Authors: Gloria Herrmann
Book One in the Cloverleaf Series
Tales from Birch Valley
By Gloria Herrmann
Copyright © 2015 by Gloria Herrmann.
All rights reserved.
First Print Edition: October 2015
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.
I dedicate this book to my family, for without them none of this would be possible. They have shown me the true meaning of support, love, and family. I can’t express enough gratitude for all their advice, encouragement, and countless prayers. These amazing people who I’m so lucky to have in my corner are my inspiration, my guiding light, and my heart.
Table of Contents
Liam O’Brien rubbed his temples, begging the stirrings of a headache to go away. While resting his eyes,
the single fluorescent light in the empty classroom buzzed indistinctly.
His headache had been brought on by the deafening chatter of his fourth grade students. Rambunctious and excited energy had filled the classroom all day with the anticipation of winter break. Liam needed the time off and was almost as anxious as the students were for it to start. Yawning, he stretched long arms that were covered in the sleeves of a thick red sweater above his head. Peering out the massive window, he noticed the sky had darkened and snow was beginning to fall gently. His stomach gurgled loudly, and images of the cold pizza and beer waiting for him in his fridge intruded on his thoughts.
Liam turned onto the long, snow-covered driveway lined with various pines and tamarack trees and pulled up to his quaint cabin nestled right outside the town of Birch Valley. The home itself was simple, but the land surrounding it looked almost magical, especially in winter. The temperature had been bitter cold, and all the trees were frozen stark white. The small lake Liam fished at during the warmer months lay tight with ice. The air was filled with an array of fresh natural scents like that of damp pine needles and frozen earth, along with hints of smoke from neighbors heating their homes with fireplaces or wood stoves. Liam had bought the cabin a couple of years after teaching at the only elementary school in town. He’d instantly fallen in love with the property that was home to most of the local wildlife, mainly deer, Canadian geese, hawks, and wild turkeys.
Liam stopped the engine of his aging, red pickup truck, gathered his coat and backpack, and trudged through several inches of new snow that had buried the path to his front door. Once inside the cabin, he tossed his belongings onto a plaid couch that sat directly in front of an overly large fireplace inlaid with river rocks. The mantle was a giant, solid piece of honey-colored tamarack wood with bold knots. The fireplace itself was a work of art and the main focus of the otherwise simple cabin. Liam kept the decor in his home sparse
and spent most of his time at his childhood home with the rest of the lively O’Brien family.
The blinking red light on his phone caught Liam’s attention as he knocked
from his boots. His mother had no doubt left him a message. She was notorious for calling him all the time, despite living only five miles away and seeing him several times during the week, including every Sunday for their family dinner.
Not that Liam was the only one she called, or rather checked in on regularly. He had an older brother, Patrick; a younger brother, Daniel; and a baby sister, Maggie, all of whom he was close to. Liam’s brothers lived in town and had taken over their father’s construction company. Maggie had moved to Seattle the second she could, deciding the town of Birch Valley, with its one traffic light, was just too small for her. She’d always craved adventure and was attracted to the bright lights and overwhelming activity
of the big city.
A set of rugged mountains and a five hour drive were now all that separated her from the family.
Liam moved toward the blinking light and pressed Play on the machine.
“Hello, my darling son, it’s Mom.”
Liam almost chuckled at how she
always announced who she was.
Her sweet voice seemed to fill the room, sounding the same as it always did.
Mary O’Brien went on with the usual description of how she and Liam’s father had spent their day, including who she had run into at the only grocery store in town.
“Liam, dear, I need you to bring that extra cot over Sunday. Maggie and my sweet Melanie are coming over for a visit.”
Liam’s heart warmed at the thought of his younger sister and her six-year-old daughter. He hated that they lived over on the coast, even though they wasn’t all that far away, and missed Maggie being able to partake in the craziness that was their rowdy Irish American family.
