An Excerpt from Love’s Nest

They were in a wood—but no ordinary wood. The trees were tall and shaped like maples and oaks, but were heavy with silver leaves. Mateo reached out to touch, and the metal felt cool and bright, like pure moonlight against his fingers. Grasping, he tugged on the shining leaf until it broke free. He quickly stashed it in his pocket as his sisters turned at the snap.

“Did you hear that?” Catalina asked.

“It was a deer,” Adelita said. “Come, we’re all here now and we mustn’t keep them waiting.”

The ten eldest started off into the woods in their usual clumps of alliances. Adelita, Blanca and Catalina in the lead as the others followed arm-in-arm with their birth-mates, whispering in excited tones. Luz alone lingered, searching the forest behind her and sniffing at the air. Finally Luz gave up and followed her sisters. Mateo kept her in his sights.

The way was not short. As they walked, the silver forest gradually gave way to another wood of burnished gold. The golden glow cast from these leaves lighted his sisters’ dark hair with fire, and drew out the warmth of sun from their skin so that they more resembled fantastical paintings on the castle’s gallery wall.

Mateo didn’t dare risk breaking another leaf from a branch, but many lay scattered on the ground glinting in the moonlight. He quickly bent to pick one up, putting it into his pocket next to the silver leaf he’d taken earlier.

The golden forest gave way to diamond-laden trees, and Mateo blinked in the dazzle. The light from the moon glittered wildly against hundreds of facets in every leaf, blinding in its opulence and beauty. Mateo didn’t resist. He reached out and tore one of the leaves from the tree. Luz glanced behind her at the noise, but the other sisters were oblivious, moving ever more swiftly, their skin dancing with rainbows of refracted light.

They no longer looked human, but like multicolored birds who might take flight. Mateo glanced down at his own skin beneath the cloak and saw that he too appeared as a changeling. It was a delirious illusion brought on by the unearthly light from the trees—his sisters were still women, and he still a man.

Just when Mateo began to doubt they would ever stop walking, the diamond forest opened onto a dark, wide lake. It was bigger than any lake he’d ever seen, with no end on the horizon. The moon on the waves left the impression of a glowing, heaving bosom, or the rolling flesh of man mid-coitus. Mateo felt stirring in his groin as he watched the waves move in relentless rhythm.

There had been no male in the court he could trust to bed, not even once he came of age. Despite los courtiers vying for his favor, offering with simpering smiles to bend over for him if only to gain power, not a one of them had been daring enough to give him what he’d needed. But the dark, undulating lake brought to mind all the lust-fueled dreams that had long left him in a sweat, shaking with desire.

He tore his gaze away from its seductive depths—and found in the water before them a row of strange men standing tall in wide, flat-bottomed boats that were half-filled with flowers.

Adelita approached the first boat. The man who helped her in was of the most extraordinary appearance. His clothing was of an unusual style, colored in the most vibrant hues. In fact, Mateo realized, his garments appeared to be made entirely of feathers. And though Mateo could hardly credit it, the man’s hair was the yellow of a mirasol, and just as that flower follows the sun, his eyes followed Adelita walking toward him. He took her hand, kissed it with a redder mouth than Mateo had ever seen, and guided her to sit.

Blanca approached the second boat. The man who helped her inside had hair the colors of pink roses and sky twirled together. His nose was rather beakish, lending an avian air to his face. He brought Blanca’s hand to his lips and helped her settle before passing a bright pink rose to her, then starting out across the lake.

Like balloons floating barely above the ground, his sisters drifted to the boats and climbed in, exclaiming over the flowers. It was only when Herminia approached that Mateo realized not all of the men were…men. Herminia’s boat was commanded by a woman with dark hair twisted into the shape of a bird cage. The woman’s dress was of white and black feathers, with blue-green trim. Herminia did not simply take her hand to climb in, but kissed it passionately.

Imelda was next and Mateo did not hold back his gasp as she allowed the man with red and purple hair to pull her into a close embrace, nearly tipping over in their enthusiasm. He could not believe his eyes when the man reached below to cup Imelda’s sex, and she did not cry out or bat his hand away, but leaned into the touch. Mateo turned his eyes resolutely away as their lips met.

