Excerpt for What Love Can Do: O’Neill Brothers by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


Home To Green Valley Book 1


Virna DePaul

Book Description

When a sweet and sassy baker meets the new Irishman in town, things start to sizzle... 

Quinn O'Neill gave up being a professional rugby player to help his mam after his dad died, and now she's gone too. All that's left for him in Dublin? Four younger brothers, and elusive dreams to explore. Then he finds a journal revealing family secrets, and heads to Northern California wine country, where his mam grew up. 

That's when Quinn meets her...

Lilly Parker. She's the baker at the B&B, an amazing gazelle of a woman. Blonde. Curvy. With high cheekbones that give her the look of an old-fashioned pin-up with a naughty side. She's wearing a pink and black apron that reads Life is Short--Lick the Bowl, and all Quinn can imagine is them: her, wearing nothing but that apron, and him, licking and savoring. 

The more time they spend together, the more Quinn believes Lilly's the one. Only she's headed to Miami in a week's time to pursue her own dream, and he has a decision to make.

Does he go back to Dublin and his rugby career? Or does he make a home in the enchanted valley town, start his life fresh, and see if love's enough to make Lilly his forever?

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Well, that’s it then. I called Dad when I heard the news that Mom passed. I told him I wanted to come home and see him and my sisters, and what did he say? “We don’t have a daughter named Maggie. You must have the wrong number.” Click, he hung up on me. Some family, huh? So I guess I won’t be needing you anymore, Diary. I have a life now and a beautiful baby boy, and more than enough to keep me busy. Besides, looking through these pages hurts so very much.

So long from Dublin,


Quinn O’Neill stared at the journal entry dated December 1989. He’d been a year old when it was written, and in the time since, “M,” his mam, had given him four brothers and enough love to last a lifetime. It had to last a lifetime now that Mam, like his father, was gone from this earth.

With a weary sigh, Quinn leaned back against the closet door of his mam’s bedroom. He’d been sitting on the floor, going through the old leather trunk he’d found inside.

The trunk that held the secrets of Mam’s past.

Just an hour ago, he’d been sitting in the living room, studying his four brothers’ waiting expressions, the range of green to blue eyes. They’d gotten them all—Brady had Mam’s blue, Conor had Mamó’s green, even Dad’s brown went to Quinn and the twins—an assortment of the O’Neill Clan. In all their eyes, Quinn had seen grief mixed with indecision. Their mam hadn’t left instructions for after she was gone, yet as always his brothers looked to him for guidance.

The gravity of that weighed on him like ten pints of the black stuff.

First their dad had died of a heart attack two years ago, just months after the family restaurant, The Cranky Yankee, was severely damaged in a kitchen fire. Quinn had been twenty six at the time and still playing pro rugby, but once Dad died, Mam needed a new man of the house to help with the restaurant and his brothers, so Quinn had quit the team and stepped up.

Then, five days ago—Mam. Only fifty years old. Brain aneurysm. Now, their matriarch was gone. Only five of them left, and Quinn head of household. It had been a lot for him to take in.

He’d entered Mam’s bedroom hoping to find answers. Now he had them, and eventually he had to join his brothers and tell them what he’d learned.

Many bedtimes ago, Mam had lulled him to sleep with stories of a faraway place where the grapes turned to gold, but Quinn had always just assumed she was making the tales up. Now he knew it was a real place.

Rummaging through the trunk, he plucked one photo out. It was of young Maggie O’Neill, definitely before the O’Neill, wearing cornflower blue bell bottoms. She sat on the edge of a rickety bridge with her legs dangling over a narrow creek, holding onto the railing. In her hair were flower barrettes, and on her face was that same, cheeky smile he’d recognize anywhere.

“Hello, Mam,” he greeted her, smiling. It was amazing to see her looking so young.

On the back, she’d written, Forestville, 1980.

Forestville. That’s where Mam was from, only she’d never told them that because memories of her birthplace had brought her pain. No wonder given her father had disowned her after she’d met Grant O’Neill, Quinn’s father, broken her engagement to a local man named Ken Parker, and left Green Valley to make a home in Ireland. From that day forward, she’d had to leave her beloved family and home behind, as well as all her childhood dreams. In the diary, young Maggie had rambled on about either a flower shop, or a surf shop, or a bed-and-breakfast, and other big dreams. She said she didn’t care what she did for a career, as long as she was the best.

Quinn’s heart hurt, truly ached.

As long as he could remember, she and Dad had managed The Cranky Yankee. She’d done the accounting, paid the bills, and everything else that came with running the back office. A far cry from a surf or flower shop.

He picked up the photo of Mam and Dad as a young couple, touching heads at a pub, two frothy beers between them. On the back—our first date, Mulligan’s Tavern.

Quinn had heard of the place. Dad’s mate from college, Paul something, had left for America, and Dad and a few other friends visited him one summer to help him get Mulligan’s up and running. It was the only time Dad had been out of Ireland. Just that one summer in 1986 when he met Maggie. He always said he’d never forget it—she’d strolled right in and said she’d never had a Guinness but always wanted to try one, and no less than ten blokes burst off their stools to offer her one.

“She was a fine bit of stuff,” his dad had laughed.

Ten blokes. But she had chosen his dad, because he’d made her laugh like no man ever had before. Take that, old man Phillips.

It’d been the right decision. As much as Dad had loved the restaurant, he’d loved Mam far more, and they’d had a good relationship, one that had resulted in Quinn and his brothers. But Quinn couldn’t help but feel heaviness in his chest, like Mam had missed out on lost opportunities, like maybe she should’ve tried to talk things through with her old man. It made him wonder. Had he, and Dad, and his brothers been worth the pain of losing her other family?

Family is king.

That was what Mam had always said. Quinn couldn’t imagine leaving his family behind for anything in the world. They were everything to him.

He studied the remaining contents of the trunk: papers, more photos, some stuck together, a few pieces of jewelry, a dried-up flower at the bottom, and loads of folded-up letters, some still in their envelopes, some covered in blue or black ink. A fire ignited inside his chest, as he sifted through the photos at rapid speed—image after image of a small town, photo after photo of a place called Phillips Vineyard & Winery, of his mam posing before rows and rows of fields.

