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Snow Kisses

 
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Maggie Lassiter
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 04, 2019 1:08 pm    Post subject: Snow Kisses Reply with quote

Winter outside the city could be brutal, with blizzards and storms blowing up within minutes of first showing signs of being in the area. The families who lived there had learned how to secure the place within minutes themselves, and today was no exception. At the little cottage where the Mallorys lived, Dee Dee was handed inside to Elise before Mara took off running to the stable to help Duncan secure the barn. "Where's Rob?"

"He and Maggie went for a ride, but that was hours ago," Duncan replied, a worried expression on his face. Evan already had his horse saddled and was giving orders to the hands to secure the barn, while Duncan readied his own horse. "Storm's on the way. Evan and I are gonna go look for them," he explained hastily, knowing she was bound to worry.

"Just the two of you?" Mara asked in shock, glancing over at Evan. Unseen by her, a shaggy furred shape padded across the snow of the paddock, muzzle stroking through the snow. She laid her hand against Duncan's arm. "Did they say which way they were riding?"

"Aye, they were riding out by the woods, near Marissa and Emrys' place, but that was hours ago. The horses came back, but no Rob or Maggie," Duncan explained, looking understandably worried.

"You about ready, Mallory?" Evan asked, from his horse, looking equally worried and anxious to be on their way. "I don't wanna get caught in the storm," he said, but what he was really saying was that he didn't want the kids caught in the storm.

"Aye, I'm ready," Duncan confirmed. Both men were bundled in furs and had packed extra blankets and supplies on their horses, just in case they were needed. "Try not to worry," he told Mara gently as he turned back to face her. "Emrys is with us. We'll find them. Promise." He touched a somewhat hurried kiss to her lips, knowing he needed to be going.

"When did the horses come back? Why is this the first I'm hearing about our son being out without a horse or any supplies?" Mara demanded, unable to keep a lid on her terror. For far too long it had been just her and Rob; she would never quite lose that overprotective urge to keep him safe. As Duncan reassured and kissed her, she backed up, hugging herself tightly. "If you're not back by tonight, we'll come out looking for you ourselves," she warned both of the men, certain that Marin would feel exactly the same way.

"We'll be back," Duncan assured her, though he had no way of knowing for sure. If they weren't, he trusted Mara to know what to do. "Take the baby and go stay at the main house with Marin. It's safer there."

"All right." Reluctantly, Mara stepped back, letting Duncan mount the horse. At least she and Marin could distract each other and not upset the younger children if they were together. "Should we call for Mr. Hale as well?"

"Mallory!" Evan called, several other men saddled up and ready to accompany them. "We gotta go!"

Duncan nodded to acknowledge the other man as he climbed onto his horse. "That wouldn't be a bad idea," he told his wife. "Don't worry, Mara. We're gonna find them," he assured her again, as gently as he could, before turning his horse to follow the other men out of the barn.

Wrapped up in a shawl, she watched them ride out, aware of the darkening sky and the looming threat of the storm, sending out a prayer to gods she had ceased to believe in long ago to keep them all safe. Then she secured the barn and headed back to the cottage to collect Elise and Dee Dee and go up to the main house.

Secretly, Duncan was terrified and just as worried as Mara, but he dared not admit that to her. One way or another, he was going to find their son and their son's best friend or die trying.

Meanwhile, somewhere not too far away, the teens were having problems of their own.

"Ow ... ow ..." Maggie's complaints were unhelpful punctuation as she leaned on Rob, both of them making their way along a narrow rocky gully toward what looked like a small cave. Her calf was bleeding. "Who said ice was allowed to cut like glass? That's just stupid."

