Big, Blooming & Wild! Vol. 2
by Marie Treanor, Isabella Jordan, and Michelle Hasker
eBook ISBN: 06999-02254
“Willow the Wisp” by Marie Treanor
The aliens are coming — to rural Romania! Salcie has always been in love with Cristian, but he doesn’t think of her as a lover. No wonder: she’s the willow tree at the bottom of his garden. Trouble really starts when the younger trees begin to shift, too, and pursue revenge against their would-be murderer, Cristian…
“Two Fine for Pine” by Isabella Jordan
When Vanessa Arnault hits town, the twins immediately know that their woman has finally arrived, big, beautiful, and exotic. Charles and Christopher must win Vanessa’s heart and claim her as their mate — before she cuts them down to make a miniature Taj Mahal for her pet poodle Pierre.
“Mulberrilicious” by Michelle Hasker
After losing her job to the economy and her fiancé to a skinny chick, Trisha moves to Missouri, where she runs into the two handsome hunks who own a neighboring property. Both men want her, and neither cares that she’s a BBW. What she doesn’t know is that they’re not what they seem to be. Oh, and they’re already lovers.
Publisher’s Note: This collection contains the previously released Big, Blooming & Wild! novellas Mulberrilicious, Two Fine for Pine, and Willow the Wisp.
Salcie almost burst out of her bark.
For some time now, whenever Cristian sat under her hanging branches, resting his broad back against her trunk, she had felt a warm tingling sensation spread upward from her roots to her tiniest, farthest leaf. But on the morning he threw back his head in anguish, almost grinding it into her, the pleasure was explosive.
Of course, it was wrong to find such happiness in his distress. But the warmth of the early sun soaked into her, the river beside her gurgled joyfully over the rocks on its gentle, interminable journey to the sea, and the birds in her branches greeted the beautiful new day with particularly sweet songs. She couldn’t help but be happy, even before the man she’d loved for most of her life pressed himself into her for comfort.
Tenderness washed over her, mingled with just a hint of rueful irritation. It was Violeta, of course. The silly, flimsy little creature had led him a fine dance this last year, and although Salcie could not understand what attracted a man like Cristian to such a shallow woman, she could not doubt his hurt when Violeta betrayed him and engaged herself to marry another man.
Salcie wasn’t interested in the other man. For her, there had only ever been Cristian. The wild, adventurous little boy with the cheeky grin who had climbed among her branches — and fallen out of them more than once — had become a big, handsome man, thoughtful and hard-working without ever losing his sense of fun. Until Violeta, who seemed to have robbed him of both sense and humor.
And now she was gone. Salcie might have rejoiced, but Cristian clearly didn’t. His eyes squeezed tightly shut, he pressed himself into her as if pushing away an unbearable pain. Inside, he was churning with emotion: anger, sorrow, shame, and guilt. The last two, she couldn’t find a reason for, but she was happy to blame Violeta anyway.
She tried to soothe him, tried to absorb his hurt, will him to peace. Overcome by love, and by the strange powerful feelings induced by his touch, she swished the light fronds before his face. The urge to touch, for fun as well as compassion, overwhelmed her. Her leaves brushed his rough, weather beaten skin, making her tremble with some new excitement. With her caress, the pressure of his head eased, though he didn’t remove it. Salcie was glad. Slowly, sensuously, she stroked him. Experimenting, she willed herself to change, to be more like him. And slowly, with dawning wonder, she watched her fronds turn to fingers, long, pale, and sensitive, trailing butterfly-light across his cheeks and lips.
Oh, it’s beginning! It is, it is…
Cristian’s eyes snapped open. Instantly, her hands were gone. Only leaves on their flimsy, trailing branches brushed against him now. Disappointed, Salcie sighed to herself.
Rest time was over too. Cristian got to his feet. Not the usual swift leap to activity that she was used to, but a slow, almost labored clamber. For the first time Salcie entertained the possibility that something other than Violeta was getting him down. Bad things were happening in Cristian’s life, and she was not yet able to help.
