Authors: Gloria Herrmann
Book Four in the Cloverleaf Series
Tales from Birch Valley
By Gloria Herrmann
Copyright © 2016 by Gloria Herrmann.
All rights reserved.
First Print Edition: August 2016
Limitless Publishing, LLC
Kailua, HI 96734
Formatting: Limitless Publishing
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to locales, events, business establishments, or actual persons—living or dead—is entirely coincidental.
This book is dedicated to siblings—our very first enemies, our very first friends. They know the real you, all your secrets, all your fears, and all your dreams. Having a sibling means compromise, learning to share, and protecting and loving one another, all important things we need to be able to do in life. Siblings can drive you crazy, make you laugh until your sides hurt, and be there when no one else is. They understand you and your crazy family. They simply get you.
Then there are the siblings who marry into the family, those in-laws who become like a sister or brother in every sense of the word. They are there with you, sharing in adult moments, like parenthood or watching our parents age.
Brothers and sisters are special, unique, irritating, annoying, and one of the best parts of growing up. If you have one, go hug him or her and tell them just how much they mean to you.
I have several sibling in-laws. I love them, their spouses, and their children dearly.
But there are not enough words to describe my brother, my true partner in crime growing up. I’m proud of everything he is accomplishing in life, and thankful for all the support and grief he has given me over the years. I love his beautiful children, and I love him for being one helluva guy. Thank you, Alex, for being the best baby brother EVER!
Table of Contents
“Watch out, Daniel!” Patrick shouted.
But it was too late. Daniel collapsed against the cold, wet surface, making a loud thud. Cement, freshly poured for a brand new driveway. The culprit behind the fall? A white plastic bucket which had been hiding behind him. He remained in the thick goo for a moment before he started to laugh.
The expression on his oldest brother Patrick’s face was priceless. Was he panicked? Afraid? Angry? Daniel wasn’t sure. Patrick had changed quite a bit over the last month. He had been without Beth for over four years, but when Amber showed up, Patrick became completely different but in a very good way. Daniel was thrilled to have the happier version of his older brother around.
“Here, let me help you.” Patrick offered his hand to Daniel. “We need to get back to the shop so you can clean up before that cement sets.”
“I’ll be fine. Let’s fix this mess I made.” Daniel could see the large imprint he had left and quickly felt embarrassed.
He felt Patrick put a hand on his shoulder as they both surveyed the damage. “It’s okay. We can fix this.”
Daniel nodded. He appreciated Patrick being nice and calm about his clumsiness. If this had happened a couple months ago, he knew Patrick would have freaked out.
“Well, let’s see if we can smooth this out and then we’ll get back to the shop. Sound good?” Patrick smiled at Daniel and turned to go to the work truck.
Daniel could hear Patrick’s cell phone ring. As soon as his older brother answered the call, he knew it was Amber. A bite of loneliness hit Daniel unexpectedly. Maybe he should call Nina? They’d last gone out about a week ago. He enjoyed her company for the most part, and she was beyond gorgeous, but there was something, almost like an itch you just couldn’t quite reach, something that he couldn’t explain but definitely felt.
“Oh good, you guys are back. Geez, Daniel, what happened?” Maggie asked from her desk as they walked into the shop. She rose slowly out of her chair, carefully balancing as she righted herself. Daniel almost laughed. His sister looked as though she had swallowed a beach ball. Her hands supported her lower back as she waddled over to them. “You’re a mess.”
“I know. I tripped on a dang bucket. I just wasn’t watching where I was going.” Daniel could feel his cheeks grow warm.
“But you’re okay?” Her green eyes were bright with concern.
“He’s fine,” Patrick interjected, patting Daniel’s back as he headed toward his office.
Daniel nodded. He was fine. It was more his ego that was bruised. “I’m okay, Mags.”
“Good.” Maggie looked into his eyes searchingly, almost as if she didn’t quite believe him.
He offered her a stiff smile. “I’m fine, really.”
Maggie’s brilliant and famed O’Brien eyes suddenly grew wide. “Ouch.” She pressed her hand to her round, protruding belly.
“Maggie, is something wrong?” Daniel could feel panic surging through him.
“I think so. Gosh, that was the weirdest pain. I don’t think the baby was kicking.” She steadied herself against the counter.
