“Whiskey on the rocks coming up.” Sean O’Neill pulled a snifter glass from below the bar, tossed a few ice cubes into the glass, and poured out the restaurant’s most popular whiskey with a flourish. “Needin’ anything else, Walter?”
The older man knocked back the whiskey before wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “Not right now.”
Sean nodded, not bothering to tell Walter he’d been cut off anyway. Walter had a tendency to overindulge—his wife had left him and he had taken to wallowing in liquor—and generally had to be poured into a cab at the end of the night. The poor sod didn’t seem to have anyone to take care of him; the children he rarely spoke of were scattered around the country. Although Walter sometimes came in with a friend or two, they seemed to be just as out of sorts and lonely as him —not exactly the type to lift him up or shake some sense into him.
Thank God for my brothers, Sean thought. With the tragedy that had struck as of late—first the loss of his niece, then the fire at the family restaurant, and now both his mam and dad gone—there were times it had been all too tempting to drink himself into oblivion. Of course, he knew too well that even the strongest liquid haze wasn’t powerful enough to bring true forgetfulness, even assuming his brothers were the type to let him try.
The Stylish Irish had been particularly busy tonight, but Sean took advantage of a rare breather to look around. He spotted Quinn and Brady, the eldest and the true bedrock of the family. It was thanks to their lead that they were all here now. Not even a year after leaving Dublin and settling in the small Northern California town of Forestville, and the O’Neill brothers already had a prosperous business, strong sense of community, and a connection to long-lost family that was growing stronger with time. Even better, Sean’s future was rife with possibilities now that he’d started school again. He had the luxury of working in the restaurant at night and focusing on his studies during the day.
Sean didn’t mind bartending: it was quick cash, and the clientele were laid back and easy to please. Very few came in asking for something fancier than a gin and tonic; he rarely had to deal with unhappy patrons who wanted their Cosmopolitans with organic grapefruit juice or hand-picked limes in their margaritas. And as for school? He was enjoying his classes tremendously. English literature had always been a passion for him, but there was another reason that particular class was his all-time favorite and probably always would be.
A dark-haired woman with blue eyes waltzed up to the bar, taking Sean in, her tongue wetting her lips. He was used to female attention and, like his brothers, he often had his pick of women. However, while he’d dated since coming to America, he hadn’t had sex since before leaving Ireland. Of all his brothers, Sean had always been the one most interested in a serious relationship. Plus he was only interested in one woman, a woman he’d met in January, but due to circumstances, hadn’t been able to ask out.
“How are you tonight, sweetheart?” Sean asked the brunette with the blue eyes.
Her eyes widened. “Oh, your accent!” she exclaimed, her voice breathy. “Where are you from?”
He almost laughed—did no one read the sign out front?—but instead, he said as seriously as possible, “From Ireland, love.”
“Ireland! What brought you to California?”
Losing his mam and dad wasn’t something he wanted to get into, so he replied with a quick smile, “The pleasure of serving a pretty lady like you. Now, what would you like?”
The woman blushed and cooed, tapping her lip as she decided on a drink. Eventually she settled on a glass of white wine. Sean grabbed the bottle—one from his grandfather’s winery.
Setting the glass in front of her, he told her the price and she handed him her credit card. “Want to start a tab?” he asked.
“Yes, please,” she replied, batting her eyelashes.
Sean turned away. He’d like a good tip, but nothing beyond that. He wasn’t interested in any other woman but Juliana Madison, or as he’d only called her up to now: Professor Madison. She was a visiting English Professor at Sonoma State University where he was enrolled as an undergraduate. Professor Madison was probably not yet thirty, but she exuded a confidence and maturity that had attracted Sean the moment he’d seen her when the semester had begun.
Dark-haired and above average height, she didn’t wear much in the way of makeup usually. Her clothes were professional and neat, bordering on dowdy but still managing to showcase her curves. Sean almost groaned thinking about what she’d worn on Monday: a gray skirt and a purple blouse that had brought out the green in her eyes. When she’d bent over and picked up a pen from the floor, the fabric of her skirt had stretched across her plump ass. He’d had to adjust himself right there in the lecture hall—and he knew he hadn’t been the only guy to do so. Professor Madison—Juliana—had an effortless sensuality that made her wildly popular amongst her male students.
