Taking a break from tractor engine work, the Ruperts try to be hospitable. It appears that is as difficult for Ryland as it is for her cousin. I wonder if the Barrett family descendants are mildly cursed to be assholes?
Caught up in the family emotional drama, Allen briefly reverts to form; at least verbally.
Upstairs and tucking his shirt into his jeans, Alan heard the tractor’s motor start again. After one loud backfire, it settled down into what he had recalled when he first bought it. He was just downstairs when the noise stopped. Robbi was taking a platter holding a pitcher of fresh lemonade with four glasses out onto the back deck.
“So should we bow and scrape when she comes back up here?” he asked sardonically.
“Alan! Texas is a republic. And you are a Citizen. You know full well I never got past Resident.” She paused after setting the platter down. “And even that…”
She went quiet before they both saw the youngsters come out of the equipment barn. It astonished them that their son was laughing in humor, rather than at someone’s misfortune, as had been his wont. The girl had a broad grin for him which she dropped to a toothless smile once seeing the two adults. Just at the edge of the steps to the deck in a trough, they washed what they could, which was little, of the engine grease off of their hands. She paused her steps just a fraction to let Allen go up the three steps to the deck first.
“Princess Ryland!” Alan nearly shouted, bowing and tugging at the hair above his forehead. “I had no idea we were in the presence of royalty!”
“What?” their son asked.
“Dammit…” his parents heard her breathe.
“That is of no account at all, to me or anyone in Texas,” Ryland said, raising her voice. “My medical training and my soon-to-be commission is something I did on my own. I’ve no interest in accidents of birth, Sheriff Rupert.”
“You will note my uniform is off, Prin… er… Miss Rigó,” he said to provoke her more. “Let’s set down and talk like civilized people.”
No one moved until Roberta took a place on one bench and her husband moved to be next to her. Interestingly, Ryland moved a step ahead of Allen to put herself directly across from his father. Who picked up the pitcher while his wife moved the glasses. Filling them, he raised his own.
“Family,” he toasted.
“Family,” the three echoed.
“Shouldn’t that be,” Ryland asked after knocking back half her glass, “’God, Family, Friends?’ Wasn’t that one of Barrett’s sayings?”
At that surname, Robbi froze and made a small sound.
“You seem to know a lot of Texas history for a slant,” Alan insulted her. “Talking tough won’t impress my boy, here. He’s banged almost every slut in the county.”
“And I’ve slept with an entire army!” Now she grinned with her teeth. Finishing what was in the glass, she poured herself more. “Why, when I was a cook, they came with their soup bowls in one hand and their other down their pants to – ”
“What the fuck,” his son finally exploded, “are you two talking about!”
With a glance to his wife, who had not recovered from the mention of the Director of ExComm, Alan knew he had to step into the breach.
“While y’all’s was fixing the tractor – and, by the by, it sounded much better – your mother showed me a picture and I did some quick reading.” He drank half his glass and leaned back on the weather-beaten bench, looking first at her then to his son.
“This gal is the cousin of Empress Faustina. That means her grandfather was Clive Barrett, Director of the Extraordinary Commission for the Protection of the Republic.” Mouth suddenly dry, he took a drink of lemonade. “The head of ExComm. Who killed a quarter-million people.”
Young Allen’s glass slipped from his hand. It didn’t shatter but did tip and roll off the table onto the deck.
“But…” he began.
“That would be your old boss, right Alan?” Her slanted eyes narrowed to almost nothing. “And, your wife’s sister was one of his chief deputies.”
With a sob, Roberta was up and back into the house, her hand over her crying mouth.
“You, Miss Rigó,” the man said, “are a nasty piece of work.”
He reached to pour more lemonade for them both.
“I can understand why my son likes you,” he noted while standing. “I’ll check on my wife, if y’all’ll excuse me.”