Maggie had gotten married at twenty-one. She had been a receptionist at the same law firm where her husband, Michael Trembley, was an attorney. They had met at an office Christmas party held at the Space Needle and instantly fell hard for each other. Their whirlwind marriage and Maggie’s pregnancy soon after surprised the entire family, but everyone genuinely adored Michael and were happy to welcome him into their lives.
Liam didn’t have a chance to erase the message before the phone let out a shrill ring. He knew who was calling without even glancing at the caller ID.
“Hi, Mom,” he answered.
“Hi, sweetie, did you get my message?” Mary replied.
Running his fingers through his somewhat overgrown hair, Liam couldn’t help but smile.
“Yeah, Mom. I just got in a couple minutes ago.” He sank onto the plaid couch and swung his long legs up to prop his feet onto the large, rustic coffee table.
“Oh, how was the last day? I bet those kids were very excited. I know I’m thrilled that it’s Christmas break.”
Liam could hear the excitement in her voice. Mary was well known for going all-out on decorating her home during the Christmas season. It was her favorite holiday, to the point that the Christmas spirit itself seemed to possess her.
Without letting him respond, Mary continued, “I was hoping maybe you could swing by tomorrow morning and help your father and me finish hanging lights. I would love for everything to be done by the time Maggie and Melanie arrive.”
“Of course I’d be happy to. So is Michael coming along too?” Liam asked eagerly.
“Hard to say. Maggie mentioned he was busy with a pretty big case. I’m sure he’ll be able to come closer to Christmas. It’s just so hard for him to get away. Such a shame. I enjoy seeing him. Also, I have enlisted the help of Patrick and Daniel, so we should be able to get everything perfect tomorrow.”
“Good. I would hate to think they’d be left out of all the fun of hanging lights in twenty-five degree weather,” Liam joked, slightly dreading having to help but knowing full well his mother would equip them with plenty of hot chocolate and the best sugar cookies in all of Birch Valley, if not the world.
“Well, I won’t keep you, sweetie. Just wanted to ask for that cot for Melanie. I hear your father and Grandpa Paddy coming in now, so I’ll let you go. Love you, dear.” Mary hung up before Liam could get in a word.
Grinning as he hung up too, Liam made his way to the fridge for that pizza
and beer he’d promised himself.
The air was frigid and the wind snapped at Liam’s face as he wrangled a large ladder through the door of his father’s garage. On the porch, Daniel O’Brien was fussing with several large boxes filled to the brim with a tangled mess of lights.
“You know, I’m not sure why Mom doesn’t just leave the lights up on the house all year round,” Daniel complained. His already rosy cheeks were turning a deeper shade of red as the freezing air chapped his skin. He worked the knots of lights, growing more frustrated by the minute.
Hefting the ladder against the side of the house, Liam sighed. “With it being this cold, that’s not a bad idea. But then, I doubt she would make us all those famous cookies of hers.”
Liam turned as he heard the front door shut and saw Patrick making his way toward them.
“Glad you decided to come join us. What was keeping you, the nice warm house?” Daniel teased.
Patrick playfully glared at Daniel. “Don’t worry, I didn’t eat all the cookies, if that’s what you’re worried about,” he replied while starting to untangle a gnarled ball of lights.
The three brothers looked so different that at first glance, they didn’t seem to be related at all, except for their mesmerizing, deep emerald eyes. Liam stood as tall as Patrick but had sandy-
brown hair, a lean but muscular body, and a shy, yet welcoming face. He was well known for his boyish charm that accompanied his constant grin. Patrick had what people typically referred to as black Irish features: wicked black hair and a strong, well-defined jawline that always sported five-o’clock shadow. His eyes were bright against his deeply handsome features and danced with a hidden light. The dark, mysterious air about him drew the attention of the women of Birch Valley.
Daniel was six inches shorter than Liam and Patrick and of a stockier build, and his hair had a reddish hue. His expressions were friendly and joyous, and a smile was constantly perched on his face as he was always laughing.