Although he’d initially assumed he’d have no chance with her—mostly due to their dynamic as student and professor, in addition to the fact she was several years older—he’d quickly seen the answering interest in her eyes. That interest had escalated as the semester passed. He’d become a master at reading the signs despite her attempts to hide them—the way her gaze lingered on him when he turned in his papers or how she seemed to blush when he raised his hand and answered her question. During office hours, she couldn’t stop messing with things, like she found him distracting—or like she was trying to distract her hands so they wouldn’t reach out and touch him. Mostly it was the heat in her eyes when she saw him that made Sean think that getting Juliana Madison into his bed wasn’t so farfetched after all—and why shouldn’t it happen? They were both adults and he’d be done with her class tomorrow, so it’d all be kosher.
“Can I have another one?” Walter asked with a slur in his speech. “Just one more, Seany, can’t you do that for an old man?”
“Sorry, Walter, but you’re done for tonight. Hey, George, will you get Walter here to a cab?” Sean called to one of the busboys cleaning up the tables.
George had assisted Walter to a cab many times and he took the older man outside without protest.
“So how long you been working here?” the woman who’d ordered the glass of wine asked.
“Just about nine months.” Sean picked up stray glasses and placed them in a bin of dirty dishes underneath the counter. Normally his brother Riley and his girlfriend, Erica, manned the bar, but they’d both taken the night off.
“How fun for you. I’m sure you get lots of interesting people coming in here.”
Sean smiled. “Loads, for sure.”
Despite the woman’s best attempts, he remained slippery. She left with her forehead creased in annoyance. He could’ve easily taken her up on her obvious offer, but he wasn’t interested. Not in the least. He blamed Juliana for this entirely—how could a woman he hadn’t even had yet affect him like this? He was only twenty-three!
“Thanks for keeping an eye on Walter, maggot.”
Sean looked up to see Quinn walking toward him, a wide grin on his face. Sean couldn’t help grinning in return. Quinn had been smiling a lot lately, all because his girlfriend Lilly, who’d spent the last eight months in Florida interning for a celebrity pastry chef, would be coming home in a few weeks. Quinn planned to pop the question soon after her return, and Sean couldn’t be more thrilled. In fact, all four of his brothers had been the happiest he’d ever seen them—including Brady, who’d been tormented by the loss of his daughter and subsequent demise of his marriage. Even Riley, whose ideal woman had always been busty, flexible, and liked to share, had found true love with sweet and spunky Erica.
Sean’s phone buzzed. He picked it up to see a text from his older brother Conor, who lived about an hour away in San Francisco. Con had fallen in love with an older woman, Madlyn Sanchez. Madlyn was already a mother when she had met Conor, and all of the O’Neill brothers had fallen hard for her little boy, Jax. Laid back and fancy-free Conor O’Neill an instant father? He’d taken to it like a fish to water. Sean imagined that, being even older than Conor, it was likely Juliana would be thinking of having kids soon, but damn if that didn’t dampen his attraction to her in the slightest. In the past, when Sean had envisioned his ideal life, it had included teaching classes and then going home to a beautiful woman and a brood of children.
Anything go down today? Con texted.
Nothing but the usual, he responded. Walter drank too much, had to get him a cab. That’s it.
Good. How are classes going?
Sean almost considered saying something about Juliana, but he’d waxed poetic about her enough to his brothers; they’d been having a fine time teasing him about her. He simply replied: They’re over as of tomorrow.
But Con always seemed to have the ability to know when his brothers were bullshitting him: How about Professor Juliana? You two K-I-S-S-I-N-G yet? Tree or not.
Sean groaned out loud. More teasing. It was to be expected, but he didn’t like Conor reducing his feelings for Juliana to a schoolyard game. It reminded him how likely it was that she’d try to dismiss their mutual attraction. He was determined to make her admit she felt something for him, and, if he got what he really wanted, to act upon those feelings.
From what I can tell, she’s… interested…
The three dots appeared, indicating that Conor’s reply was forthcoming, and then: Well, time to make your move, isn’t it?
In addition to teasing him about his “crush,” Quinn and Brady had warned him he was too young to tie himself down yet. Riley had said the same thing before he’d succumbed to cupid’s arrow, but not Con. Con was more spiritual. He believed in fate and destiny. Two people meeting each other for a reason. Con was a sentimental, hopeless romantic who believed love would find a way.
Not that Sean believed he was in love with Juliana. Not yet. But he wanted her, and he could easily see attraction turning to love given enough time. Now that the semester was over, Sean didn’t really have anything to lose. Juliana wouldn’t be his professor anymore and he could try his luck like he would with any other woman. He knew women were sometimes sensitive about dating a younger man, so the key would be to convince Juliana to give them a chance. To prove a few years difference between them didn’t matter. To show her that he wasn’t your typical twenty-three-year-old who wanted to fuck anything that moved.