It would take a whole day for Quinn to browse through the entire box, which he fully intended to do. As his brothers watched the game, he snuck out unnoticed and carried the small trunk to his room. Only his middle brother Con watched him slide like a ghost through the living room all the way to the staircase. What’ve you got there? his eyes seemed to ask.

Nothing you need to know about, little brother. Not yet.

Once upstairs, Quinn could breathe again, and he entered his old room, sat on his made bed against his football pillow, and laid the journal open on his lap. He flipped back to the page he’d read earlier, the one that told him what he and his brothers had to do next.

November 1985. She still hadn’t met Dad, but Quinn could tell she wasn’t an innocent teen anymore from the words she’d chosen: “I don’t care what I do with this life, where the wind takes me, or how I spend it, as long as I love and love well. And when my time is over, I pray that the wind brings me home again to Green Valley.”

Quinn stared at the words as a spike of adrenaline rushed through him. “…the wind brings me home again to Green Valley…” When her time is over.

The words resonated with him. Before she’d died, Mam had sold The Crazy Yankee. She’d told Quinn and his brothers to follow their dreams, start a new life, find a new home where they could make their dreams come true. The only problem was—Quinn didn’t know what he wanted to do from here.

Rugby was always a possibility. After they’d sold the restaurant, Quinn’s old coach had reached out and encouraged him to rejoin the team. Only the more Quinn thought about it, the more rugby seemed better left in the past. Forget that he was two years older and out of practice—the idea of constantly traveling again didn’t appeal as much as it once had. In addition, though it’d been difficult leaving the team, doing so had opened his eyes to new possibilities, and for the first time in his life, Quinn had learned that he was actually good with other things besides sports, like running a business. Even as he’d tried to save The Crazy Yankee after his father’s death, he’d had fun imagining the kind of restaurant he’d open if given the opportunity.

Quinn sighed and ran a hand through his hair. No, he wasn’t sure what his future had in store. But right here, right now?

Quinn looked at the time on his phone and figured it was around ten in the morning in Forestville. With shaking hands, he searched for Phillips Vineyard & Winery in California and was surprised to see it was still a fully functional establishment. A quick read on Wikipedia told him that the proprietor was still Richard Phillips, who had two daughters, Beatriz and Suzanne Phillips. No mention of Maggie.

He knew he was crazy for even thinking it, but he had to know. Had to hear the man’s voice. He had a grandfather, for feck’s sake! And aunts! He probably had cousins too, lots of them. Did they even know he existed? It wasn’t right, the way they’d erased Maggie Phillips from history. And it wouldn’t be right for Quinn or his brothers to deny Mam her dearest wish to return to Green Valley upon her death.

Before he knew what he was doing, Quinn’s thumb pressed down on the link for the U.S. phone number, and after a brief silence and series of clicks, the line rang.

“Phillips Winery, how may I help you?” the female, thickly American accent answered the phone.

“Good evening, er…morning. May I speak with Richard Phillips, please?”

“Mr. Phillips doesn’t come in on Wednesdays, or most days, but I can connect you with his wife, Betsy. May I ask who’s calling?” the friendly voice said.

Betsy? Mam’s journal mentioned her mother’s passing, so Betsy must be his second wife. Maybe third, for all he knew. Didn’t matter. As long as he got through. “The name’s Quinn. Quinn O’Neill.”

“One moment, Mr. O’Neill.”

The line changed to swing music featuring Tony Bennett, and Quinn’s heart pumped excitement through his chest and brain. Suddenly, it felt wrong to be hoarding this moment all for himself. Even if he was the oldest, his brothers deserved to know they had more family. He scrambled to his feet and bolted out of his room, running down the stairs, and spilling into the living room like an escaped convict discovering sweet freedom.

His four brothers all stared at him like he was mad. “What’s gotten into you?” Con groaned. “You look like feckin’ Frankenstein.”

Quinn spun the journal and pointed to Maggie’s final wish. “I’ve got it. It’s here…”

“What’s here?” Con’s face twisted in confusion at the phone against Quinn’s ear. “Who you talking to?”

“We’re taking her back,” Quinn whispered, setting the journal down on the tea table.

“Back where? What you mean, Quinn?” Brady asked, giving him a cautious side-eye.

All five brothers craned over the journal to have a look while Tony Bennett crooned on in Quinn’s ear about diamond bracelets and Woolworths not selling something. “I mean we’re cremating her body,” he whispered. “It’s what she wanted. We’ll spread some ashes over Dad, but then the rest…we’re taking her back to America. To Green Valley, California.”

The twins, Sean and Riley, exchanged confused glances.

Brady and Con shook their heads at each other a moment before staring back at Quinn. “What in feck’s sake…?” Con muttered.

Finally, Tony Bennett’s voice was sharply cut off by an elderly woman’s charming, chirpy voice. “Hello?”

“Hullo. Is this Betsy?”

“It is.”

“Great.” Quinn smiled, pulled the phone away from his ear, and pressed the speakerphone button. “May I please speak to Richard Phillips? That is, if he has a moment to spare.”

The woman named Betsy’s perplexed voice swirled a few notches. “Well, yes, but…who may I ask is calling?”

Quinn scanned his brothers’ faces—his cheeky brothers who he’d always promised to take care of, no matter what. They’d lost everything here in Dublin—their parents, their family restaurant—Brady had even lost a child and then a wife. It was time for them to leave Ireland for a time. To try something else, see something new, just as Mam had said. More importantly, they could bring their mam back home.

A visit to America was in order, whether or not Richard Phillips accepted them.

He needed to see where his mam was born and raised. He needed to see where she’d sat and dangled her legs, the vineyard where she’d grown up. He needed to take it all in before deciding what to do with his life. It wouldn’t be right not to, now that he knew another half of his heritage existed.

Quinn took a deep breath and answered, “Tell him his O’Neill grandsons are calling. Maggie’s boys. All five of us.”


