning in light of what Roxton had told him last night. Apparently, he and Marguerite created quite a scene yesterday afternoon while he and Veronica were busy trading for supplies.

He assumed Marguerite had written a letter to Roxton and he wondered what it might say. Knowing what he did about yesterday's debacle, he supposed it would be asking for Roxton's forgiveness. Then, knowing Marguerite as he did....maybe not.


Hours after his friends had left for home, Roxton approached Assai and Jarl's hut hoping he would still be welcome. The scene from yesterday afternoon still played out in his mind. Over and over, he could hear Marguerite saying their night together had meant nothing to her, just as she was sure it had meant nothing to him. She couldn't have been farther from the truth.

He had known getting to her true heart would be a difficult journey, but he never expected it would begin so soon. He wanted so much for her to trust him. He needed her trust. It would finally prove she loved him.

"Assai," Roxton called outside the hut. "It's John Roxton, are you home?"

"Lord Roxton. I was afraid you had left with your friends. I thought I would have to bring this to you at the treehouse."

She handed him the ring...the sole reason of the trip. He had given the village ferrier his gold ring and the stone, along with the ring Veronica had secretly removed from Marguerite's room, and asked him to fashion something to dazzle his love's eyes. Looking down at the glittering piece of jewelry in Assai's hand, he knew the trip had been a success.

This would put a smile on her face, and cause those beautiful, grey eyes to dance. That seemed to be his only purpose these days. To make her happy...and keep her happy.

"You still plan on giving it to her, don't you?"

"Ohhhh yes....I didn't come all this way, and go through all that shouting yesterday for nothing. Assai, about yesterday, let me apologize for Marguerite's behaviour. I can't imagine what possessed her to do something that might cause trouble for you."

"Lord Roxton, there's no need to be sorry. Your woman and I talked for a long time last night."

At the sound of 'your woman', Roxton's heart jumped. What a wonderful sound!

"She said she flirted with Jarl to make you jealous. She said she asked him to pretend to be interested and he agreed as a favor to her."

Roxton annoyed, shook his head. "I'm sorry, Assai. I'm afraid Marguerite's strongest character trait is her selfishness. Sometimes I wonder if she actually possesses a heart."

"But you didn't let me finish. What she told me wasn't true. I knew it wasn't true. She only told me that so I wouldn't think Jarl had been friendly on his own. She wanted me to think the whole thing was her idea. That Jarl agreed to flirt back to do her a favor. Don't you see....she made up that story to keep my feelings from being hurt. And, to allow Jarl to save face and come back home. If I were to beleve what she told me, then I would have no reason to be mad at Jarl. Your woman does have a heart, she does have feelings for someone else besides herself."

There were those words again...'your woman'. It was beginning to be a sweet familiar sound to Roxton's ears.

"And, Lord Roxton, she loves you so much. She wouldn't have gone to all that trouble to make everything right again if she hadn't cared what you thought of her. Don't stay mad at her for long. She truly wants you to think well of her.

"I do think well of her, Assai. It's just that I get so angry with her for always jumping to the wrong conclusions. I gave her no reason to be jealous yesterday."

"No, but I did. Not deliberately....but I did kiss you. She explained last night when she saw this, she became jealous. She had no idea what we were talking about. This is as much my fault as it is hers."

"There's probably enough blame to go around for everyone, Assai. You're a good friend and I thank you for telling me all this. Now, I really must leave. I want to get back to the treehouse before dark. There's a certain lady waiting for me there, and I want very much to see her eyes when I give her this ring."

As Roxton walked out the door, it was only then Assai remembered the letter Marguerite had asked her to give him that morning.

"Lord Roxton, I almost forgot. Marguerite left this for you."

She handed him two folded pages and the pencil with which Marguerite had written her latest letter to Roxton.

Roxton tucked them both into his knapsack, thanked Assai and headed for the well-trudged road that would take him home to 'his woman.'


"Roxton stopped to fill his canteen..."

On the way back to the treehouse, Roxton stopped to fill his canteen at the closest spring and to read Marguerite's letter. He was sure he knew what it said. No doubt she would be asking for his forgiveness. Of course he planned to forgive her, but maybe not right away. It would do her good to squirm awhile. She shouldn't have caused that trouble for Assai and her husband. Not to mention the nasty words she had spit at him yesterday. Nonetheless, he opened the letter and began to read.

My dearest John,

Where do I begin? You must think so badly of me right now. You knew I wasn't an easy person to get close to, but I'm sure you didn't expect the path to be so rocky.

Veronica told me the real reason you wanted to visit the Zanga village today, so you could have a ring made for me. What I did was inexcusable. I've been told I speak too hastily, that I need to think before I speak, and I'd say yesterday was a good example of that.

Maybe it's too soon for you to forgive me, and perhaps we should put some time and distance between us for now. I'll understand if you want to stay away. But if you're ready to start over, I'll be waiting in my room tonight.

A very repentitent,

John reread the letter several times smiling broader each time. It was so like the Marguerite he'd known for two years to skirt around saying she was sorry. But, how could she know he felt as responsible for yesterday's misunderstanding as she did. She couldn't have known what he and Assai had been talking about.

He took the unused second sheet of paper and with the pencil Marguerite had left behind at Assai's hut, began writing an answer to her letter.

My dear sweet Marguerite,

I could never stay away from you, no matter what the circumstance. I have to take partial responsibility for yesterday's quarrel. I should have gone alone to the village for the ring, but after our night together I wanted to spend every waking minute with you.

I'm bothered that you believe I only want you for what we shared in your bedroom. Everyday we have to endure interruptions, and everyday I long to be alone with you. What we share in your room, in your small bed, belongs to just us. That part of us is special to me because it is the only part of you I don't have to share with the others.