"It's okay, Maggie. You're gonna be okay," Rob assured her, his arm wrapped around her back to take the weight off her leg. The fall had been an unexpected one for both of them, and with the horses gone, they were on their own. Maggie was in no shape to walk, and Rob wasn't strong enough to carry her all the way back on his own. Besides, the sky was getting dark, and it looked like a storm was rolling in. Though neither had said it, they both knew their survival depended on finding some shelter in a hurry. "It looks like there's a cave. We can stay there for a while," he said, trying to sound hopeful, though in truth, he was worried. Sometimes his acting ability came in handy in unexpected ways.

"Papa'll come find us," Maggie promised him confidently. Her faith in Evan was absolute, despite having spent several early years of her life separate from him for her own safety. "I'm sorry, Rob. I shouldn't'a been showin' off."

"It's not your fault. I didn't see the ice either," he assured her, willing to take at least part of the blame. At least, not until it was too late, and she'd tumbled from her horse down the ravine. "We should have stayed closer to home." How were they to know this would happen? How were they to know a storm was rolling in? They should have been back hours ago. He knew their families would be worried. "Your father is gonna kill me," he said, with a worried frown, as he helped her carefully across the rocks toward what looked like the opening to a small cave. "You better wait here, while I make sure there's nothing inside," he warned. Barging in on a wolf or bear's den would only make matters worse.

"My Papa will kill me," she promised her friend, leaning on a snow-covered boulder as he moved to check the little cave they'd found. "He likes you, he knows you're not as crazy stupid as I am."

"You aren't crazy stupid," Rob assured her, pressing a finger to his lips for her to be silent a moment while he took a look inside the cave. He drew the revolver his father insisted he take with him, cocked the trigger and carefully picked his way toward the cave, heart hammering in his chest. He wasn't his father or Maggie's father. He wasn't a warrior or a soldier. He was just a kid who wanted to be an actor when he grew up.

She rolled her eyes as he shushed her, smiling with a nod as she, too, drew her own revolver. Evan and Duncan were very firm about their children being equipped to protect themselves. It wasn't much of a cave, barely more than five feet deep and tall, but it would definitely be shelter against the worst of the storm. Being out of the wind would be a life-saver if no one came for them soon.

Rob disappeared inside the cave, but not for long. He was quick to return, looking briefly to the darkening sky, and knowing there wasn't much time to prepare for the coming storm. "Come on, Maggie," he said, returning the revolver to its holster and sliding an arm around her waist again to take most of her weight. "It's empty. Let's get you inside before the storm comes."

"I'm such a doofus," she muttered, gripping his coat as best she could while he helped her to stand again. "I owe you big time for this. And Cal's gonna freak out that I got hurt again." It wasn't that Maggie was accident-prone, but if there was going to be an injury, she was very likely the one who would get it.

"Cal will be fine," Rob assured her. He was just relieved the boy hadn't come along. He'd been pestering to go with them on one of their adventures for a while now, but he was glad they hadn't agreed to it today. "Why are you a doofus?" he asked, hoping to distract her from any pain as the two of them hobbled toward the cave.
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Maggie Lassiter
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 04, 2019 1:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

She gave him a wry, if painfully thin-lipped, smile. "'Cos I should know by now not to try and impress you with skills and talents I clearly don't have?" she suggested with a low laugh.

"I've told you before, you don't have to impress me," Rob reminded her, as he always did. "Careful, it's dark in here," he warned as they carefully made their way inside the cave. "I'll get you settled and then I'll get some wood for a fire." And he had to take a look at her leg, but first things first.

"You ain't goin' lookin' for anythin' on your own," she told him sternly. "That's just dumb. We can stay warm enough just sittin' together, but if that blizzard drops while you're out and about, you don't got any hope of findin' your way back here."

"Maggie, we need a fire for warmth and for light," Rob argued. "It won't take long to gather some wood. I promise if the storm is getting close, I'll come right back." But then, how did one define "close"? He frowned at another thought. "How's your leg?" he asked, obviously concerned about that, too.

Maggie frowned, not happy about Rob going out to rummage for wood on his own but not really in a position to argue. She looked down at her torn jeans, at the blood frozen to her skin around a surprisingly clean gash. "It's kinda numb," she suggested thoughtfully. "But not in a my leg's gonna fall off kind of way. Just a cold way."

