Billionaire Bad Boys Club(9)

By: Emma Holly

Throwing off the covers, she swung out of bed in her Dalmatian-print pajamas. She tried not to think about her mother shopping for them with her. Paula Eilert been sick already. That trip to Macy’s was one of their last outings.

“We don’t have syrup,” Charlie said.

“I’ll make that too,” she declared.

Her tone must not have been as confident as she’d meant. The boys exchanged doubtful glances with each other.

“I will,” she said. “Go set the table so I can dress.”

The twins must have found a smidgen of optimism. By the time Rebecca reached the kitchen, they’d put out the plates and silver. Praying she could whip this together before the elementary school bus arrived, Rebecca set to work.

To her relief, pancakes turned out to be a cinch. She’d watched her mother prepare them so often she needed no recipe.

The syrup was trickier. Sugar dissolved in water didn’t taste right at all. Trying to think fast, she chopped and threw some apples in the saucepan. Maybe a pie-filling thing would do. She’d seen her mother make them too. Muttering to herself, she rummaged through the pantry for ingredients that might work. The boys watched her dash around with big eyes, reminding her to flip the pancakes as they fluffed up and browned.

“We don’t have to have syrup,” Charlie said, trying to be helpful.

“I’m not giving up,” Rebecca growled, though her apples had gone mushy. Cursing, she strained them out with a slotted spoon. That disaster discarded, she noticed the remaining juice had thickened. It smelled pretty good. Hoping to salvage something, she blew on the spoon and licked. The miracle that hit her taste buds had her gasping with excitement.

Completely opposite to her expectations, her apple syrup was delicious.

Not only that, it had an amazing texture: smooth and rich on her tongue and a zillion times better than store-bought. With a sense that the magic would disappear if she didn’t hurry, she ladled her creation over the boys’ pancakes.

“Eat,” she urged, setting the portions in front of them.

Possibly she was acting crazy. The boys looked at her, then the food, then picked up their forks and started shoveling.

Pete was the first to pause. “Mmm,” he said, a sound she wasn’t certain she’d heard him make before. The noise wasn’t simply pleased; it was shocked. She’d made him pay attention to what he was eating.

“Mmm,” Charlie agreed, nodding emphatically. “This is better than Mom’s, Becca!”

They were seven, so those were all the compliments she was getting . . . unless you counted them literally licking their plates clean.

Delighted by their reactions, she almost forgot to eat herself. When she did, she found her brain ticking through adjustments to make the dish better. She wasn’t even trying, and her mind just did it. She hadn’t known it would. It seemed important. Actually, it seemed epic. Rebecca was okay at lots of things. This suggested there might be something she maybe was great at.

I could learn to really do this, she thought.

“Five minutes till the bus,” Charlie broke in to say.

Charlie lived in fear of missing his ride to school. Sympathetic to the worry—because if anyone needed safe routines it was them—Rebecca handed him a damp washcloth. While he mopped the stickiness from his face, she herded her brothers out of the kitchen and down the entrance hall. On the way, she checked Charlie’s precious non-ripped backpack.

“Everything is here,” she assured him. Apprehension that he’d forget something was a recent tick of his. “All your books and all your supplies.”

More relaxed than his sibling, Pete slung his matching sack over his shoulder. His boniness made her gladder that she’d fed him. When his clear gray eyes met hers, they seemed eerily grown up.

“We’ll remember,” he said before she could start her spiel. “Dad is working in Cincinnati. He called us all last night.”

“Right.” She bent to kiss his head. She kissed Charlie’s too, holding both of them a little longer than usual.

“Bus!” Charlie said in a panic.

“All right,” she surrendered, letting go to open the door for them. “You two have fun today.”

They galloped down the steps without looking back, exactly like they used to with their mom. Those boys, her mother would sigh. They’d run straight off a cliff if it looked fun enough. Back then, Rebecca’s brothers had seemed like pests. Today she understood her mother’s concern. Pete and Charlie needed someone to be their safety net. Like it or not, she was it.

I will do better, she told herself.

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