She heard the clatter of tools being thrown into the back of the truck. And then the engine started and she knew he had driven away from her.
* * *
Having made his decision, Cristian just wanted it to be over. In a couple of weeks he should be able to shake the dust of Diaconu from his boots and begin his new life in Bucharest. As he drove along the dirt road to the lake, he kept his mind carefully full of building plans, business plans, and meeting plans.
By the lakeside, Cristian saw the men waiting for him, lounging around a couple of trucks, desultorily talking and smoking.
Iancu was there too, determined to make this more difficult. Even before Cristian halted the truck, Iancu was in his face. He didn’t quite wrench the door open, but by the time Cristian stepped out, he was lounging on the bonnet.
With studied idleness, Iancu pushed his battered hat to the back of his head. “So,” he observed, “you’re really going to do it.”
“Yes,” said Cristian calmly. “I’m really going to do it.”
“You’d wreck this place? Wreck your own life? For her?”
“For me,” Cristian said coldly. “This is only, and quite selfishly, for me.”
“You’re letting him win,” Iancu taunted.
Cristian was too tired to play the game, but he said it again anyway. “Letting who win?”
“Albin! He gets your girl, gets your land and gets to trash it! In fact, you’re even saving him that trouble, aren’t you? You’re trashing it yourself!”
It was almost funny. Cristian let his lips twist into the semblance of a smile. “Yes, I am. He won’t touch anything of mine, while it’s still mine.”
“But you’ll hand it to him on a plate?” Iancu sneered.
“Yes, I will. For lots and lots of money.” Cristian pushed past him. It was easy to do; there weren’t many men who could hold him up.
“And the rest of us?” Iancu shouted after him, trying to shame him in front of the men. “We’re the ones who’ll have to live with it when you’re gone!”
Cristian didn’t answer. He greeted the waiting men briskly, then added, “You’d better bring all the gear — ropes and cutters. We’ll start at the top and work our way down.”
As they trudged through the wood, Cristian tried to shut his mind to the clamoring memories of childhood — diving in and out of the trees playing tag and hide and seek with Iancu and Dorina and the other local kids, climbing in and out of the flimsy branches, some of which had broken under his weight as he grew bigger. He’d broken his arm falling out of that one…
He slid his eyes away. Guilt and fury twisted his gut. He was doing nothing wrong. He had permission to cut down the bloody trees. He wanted to cut down the bloody trees. He got more money out of bloody Albin for land already cleared, and that felt good. It was like getting one over on the little bastard, who couldn’t possibly know that Cristian would have left the village anyway, that he’d have given the land away just to escape. As it was, he’d have the money to start his own practice in Bucharest, become the foremost architect of the capital’s new development. Let Albin stew in this backwater puddle. Cristian had had enough.
So why did he feel like such a shit? Why did he feel the very trees were staring at him with accusation, as if he’d betrayed them? Their lush leaves swished in the breeze, following him up the slope. Cristian could almost believe they were crying.
* * *
Salcie felt lonely when he’d gone. She always did now. The natural world around her that she watched through the sensors on her foliage — growing flowers, passing butterflies and bees, caterpillars crawling through her leaves, the grasshoppers clicking in the grass and the fish that occasionally disturbed the river flowing along behind her — had all lost their fascination. She was impatient to grow up, to move, to become like him.
She dwelled with pleasure on the appearance of her hands today. That had never happened before. She must be close to pollisexation…
The knowledge was both exciting and frightening — more frightening than it should be, because she knew she wasn’t supposed to do this alone. She should be surrounded by her siblings, all helping each other. Seq Viren had said so when he brought them here all those seasons ago.
Yet here she was, planted alone. She wasn’t sure why. She’d been too small and sleepy. She hoped it wasn’t because she was so different from her brothers and sisters… She hoped she’d just somehow fallen out of Seq’s planting box.