I make no promises, Sean finally typed back, but we’ll see.
Con sent back a thumbs-up emoji and Sean shook his head as he got back to work.
Just then Brady came out of the office, his face relaxed but lighting up once he saw his girl Anna sitting at a table with her friends. It made Sean’s chest hurt, seeing the happiness on his big brothers’ faces, knowing they had something he currently lacked. He’d sowed his share of wild oats, but he was bored with that. It was time to move on. With Juliana he didn’t want a one-night stand or a fling: he wanted something more than that. Something lasting—something deep.
Just thinking about Juliana heated his blood and sent his thoughts whirling. Fantasies swirled through his mind the rest of the night, keeping him on edge. Finally, after closing up the bar, Sean headed to the nearby cottage he shared with Riley. Riley spent more time with his new girl than he did at home, which was just fine with Sean. He loved his brothers and was especially close with his twin Riley, but privacy was a rarity he valued.
As he washed up and changed, Sean pictured Juliana in the skirt she’d worn on Monday, how it had showed off her smoking hot curves as she’d bent over to pick up that pen. Her ass was perfectly heart-shaped. Sean fisted his hands thinking about it. He imagined cupping her ass as he pressed against her, kissing her until she moaned his name. Would she be a quiet kisser, or would she be a talker?
Making his way to his room, he collapsed onto his bed, only the streetlamps outside providing illumination. Sean didn’t need light, though: his brain gave him everything he needed. He imagined Juliana following him into his room, smiling coyly, her lips painted red. She’d be wearing that gray skirt, but her blouse would be unbuttoned to show a hint of creamy cleavage. He groaned, reaching into his sweatpants and pulling his already-hard cock free.
She’d gaze at him as he stroked himself, licking her lips, and then she’d walk to the bed—slowly, seductively—and straddle his legs. She wouldn’t touch him; she’d watch him pull at his cock, mesmerized by how it would grow and lengthen in front of her eyes.
His hips lifted as he imagined the scenario and his body felt like it was on fire. He fisted his cock even harder. A bead of pre-cum trailed down his shaft. He knew he was close to release. Too close—he wanted to make the fantasy last a while longer.
Juliana’s skirt would ride up until her milky thighs were exposed, encased in sheer nylons like some pin-up girl from the ‘40s. Her skirt would barely cover her mound, which would already be wet with desire. She’d smooth her hands up his belly to his chest, avoiding his cock for now. That’s when he’d pull her head close and kiss her, thrusting his tongue inside her mouth.
“Juliana,” he said aloud, like she was in the room with him.
He worked his cock harder and harder. His orgasm traveled down his spine, settling low in his gut until the pressure felt unbearable in its lengthening pleasure. Juliana would nip at his lips then, smiling against them, before kissing his chest. She’d tease him and tease him, driving him absolutely wild.
“Let me take care of you,” she’d say with a shy smile. Then she’d wrap her small white hands around his cock, and he’d lose his damn mind.
She wouldn’t fist him hard—no, she’d be like butterfly wings, giving him the barest pleasure and thus making it all the more painful. Intense. A trickle when a gushing stream was needed to break the dam. He’d buck against her, but she’d only smile and keep up her light efforts. Her hands would barely reach around his cock, he’d be so hard.
Realizing he needed release—could a man die of pleasure averted?—she’d stroke him harder and harder. In reality, Sean took his cock and fondled his balls while Juliana filled his mind, and then he came so hard his hips left the bed. He came and came, hot seed jetting from his cock, covering his hand and belly. He trembled from the onslaught; he was sure he could smell Juliana in this very room, like she was really beside him.
Breathing deeply, Sean closed his eyes as he came down from his high. He hadn’t come that hard from jacking off in ages—probably not since he’d been a teenager, and all from fantasizing about the effortlessly sexy Professor Madison.
Damn, he was in deeper than he’d ever imagined.
* * *
Waking up the following morning, Sean felt both well-rested and vibrating with nervous energy. After all of his fantasizing about Juliana yesterday, he felt ready to make his move. He’d decided that move needed to be committed boldly and with purpose—he couldn’t do anything as insipid as asking her out on a date. No, they’d been engaging in foreplay since the beginning of the semester, and he needed to shake things up in a huge way. If he miscalculated, it would be his own fault—but at least he would know her answer.