Rob's frown deepened as he glanced to her leg, her pants stiff with frozen blood. He felt torn between tending to her leg and fetching kindling, but if they didn't make a fire and were trapped there for any length of time, they could freeze to death. First things first.

"Maybe when we get back, we should look into getting some phones," he suggested with a shrug as he adjusted the scarf that was tied around his neck. He knew how both their fathers felt about modern devices, but if they'd had phones with them, they might not have found themselves in this situation.

"We should talk to Ma about it," Maggie agreed, nuzzling her face into her own scarf until her voice was muffled. Marin was the most modern minded of their little family group, and Marissa could probably be called upon to help the persuasion, too. Green eyes met Rob's with wry resignation. "Go on. Just don't go far, or I'm comin' to find you."

Rob frowned, looking all too serious for his years, but then he truly cared about Maggie and didn't want anything to happen to her. "I won't be long. Promise," he said, resisting the urge to kiss her before pulling up his hood and ducking out of the cave into the snow.

Flexing her fingers inside her gloves, Maggie watched him go, frowning beneath her own hat, scarf, and hood. This was entirely her fault, and she was more than happy to take responsibility for it ... but she really hoped their parents found them soon.

It wasn't the search party who found their way to Maggie but Rob, with an armful of twigs and logs that might keep them warm for at least a few hours. Snow coated his coat and hood, his scarf covering his face, all but for his eyes, as he found his way back to the cave. The wind was starting to howl outside and the snow was starting to come down, but as promised, he found his way back before he could get lost in the storm.

Thankfully, neither of them was totally without survival skills. While Rob was out gathering firewood, Maggie had made an effort to hack out a small firepit and lined it with stones to protect the nascent flames from the wind. She looked up as Rob got back. "Thank god for that, I was gettin' worried."

"It's getting windy. Mostly blowing around right now, but the sky's getting dark," Rob told her, as he moved into the cave and deposited the wood near the firepit Maggie had managed to put together. Rob frowned over at her, looking worried, but unafraid. "If they don't find us soon, we might have to spend the night here," he told her, hoping that wouldn't scare her, but if there was one thing he knew about Maggie Lassiter, it was that she was hard to scare.

"They'll find us," she told him, absolutely confident of that, giving his arm a nudge with her own. Her eyes sparkled to share the smile hidden behind her scarf as she pulled out her tinderbox. Evan insisted that she carried a tinderbox rather than matches or even a lighter, and she was beginning to see why. It was quite hard to get a tinderbox wet.

Rob smiled beneath his own scarf and even chuckled a little. "Well, that beats rubbing two sticks together," he said, tugging the scarf down, now that he was out of the snow. It was cold in the cave, but a fire would help warm things up. He crouched down and started to build a tinder nest, gloved hands picking dried sticks from the pile of wood.

"Papa insists on it," Maggie admitted, inching her own scarf down with her chin as she eased down to the ground to start sparking the tinder. Evan and Duncan had taught them both pretty well, and within a couple of minutes, they had a little blaze going strong. "Look at that. We made a fire baby!"

Rob laughed, mostly at the way Maggie had phrased that. "That's the only baby we're going to be making for a long time!" he said, only just realizing what he'd just intimated as soon as the words were out of his mouth, his face flushing with embarrassment - or maybe it was just the cold. "Just kidding," he muttered to cover his embarrassment and quickly turned to add kindling to the fire.

"Well, duh," was her cheerfully response as she tucked the tinderbox away in her pocket. "We're not allowed to do the stuff that makes real babies until I'm sixteen. Two years isn't so long to wait, right?" Although, to be fair, Evan would probably have a heart attack if his daughter got pregnant at sixteen.