He was relieved when Luz merely allowed the man with clover-and-sky hair to kiss her fingers before she sat down opposite him, smoothing her nightgown. In the face of all the unbelievable things Mateo had experienced so far that night, his sister wearing her nightgown outside her chambers was certainly the least shocking, and yet he noted the impropriety with dawning comprehension as he watched his twin sail away.

One boat remained.

The man in this boat was as startling to look upon as the rest. He was smaller than the rest of the creatures, his hair short and quite pink, sticking up in all directions as though he’d just woken from sleep, or perhaps never used a comb. He wore a riot of colored feathers woven into a shirt and his breeches seemed made of the softest brown leather Mateo had ever seen. Mateo’s own fine woolen trousers and exquisite, silk-trimmed tunic seemed almost shabby in comparison to the wild wonder before him.

The man’s lips were the same pink as his hair, and his eyes were blue, fierce—as though they contained a soul stronger than his form. Mateo’s blood coursed. He was as captured by the look of this man as he’d been captivated by the sensual lure of the water. Mateo swallowed hard, hesitating. Did he dare get in? He must to follow his sisters.

Mateo stepped forward and the creature smiled. Frozen in place, Mateo checked that he still wore the cloak. Lámina’s voice echoed in his mind. The one who sees you despite the cloak’s magic is a friend.

“Ópalo!” the man rowing Luz called as distance grew between his boat and the shore. “Next time, perhaps.”

Ópalo, for that must be his name, did not look away, keeping his eyes on Mateo’s own. “One moment more.” He quirked his lips into a small, amused smile and rested his oar against the side of the boat.

Mateo took a step forward and Ópalo’s eyes lit up. He lifted his chin slightly, almost imperceptibly, with a motion that indicated Mateo should come. Mateo lifted his hand in a small wave, and Ópalo nodded his head and smiled. It was a toothy, pretty thing that made Mateo catch his breath and take a step back.

Surely not.

“Come!” Luz’s man called again.

“Patience, Azulejo!” Ópalo answered.

“We must not be late to the dancing.”

“You must not. I can be as late as I wish.”

“Stay then, and yearn for your bride to come. It changes nothing,” Azulejo said, before bending himself to the oars, speeding Luz away at an alarming rate.

Seeing Luz’s white nightgown and dark, shining head disappear across the lake broke Mateo from his shocked state, and he quickly clambered into the boat with Ópalo. He ignored the offered hand as he stepped aboard, causing the boat to rock dangerously, nearly toppling them both out. Mateo’s stomach lurched, and there was a spray of cold water against his face as Ópalo steadied the boat with his oar, digging it into the bottom of the lake. Mateo sat down quickly.

¡Discúlpeme!

Ópalo grinned, his blue eyes—blue like a summer sky—twinkling, and his lips spread again into that beautiful smile. “No need to be so formal.”

Mateo wasn’t sure what to make of the casual tone, but there was nothing customary about the situation. He’d traveled with his sisters into a magical realm while hidden beneath a cloak that rendered him invisible, and which had apparently determined in some unfathomable way that this man, of all men, was to be Mateo’s friend. He knew he should find more comfort in that, but he felt quite the opposite. It was hard to concentrate over the ceaseless thrumming in his veins.

Ópalo went on. “I’m so glad you came. I’ve waited for you. You have no idea how long.”

***

Book Three of the Tempting Tales Series by Leta Blake & Keira Andrews

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There’s no greater mystery in the kingdom than how Prince Mateo’s sisters wear out their shoes each night while locked away in their chambers. Using old magic, Mateo discovers their secret and follows them through a portal to an enchanted world of fairies and lusty delights.

Fairy Prince Ópalo has waited years for his male human mate, and he knows Mateo is his destiny. But convincing Mateo of that is another story altogether.

Mateo soon succumbs to the pleasures of the flesh, but as their two very different worlds collide, Ópalo has to risk everything to win his man forever.

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