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…LANCELOT possesses all he wants, when the queen voluntarily seeks his company and love, and when he holds her in his arms, and she holds him in hers. Their sport is so agreeable and sweet, as they kiss and fondle each other, that in truth such a marvelous joy comes over them as was never heard or known.
With an aching groan, Andrea Fallon closed the book she was reading, unable to see any more words in the fading light. It was just as well since she couldn't bear to go on reading the hauntingly beautiful story.
Maybe never again.
Though the French poet Chrétien de Troyes might have written the story of Lancelot in 1171, his description of the famous knight's love for Guinevere was as stirring now as then.
What woman wasn't envious of the queen who inspired such love in the first Knight of the Round Table?
Wouldn't any woman wish to be loved with a love so all-consuming and powerful.
Cross at herself over her preoccupation with the greatest Knight in Christendom, Andrea's thoughts returned to Richard, the husband she'd buried three months ago.
"Would you have loved me more if I'd been able to give you a child?" her heart cried.
Since the funeral she'd gone over and over their troubled marriage in her mind, wondering if her unexpected barren condition had been so painful for him, some of his feelings for her had simply turned off.
Only twenty-one to his thirty-one when they'd exchanged vows, who would have dreamed she would develop a childbearing problem so early in their married life?
Her aunt's cousin hadn't been able to have children, but that didn't seem to have affected the love between her and her husband. They went on to adopttwo children. But Richard refused to talk about adoption. He wanted a child from his own body, not someone else's.
Knowing he felt that way, Andrea hadn't pressed him about it. But from then on their relationship underwent subtle changes. He grew more distant and threw himself into his work, either unaware of Andrea's pain, or unwilling to deal with it because his own was too great.
Their lovemaking seemed to have become an afterthought for him. In the last year he'd behaved more like a friend than a lover with only an occasional coming together she'd been forced to initiate.
She'd hoped they would get past their sorrow, that it was temporary. Surely in time he would ache for a child and be willing to consider adoption.
Andrea was convinced that if they'd taken the steps to start adoption proceedings right away, the anticipation of becoming parents would have brought joy and helped the physical side of their marriage get back on track. But that time never came. Now it was too late.
Hot tears formed rivulets down her cheeks. Her aunt had promised her this period of mourning would pass. "One day you'll meet that special someone who will want to marry you and adopt children."
Andrea didn't believe it, not when she remembered the other things in their marriage that Forêt de Broceliande became an enchanted world after the sun went down. In awe of the forest's almost seven-hundred-foot high canopy, she found the place secretive and quiet except for the forest creatures ambling among birch and chestnut trees.
Any minute now she expected the characters from Camelot to steal from their hiding places in this magical setting and whisper their stories.
As Andrea put the strap of her camera case over her shoulder, she thought she heard the rustle of underbrush caused by the breeze. Or possibly it was a forest creature, but her imagination had been playing overtime for the last few hours.
A little spooked she looked around, causing her hair to swish around her face.
"Oh—" she cried out.
From behind the fir trees at the end of the pear-shaped lake, simply called Le Lac, a lean, solitary figure in military camouflage emerged. He almost startled her out of her skin with his raw male, twenty-first century presence.
Every inch of this modern man's rip cord strong body radiated an animal-like energy. It wouldn't surprise her if he carried a knife and a gun, but she sensed his tall body was a lethal weapon. No doubt when he slept, one eye remained open.
If he'd been tracking her, he moved with a built-in radar. Andrea shivered. His enemy wouldn't be aware of him until it was too late.
The skin stretched over his hard-boned aquiline features had been burnished to teak by an equatorial sun you didn't feel in France. In the twilight she made out burning-blue eyes. They were scrutinizing her beneath black brows and a head of short-cropped black hair.
She'd never met a more fiercely handsome man. For an insane moment she could visualize him in shining armor as he knelt before Guinevere with the heavens shining down on him. Then he spoke in a deep, grating voice, shattering the illusion into a thousand pieces.
"You're trespassing," he said, first in French then in heavily accented English.
His underlying note of hostility caught Andrea off guard. This was no young disguised prince who'd mastered the art of chivalry. There was no "Bonsoir," or "Je m'excuse," or "Je regrette," that he'd frightened her.
This dangerous man, probably in his mid-thirties and aggressively male, glared at her as if he had something personal against her.
Unless he'd been able to make out the title on the front of her book, she couldn't understand how he knew to speak English to her. She gripped it tighter. "Actually I have permission to be here," she explained in a low tone.
His eyes narrowed to slits before he relieved her of her camera case. The action had been too lightning quick for her to prevent it. He wound the strap around one masculine wrist with its sprinkling of dark hair, making it impossible for her to take it from him. Not that she would have tried. Instinct told her he knew moves she'd never dreamed of.
"No one has permission to be here. Whoever you are, I suggest you be on your way."
"The groundskeeper told me where I could take pictures of the wildlife."
His jaw hardened. "You can redeem your camera from the security guard at the gate in the morning. If you're lying, then I wouldn't come around here again if I were you."
He raked a brazen gaze over the mold of her face and body one more time, reminding her she was a woman, with feminine curves. But unlike other men, he seemed to find no pleasure in the fact. Indeed, quite the opposite.
"Remember you've been warned," he added before moving with stealthlike grace until he'd disappeared in the foliage.
Still trembling from the combination of his chilling tone and intimate appraisal that missed nothing, it took a minute for her to find her legs before heading back to the Château Du Lac. She shouldn't have stayed out here so long. Night was fast closing in, making it difficult to see her way through the dense undergrowth.
The groundskeeper of the château who'd provided her with a quickly drawn layout of the vast Du Lac estate, hadn't indicated he'd hired another man to patrol the area at night. In fairness to him, he probably wouldn't have imagined her staying out after sunset to take photographs.
But of course that wasn't what she'd been doing just now. There was something about reading Lancelot's story in the very forest where he'd grown up that had appealed to the fanciful side of her nature. That is until the poet's words had struck a chord, disturbing her at her deepest level where she hated to admit her marriage wasn't all it should have been.
Adrenaline from her unexpected encounter with the forbidding stranger kept her heart rate accelerated. By the time she reached the gravel driveway leading up to the front entrance of the early thirteenth century château, weakness had attacked her. She'd been forced to stop to catch her breath.
After running through the thick forest in her haste to return, the imposing three-story structure with its rounded towers came as an enchanting surprise. The lights from inside brought out the deep red of the garnets embedded in the schist rock from which it had been constructed. It was like stumbling upon a rare treasure glowing in the heart of a dark wood.
A large, well-trained staff kept the château and gardens immaculate, yet she saw no cars. If it weren't for the gleam radiating from the windows you wouldn't know anyone was about.
Tonight nothing seemed real. Maybe her head was too full of Lancelot and broken dreams. It was possible she'd only imagined her confrontation with the audacious man whose unforgettable looks had managed to jolt her body to react.
His unexpected presence had jerked her senses awake from their frozen prison where a plethora of emotions had lain dormant these past few months. Andrea didn't appreciate being forced to deal with her feelings yet. In fact she resented him for intruding on her already precarious state of mind.