"My Da got my Ma with child before they were married," Rob confessed, remembering the story the way his mother had told it to him. He knew he probably shouldn't be telling her that, but it was all in the past, so what did it matter? "I don't want to do that. I want to do things right," he told her, almost afraid to meet her gaze, but he was secretly hoping to marry her someday.

Maggie laughed. "My Pa got my Ma pregnant before they got married too!" she told him in gleeful delight. At his insistence on doing things in the right order, however, she nodded in agreement. "Well, yeah. But, you know, if we get married right out of school, we're still gonna have to live somewhere around here, so one of us is gonna have to learn how to drive."

Rob's head swung back toward Maggie, eyes wide at this news. He'd had no idea they had that in common. He also wasn't sure if she was referring to her birth mother or to Marin, but it didn't really matter. "My Da doesn't trust modern contraptions," he told her, quoting his father's own words. "He says there's no reason anyone needs a motorcar when a horse is just as good."

"Well, yeah, but you can stay warmer in a car and fit two people in it comfortably and everything," Maggie pointed out. "Ma can drive, and so does Bill and Mr. Taylor. It's not like it's magic or anythin'."

"What about your Da? Does he drive?" Rob asked, very carefully adding another log to the fire, before rocking back on his heels, holding his gloved hands out toward the fire to warm them.

She shook her head, easing back to sit on the cold but thankfully dry ground beside him, her injured leg stretched out in the small space. "He doesn't trust engines and stuff," she said. "He still don't like electricity and indoor plumbin'." She snickered softly at that. "Well, maybe he likes the plumbin'."
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Maggie Lassiter
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 04, 2019 1:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Da likes most anything that makes life easier, but he doesn't like cars. I think he's just too fond of horses. He doesn't want to see them replaced," Rob reasoned, though he didn't know for sure. He glanced over at Maggie's leg. Now that the fire was going, it was on to the next order of business. "Let me see your leg," he told her, with a nod of his head toward in that direction.

"It's okay, really," she told him, trying not to worry her friend. As her leg warmed up, it was starting to throb painfully. "I just gotta not get it dirty and then Ma can make me scream with that caustic stuff she uses so no one gets infected."

"You should still let me take a look. It might be worse than it seems," Rob reasoned, moving closer to where she had stretched out her leg, not taking no for an answer. "You're sure it's not broken?" he asked, as he tugged off his gloves.

"Yeah, breaks feel different." And Maggie should know - she'd managed to break several bones since they'd met, and every single time, Evan and Marin had insisted on her healing naturally from them in the hope that she wouldn't be so reckless again. Thus far, it hadn't worked. "It's just a cut and a sprain, Rob, it ain't gonna kill me."

"So long as it doesn't get infected," he murmured, very carefully pulling back her torn jeans to get a better look at the wound.

"There's always Mr. Hale," she pointed out, peering down at the gash with him as he uncovered her injury. There, just above the cuff of her bright purple sock, was a ragged cut still oozing blood. It was mostly clean, but for a few bits of debris caught on the frozen blood that was smeared across her skin. "Ugh ... always looks worse than it is."

"It could be worse," Rob pointed out, trying to look on the bright side. He didn't have a med kit with him, but he did have a knife, which he pulled out of a pouch on his belt, but only so that he could cut strip of cloth from his shirt. "This might hurt a little," he warned her, as he set about winding the strip around her leg to keep the wound clean and dry and tying it carefully in place to make a makeshift bandage.

Maggie barely winced as he tended to her - proof more that she was used to hurting herself than that he was gentle, to be fair. "I've had worse," she assured him with a grin. "I still say my best one was the bone stickin' right through my shin - that was awesome."

Rob winced at the memory of that. She had definitely had more than her fair share of injuries. "You mean your worst one," he corrected, as he carefully finished tying the bandage in place. "That should do for now, but it'll need a proper cleaning and dressing before long."

"Yeah, yeah." Maggie grinned as she watched him tying off the bandage. "You sound like Elise and Jodie. I'm not that hopeless, am I?"