The best thing about Russian River House, the bed-and-breakfast out on Westside Road in Forestville, a small town smack in the middle of Green Valley, California, wasn’t just the view of the sparkling Russian River, the wine tastings on the adjoining property every evening at six o’clock, nor Mellie and Cook’s breakfasts every morning. It was all those things, of course, but it was also, definitely, unequivocally, the muffins.

Lillian Parker’s muffins, to be exact. All thirteen varieties.

At least that was what anyone reading the 1,392 reviews of Penny Parker’s quaint establishment on TripAdvisor.com would think:

Best muffins EVAH!”

You must try the innkeeper’s daughter’s carrot ginger muffins. They’re to die for!”

Wonderful place to spend the weekend with my wife. Don’t leave without trying the lemon poppy. Steal two or three if you can for the plane ride home.”

The key was in the fresh ingredients and applesauce. Yes, applesauce replaced the oil in most of her recipes and provided not only moisture and a light, pleasant flavor, but an unexpected elegance you just couldn’t get from the standard oily muffin. Over the years, more than a handful of customers had pulled Lilly in close and whispered, “Don’t tell your mother I said this, but your talents are being wasted here!”

Lilly always sighed when she heard those words.

“The Plan” when she’d graduated college had been to use her Hospitality Degree to take over the family bed-and-breakfast, just as her mother had always wanted, but did anyone really, truly know what they wanted out of life when they were only twenty-one? For several years now, she’d dreamed of traveling the world before settling in a thriving city to open her own bakery. But then her father had fallen ill; since his death, her mother had become more and more dependent on Lilly. It had become far too easy for Lilly to set aside her dreams, telling herself that she wasn’t even thirty yet and there’d be plenty of time to do what she truly wanted.

Due to recent events, however, the time had come for Lilly to reach for her brass ring. She finally had the chance to see the world outside her small hometown. At the same time, she’d work side-by-side with one of the best pastry chefs in the business. It was the chance of a lifetime and she couldn’t turn it down. Lilly just had to gather her courage, break the news to her mother, and hope she’d understand.

Today, the Russian River House guests had ventured out early, possibly because of afternoon showers predicted for later on. Only an elderly couple, the Delfinos, still sat in the corner of the dining room, trading bites of pumpkin spice and lemon-blueberry muffins. While re-stacking coffee cups in the adjacent butler’s pantry, which was between the dining room and the kitchen, Lilly watched their eyeballs roll into the back of their heads and listened to their moans of delight, a sound she never got tired of hearing. Then she glanced in the direction of the nearby foyer, where her mother sat behind the reception desk. Maybe once the Delfinos left, she and her mom could have a private moment to talk.

“Lillian, dear.”

Returning her attention to the dining room, Lilly saw Mrs. Delfino, wearing a pink cardigan with jeans high on the waist, motioning her over with a wrinkled hand. “Lillian, do you know what’s in these muffins?” she asked, pointing at the pumpkin spice, painted eyebrows drawn into a tight knot in the center of her forehead.

“Uh, yes,” Lilly said, clearing her throat. “Canned pumpkin, fresh farm eggs…”

“No,” Mrs. Delfino interrupted with a smile she couldn’t contain. “Heaven. Heaven is baked into these muffins.” She chuckled and passed the buttered bite to her husband. “Am I right, Jer?”

“Heaven.” Mr. Delfino nodded, pushing up his glasses, before taking a bite.

Lilly let out a sigh of relief. For a second there, she thought they hadn’t been pleased. “That’s very kind of you to say. Thank you.” She smiled at the couple who must have been in their late seventies to eighties.

“Canned pumpkin? Is that right?” Mr. Delfino’s voice was scratchy with a twinge of New Jersey. Lilly had become quite good at picking up different accents from guests over the years, and there was definitely some Italian New Jersey in there.

“Oh, yes—always canned.” She crouched next to their table. “Never fresh. Canned pumpkin has more moisture and flavor than fresh. But that’s the only muffin with a canned ingredient.”

“Amazing. You must spend your whole day baking, studying about baking, or thinking about baking.” Mrs. Delfino glanced at Lilly’s hands and dirty apron.

“Well, no, I also grow flowers and an herb garden upstairs. In fact, have you tried the strawberry basil muffins? You might not think basil goes well in a dessert, but I’m telling you, they’re divine.”

“I’ll be sure to grab that one next,” Mrs. Delfino said. “Sit down in a chair, hon. You young people, always squatting. Servers in restaurants these days…squatting, squatting,” she told her husband.

“Squatting,” Mr. Delfino agreed. “Hard on the lower back.”

“Not a bad idea.” Lilly wiped her hands on her apron and pulled up a chair. Her mother wouldn’t mind if she chatted a bit with the guests. In fact, that was part of the charm and ambience of a good bed-and-breakfast, interacting with the clients and making them feel welcome. “So, where are you two from?”

“Long Island,” Mrs. Delfino said. “That’s in New York.”

Lilly smiled. She knew where Long Island was, for crying out loud. She may not have gotten out much, but she did own several maps, a globe, and Google Earth. “Nice.”

“It’s right next to the edge of sanity,” Mr. Delfino added, slathering strawberry preserves on his pumpkin muffin. He winked at Lilly.

Lilly shuddered. Whether it was because Mr. Delfino was giving her a flirty wink right in front of his wife, or because he was tainting her pumpkin muffin with strawberry preserves, or maybe both, she wasn’t sure. “Edge of sanity, huh? Wow, you’ve come a long way. From the frying oil into the fire pit.” She chuckled. Forestville wasn’t too far from that description.

“It’s frying pan into the fire, dear,” Mrs. Delfino corrected, breaking apart the last piece of lemon-blueberry and giving half to her husband. “Why do you say it, though? Does it drive you insane to be out here in the middle of nowhere? Don’t get me wrong…it is absolutely gorgeous!”


“Insanely spectacular!”

“Insanely.” Mr. Delfino pressed a cloth napkin to his mouth.

“But if I were you, I would go a little nutso here all the time. The vineyards are really pretty, but Jerry and I need to be close to the city. We need arts and restaurants. We need culture, museums…”

“We need the train. Nearby. All the time. Though this is pretty. Very, very pretty.”

