From Bramble Burn, book 1 of the Convergence Series, available April 30. Pre-order it at Amazon, B&N, etc. Here's the official release info.
She rose at dawn and packed a lunch, unsure how long she’d be gone. She checked on her greenhouse and looked at the cherry tree gang down the street. She hesitated, but she needed peace of mind. She drew on her staff and sent out a small pulse of power. Five of the trees opened, spilling naked, terrified thugs like noxious grubs. They were coated with sticky sap, and as they escaped, the trees shook leaves over them, coating them like walking bushes. It didn’t disguise their nakedness, but it would be extremely difficult to remove.
The sixth tree didn’t open; there was no point.
She took no pleasure in his death, but she refused to mourn him, either, not when he’d clearly meant to kill her.
The morning was warm and birds greeted the sun, chirping happily. She rode along the outer edge of the park, surveying the utter lack of trees. A giant skeleton lay on the outskirts, the reptilian nose poking over the boundary; it would make a good source of bonemeal. An armored truck lay overturned near it, a hole punched in the side. With the early morning mist, it looked like a war zone. Nothing bigger than a weed grew in the entire park, and the trees had been burned to stumps.
She finally reached the edge of the park, frowning as she realized it extended past the boundary on her map. It had grown a little, but she’d talked about that with the city, and that was why she had a year to contain the Bramble. The city didn’t want her delaying so that she could claim more land, but they made allowances for the spread.
She chose a walnut and placed it on the edge, leaving Twix on guard. She’d considered using an oak, but decided it would be fun to diversify, and might even make the boundary stronger.
The thing was, this was a poor district. A tree like this would be tempting firewood, so she needed to make it valuable enough that the products were more popular than the wood would be. It would take time, especially since she needed to provide the tree with protections, but it would also be fun.
She closed her eyes and coaxed the nut from the shell, making a protective cage of shoots around her and Twix as she taught the tree what she needed.
Hours later, she stepped from the tree and squinted at the afternoon sky. The local wildlife had been scared off, but there was a news crew, and they made quick work of swarming her.
“Miss Baily! Can you tell us about your latest tree?” A woman with shoulder length, straight blond hair and a business suit asked. Juniper recognized her as Veronica Myles, the local news lady for Channel 6.
Juniper sighed, but she’d known they were there. She might as well put them to good use. She took a long drink of honeyed tea from her thermos before answering hoarsely, “Yeah. It grows brooms and pens, as you can see.” She gestured to the handsome brooms with stout, walnut wood handles and black or red bristles. The pens looked like bark-covered, sharpened pencils and had a small scored place for personalization, and everything had the Iron Oak logo, a stylized tree. The pens said, “Genuine walnut ink.” She plucked two and handed one to the reporter, then picked a red bristled broom to tie to her saddle, next to her staff. She needed to sweep her floor.
“Why brooms?” Veronica asked, admiring her name inscribed on the pen.
“It will grow nuts in the fall,” Juniper said, dodging the question. It wasn’t smart to suggest it was to prevent stupid people from cutting down a valuable tree. She nodded to the hollowed trunk. “There’s a fresh water spout inside, so anyone who wants to can get water. It’s all free for now.” Water was always needed and would be available all year, making the tree even more popular. She mounted Twix, ready to leave.
“Are you a philanthropist, Ms. Baily?” another man asked.
She laughed tiredly. “I’m a business woman. Excuse me.” She urged Twix to walk away, and the reporters wisely gave him space, though Veronica followed her, stepping lively in sensible shoes. “I’d like to ask you a few more questions, Ms. Baily. Would you be interested in talking over dinner? My treat, of course.”
“Tempting, but no. I don’t have much time right now.” Juniper kept her eyes open for anything strange. Despite the crowd, she wouldn’t take chances.
“Yes, but everyone has to eat.” Veronica’s smile was big and toothy, like a beauty pageant queen. Her orthodontist would be so proud.
“No, thanks.” She nudged Twix into a trot that soon left the reporter behind.