"Not hopeless, just ... What's the word? Reckless," he said with a bit of a teasing grin. At least, he hadn't called her clumsy. Truth be told, of the two of them, she was far more lively and daring than he was - at least, that's the way he saw it. He leaned back on his heels and wrapping his arms around his knees. "How long you think it'll be before they find us?" It wasn't an if but a when. If no one found them by morning, he'd find a way to get her back home on his own.

Maggie shrugged, pulling at the cuff of her coat sleeve to uncover her watch. "I dunno, maybe like an hour or somethin'?" she suggested. "We didn't get that far, and the horses'll be back home by now. My Pa and yours won't let a storm stop 'em from findin' us."

"That's true," Rob agreed, though he wasn't as hopeful as she was. An hour seemed a little too optimistic considering the weather. He cast a glance toward the opening of the cave, a little alarmed at the way the storm had picked up, though he didn't want to mention his worries to her. "I've got some jerky Elise gave me before we left," he said, reaching into his coat pocket to pull out two strips of the dried meat.

"Oh! I have a bear claw!" Maggie inched closer, shoulder to shoulder with her best friend as she, too, dug into her pocket to produce the snack she'd been sent out with. Jodie and Elise knew their young adventurers well enough to know that a snack was always necessary.

"Should we share?" he asked, not wanting to assume, though he was more than willing. In fact, he'd have gladly given Maggie both of the strips of jerky, but he knew her well enough to know that was something she'd never agree to.

"Yup, sounds good to me," she agreed cheerfully, ripping the pastry in two with a practiced hand. "C'mere, I ain't gonna eat you. We gotta stay close or we'll start freezin', anyways."

Rob frowned worriedly. He and Maggie had been best friends for years, but for some reason, now that he'd reached his teens years, his feelings for her seemed to have changed. Staying close to stay warm was certainly practical, but how close was too close? He had a feeling he was worrying for nothing, as Maggie probably loved him like a brother and nothing more. Despite his worries, he moved closer - as close as he dared anyway - and held out a beef jerky in exchange for half her bear claw. "Trade?"

"Sure." Maggie's wild grin was reassuringly normal as they traded their food and settled together on the dry cold ground to eat and shiver. She wasn't half as concerned as Rob was, it seemed, but then, she'd made up her mind years ago about what she and Rob were. She was quite literally just waiting until she was old enough and pretty enough to get his attention properly.

Little did she know that she already had his attention in exactly the way that she wanted it, but all of this went unsaid, as Rob was terrified that in confessing his feelings, he'd end up losing her friendship. "Are you cold?" he asked, as awkwardly as any fourteen-year-old might be.

"Kinda." Unlike other independent girls of her age, Maggie knew she couldn't do everything on her own. She shifted a little bit closer to Rob. "You?"

"A little," he admitted, though that was a lie. Though the fire was giving off enough warmth to keep them from freezing, the wind was howling just a few feet away, snow blowing into the cave from the storm outside. "Wish we had a blanket," he murmured, before tearing off a bite of the jerky with his teeth.

"We could snuggle under it," she agreed quietly, looping her arm around his shoulders as she bit into her own jerky. "Or sit on it, 'cos my ass is number than a bag of rocks right now."

He coughed, nearly choking on the mouthful of jerky at her blunt way of speaking. He knew her well enough not to be too surprised, but he hadn't expected her to be quite that honest. "Do you want my coat?" he asked, though that would leave him without one. He inched closer, happy to have her arm around his shoulders.

"Only if you're still wearin' it," she countered, touching her temple to his affectionately. "No point keepin' me warm if you're gonna freeze up, fella. You're just gonna have to be manly and deal with havin' a girl snugglin' up to you."

Rob took a bite of the bear claw, though he was wondering if they should save what little food they had in case they had to stay here all night. "Fella?" he echoed, with a chuckle. She'd never referred to him as a "fella" before. He smiled over at her, relenting at last and shoving his worries away in hopes of keeping her warm. "Come here, then," he said, though she was right next to him.