“I get what you mean. Trust me, I do,” Lilly said, fascinated by the timber of their voices and the lovely way they finished each other’s thoughts. She checked to see what her mom was doing and found her in quiet discussion with Mellie in the corner, the surefire sign that something juicy was going on in town. Juicy for Mom anyway. To Lilly, it was all old hat. Someone was getting married, someone got fired, someone new was hired at one of the local wineries, on and on. Honestly, it got ridiculously boring after a while. She leaned into the Delfinos. “Can you keep a secret?”

“Can we keep a secret?” Mrs. Delfino’s shoulders shook. “Honey, do you even know who you’re talking to?”

“Queen of Secrets,” Mr. Delfino said.

“Like a tomb.” Mrs. Delfino zipped her lip and threw away the key.

“Okay…” Lilly rested on her elbows. “Last month, I entered a baking contest sponsored by Food Network.”

“And you got pregnant?”

“What? No.” Lilly recoiled. What the hell?

“Sorry, go on…”

“So, I just got the call this morning…”

“That call?” Mrs. Delfino narrowed her eyes.

“Yes. I won!” Lilly beamed. “Out of five hundred some contestants, they narrowed it down to twenty. I went last month for an interview at my old college, where they did a baking test, and I just got word today that I won an internship with Guy Santoli, the head pastry chef of L’Appetite Boulange! I leave in three weeks!”

“That’s wonderful! Where will you be going?” Mrs. Delfino asked.

“Miami. I’ve never even been outside of California!” Lilly tried to keep her voice hushed.

Mrs. Delfino’s eyeballs ogled her. “What? Such a pretty girl, with that body and that face, and you’ve never been outside of California? Unbelievable. Look at that body! Jerry, would you look at that body.”

“I’m lookin’, I’m lookin’…”

What having a nice body and face had anything to do with leaving your home state was anyone’s guess, but Lilly just shrugged and reveled in having finally just told her first people the great news! Yes, a bit of guilt jabbed at her that she hadn’t told Mom first, but Mom wasn’t exactly the most supportive about her leaving town.

“I think that’s great what you young women are doing, being on your own for some time, advancing your careers. I do, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a lot of stress. What you really need is a man…” Mrs. Delfino sipped from her teacup. “A rich man to support you while you open your own business. You have lots of freedom, you have lots of babies—BINGO!”

“Bingo,” her husband agreed.

“That’s what you do.” Mrs. Delfino reached out and squeezed Lilly’s forearm. As misguided as her advice was, there was a sincere sweetness in her hazel eyes. “I’m not telling you what to do. I’m just saying.”

“I know what you mean,” Lilly said, leaving it at that. What she needed was to get out of Green Valley, see the world…Hell, just seeing her own country would be great, and she could do that with or without a man. “I’m dying to go places.”

“Like where? Tell me.”

Lilly turned her attention out the window. “Rome would be nice.”

“Ooo, my grandparents came from Rome. Beautiful city, but old. Very old. Where else?”

“Australia. London—I’m dying to go to London. And Hawaii. So close, yet so far. We work all the time, so it’s not easy to just up and go. But I will soon. In three weeks!” Lilly said, folding and unfolding a napkin over and over. For the first time in forever, she had something to feel excited about, and Miami was the perfect place to get her fresh start.

She just had to tell Mom.

“Those are all wonderful places. Jerry and I have been. But don’t worry, you have your whole life ahead of you. Like I said, rich man. Sweep you away. If he has a white horse, even better.” Mrs. Delfino went back to sipping her black coffee from her porcelain cup.

“Well, I better get the last of breakfast cleaned up. I just wanted to get that out.” Lilly stood and brushed off her apron, reaching out to shake both their hands. “It was a pleasure talking to you both. We’re so happy you’re staying with us. If there’s anything I can do to make your stay more welcome, just let me know.”

“You already did. Such great news.” Mrs. Delfino bit into her pumpkin spice muffin and mm-mmmed. “Again, this thing is delectable, and I hate pumpkin!”

Lilly smiled and picked up a cloth napkin that had been discarded on another table. At that moment, Mom brushed by in a rush, headed back to the front desk. She used to be a big woman, but since Lilly’s father died last year, she’d worn down and was easily half the woman she used to be, and not in a good way either. “What were you talking about with the Delfinos?” she asked. “You all seemed excited.”

“Oh, nothing,” Lilly lied, joining her mother in the foyer. “They were just raving about the muffins.”

“Of course they were. That’s my girl.” Mom smiled at her. “The last guests are coming to check in. They called ahead to let us know. Did you check the sheets and bath items in Room 5?”

“Yes, I checked everything. It’s all ready.” Lilly plucked a tiny sunflower from the vase full of autumn orange and yellow sunflowers on the counter and laid it on top of the pumpkin sitting next to it. She would have to put out the Halloween decorations soon; even though she wouldn’t be around to enjoy them, her mom would.

“Did the Delfinos say if they liked the room?” Her mother nervously marked off items from a list with her pencil. “They wanted extra towels. We gave them that. They wanted a wake-up call. We gave them that.”

“Mom, relax. Everything is fine. They love it here!” Of course, Lilly didn’t mention that the Delfinos only complimented her muffins. It wasn’t that the rest of the B&B wasn’t wonderful. Everything was superb—well, almost. The furniture could use a little updating in three of the rooms, and the awful heavy drapes always made Lilly want to sew play clothes and hang from trees, singing about her favorite things and do-re-mi.

“I hope so. They seem the type who could easily complain about one little thing then go online and give us one star, just because we ran out of Splenda.”

“They’re not going to do that. They were truly delighted.” Lilly nervously wrung the cloth napkin she was holding. She should mention it. Of course she should. And why not? “They said I should open my own bakery. Ha, ha, imagine that!”

Mom’s neck swiveled toward Lilly. “They said that?”

“Yeah.” Lilly smiled hopefully.

“Did you tell them it was unlikely, since you’d be taking over this place one day?”

Lilly swallowed a lump in her throat. “Right. Yes, I told them.” She sighed and returned to the dining room. So much for that. She should have known better than to bring up the idea of opening a bakery when her mom had planned her entire life out for her.