The three men always gave each other a hard time, as brothers do, but the love
they shared was immeasurable.
After climbing back onto the ladder, Liam braced his body against the steel frame as he ran another string of lights along the edge of the roof of his parents’ older Craftsman-style home. Below him, someone grabbed at the ladder and gave it a slight tug.
“Hey, don’t fall, Liam.” Daniel laughed.
“Knock it off, you knucklehead. Some people are actually trying to work here,” Liam teased back as he continued to hang the lights.
“We need to hurry up, guys. I can barely feel my fingers, and I lost the feeling in my toes like an hour ago,” Patrick said.
“You are such a complainer, Patrick. Come on, Liam, that should be the last strand of lights we need to put up. Then we can all head in and get poor little Patrick all warmed up before he catches a cold,” Daniel joked.
After Liam climbed down the ladder, the three brothers stood admiring their handiwork as snow started to fall lightly, sparkling against the reflection of the twinkling lights.
“Not bad. I think it even looks better than last year,” Liam offered as he heard the front door close. He turned around and saw their mother’s plump figure making her way out onto the porch.
“Oh my,” she gasped. “It’s just lovely. You boys did a terrific job. Now scoot inside for a bit of hot chocolate and some cookies that just came out of the oven.”
Following her orders, the men all trudged through the door after their mother. Liam inhaled the warmth inside his childhood home as he peeled off his layers of coats and sweaters and hung them on the oak coat hanger.
“Mom, it smells great in here,” Daniel exclaimed, taking off his heavy work coat and practically running toward the kitchen.
“Daniel O’Brien, you get those boots off. I don’t want you tracking in all that snow,” Mary scolded as she set a plate piled high with various homemade cookies onto the table.
Liam looked into the den across from the kitchen and noticed his father and grandfather sitting together skimming over the newspaper, each adding his own commentary about what he was reading. The two aging men were surrounded by a soft glow from the fire burning slowly in the brick fireplace.
His grandfather looked like an older version of Liam’s father with dark hair and the deep-set green eyes all the children had inherited. Known to everyone in the family as Grandpa Paddy, he was an Irish immigrant who had settled in the small community of Birch Valley. After laboring for many years, he’d started a construction company and taught his only son Pat the trade. Pat then came to work with him and eventually took over the business. The construction company had gained a solid reputation thanks to Grandpa Paddy’s hard work and honesty and his insistence on instilling those values in his son and grandchildren. The construction company, now run by Liam’s brothers, still had that reputation.
“Hey, Dad and Grandpa Paddy. You two missed all the fun outside,” Liam announced as he leaned in the doorway and smiled at his two male role models.
The men looked up from their papers and turned their heads toward him in unison. Grandpa Paddy had a pipe dangling from the corner of his mouth, and Pat looked over the tops of his glasses and gave his son a slight smirk.
“You know your mother. She always has to decorate this place like the North Pole. But you got it done, son, right?” Pat shifted his gaze from Liam back to his paper as he turned the page.
“Yeah, it looks really good, actually. It started snowing again, and Patrick complained he was cold, so we decided to see if Mom would treat us to some of her famous homemade sugar cookies.” Liam yawned, and his stomach gurgled as he thought of the treats.
“Well, lad, you’d better hustle on into the kitchen before Daniel helps himself to your serving,” Grandpa Paddy added before turning his attention back to his paper. “Be a good boy and bring your granddad a couple of those delicious goodies. Be quick about it too.” His Irish brogue was still as thick as ever, despite him having been in the US for more than sixty years.
Liam softly jogged to the kitchen to retrieve some sweets for his grandfather. After opening the cupboard and choosing a small plate, Liam then grabbed several of the warm baked goods to bring back to the den. As he popped one in his mouth, his mother sighed.
“Dear, have a seat and eat at the table, won’t you? I don’t want you dropping crumbs about.” She scurried over to him and brushed a couple of tiny crumbs off his midnight-blue, cable-knit sweater.