Heading out the door with coffee in hand, Sean drove off. The commute was about forty-five minutes from the cottage; he could’ve gotten a place closer to campus on his own, but the rent was so cheap when he split it with Riley, plus it was close to The Stylish Irish. Sean didn’t mind the drive, as it featured California wine country to its fullest.
It was spring, and the sun shone bright overhead in a sky completely free of clouds. Even though Forestville had cooler temperatures and more rain than other vineyard towns in California, it still seemed perpetually sunny compared to Ireland. When he and his brothers had first arrived, it had been unsettling how very sunny this place was. Sure, it sometimes rained, and the rolling green hills were reminiscent of Ireland, but the sun was more intense here, and the very Irish O’Neill brothers had discovered that they’d needed to wear copious amounts of sunscreen until they adapted to the sunshine. Sean laughed at the memory of Riley coming home one afternoon, burnt to a crisp after a single outing in the sun. He had peeled like a snake the rest of the week.
Now, though, Sean rolled down the windows and let the spring breeze blow through, his arm hanging out the side as he drove. It wasn’t harvest season yet, but even from here, he could see the buds blooming on the grape vines. He’d known nothing about winemaking until he’d moved here, and it had been interesting to learn the ins and outs of something that wasn’t seen much in Ireland. Although if Sean were honest, he’d say he still preferred a cold Guinness to a glass of wine.
Driving down the road, he passed one of the many estates in the country, including the winery owned by his maternal grandfather. Sean and his brothers had only recently made contact with Richard Phillips, Sr., due to the fact he’d disowned his daughter Maggie, Sean’s Mam, when she’d married Grant O’Neill and moved to Ireland. Before they’d even moved to America, Sean’s grandfather had made it clear he didn’t even consider Maggie his daughter. Once he’d learned she’d died and he’d been faced with Maggie’s five sons so nearby… Well, all wasn’t forgiven and probably never would be, but they were trying to rekindle some kind of familial relationship. When Sean gazed at his grandfather’s home now, a massive white house backed by sprawling fields of rows and rows of grapevines, all Sean really saw was his grandfather’s stooped, frail body, and the ever-present regret in his eyes when he looked at his grandsons. He missed his daughter Maggie. He regretted that he’d never be able to see her again; that, more than anything, made Sean willing to work things out.
Family is king, Mam always used to say, and Sean knew full well the pain that came from losing loved ones. What would he have done without his brothers by his side? Thankfully, he’d never have to find out. Instead, they’d pursued a new dream in America and opened the restaurant. A thriving business, and one Sean was proud to have a stake in, but he also looked forward to making his own mark on the world.
Upon finally arriving at Sonoma State, Sean pulled into the parking lot that was furthest from the lecture hall where he had his English class with Juliana; from experience he knew it was the lot least likely to be full, and he enjoyed the exercise. The class met three times a week, which had allowed him to see Juliana regularly.
He sat down a few rows from the front, as usual: not so close as to seem like a brownnoser, but close enough that he could see Juliana’s minute facial expressions as she taught. She’d given them a take-home essay as their final exam a few days ago, so today’s lecture wasn’t mandatory, yet it was a testament to Juliana’s teaching skill that the class was full. She walked in a few minutes later wearing a dark gray skirt with a light pink blouse, tied at the front in a neat ribbon. It would seem dowdy on any other woman, but on her, it seemed effortlessly sexy. She had the curves to render the clothes more than they were on the hanger, and when she bent down to pick up a piece of paper that had fallen from her hand? Sean had to groan quietly. Did she know how much she was tormenting him?
That’s when she looked up and caught his gaze. He held it, not letting her go, and he watched as a subtle flush climbed up her neck into her cheeks. For just a second, it seemed as if they were the only two people in the entire auditorium, and then she jerked her gaze away.
What had she thought when she looked at him? Did she feel this chemistry, this electricity between them like he did? Sean watched her move about the front, getting her things ready for class, and he could tell she was already agitated. He smirked: he’d done that just by looking at her, but it was only fair given how tumultuous he felt inside whenever he saw her.
“So for this final class, I thought we could go over some of the poets and poems you selected to do your final essays on. Your choices were 20th century poets—Yeats, Eliot, Auden, etcetera. Why don’t we start with those of you who chose Yeats?”
She glanced at Sean expectantly, because it had become obvious over the semester that Yeats was his favorite writer and poet. Hearing Juliana talk about Yeats in her contralto voice had just made him like the poet all the more. He could listen to her for ages. However, Sean hadn’t chosen to discuss Yeats for his final essay.