Sigh. When am I going to grow a set of balls? Lilly entered the butler’s panty and flung the cloth napkin onto the counter.

Once again, she glanced at Mr. and Mrs. Delfino, wondering if she would ever find someone to spend her life with like that. Someone to travel with, see big cities with, then settle down to have a big family. The idea of it sounded so wonderful. But here she was—already twenty-seven with only one boyfriend under her belt. Ben Miller would have asked her to marry him, but his family moved to Chicago, and though he could have stayed in Forestville with Lilly, he didn’t exactly try. He claimed it was just about the most boring place to live for someone their age, but then the last she’d heard, he’d married and moved to Elmhurst, Illinois.

Elmhurst, Ben? Seriously?

Whatever. She couldn’t put any more energy toward it. That ship had sailed, gone, adios, buh-bye. Problem was, hardly any new ships ever came through this port unless they were already on their honeymoon, gay, celebrating an anniversary, or elderly. Princes on white horses just didn’t ride through Forestville, Mrs. Delfino, no matter how fairy tale-ish the name of their town sounded.

No, Lilly knew her best bet in life was to accept the internship in Miami and start anew. Then, when the six-month apprenticeship was over, she could maybe open a shop in San Francisco or Chicago or wherever tickled her fancy. Her bakery could serve muffins and pastries in the morning, cookies, cupcakes and other sweets in the afternoons and evenings. Coffee and milkshakes, too, and make absolutely no apology for it either.

But the burning question was—how would Mom take the news?

Suddenly, her mom appeared. “Lillian, is there something—”

The front door bell chimed, and in blew two men from the early autumn coolness, knocking back their hoods off their heads. Mom immediately headed back to the desk. Curious to get a closer look, Lilly followed her.

The men were young, mid-to-late twenties. One of them had dark brown hair and dark eyes with heavy, charming brows, and the other had slightly lighter hair with bright green eyes. Both were hot, but the brown-eyed man seemed older, was taller, and for some reason, seemed like the one in charge. Hellooo, boys…

Mr. Brown Eyes unwrapped his gray scarf from his neck and walked up to the front desk then caught sight of Lilly and her mom, practically gaping at him. His gaze met Lilly’s and he winked, a lopsided smile spreading across his face. “Hullo. How’s it going there?”


Lilly would know that accent anywhere. Forestville had their share of Irish folks in the east part of town. A tiny flutter of excitement flurried in her chest. What was she saying about leaving Green Valley? Was there somewhere she needed to be in three weeks? On second thought, maybe Miami could wait.

Mom hurried behind the counter. “Hi, welcome to Russian River House.”

Behind Lilly, Mr. and Mrs. Delfino exited the dining room. Mrs. Delfino smiled at Lilly with freshly repainted lipstick. She spotted the men at the counter and pointed at them secretively behind her other hand. “White horse…take you away.”

“White horse,” Mr. Delfino echoed, tapping Lilly on the shoulder. “Take you away.”


After the flight from Dublin to New York City, a layover, then another six-hour flight to San Francisco, plus car rental and driving time, the last thing Quinn expected was for his balls to tighten upon seeing the blond American woman working in the dining room of the Russian River House. She was quite possibly the most gorgeous girl he’d ever seen. Holy shite.

But damn, he was bushed and desperately needed a bed.

The last ten days had taken a huge toll on him. From the moment his mother had died to the day he’d called Richard Phillips, his maternal grandfather, to inform him that his daughter, Maggie Phillips O’Neill had passed away suddenly, only to get a hostile, “I don’t have a daughter named Maggie, nor do I have a grandson. Only two daughters here in Forestville,” Quinn had been doing his best to keep his spirits up. Old man Phillips might have kept his mam away with his belligerent attitude, but it wasn’t going to work on him. He had the right to know where Mam had grown up, see the sidewalks she had walked, the river she had loved, and the valley she’d adored.

Con had been a bit less eager to make the trip, saying Mam had made her choice to leave Green Valley and had been all the better for it, but Quinn had pestered Con into coming with him for a few reasons. One, to try and snap him out of his funk. Two, to get him out of Brady’s hair—they’d been bickering like chickens the last ten days, more than usual. And finally, to help him find closure over Mam’s death. Of course, that was something all his brothers needed, but Brady, Sean and Riley had obligations that needed tending. After they’d all agreed to cremate Mam’s body (despite his initial belief that Mam should be buried, Con, after reading Mam’s journal, had changed his mind), Brady, Sean and Riley agreed that Quinn and Con should journey to America first. If they still felt at the end of one week that it was what Mam would have wanted, they’d call the others, who’d then join them to spread her ashes.

Quinn felt optimistic it would all work out as it should. And while he hadn’t shared this with his brothers, he’d decided that if he liked it here, he’d extend his trip. If he didn’t, he’d return to Ireland like a good Irish boy ought to do.

So far, he was liking what he saw right in the dining room.

Once again, Quinn glanced at the hot blond American, an amazing gazelle of a woman, even as the innkeeper droned on about things to do in the area, the bookstore down the street, the diner around the corner with the homemade cherry pie, and the winery next door. The blonde—she was tall and a bit curvy, just the way he liked—kept stealing glances at him while the older woman talked. Her hair was up in a messy bun like she’d just run circles. She had a smooth, angular face with high cheekbones that gave her the look of an old-fashioned pin up with a naughty side. Then again, maybe his imagination was running wild. After all, she wore a pink and black apron that read: Life is Short—Lick the Bowl.

“I’d be happy to. Just show me where it is,” Con said, deepening his voice, as he stared straight at her chest.

Quinn smacked his arm. “You going to start right away, are you?”

The innkeeper with the sunken cheekbones gave him dour looks. And they said Americans were friendly.

“I apologize for my brother. He’s shattered and in dire need of a nap. That was completely uncalled for,” he stage-whispered.

“No offense taken.” The young woman smiled cheekily then turned and walked into a small alcove through the dining room. From where Quinn stood, it appeared she was sorting a variety of breakfast quick breads into plastic storage bags. What he would give to try her muffins.