I had this ring made for you, Marguerite, as a symbol of my love. With your reluctance to make plans for the future, don't think of it as an engagement ring. You can wear it on whichever hand that makes you comfortable. But please... wear it always.

And, remember these words when you look at love for you is and always will be constant, unwavering and forever.

Your still devoted,


An hour's walk away, the sun was slowly descending behind the horizon and normal routines were being played out in the treehouse. Supper had been served, eaten, and now each of the residents was drifting off to their respective rooms for some much-needed privacy.

As the elevator ascended upward in the tree trunk, Veronica met Roxton as he entered the treehouse.

"We thought you'd be back hours ago."

"Where's Margurerite?"

"In her room. She didn't come up for supper. Said she just wanted to be alone for awhile."

"...he could hear her softly sniffling...he took off his hat and threw it on the bed..."

Roxton placed his rifle and holster vest at the gun rack, then walked toward her room still wearing his hat. As he descended the stairs to her room, Marguerite was standing at the window, arms folded across her chest and staring out at the darkness. He paused for a moment and gazed lovingly at the beauty before him, with her dark hair loosened and cascading around her shoulders. Even over the concert of crickets outside the window, he could hear her softly sniffling as though holding back tears.

He quietly skipped down the last of the stairs, and when he was close enough, he took off his hat and threw it onto the bed. The sudden movement startled her and she quickly turned to see John moving toward her, a frown on his face.

At the sight of Roxton, she smiled and sighed in relief. The fact he was there in her room meant she was forgiven, but the look on his face meant she was still in trouble.

"Now, John....I know that look. You're not going to slap my hand again, are you?"

"...I ought to turn you over my knee...John!!!"

"No, but I ought to turn you over my knee for this one." Her eyes widened and he swaggered toward her, hands on hips. With his every step forward, she stepped back one. "But from the look in your eyes, you'd probably enjoy it too much."

"John!!!" A slight pinkness spread over her cheeks, as she blushed at the sudden image of lying across John's knees.

With her back against the wall, he took both her arms in his hands and holding them behind her back, leaned into her body. "But if you ever doubt my love for you again, I might forget I'm a gentleman."

Removing her arms from his light grip, she slid her arms around his neck and looked directly into his eyes. She smiled and whispered, "About yesterday, John....I...."

"Careful Marguerite, you wouldn't want to say something that might ruin your reputation."

She smiled in relief, he must have read her mind. She was just about to say those two words she'd always had difficulty saying to anyone. Shaking her head she said, "You know, it's scary how well you know me."

"Oh my dear, there are so many things I don't know about you. But what an adventure it will be finding out." He took her face in his hands and brought it up to his lips.

Placing her hands on his waist, she leaned in ready to kiss him and it was then she noticed the letter tucked in his pants pocket. " this for me?"

"Not now, Marguerite...with his lips against hers...he murmured...Blow out the candles..."

He groaned, "Not now, Marguerite." He took the letter out of her hands and placed it on the night table. "There's time enough for that later." He pulled her onto the bed and into his arms saying, "Right now, we have more important things to talk about."

He lowered her down on the bed and began nuzzling her neck with eager kisses. It only took seconds to realize what he had in mind. Pushing him away, she sat up and yelped, "John! Everyone is still awake. They'll hear us."

"Not if you don't make a lot of noise like you did the other night," he said with twinkling eyes.

"Me?? If I remember correctly, most of the noise was coming from you." He silenced her objections by pressing his lips into hers at last, and moved his hand to the front of her blouse, sliding the buttons open.

With his lips still against hers and in a low husky voice, he murmured, "Blow out the candles, Marguerite."


"Wake up, John...didn't you forget something...the ring..."

Just before dawn, John awoke to Marguerite shaking his shoulders.

"Wake up John."

"What's wrong?" He relaxed when he realized they were still safely ensconced in her small bed. "Now, you're not going to send me back to my room again, are you?"

"No, not this time." He noticed with dismay that sometime during the night she had wrapped a shawl around her naked shoulders, and had taken time to light several candles on the night table. The glow of the flames illuminated her shimmering skin, and it was then he saw his letter lying open on the table.

"I read your letter, John."

"Oh, is that what you woke me up for?" he murmured, snuggling his head down to rest on her soft breasts, hoping she would allow him to sleep there for the rest of the night.

As sensuous as it felt, having John's head resting against her bare skin, Marguerite pushed him away and said, "John, stay awake. I read your letter and...well...didn't you forget something?"

John sat up reluctantly, trying to clear his head to think what he could have failed to write in his letter.

"Did I forget to say I love you?"

Marguerite shook her head no.

"Did I forget to say how much I love you?"

Marguerite sighed. "The ring!!!"

Wide awake now, John quickly said, "Oh...the ring." He retrieved his pants from the floor, and groping around in the pocket produced his handkerchief. When he unfolded it, there in the middle rested the ring with the gold band and the dark, blue sapphire stone.

"Oh,'s beautiful." She slipped it onto the ring finger on her right hand. Then reaching up to kiss him, she purred, "You're beautiful."

"Well, if it makes you this happy, then all the aggravation of the last two days was worth it. Now, can we please go back to sleep?" he pleaded.

Marguerite allowed John to slide her back down on the bed, resting her head on the pillow as he pulled the bed sheet up to cover them. She stretched her hand out gazing with glistening eyes at her new piece of jewelry, the most precious one in her collection.

John leaned over to blow out the candles and she said, "Oh no, don't blow them out. I need the light to see the way my ring sparkles. Didn't you say in your letter that I should remember you love me everytime I look at it?"

John laughed softly and blew out the candles. The embers sputtered out, wrapping them once again in that safe cocoon of darkness, and he said tenderly, "You don't need the light for that, Marguerite. All you need is me."


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