Not that she regretted growing up here. Especially after Cristian and Dorina had started playing around her. They were her favorite humans. Of course, she saw them most, because she grew at the bottom of their garden. When she was young, their parents had often sat under her, sometimes kissing. Gradually, they had come less, though, and she’d missed them until their children came. Sometimes other children had come too, and it had been wonderful watching them grow. Dorina had first kissed Iancu under her veiling branches, and now they had children of their own.
And Cristian… Cristian had kissed girls in her shade too. And more. It was from him she’d learned how humans mated, and what extraordinary pleasure they got out of it. Years later, she’d seen him mate with Violeta too. That hadn’t been so nice. Because by then, she was feeling mating urges of her own. And Violeta was not worthy of him…
Something was wrong.
Terror struck her like an axe. A bombardment of panic and alarm. But no, not Cristian. Not human. With awe, she realized she was hearing her own kind. She was not so far after all from other Botans! She could hear them!
But it was not a sound to rejoice in. They were in trouble, terrible trouble, and none of them could do a thing about it. They were going to die.
For an instant, horror consumed her. The taking of a life on such a scale was an abomination! Unthinkable! Grief for the siblings she’d never known rose up from her roots, filling her, straining her every branch to the breaking point.
And suddenly, with a cry of pain that sounded almost human, her roots contracted and her human body burst forth.
In spite of the circumstances, she knew a moment of awe and wonder, because finally she had done it. For an instant, she stood perfectly still, to see if she’d change back, the way her hands had done earlier. But nothing happened.
Salcie stretched out her arms, lifted her face to the sun. And heard again the pitiful clamor for help. Where are you? she asked urgently. What’s wrong?
You heard, you heard!
Someone heard us!
Oh, praise be, are we saved?
Not yet, Salcie said grimly, interrupting the babble of voices. One of you tell me what’s wrong.
As the others subsided, one male voice broke through with greater clarity. They’re going to kill us, cut us down…
I’m following your voices, Salcie tried to reassure them as she hesitantly put one bare foot in front of the other. That worked. But she had no time to dwell on the fascinating movement of her toes and the muscles in her feet. She began to move, awkwardly, clumsily, but faster and faster along the river bank toward the source of the voices.
Who is doing this? she demanded. She would get Cristian to stop them. Even if it took violence against several, he would do it. After all, he was bigger than anyone else Salcie had ever seen…
How many? Is someone telling them what to do? Salcie’s foot slipped and she slithered down the river bank. Grasping at the dry ground to save herself — weren’t hands efficient? — she suddenly caught sight of her reflection in the water and paused.
Instead of the big tree with overhanging branches and lush, trailing leaves, she saw a young woman, big and voluptuous. Long, chestnut-brown hair, thick and curly, framed a round, rather nice face. Green eyes seemed to flash in the rippling water. A slightly turned up nose added a pleasing impression of humor, she thought, as her full, red lips, parted with amazement, formed a silent “Oh.”
Her limbs seemed long as well as rounded, strong as her stoutest branches had been. But though the rest of her looked plump and healthy, her neck seemed unnecessarily delicate, too slender for the big body beneath it. Large, firm breasts, well-defined curves at her waist and hips and…
And she had no time to stand here admiring herself! Murder was about to be done, and she was the only one who could prevent it. Salcie ran on. Too late, she thought she should probably have found some clothes to cover herself before confronting humans. They always covered themselves, except when mating, and even then…
Focus, Salcie! she told herself sternly.
Forcing herself, she concentrated on the Botan voice instead. Someone’s in charge, yes, he’s telling the others who to kill first… Can you stop them? Are you an Elder Wood?
Loath to disappoint the eager voice, Salcie had to admit, I’m afraid not. I’ve only just reached pollisexation. I’m alone. I have no wood of my own. But I will do my best. Can you show me the man who gives the orders?
It would help. She might even know him.
She did. His image swam into her head like a photograph.