“Your room is Number 5,” the older woman said and fake-smiled. She placed a room key on the desk. “It’s the last one down the hall on the left. Breakfast begins at six-thirty and runs until ten-thirty every morning. Obviously, you’re late for today, but we have coffee out all day, unless you gentlemen prefer tea? We can get you some tea.”

“Ah, sure, tea would be grand, if it isn’t too much trouble,” Quinn said, thinking how he hadn’t had a nice cuppa black tea with milk in over a week. Such a thing would hit the spot right about now.

“Lillian?” the innkeeper called.

The blonde turned her head toward them again. “Yes, Mom?” Her arms were full of muffins, and her gaze flitted to him, to his brother, then back to Quinn again. The tiny gesture made him dance a little jig in his brain, even though he hadn’t just crossed the Atlantic and all the continental U.S. just to act like a complete bowser.

“Can you get Mr., uh…” The older woman checked the register for his name. “O’Neill and Mr. O’Neill some tea in their room, please? They’ve had a long trip from…Dublin, is it?” She read the register again, as though double, triple-checking her facts.

“Yes! Yes.” Quinn slid the room key toward him and folded his papers back into his bag. “All the way from Ireland. Please, don’t ask if I know any leprechauns or Bono. I actually prefer the leprechauns.” He chuckled.

“Who?” The woman squinted her eyes.

Quinn needed to learn when to keep his mouth shut. “Eh, nothing. Just, eh…a dumb joke.”

Still visible in her little alcove, the young woman with the breakfast muffins shook with quiet laughter. She covered her mouth with one hand and disappeared into what Quinn suspected was the kitchen. Quinn smiled to himself.

“Well, such a long way just to visit Forestville. You boys must be going to San Fran and L.A. as well, I would imagine,” the older woman said, tapping her pencil on her desk. The way she still squinted her eyes slightly, as though trying to thoroughly inspect them, worried him. Did she know who they were, or was she just having a bit of indigestion?

“Most likely,” Quinn said, just to let it go. He may have hailed from a large city, but he knew that people from small towns were all the same—they all got to talking if you gave them even the smallest amount of information. He didn’t want anyone to know that the sons of Maggie Phillips were here, but then again, after the call with his grandfather, word may have already spread. “Anyway, thanks so much. We’ll be off then.”

“Call us if you need anything.” The innkeeper took her seat again and shuffled papers around as they collected their bags.

What should I call you? Quinn wondered briefly then realized she meant he should ring if he needed anything. The new vernacular would take a bit of getting used to, and a nap would prove useful right now.

Their room was spacious and comfortable with a king-sized bed. He would have much preferred to have his own bed, but at this point, he didn’t care about sharing. He threw his bags into a chair and closed the door, as Con threw his stuff on the floor. Their heads hit the mattress at the exact same time, which made them snort with laughter.

“Shite. I’m going to sleep ‘til tomorrow, if that’s all right with you,” Con groaned, spreading his arms out wide, inhaling the spaciousness of the large bed.

“Brother, you need the rest. That’s why I brought you.” Quinn was bushed too, but he was also wired, like a child who’d seen too many exciting new things after a long day and couldn’t close his eyes. Well, here they were in Forestville, California, America—his mother’s hometown. Finally. Sometime today or tomorrow, he’d set out to see the town a bit closer and try to get a sense for who his mother might have been before she moved to Ireland.

Though he had no idea where to begin. He supposed he could start by re-reading Mam’s journal and making notes on places to visit, but two important spots—at least for him—would be the house she grew up in and Mulligan’s Tavern, the pub where she and Dad met in the Irish part of town.

A noise like that of a chainsaw ripping apart a giant oak tree sounded next to him, and Quinn noticed that Con had already passed out right on top of the bed’s comforter, snoring away like a freight train. Quinn sighed, envying his brother’s ability to just lay back and fall asleep like that. It’d always taken Quinn a while, especially when his brain was overloaded with a thousand thoughts.

He was only older than Con by three years, but sometimes, he felt like Con was the baby of them all and felt compelled to take care of him as such. Getting up, Quinn reached for the folded blanket at the end of the bed and stretched it out over his brother. “It’s way past your bed time, wee one.” He laughed then headed out, closing the door gently behind him.

The establishment had a lovely living room area with couches, a fireplace, and some reading chairs. He could sit out here for a while and hope that the muffin gazelle would come by again. That is, if her mam wasn’t around to keep her in line. He’d seen the way she looked at her daughter—Lillian, her name was—as if she needed an eye kept on her.

On a couch next to a window with a view of the country road, a pumpkin patch out on the lawn, and the rain about to come down, Quinn had just spread his knees out, getting comfortable, when Lillian appeared, brandishing a tray with a tea kettle and two ceramic cups. She didn’t see him and was headed down the hall, clearly for their room. “Miss?” Quinn called.

She slowed down. “Oh, you’re out here. I was taking it to your room.”

Quinn stood to help her, or at least make his willingness known. “My brother fell asleep. Much appreciated. I feel bad you made it after your mam told you. When she offered, I assumed she’d be the one to do it.”

Lillian rounded the couch and set the tray down on the table before him. “I didn’t know which type of tea you liked, so I just made chamomile. There’s cream, sugar, and honey here,” she said, pushing her hair behind her ears. She didn’t make eye contact with him, and she kept pointing at the tea and talking about it without looking directly at him.

“I usually just pour some milk in it, but no worries.” He smiled, hoping she’d brave a look at him.

“Wow, milk—the one thing you needed was the one thing I didn’t bring.” She snapped her fingers. “I’m sorry. I’ll go get some. Be right back.”

“No, honestly, it’s fine. Lillian, please. I don’t need it,” Quinn said, shooting out a hand to stop her. “I’m sure it’s grand just the way it is.” He poured himself a cup and raised it, letting the tepid liquid touch his lips. It wasn’t his mam’s strong black tea with milk. It was the worst, blandest tea he’d ever had in his life, but he sipped it and made mm-mmm noises just so she would think it was fantastic. “Thanks. This really hit the spot.”

“Whew! I’m so glad. Here I was thinking I was making it all wrong. My name’s Lilly, by the way. Only my mom ever calls me Lillian. So what brings you all the way out from Ireland? Do you have family here?” She folded her arms over her good-sized chest, offering up a sweet, pretty smile. She didn’t have the biggest or the smallest breasts. They were a perfect size for her frame.

