The Rebel Daughter(6)

By: Lauri Robinson

Twyla, however, was watching him. She knew exactly what he was doing—and not doing. That much hadn’t changed; keeping a secret from Twyla hadn’t ever been any easier than her keeping one from him. Under her unyielding gaze the blue tie that matched his suit, which he’d struggled to tie in an even bow, started to choke him. Forrest reached up and tugged at his shirt collar, but found little relief.

He tugged harder. It didn’t help, but the smile that appeared on Twyla’s face did. Her eyes had changed, too. They were no longer shooting daggers. Instead they’d softened with something he couldn’t quite explain. Sympathy? He didn’t want that. Not from her. Not from anyone.

“Here,” she said, grasping his hand and pulling it away from his neck. “You’re twisting your tie.” She straightened it and asked, “Isn’t that awfully tight?”

“Yes,” he admitted.

With deft fingers, she undid the bow and pushed his chin up when he tried to look down. A moment later she had it retied and he was no longer choking.

“How’s that?” she asked.

“Fine, thank you.” No one had tied his tie in years and the intimacy of it twisted something inside him. He’d missed that. Intimacy. At one time he’d had a close relationship with all the sisters.

Twyla’s smile never faltered as she turned toward the door again, greeting more couples and directing them to her sister at the front desk.

That was Josie at the desk. She was the tomboy of the family. The one who’d dug worms and caught frogs beside him, and together they’d chased Norma Rose and Twyla, even Ginger at times, dangling their latest finds. Being only two years older than Norma Rose, he’d grown up playing with all four sisters. His mother and Rose Nightingale had been the best of friends at one time. Right up until Rose had died. The flu epidemic had taken their baby brother, too, and his. That was the thing Galen had never gotten over. The loss of his only son.

Forrest shoved his hands in his pockets again, where they balled into fists. His gaze went back to Twyla. She was chatting with a woman who, despite the warmth of the June evening, had a fox fur draped around her neck. Twyla’s laughter, light and carefree as it was, caused dread to churn in his stomach.

Galen Reynolds, who almost everyone thought was his father—only he, his mother and aunt and uncle, besides Galen, knew it wasn’t true—had all but crucified and burned Norma Rose on a stake years ago. She’d overcome that, the entire family had, and Forrest had to wonder if he shouldn’t just walk out the door. It was over. He should let sleeping dogs lie, as his mother had told him to do when he’d returned home once a couple of years ago. Even now, every time they talked, she’d ask if he’d seen any of the Nightingales and didn’t miss an opportunity to point out it wouldn’t be fair to Norma Rose to dredge up the past.

The trouble was, he’d needed the Nightingales as a kid, and he needed them now, in more ways than he cared to admit. For a moment Forrest considered Twyla, how stirring up the past might not be fair to her, either, but if he didn’t, Galen would win, and that was what he had to stop.

If things had remained as they’d been, he’d have let it all go. He would have forgotten what Galen had done to Norma Rose, to him, and eventually, perhaps he would have reclaimed his friendship with the Nightingales, but as it was, everything had changed again.

He had to do this.

Twyla was as bold as she was beautiful, and he’d make sure she didn’t get hurt. He knew something else, too; her anger toward him, or her dislike, was a ploy. She was just being Twyla. She hated to lose, or to be called out. Their mother had burned plenty of decks of cards and games because of Twyla. She’d pitch a fit every time she lost or got caught cheating, and into the woodstove the games had gone. In truth, she could be a brat when she wanted to be.

Now that he thought about it, Twyla could be the most beneficial to him. She fought to the death but was known to flip sides, and having her on his side would all but guarantee his success in drawing out the information he needed to gain.

Convinced he was doing the right thing, Forrest turned toward the hallway. Norma Rose and Ty were gone. Scanning the open doorway into the ballroom, he took a step to see past the crowd.

“Wandering away already?”

Coming up with the first excuse he thought of, he turned back to Twyla. “Just thinking I should go and see if Slim has everything set up.”

Her rather stoic expression said she didn’t believe that any more than she believed monkeys could fly. “Well, don’t wander too far,” she said. “We’ll be sitting down for dinner soon. I’ll have them add a place for you at the family table.”

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