The Philippines, 1946
After being discharged from the Marines, John Buchanan takes a position as overseer for plantation owner Ignacio Saenz. The work is good, but the real draw for John is Mount Mayon, the active volcano looming in the island’s horizon. Finally he has a chance to put his interrupted studies in vulcanology into practice.
Gregorio Delgado, the current overseer, isn’t thrilled at being replaced. However, he can’t ignore his attraction to John, who appears to be a kindred spirit. But John throws mixed signals—and more importantly, he pays too much attention to Margarita, one of Ignacio’s marriageable daughters.
As John and Gregorio begin a tour of the haciendas, John discovers he has far more in common with his new acquaintance than he thought possible. Torn between honor and desire, John struggles to define who he is and what Gregorio could mean to him. Like the unpredictable volcano, equal parts beauty and danger, Gregorio becomes an obsession that could erupt at any minute and destroy them both.
Their pace was measured, due to the soggy conditions left by last night’s torrential rains. In some spots, the horses were fetlock-deep in mud, and John was grateful the animals were bearing the brunt of the quagmire. Nevertheless, the storm had washed away the accumulated dust, turning leaves and flowers into a sparkling kaleidoscope. The greens were iridescent, providing a luscious background for the yellow, violet, pink, and blue flowers growing abundantly throughout the dense forest skirting Mount Bulasan, the active volcano overlooking Ignacio’s property. The proximity to the volcano added an element of danger that provided a thrill John had seldom experienced. It could erupt at any minute, yet sixty barangays were scattered on the periphery of the mountain. So long as there were crops to be harvested, and beauty to behold, the people who populated these small towns remained in place, praying it wouldn’t all turn to ashes. The last recorded activity had occurred in December 1933, and it had been a mild series of dust emissions and lava outpourings. A dozen years later, the population was entirely too complacent to John’s way of thinking. As far as he was concerned, the composite volcano was due to blow its gasket at any time.
“Is it much farther?” John asked. He assumed Greg had an idea since he was the one who’d suggested they visit the hot and cold springs in San Benon. The healing properties of the sulfuric water would go a long way toward soothing his tired muscles. Touring the plantation had been grueling, and he wasn’t close to being finished. They’d only seen a small portion of the five hundred hectares, and now John knew more than he’d ever want to know about the versatile coconut; “the tree of life,” as it was called hereabouts.
John had listened patiently while Greg once again enumerated the by-products of the big green nut: meat, oil, juice, husk, pith, shell charcoal, leaves, trunk, and roots. The list was very long. No wonder Ignacio had more money than he could spend. He was sitting on a fortune in plants. Now that the war was over, demand far surpassed supply, and replanting had taken on a furious pace. There were seed beds dedicated to this task, and even though the coconut was indeed monoecious, as Greg had rudely reminded him, there were some advantages to controlled pollination and tissue culture. They multiplied quicker without using a large area, and varieties that were resistant to pest and disease were easily replicated.
The process was explained with due diligence, and paying attention to Greg, who spoke with such a charming accent, combining the three languages he used so easily, was distracting. In the middle of the lecture, Greg stopped. Smiling, he asked, “Are you listening?”
Embarrassed by his obvious lack of interest, John said, “Actually, I was, but more to the cadence of your voice than the content.”
“I love your accent.”
“I don’t have one.”
“Sure you do.”
“Is it funny?”
“No, it’s fascinating.”
“In what way?” Greg was at once amused and flattered.
“The whole foreign thing―it’s very sexy.”
Greg nudged his horse closer to John’s and leaned over, nuzzling the unshaven cheek. “I think your hearing is tainted by lust,” he whispered, “then again, so’s my eyesight. I never thought I’d be aroused by a red bush,” Greg teased, poking at John’s crotch.
John pulled back and made a face. “Is that all I am to you, the giant with the red hair?” Greg chortled, kicked his horse, and took off at a gallop.
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