The Philippines, 1946
After being discharged from the Marines, John Buchanan is offered a position as overseer for plantation owner Ignacio Saenz. The offer is unexpected, considering he knows nothing about coconut farming, but the presence of Mount Mayon, an active volcano within sight of the property, tips the scales in Ignacio’s favor. Finally John has a chance to put his lifelong passion for vulcanology into practice.
Gregorio Delgado, the current overseer, takes exception to this turn of events. He views John as an interloper and Ignacio’s offer as a thinly disguised excuse to marry off one of his six daughters. What neither of them expects is the powerful physical attraction that simmers between them. Could John be a kindred spirit, or is he just using Gregorio for his knowledge of farming to ingratiate himself with his potential father-in-law?
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.
1st Edition published by Dreamspinner Press, 2012.
IGNACIO SAENZ stood on the deck of the SS Princess Alice, shading his eyes from the sun with one hand while hanging onto the wooden railing with the other. It would be ironic if he fell overboard now after surviving weeks of being tossed about on the open sea. He’d finally come to the end of his long voyage from Bilbao, Spain, and although disembarkation was still several hours away, he could, at the very least, set his sights on something solid instead of endless vistas of stomach-lurching water. He might have come from a long line of sailors, but Nacho, as he was known to family and friends, was immune to Neptune’s call. Everything about the ocean was abhorrent to him, starting with the smell. The pungent odors associated with fishing were so much a part of his upbringing that he doubted he’d ever be able to sit down and enjoy a fillet of cod without being hurled back in time to his family home in the small fishing village in northern Spain where he was born and spent his first twenty-one years.
He raised his face to the sun and closed his eyes, soaking up the warm rays after what seemed like weeks of damp and cold. Soon the woolen suit he’d worn for the journey would have to be replaced with something more suitable for the tropical climate, but that would have to wait until he had a steady source of income. His parents had come up with the money for his transoceanic passage, but the rest would be up to him. Reflexively, he reached for his billfold, which was folded away in the inside pocket of his jacket. Tucked alongside his traveling papers, he had enough to survive a month if he was frugal.
The Saenz family wasn’t rich, not by any means, but they owned their own home, and his father and brothers had worked hard to acquire three fishing boats that plied the Bay of Biscay in their daily pursuit of the ocean’s bounty. Nacho detested the writhing, jumping piles of fish disgorged from the nets each evening, but the slimy mess eventually put food on the table and clothes on his back. Yet despite their continued good fortune, Nacho’s family lived a simple life. His mother was a saver, always putting aside money for a catastrophic weather-related event, a common occurrence in the fishing industry. Coins were hoarded and handed out sparingly. Nacho would have no problem living within his means; thrift was a skill set that had been drummed into his head.
His request to leave everything familiar behind had come as a shock to everyone but his teachers. Nacho’s parents were aware of his distaste for the family business, but they had hoped he’d stick around and find something landlocked and suitable in the area to keep him close to hearth and home. Nacho had always dreamed of escaping, though, and had asked endless questions in school. He’d studied all the foreign countries Spain had colonized for centuries, and the Philippines had invariably come up in their discussion.
It was described as an exotic land, where money grew on trees and women were delicately beautiful. One could live like a king with a bit of luck and a modicum of hard work—a worthy goal when compared to the backbreaking undertaking his father and siblings endured from dawn to dusk at the hands of the fickle sea. Nacho wasn’t lazy, but he wasn’t going to kill himself for such meager results. He dreamed of a bigger, better life in a place where the sun shone most days and one could enjoy daily living without the constant fear of being consumed by the very waters that supplied the daily bread.
More importantly, the Philippines had a large Spanish community, so he wouldn’t feel like a stranger in an alien setting. Nacho was assured that most of the natives spoke Castilian, or some semblance of the language, and communication wouldn’t be a problem. That tipped the scales in favor of the island archipelago. And unlike Magellan, Nacho was reasonably certain he wouldn’t be killed the minute he stepped foot on Philippine shores. The hard work had already been done by the explorer and the men who’d followed. For centuries they’d paved the way so that Nacho could reap the benefits. It stood to reason that embarking on a new life where the inhabitants already spoke his language and understood the Spanish way of life was a logical choice.
There was really nothing tying him to the land of his forefathers other than his immediate family, and if he succeeded in making the fortune he dreamed of, he would send money home so they could come and visit. Perhaps they’d consider staying and becoming a part of the dynasty Nacho envisioned. If he could be accused of anything, it was dreaming big.
