Eleanor took the check with shaky fingers. Her eyes widened at the figure. “Ephraim, what’s going on here? You can’t afford this.”

Ephraim shrugged. “I live here because I don’t like living alone not because I can’t afford it. I’m a very wealthy man,” he said with an uncaring shrug.

“I’ll say.” Jill’s eyes were the size of saucers.

“Seems I have a rich daddy,” Chris teased.

“Are you sure?” Eleanor asked.

“Yes, I love this house.”

She smiled and nodded. “Thank you, Ephraim. I’m sure I can find an apartment soon enough.”

“We have to move?” Joshua asked. His eyes shot to Madison. “I don’t want to move again.”

“Shh, sweetie it’s Ephraim’s house now,” Eleanor said.

Ephraim groaned. “Eleanor, I am not kicking the kids out of their home and I am most certainly not kicking you out.”

“You’re confusing me,” Eleanor admitted.

“I may own it now, but this is your home. You and the children will remain. The house is no longer a boarding house, although we may have guests from time to time. I’d like the kids to have a home of their own where they don’t have to put up strangers all the time and they’re free to be themselves.” He stood up and stretched.

“Other than that you run it however you please.” He opened his wallet and pulled out several hundred dollar bills and held them out to her. “Take this and the children and buy some groceries. Tell everyone else since they didn’t pay you for the week they’ll have to go elsewhere to eat today. You guys can sit down and have a nice family dinner for once. Now, I’m going to bed, when you get back wake me up and we’ll hit the mall, okay?”

Eleanor’s pride stopped her from taking the money even though the fridge and cupboards were completely empty. Ephraim thrust the money into her hand. “Eleanor, I’m very tired. I’ve been awake for over three days so let’s cut to the chase. You live in my house now. I adore you and your grandchildren, my new bratty son eats like a pig and I’m crazy about your granddaughter. Please take pity on me and just take the money and buy some food so I can go back to bed.”

“Ephraim, we can’t accept your charity,” Madison said.

“Madison, it’s not charity. My son needs to eat.” He was surprised how easily that rolled off his tongue. Chris turned to hide a smile. “My favorite ten year old and fifteen year old drama queen needs to eat.”

“Hey!” Jill gasped. He ignored her.

“Also, Eleanor needs to eat so that she can keep up with the kids and manage this household. It’s not charity.”

“Yes it is!”

His hands thrust through his hair. “Have pity, woman. I’m exhausted!”

“Don’t do this because of me,” she said stubbornly.

“Baby, even if you didn’t live here I would still be doing this. Eleanor has taken care of me for the last three years. She’s been good to me and I enjoy her company. I would be buying this house just to keep her here. I would also do it for the kids. I don’t care who lives here. I am the man of this house. I will pay the bills and put food on the table. I don’t expect anything from anyone.”

“Thank you, Ephraim,” Eleanor said. Her eyes glowed with warmth.

“You’re welcome. So, I assume you're going to stay,” he said, hoping to end this and crawl back to bed.

She nodded, smiling. “If you’ll have us I would very much like to stay here so the children can have a good home.”

“It’s your home, Eleanor. Don’t ever think it’s not.”

“But-“ Madison began.

He threw his hands up in exhaustion. “I really wish people would stop starting every sentence with 'but'.” He walked over to the couch and took her hands into his as he dropped to his knees.

“Baby, please you’re killing me here. I’m not expecting anything from you. I just want to make sure that we have a roof over our heads. I don’t want to come home to an empty house and I want Chris, Joshua and Jill to remain together with their Grandmother. Can you please see that doing this makes me happy? Do you have any idea how lonely I’ve been and for how long?”

She nodded slowly. She did. He’d been alone for too long. One look in his eyes and she knew that he was doing this for himself as well. He desperately needed them to stay. She sighed, “Okay, but I want to pay for the food then. That’s only fair.”

“But you’ll stay?” He waited nervously for her answer.


“Good, then do whatever you want. But today I pay for the food.” He pressed a kiss to her forehead, remembering they had an audience and stood up.

“I’m going to bed, wake me up later and we’ll go to the mall.”

“For what?” Chris asked.

“Clothes shopping.”

“Oh that sucks. Let’s pick up some chicks instead.”

Jill reached behind Chris and hit him soundly upside his head.

“What is with you women and hitting me?”

Ephraim shook his head. “I can’t imagine.”

Chapter 20

“Chris, get back in there! You're not supposed to come out here in your underwear!” Madison hissed. She turned to Ephraim. “Stop laughing! You’re only encouraging him!”

“What? Is something wrong?” Chris feigned innocence.

A little girl walking by the dressing room pointed and giggled. Several high school girls went by blowing kisses at him.

Chris winked and flexed his muscles. He was built for a sixteen year old, Madison noticed. That was weird because she knew he didn’t work out unless video games were categorized as exercise now.

“Chris,” she warned.

“You told me to try on my new clothes and come out here and show you. So here I am.” He turned around to show off his underwear.

“You’re not supposed to try on underwear and you know you’re not supposed to step out here like that!”

Ephraim doubled over with laughter. “Those are his underwear.”

“Oh, look at that so they are,” Chris said with amused interest. “Hmm, imagine that.”

“Stop wiggling your ass!” Madison fought back the laughter, but it was a losing battle.

“Wait, gotta make sure these look good gangsta style.” He lowered his boxers to his h*ps and made mocking gang signs.

The breath caught in Madison’s throat. There below his navel was a light brown crescent moon and cross birthmark. Her eyes shot to Ephraim’s. He suddenly looked deadly sober.

“Don’t,” he warned.

“Young man, go back into the changing room please. This is a family store,” a security guard said.

“Oh sorry, my sister told me to do it.” Chris gestured to Madison.

“Ma’am, please save the fashion shows for home. I have a lady hyperventilating in my office right now from his little show.” Madison’s eyes shot daggers at Chris.

“She liked what she saw, huh?” Chris joked.

“Just go,” the man said, trying to hide a grin as he walked away.