He forced his gaze on hers. “Please, sit.” He gestured for her to have a seat and watched her think about it.

Slowly, she sat, folding her hands in her lap. “Actually, I will sit a minute. I’ve been on my feet for five hours.” She sank back against the seat’s cushion and moaned slightly. Quinn tried not to imagine that same moan in another context. “Yeah, that feels good.”

He swallowed, shaking off the erotic images creeping into his mind. “See? No more foosterin’ for you, young lady,” Quinn laughed.

“What?” Lillian—no, Lilly—raised an eyebrow.

“Er…wasting time. I was being facetious. Of course you’re working hard. Anyone can tell just from looking at ya.” Quinn caught Lilly’s mother’s eye as she passed by the living room, not missing how the woman’s stride slowed slightly before she disappeared from view. Quinn cleared his throat. “I get the feeling your mam doesn’t like me for some reason.”

Lilly’s eyes widened. “Don’t be silly. Why wouldn’t she like you? No, everyone always assumes she’s pissed off, but that’s just her normal face.” She laughed. “So you’re a fan of wine and wineries? Is that why you’re in town? I would imagine. I mean, it’s really the only reason anyone ever comes through here.” When she spoke, her voice was soft and melodious, and if he closed his eyes and gave into his exhaustion, it would send him straight to heaven.

Quinn considered telling her about his mother’s death. He liked her already, and she seemed the type of girl who would understand his mission, but he wasn’t ready for the questions that would come, nor the condolences. She would want to know more about Maggie Phillips, and then her mother might overhear, and God, no—he just wanted to drink his bland tea, and share a few words with this beautiful woman a bit more before retiring to his room. “We heard it’s nice out here. Wanted to see it for ourselves. Yes, we love wine and wineries.” He coughed.

“Irish guys who like wine instead of beer and whiskey, huh?” Lilly clucked her tongue. “Never saw that coming.”

“Go way outta that! Stereotyping, are you?” Quinn feigned being offended, but secretly, he loved that she was spot on. He never drank wine, hated the stuff. “I happen to be a huge champion of glorified grape juice.”

Lilly’s mouth twisted. “Well, you came to the right place. Definitely lots of glorified grape juice factories around here.”

“Hey,” he said. “I was just pullin’ your leg, you know. Not disrespecting wine country or anything.” He detected a wistfulness in her eyes. There was something about them, like something brewing just underneath the surface of a clear, glassy lake. She couldn’t have been more than twenty-two or three with tight skin like that, but she was yearning and had been for some time. “Are you not fond of wine, Lilly?” Or was it the town or something else she longed to be free of?

The light in her eyes seemed to switch on, as if realizing, as hostess, she needed to smile and make her guests comfortable at all times, never let them into any pervasive sadness she might be feeling. “Me? Oh, I like wine fine. And it’s beautiful here. The people are wonderful. It’s just that I’ve lived here my whole life, so I’ve seen everything there is to see…here…anyway. More wineries and vineyards than one person would ever care to see in one lifetime, Mr. O’Neill, so I apologize if my attitude is a bit blasé.”

“Quinn. Mr. O’Neill was my father.” He reached a hand out to her. Lilly stared at it a moment then slowly slipped hers into it, shaking softly. Warm and smooth. “And I see nothing wrong with your attitude.”

She stared at him a few moments. She looked as if there was more she wanted to say, and he imagined her unraveling her whole life’s dreams right here, opening herself to him in more ways than one, but she shook it off, pulling her phone from her pocket to stare at it. “Oh, my goodness. I have to get back. It was really nice chatting with you, Quinn.”

“Ah, sure, very nice. You work every day?” he heard himself say. Why was that? Did he want to see her again? Well, who wouldn’t? Just look at her.

“Most days, yeah. It’s starting to slow down now after Labor Day, but…why?”

“Ah, no reason. Just wondering. We’ll be here a week, my brother and I. Maybe I’ll see you around again?” It was casual enough. Not too hopeful or flirty. Stay focused. Do what you came to do.

“Of course. Swing by in the morning. You can try my famous muffins.” She winked, flashed her bright, pretty smile, and tapped the back of the wingchair. “See you later.”

Quinn watched her walk away, trying to figure out what just happened. One moment, she seemed shy and nervous, and the next, she was winking, inviting him to try her famous muffins, like a paper doll trying on different styles of clothes. How famous were these muffins exactly? “Sounds lovely.” He was unable to contain his smile, nor did he want to.

When he stood, his head felt light, and it hit him all of a sudden just how exhausted he was. The tea may have tasted like piss water, but it had somewhat lull him into a relaxed state with the help of some nice conversation with the innkeeper’s daughter. In his room, he kicked off his shoes, undressed down to his scunders, and laid on the bed.

“Feck,” he said and closed his eyes. What a day it’d been.

He thought of the plane ride, of landing at LaGuardia and hearing the New Yorker accents, of arriving in San Francisco and driving through wine country. He thought of the grand scope of scenery, how different America looked on both coasts, even though he hadn’t seen much yet. Then, he thought of the first thing he noticed when he walked into the inn—the gorgeous blonde, craning her neck for another look at him.

She should be the one manning the welcome desk. Out in the open for all guests to admire, not tucked away and hidden. What a fine woman.

A light tap at his door pulled him out of his ebbing slumber. Groggily, he rose and moved to open it, then realized he was still in his skivvies. Imagining Lilly’s mom on the other side of the door, he wrangled himself back into his jeans before answering.

Lilly stood there, wringing her hands. “Um…” Her eyes dropped to his body—his naked chest and his jeans, which he’d zipped but hadn’t bothered to button. She swallowed hard. “I’m…so sorry…I just…” She blushed and averted her eyes down the hallway. Then looked at his chest and jeans again. “Um…”

Quinn smiled, enjoying the way he was making Lilly squirm where she stood, rooted to her spot. At the same time, however, he shifted slightly behind the door to hide the rather intense effect she was having on his body with her naughty looks.

