The Rebel Daughter(8)

By: Lauri Robinson

Loaning Slim Johnson to them had been an excuse to visit when he’d needed one. Plus, Slim deserved the opportunity. He was a good musician and the small weekend crowds at the Plantation were nothing compared to the ones at Nightingale’s. Slim was hoping the chance to play here might give him as much luck as it had given Brock Ness.

With his hand resting on the small of Twyla’s back, Forrest guided her into the ballroom. Slim had been playing music while folks ate but had left the stage a short time ago, taking a break while he could, before the dancing started. There’d be no resting then.

As they walked, Forrest allowed another thought to cross his mind. “Where’s Ginger?”

Twyla’s answer was delayed, and she didn’t look at him when she said, “In Chicago with a friend.”

Both were sure signs she was lying, at least partially. Forrest may have been gone for several years, and many things may have changed, but Twyla’s inability to lie to him hadn’t. The fact that Roger Nightingale wouldn’t allow one of his daughters out of his sight hadn’t, either. Forrest may not have had any contact with the family since he’d returned, but the Nightingales were celebrities in these parts, and folks talked. He hadn’t heard Ginger was out of town, which meant it was hush-hush.

* * *

“Looks like Slim’s out on the balcony,” Twyla said, directing Forrest in that direction. She had to stay on her toes when it came to him. A moment ago she’d almost let it slip that Ginger was in Chicago with Brock. No one outside the family knew about that and it had to stay that way. Being next to Forrest was affecting her mind.

The setting sun glistened across the lake as she allowed him to escort her outside. She did want to speak with Slim, but getting Forrest away from her family was a priority. Norma Rose didn’t appear to be upset by his presence at the family table, which was odd. For years, Norma Rose had blamed Forrest for everything and swore she hated him. Up until the moment Ty appeared. He didn’t seem upset, either. Neither did her father. The only one who’d looked at her as if she’d lost her mind when she led Forrest to their table was Josie, and that was who Twyla decided she should steer clear of tonight. Though Josie did somehow seem to know everything that went on, she didn’t know everything, and keeping it that way would be best.

Slim, a man who wasn’t exactly what she’d call slim, was leaning against the railing, looking out over a lawn decorated with manicured flower beds and a water fountain before the ground gradually sloped toward the lake, where a swimming beach and boathouses filled the shoreline. Rather short and pudgy, Slim had pleased the crowd last weekend with his ability to play several instruments. His singing wasn’t all bad, either, when it came to the slow ballads that some of the older folks liked dancing to.

“Quite the gala you have going on tonight, Twyla,” he said as she and Forrest approached.

“Thank you. Palooka George has been a friend of my father for years, and he expected nothing less than the best.” Tossing a glance at Forrest, she added, “I’m sure you won’t disappoint any of us.”

Forrest grinned, which irked her.

Slim grinned, too, but he sounded sincere when he said, “I hope not.”

She stepped forward to rest her arms on the wooden rail, hoping Forrest wouldn’t follow. The warmth of his hand on her back had burned her skin. Right through the sequins of her dress. Maybe the tiny bits of metal were the reason why his touch had felt so hot. Then again, it could just be her fury. Keeping him away from Norma Rose was seriously going to interrupt her good time tonight. She’d noticed how his eyes had rested on her sister during the meal. That alone had made her stomach ache. His gaze hinted he wanted to renew the relationship he’d ended when he’d left town years ago. That would not happen. Not on her watch. She’d just gotten her life back and wasn’t going to lose it again. Most definitely not over some old flame.

He’d stepped up on the other side of Slim, and the two of them started talking about guitar strings and how Slim had restrung his instrument for tonight. For the most part, Twyla ignored them, still trying to get her mind and body in sync after Forrest’s little walk down memory lane. She hadn’t needed the reminder about her grandfather’s wine cellar. Not now. Not tonight. Back then, when they all used to play together, Forrest had been a part of the family—a mixture of the big brother she’d never had and the boy she’d wanted to grow up and marry. That part—the marrying part—had dissolved when it was clear Norma Rose was the sister he wanted. Having him as a brother-in-law would have been the next best thing to a girl in her early teens. Therefore she’d accepted it readily enough and gone on to search for her own knight in shining armor.

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