The Rebel Daughter(7)By: Lauri Robinson
“I wouldn’t miss that for the world,” he said. On impulse he flicked the end of her pert little nose. “Not for the world.”
Less than half an hour later, Forrest found himself right there at the family table, sitting directly across from Norma Rose with Twyla on his left and Josie on his right. There were eight of them in total. Roger Nightingale sat at the head of the table and Palooka George sat on the other end. Ty Bradshaw sat on Roger’s right, opposite Twyla, with Norma Rose beside him. Palooka George’s wife, the woman with the fox fur around her neck and named Dolly, sat on Norma Rose’s other side, across from Josie.
“Thought you’d have stopped out before now, Forrest. I’ve missed seeing you around,” Roger said. “I’m glad to have you back in town.”
“Thank you, sir. I’ve been busy,” he answered. “But thanks to Twyla, I’m here tonight.” Forrest turned to her with a smile that was a bit mocking. “Thank you for inviting me.”
“You’re welcome,” she said demurely. “I’ve always been benevolent, and I hate to see anyone eating alone.”
The family members at the table reached for their glasses or turned to each other, clearly trying to appear as if they hadn’t heard her jibe.
Forrest’s smile didn’t falter. It had always been this way between the two of them. A competition. There had never been a prize, other than getting the best of each other. “Nice one,” he whispered next to her ear.
“I thought it fitting.”
“It didn’t draw blood,” he told her quietly.
“I wasn’t attempting to,” she said, taking a sip from her wineglass. “You’ll know when I am. You’ll need a tourniquet.”
His laugh drew everyone’s attention, including Norma Rose’s. He lifted his glass. “May I propose a toast?” Norma Rose’s startled look held a frown. He could understand why, as their parting hadn’t been pleasant. All the same, Forrest smiled. “For George’s birthday.”
“Hear! Hear!” Roger said. “To George.”
Having been a professional boxer for years, Palooka George was full of stories—animated ones—which entertained everyone at the table while the meal was served. The man was no longer boxing. He was now the leader of a different kind of ring, headquartered in Chicago. Plenty of his cutthroat boys were here tonight, along with several well-known dames who were as hard as the men they clung to. Forrest recognized some faces. These were men who used to visit the Plantation on a regular basis, and Forrest took note of the curious stares generated by his seat at The Night’s table.
All five courses of the meal consisted of delicacies that few in the area would ever have tasted if not for the spectacular chefs Nightingale’s employed, and each course was paired with an accompanying alcoholic beverage. However, each of the Nightingale women had been served only half a glass of wine at the beginning of the meal. After that, they’d been provided nothing but water.
He’d also noticed how Twyla eyed the glasses the men and Dolly consumed, with an almost longing look. Making sure everyone else was engrossed in one of George’s tales, Forrest leaned over. “Remember when we snuck into your grandfather’s basement and took sips out of several of his wine casks?”
Her cheeks turned almost as red as her hair had been right after her dye job. “Shush up,” she said under her breath.
“We didn’t get caught,” he reminded her.
“You didn’t get caught,” she corrected. “Norma Rose found me throwing up after you left. I thought she was going to take a switch to me.” Taking a drink of her water, she added, “Although I doubt I would have felt it.”
Forrest was torn between smiling and frowning. He’d never known she’d gotten sick, or been in trouble, yet could remember she’d been very drunk. So had he. He hadn’t thought about that for years.
“Are you finished?” he asked, nodding toward her plate.
A good portion of the sugary pastry dessert was still on her plate, but she nodded. “Yes. You?”
His plate was empty. “Yes.” There wouldn’t be any business discussed at the table, not the kind he wanted to discuss with Roger, yet he couldn’t come up with a logical excuse to leave. Instead his mind was dredging up a few other secrets that involved him and Twyla, although none of the others included her grandfather’s wine.
“Want to go check on Slim?” she asked. “I’ve had enough boxing stories.”
He grinned. She’d always been honest to a fault. Or blunt. “I’ll make our excuses,” he said, laying his napkin over his plate. After explaining that he and Twyla were going to see to the music, he thanked Roger for his hospitality, wished George a happy birthday and nodded to the others as he stood to pull out Twyla’s chair. He purposefully didn’t do more than glance in Norma Rose’s general direction. She seemed sincerely taken with the lawyer, and Forrest wasn’t here to cause her any trouble. Reuniting friendships with any of the Nightingales beyond tonight wasn’t part of his plan. The repercussions of what he had to do would likely make that impossible.