“I’m sorry, Lil,” he half-whispered. “But you can’t come in. Normally I’m up for anything, but you see my brother’s not the soundest of sleepers…” Just then Con’s snoring rent the air. Quinn smiled wider and leaned toward her. “On second thought, I’ll just kick the little maggot out. Perhaps you brought a late night snack of those muffins you were telling me about.”

He made a production of looking for something she’d brought with her, even though he could plainly see her hands were empty. “Ah, just as well. I wouldn’t want to share anything you’d brought for me, you see…”

Lilly tilted her chin up and rolled her eyes, indicating she knew he was kidding and having none of it.

Quinn burst out laughing.

“I just came by to tell you…to invite you…to let you know that I can show you and your brother around tomorrow.” Her blue eyes turned back to his face, intense and focused on remaining there by force. “If you want. But I think I’ve changed my mind.”

Oh, he wanted, alright. Right now he wanted a whole lot. But he’d settle on Lilly’s offer of a tour for now. “That’d be grand! And please don’t change your mind. I’m tuckered from flying, and my brain’s a mess. I was just having a bit of fun between new friends.”

She harrumphed but he could see the amusement in her expression. He’d always loved a girl with a good sense of humor. “Well, alright. But I won’t be taking it easy on you tomorrow,” she said, then groaned and closed her eyes almost immediately.

Instead of shooting out another sexual innuendo, he simply said, “Please don’t. And we’ll look forward to spending tomorrow with you. Right after I try your famous muffins, of course.” Quinn winked devilishly. “See you then, Lilly.”


On her third-floor balcony, Lilly paced back and forth between her basil, sage, and cilantro plants, watering and muttering to herself. “What on Earth was I thinking?” Inviting him around town, Lillian…really? And wink-offering your muffins then following that up with a knock on his door while he answered half-naked? “Man, I looked desperate.”

Rule #1 of running any guest establishment was “Stay Out of the Guests’ Business.” Well, she wasn’t sure if that was really Rule #1, but her mom always made her feel that it was. Sitting and chatting with them was one thing, but inviting them out for a stroll was another entirely. The next level of nosiness. Way to show off her small-town-ness. Then again, weren’t Mom and her gossipy friends always telling Lilly she needed to get out more and meet nice men, or she would turn into an old maid? How was she ever supposed to do that if she never went anywhere?

Not that Lilly cared if she turned into an old maid. She was perfectly fine being man-less her whole life, since she’d earned her degree and was self-sufficient, but the thought of living without love or anyone to share it with that long made her sad most of the time. Not because her biological clock would soon start ticking, but Lilly truly wanted to start talking to people besides her mother, Avery, Mellie, and Cook.

In theory, she should’ve just come back to the kitchen and minded her own business after having tea with Quinn O’Neill. But that lilt in his accent! That baritone voice! That dark hair and those eyes, the stubble on his chin, his leather jacket. God, what was it about Irish men? She hated to be a cliché, but there was something so charming about him. Plus, her heightened interest wasn’t unfounded. He had smiled at her and chuckled when they’d talked over tea, and he had come out of his room looking for her when he could have just gone to sleep like his brother had. She just knew he’d come back out looking for her.

Lilly couldn’t ignore the way he’d made her feel standing there in only his jeans teasing her about letting her into his room or trying her muffins. How did guys do that—just have zero concern when they were in the buff in front of a girl they’d just met? She guessed it was all about confidence and wished she could have borrowed some of his. But before he’d shifted behind the door, he’d stood there, one arm over his head, leaning against the door frame, his chest and abs nicely defined and covered with a soft smattering of dark hair, not too much, but not bare either—perfect.

Her legs had gone weak, and she’d felt a jolt of energy shoot through her arms and back down to her groin, as he’d stood there, gazing right through her like he knew it too, just enjoying the way it was affecting her. But she couldn’t chicken out, so she’d swallowed her dread and invited him into town, and now, she had no choice but to wait it out—a whole twenty or so hours until she saw him again. In the meantime, she’d make the afternoon goodies and spend all twenty hours trying not to think about Quinn O’Neill, newly-arrived Irishman.

Or what the hell—she’d think of him and enjoy every moment of it.

In the morning, she waited in the living room wearing jeans and a long-sleeved top with her gray wrap-around cardigan. She’d put on her pretty dangling earrings, the ones she rarely wore unless there was occasion for it. She crossed and uncrossed her legs, flipping through the October issue of Better Homes & Gardens, trying to look casually bored and excited at the same time. Next to her, she brought a picnic basket packed with banana streusel muffins, orange cranberry muffins, and cinnamon date brioches.

Her mom breezed through the living room, rearranging the magazines and flicking a speck of dust off the coffee table. “What time do you expect to be back, Lillian?”

“No clue. But you won’t need me until this evening, will you?”

Mom’s shoulders drooped. “I guess that would be fine.” She huffed and began walking off, but then she turned suddenly. “You be careful. I’m not fond of you going off with two strange men by yourself like this.”

Lilly closed the magazine and shot her mother a look. “Seriously? Mom, everything will be fine. I told you Quinn and I talked yesterday—he’s not a stranger anymore. He’s nice. Not a big deal.” Lilly flipped the magazine back open and held back a smile, as her mother gave her a disapproving look then entered the kitchen. “Besides, I’ll do as I damn well please,” she muttered under her breath.

A moment later, the brothers emerged from the hallway looking well-rested, draping their jackets over their arms. Quinn was definitely the more athletic of the two, probably having played some type of sport before, whereas Con was built more like a yoga instructor. “What’s the craic, Barack?” Quinn laughed, standing feet apart.

She waved, not knowing what on Earth that meant. “All bright-eyed and bushy-tailed?”

“What’s that?” His smile faded a bit.

“Oh, uh…just that you’re ready to go. I brought you breakfast.” She held up her basket for them to see. They approached and stood facing her in the morning light, filtering in through the window. “Figured we could eat while we’re out, if that’s okay.”

“Sounds lovely,” Quinn said, turning to his brother to ask if he’d locked the room and had his cell phone.

Con checked his pockets, nodded at Quinn, then flashed a smile at Lilly.

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