Juliana looked past Sean and nodded her head. “Sarah, yes. What poem did you choose to analyze?”
Sean turned in his seat as Sarah, a beautiful blonde about his age, started speaking. “Well, the poem I chose has a lot of things going on in it,” she began, “but probably the most obvious is how it uses apocalypse metaphors throughout. Specifically, the verses ‘Surely the Second Coming is at hand’ and ‘A shape with lion body and the head of a man’ refer to images seen in the Book of Revelation, as related to Christ’s second coming.”
Juliana nodded. “Yes, great! There are so many fantastic, visceral images throughout this poem, as you pointed out. It’s one of Yeats’s most difficult poems and there can be a variety of interpretations as to what he meant. Anyone want to take a guess?”
Sean hardly heard what the other students said. All he could do was focus on Juliana as she walked about the classroom, using her hands to accent her lecture. She became so animated when she talked literature and it was sexy as hell. God, he’d give anything to go up there, pull her into his arms, and kiss her until she was laid out across the table, trembling for him to take her.
When she asked who’d chosen to write their essay on Auden, Sean straightened. He’d chosen to analyze Auden’s poem “Lullaby,” a sexy, sweetly erotic poem that told of two lovers speaking to each other after making love.
When Sean raised his hand, Juliana’s cheeks reddened slightly. “Yes, Mr. O’Neill?”
“I chose ‘Lullaby,’ a poem about love,” he said. He stared at her as he spoke, wanting her to know he was directing this entirely at her. “But not just love: this is about two people together after making love. There seems to be some sadness at the fact that their… encounter won’t last, but by the third stanza, there’s hope that this won’t be the case.”
He took a breath, then recited part of the poem in a low voice. “‘Not a whisper, not a thought… Not a kiss nor look be lost.’” Sean spoke the poem’s verses with his Irish accent exaggerated somewhat, curling his tongue around the vowels and softening the consonants. He didn’t feel the least bit badly about using his accent to seduce women, and he made even readier use of it for Juliana.
He imagined speaking the lines of poetry to her after they’d made love. For a moment, he wondered if she was imagining the same thing. She couldn’t keep her eyes off of him; her gaze was glassy, almost starry-eyed, and the flush on her cheeks was probably noticeable all the way in the back. The class seemed to have hushed, and there was silence for a few moments before Juliana finally spoke again. Her hands were trembling, he noticed. His heart pounded. He was already so hard it was painful.
“Thank you for that,” she said softly. Then seeming to realize they had an audience still, she cleared her throat and said more loudly, “Anyone else analyze this poem? It’s one of Auden’s most famous, and obviously very… erotic.” She said erotic slowly, and Sean saw her look at him as she pronounced it. She continued to steal occasional glances at him as the class continued. Finally, Juliana told them to turn in their final essays and the class got up to leave. He waited a bit, letting others turn in their papers first. He wanted to be able to talk to her, and he couldn’t do that with a queue of people behind him.
After the auditorium had mostly emptied out, he went up to the front. Setting his paper in the designated wooden box, he waited for her to acknowledge him, but she seemed determined to stare at her phone.
“I enjoyed your class, Professor Madison,” he said.
She looked up. “I’m glad.” Stuffing her phone into her purse, she began gathering up the papers.
“Do you think Auden wrote ‘Lullaby’ with a specific person in mind? I feel like he was speaking directly to his own lover.” Sean smiled as she tried to stuff the uncooperative papers in her bag. It took all of his strength not to assist her.
“Oh, perhaps. We’ll never know, will we?” She glanced at the large clock on the wall behind him. “It’s been a pleasure having you in my class, Mr. O’Neill, but there’s someone who’s waiting to speak to you.”
Confused, Sean turned around, only to see Sarah standing nearby. He almost groaned with frustration when she raised her hand in a wave.
“Hi, Sean. I was wondering if I could talk to you for a second?” she said.
“Sure, Sarah,” he said, suspecting that the girl, who he quite liked but not as anything more than a friend, was going to ask him out. He was flattered, of course, but he had no interest in any other woman.
When he turned back to Juliana, she smiled and said softly. “She’s a beautiful girl, Sean. And smart. You’d make a great couple.”
Sean stared at her, wanting to laugh out loud at her blatant matchmaking attempt. Oh, Professor, he thought, if you think you’re getting rid of me this easily, you are mistaken.
“I’ll see you later, Juliana,” he said with a seductive grin, one that made her eyes widen before she deliberately looked away.
“Goodbye, Mr. O’Neill.”