Back in the present, he was jostled by other passengers who’d awoken to the realization that they were at their journey’s end. His choice spot on the portside was in jeopardy if he didn’t stand his ground, and he pushed back when a more aggressive man tried to shoulder his way onto the railing. Using long dormant muscles, he heaved the intruder out of his way, muttering curses in Euskara, the Basque language rarely understood outside the region.
By the time the ship dropped anchor in Manila Bay, they were close enough to the stone pilings to hear the noise of the crowd that had gathered to welcome the newcomers. Nacho instinctively pulled a snowy white linen handkerchief from his pocket and covered his nose. Already the inevitable flotsam, a part of any port, was visible and accompanied by the usual stink. He couldn’t wait to put as much distance as possible between himself and the odors seeping through the cologne-soaked kerchief, making him gag. This olfactory sensitivity was an integral part of Nacho’s makeup.
Right then, all he wanted was to get off the ship, hire one of the horse-drawn carriages standing by, and find the boarding house he would call home for the next month. After enduring an interminable wait to walk off the gangplank, he found himself surrounded by street vendors peddling God knows what from baskets swinging off long bamboo poles slung across their shoulders. Brown-skinned children in tatters buzzed around him, vying for his attention with hands outstretched for a coin. Nacho ignored them and walked toward an area where fruit and other savories he didn’t recognize were spread out on tables. Hordes of fat green bottle flies hovered over the food but were brushed aside by the rhythmic swinging of palm fronds the vendors held in one hand.
He scanned the display with interest, hoping something would catch his eye as breakfast and lunch had long since passed and none of the ship personnel had bothered to feed the passengers while they waited in long lines to disembark. Upon closer inspection, he saw a few maggots wiggling around on a pale yellow fruit that had obviously been out in the sun for too long, and he stepped back in revulsion, forcing himself to walk away before he threw up. After several deep breaths, he watched one of his fellow passengers pointing at a big round thing that looked like a coconut, but since Nacho had only seen them in pictures, he wasn’t sure. The vendor hacked off the top portion easily and cut off the fibrous undercasing until the dark brown shell nestled inside appeared. He poked a hole in it with the tip of his knife and handed it over. Nacho watched in fascination as the gentleman drank with gusto. Clear liquid overflowed his mouth and streamed down his neck, but the man seemed unconcerned.
It looked so good Nacho couldn’t resist, and he pulled a coin out of his pocket and handed it over. “¿Vale?” he queried in Spanish, hoping the man would understand he was asking if it was enough.
The vendor broke into a wide smile and pocketed the coin. He duplicated his moves with a fresh coconut and watched in satisfaction when Nacho raised it to his mouth and took a tentative sip. The liquid was surprisingly cool, considering temperatures had risen steadily since his feet had touched land, and the taste was a weird combination of sweet and bland he couldn’t describe. It quenched his thirst, though, and knowing it was one of the few things out in the open that hadn’t been infested by bugs of any sort made it more appealing. When he was done, he wiped his mouth with his handkerchief, picked up his small suitcase, and headed toward a horse-drawn buggy.
“¿Se alquila?” he asked, again in Spanish. He’d done all right with the street vendor, so he was reasonably certain the hack driver would understand his simple question of whether he was for hire or not.
The man nodded and pointed for Nacho to get in back. He was sorry he hadn’t picked one of the carriages with a soft cloth covering to keep out the rays of the sun, which now burned like a steady flame roasting everything in sight. Nacho was sure he would die of heatstroke if he didn’t get out of his clothes soon. Mopping up the sweat dotting his forehead, he glanced around and noticed the flimsy shirts most of the men were wearing. Even the Europeans had on white suits that flapped in the gentle breeze and large straw Panama hats to keep the sun from scorching their tender white skin. First order of business, Nacho thought miserably, would be a change of wardrobe regardless of the cost. He stood out like a two-headed cobra.
He handed the driver the piece of paper with the name and address of the expatriate referred to him by one of his teachers. She had a cousin recently returned from the Far East who’d supposedly met another Basque from the town of Bermeo. He had converted his home into a small hostel and was more than happy to provide room and shelter to anyone who could pay, as well as give advice to young travelers who’d made the grueling journey from Spain. In retrospect, Nacho wished he’d been more thorough about this stop, rather than relying on word of mouth. For all he knew, the house was located in a bad part of town or had been swept away by the last typhoon. He’d heard they were quite formidable and caused extreme damage. Thankfully, he’d just missed the rainy season, and it would be months before he experienced his first tropical storm.