“Well, what was it doing?” Daniel moved around to the other side of the counter and gingerly started to pat Maggie’s back. He bent down toward her belly and whispered, “This is your Uncle Daniel. Listen here, you, you adorable little baby in there, be nice to your mom.”
Maggie let out a deep laugh. “You’d better listen to your uncle.” She looked at him and offered a grateful smile as she grasped his arm. “Thanks.”
“I don’t know how you do it. I mean, that’s got to be the scariest thing.”
“What, being pregnant? It’s a little nerve-wracking, but I kind of signed up for this.” Maggie cradled her belly and ran her hands along the sides, smiling the entire time. There was not a doubt in Daniel’s mind that his sister was happy. “When you meet the right girl and finally settle down, you are going to make an awesome dad, Daniel.”
He swallowed. Finding the right girl to settle down with was proving far more difficult than he had ever imagined. Growing up he’d thought he would have worked the family construction business, met a great girl, and had kids by now. He was almost thirty and it was looking less and less like a real possibility, but there was Nina.
Daniel was stretched out on the leather couch in the living room of his childhood home. Heck, it was still his home. He had never moved out.
“I think we should float the river tomorrow,” Daniel suggested to his brother, Patrick. He rearranged the throw pillows and burrowed himself into a more comfortable position.
Patrick sat across from him on the opposite couch, his eyes closed, and he grunted a reply.
“I don’t know. Maybe Amber and Dylan would like to go. I can see if Mom will watch Finn and Connor,” Patrick relented as he exhaled loudly.
“I thought it would be fun. You know, summer is almost gone.”
“Daniel, it’s only August. I think it’s going to hang around for a while,” Patrick added. He attempted to stifle a yawn.
“Yeah, but the river will be lower and I don’t like getting caught up on those rocks.” Daniel could recall his fair share of getting stuck on the nasty rocks which were hidden under the flowing water. As far back as Daniel could remember, he and all of his siblings would take their giant inner tubes and make their way down the river, basking in the warmth of the summer sun while enjoying a leisurely float. At the start of the season, right after spring, the snow runoff from the surrounding mountains would cause small rapids, which only added to the thrill. Hanging out with friends and family down on the river was a popular thing to do during the summer. As you floated from the best starting point, you would pass little kids splashing and building sandcastles. There was a key point where you had to exit the river, right before a nasty gorge, which was formed from years of the mighty water carving deep grooves into the sides of the mountain. Was floating dangerous? Hell yes. Was floating awesome, especially if you strung an ice chest to your inner tube? Hell yes. As far as Daniel was concerned, it was his favorite part of summer and he felt like he had missed out this year. First there was his brother Liam’s wedding, then Patrick had fallen in love and was now making Daniel pick up more hours at work. As for Maggie, well, she was already married and had Melanie, but things had gotten a little rocky in her marriage at the start of spring. But Daniel knew things would work out. They always sort of did with the O’Brien family. That’s why he couldn’t make any sense of why he was still single.
“You know, Daniel, you’re right. We can float the river tomorrow.”
Daniel blinked rapidly. His usually argumentative, moody brother was being far too agreeable. Daniel was still surprised at how well Patrick reacted to him falling into the driveway they had been putting in earlier that day. “You sure?”
“I mean, I’ll run it by Amber, but I’m sure she’d love for us to go and it’d be fun for Dylan.” Patrick shrugged lightly when their mother, Mary, rounded the archway of the living room.
“What are you boys up to?” Her hands were on her plump hips, a cheerful apron draped across her front. She eyed them suspiciously.
“Nothing. Daniel suggested we float the river tomorrow. Would you mind watching the boys, Mom?” Patrick asked.
“Float the river? Oh dear, that’s so dangerous.” Her eyes turned stormy with worry. “Dinner is ready if you guys are.”
Daniel looked up at her. His stomach gurgled. The thought of dinner was enticing. His mother’s cooking was amazing; it was one of the reasons he was so reluctant to leave home. “What’s for dinner, Mom?”
Mary smiled at him. “Well, those little boys insisted on my mac n’ cheese and I just couldn’t say no.”
Patrick and Daniel both laughed as they slowly rose from their couches. Mary turned her attention to Patrick. “Is Amber coming by for dinner?”
“I’m not sure. I know she was working at the diner today. I’ll call her and double-check,” Patrick answered. He fished his cell phone out of his back jean pocket.
“Tell her she can bring her lovely boy as well. I made plenty of food,” Mary added as she started to retreat back to her favorite part of their home, the kitchen.
Daniel watched as Patrick started to call Amber. It felt so strange that his brother was dating again after four years of being widowed. Daniel was happy that he had found someone, but he couldn’t help but feel almost lonely. A vibration tingled through him as his own cell phone buzzed unexpectedly. He pulled it out and answered.
“Hi, Daniel,” he heard Nina’s sugary voice reply. He was a caught a little off guard. They’d gone out a couple times over the summer, but he wasn’t sure he really felt a deep connection with her, at least not in the way that his brothers all seemed to be connected with their significant others. Liam was beyond in love with Rachel. Watching the two of them together was almost unbearable. Patrick and Amber seemed like they had always been together. They were completely comfortable with one another, and Amber sort of fit right into the family. Where did that leave Daniel? Alone.
“What’s up, Nina?” Daniel felt Patrick’s eyes on him, but he tried to ignore the curious stare and decided to take this call into his bedroom.
There was a long pause. “I don’t know. I was kind of bored. What are you doing right now?”
“I’m about to eat dinner with my family.”
“You want to take me out instead?” Her tone shifted from sweet to sultry. She certainly didn’t beat around the bush.
Daniel let out a sigh. He could hear the loud chattering of the family gathering around the table for dinner. They wouldn’t mind if he went out; it wasn’t as though he were a child. But Daniel enjoyed spending time with his family, and he loved that on every Sunday they would all get together and share a meal. They would catch up on everything that had happened during the week, and the kids would play. It was Daniel’s favorite day of the week. He looked forward to the noise, the bickering, and the memories that were made. The only thing that was difficult about the family dinners were was he didn’t have a significant other seated next to him. Nope, he usually sat next to one of the twins. That got him thinking. How was he ever going to finally bring someone home or have someone special sitting next to him if he didn’t get out there and start really dating? It was high time he did.
“Nina, want me to come and get you?”
There was another pause. “What do you have in mind?”
Daniel didn’t really know. He was sort of just winging it. Digging up false confidence from some unknown place, Daniel said, “How about we just see where the night takes us?”
“Now you’re talking.” She hung up.
He couldn’t help but feel a little nervous. What was he going to do to entertain this girl? His stomach let rumbled loudly. He knew there was homemade mac and cheese being gobbled up right at that very moment. Maybe he could sneak a couple bites of that cheesy goodness before he had to get ready.
He had the large serving spoon dipped into the gooey cheddar-infused concoction when Patrick appeared next to him.
“So why was Nina calling?” his older brother asked quietly. He held his plate out to Daniel and nodded toward the food.
Daniel sighed and scooped a large portion onto Patrick’s plate. “She wanted to get together tonight.”
Patrick frowned. “Man, don’t get involved with her.”
“Why not?” Daniel glared at Patrick. Didn’t he deserve to meet someone, to have a shot at happiness?
Patrick’s brow softened and he held Daniel’s gaze for a moment. He sported the same famed O’Brien eyes. Patrick finally looked down. “She’s just not the right type of girl for you. You need someone…” He stopped as they both saw their mother approach.
“Daniel, dear, do you want to come sit down and join the family?” She wore a broad smile, and her eyes twinkled under the bright lights of the kitchen.
“Yeah, Mom. I’m just making a plate.”
Mary grabbed the cobalt blue dinner plate from him and ordered, “You go sit. You worked today and from the sounds of it had a rough time of things. Let me make your plate, dear.”
Patrick held his plate and led the way into the dining room. Daniel took an empty seat next to Connor, the boy’s chubby four-year-old face covered in cheese sauce. He had even managed to land a rogue noodle in his curly blonde hair. Connor looked up at Daniel, his blue eyes, his mother’s eyes, filled with joy.
“Uncle Daniel, this is the bestest meal ever.” Connor happily shoveled more noodles into his mouth. The kid was right. This was the best mac and cheese, and no one could argue that.
Grandpa Paddy sat at one end of the long table. He eyed Daniel and cleared his throat to speak. “Heard you had yourself a wee bit of trouble today, son.”
Daniel hung his head before facing his grandfather’s curious and playful stare. “Yeah, I wasn’t looking where I was going.”