She grinned cheerfully, bouncing just that little bit closer. "Well, you are a fella, aren't you?" she pointed out in a cheeky way, tucking her half of the bear claw into her pocket again before wrapping her other arm around him as well.

"I wondered when you'd notice," he teased back. As shy as he was of most girls, he had never been very shy of Maggie. Or maybe it was just hard to be shy around Maggie because she was so outgoing. He popped the rest of his half of the bear claw in his mouth, grinning around that mouthful.
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 04, 2019 1:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Hmm, maybe I should check sometime," she teased him brightly, squeezing him a little tighter before dropping her head to his shoulder, arms still wrapped about him. "I'm sorry I got you stuck out here in a storm, boo."

He liked the stickiness from his fingers, his gloves laying in his lap, his grin fading at her apology. "How's it your fault? We both wanted to go for a ride. Your Ma warned us about the weather," he said, willing to take at least half the blame on himself. He kind of liked the way she was resting her head against his shoulder, but he didn't dare tell her that. Instead, he tucked what was left of the beef jerky into a pocket and tugged his gloves back on, before sneaking an arm around her to rub her back.

"Yeah, but if I hadn't fallen down, we'd have still had the horses to take us home," she pointed out, hoping he couldn't see her secretive smile as his arm wrapped about her back.

"It wasn't your fault. It was an accident, Maggie. Besides, they're going to find us," he said, refusing to believe any differently. If she could be optimistic about their circumstances than so could he. The biggest threat to their survival right now was just staying warm.

"Yeah, they'll find us." Maggie nodded confidently. "But you gotta let me take the blame, or my Pa's gonna be real difficult for weeks, okay? It's my fault, because if you take some of the blame, he might not let us hang out together so much any more, and I'd really miss you."

"We'll both take the blame," Rob insisted, knowing how protective her father was over her, and with good reason. His mother was kind of the same way. "Besides, your Pa can't stop us from going to school together or being in STARs together," he pointed out. It was true that they did so much together, it would be hard to keep them apart. He turned his head to face her, blinking as he realized just how close they were - close enough to kiss her.

"I guess so." She lifted her head as he turned his face toward hers, her eyes widening at the sudden realization of how close they were to one another. A warm smile that seemed pretty soft and almost shy lit up her face. "Hi."

"Hi," he replied, unable to look away, as though he was spellbound by her smile. "Are you, uh, a little warmer now?" he asked, feeling awkward again, honest concern on his face, as well as some nervousness.

"Little bit. Are you?" She drew her knees up until they overlapped his more comfortably, tucking her head forward until her forehead touched his. "Can't let the best actor ever catch a chill, yanno." Outside, somewhere in the whirling snow, a wolf howled long and low.

He smiled at the compliment, turning so that they were facing each other and so that he could wrap her tighter in his embrace. "How's that?" he asked, taking full advantage of the excuse to keep her warm. He tensed at the sound of the wolf howling, hoping it wasn't a hungry wolf looking for an easy meal.

"I'm not gonna let anything happen to you, Maggie. Not now, not ever," he promised her abruptly. Not even if he had to stand up to a hungry wolf in order to keep that promise.

"You think I'm gonna let anything bad happen to you either?" she countered, hugging her arms around him as she shook her head. "In it together, Robbie, you and me. We can take on anything."

With any luck, all the bad things that had happened to them were in the past. He hoped so, anyway. Coming to Rhy'Din had given him and his family a fresh start, just as it had the Lassiters. Meeting Maggie was one of the best things that had ever happened to him, though he'd never say so in so many words. "Best friends forever?" he asked instead, smiling at her, so close again their noses were almost touching.

"Totally," she agreed, her shy smile becoming the familiarly wild version he knew so well as she deliberately squished her nose against his. "Just like your Ma and Pa." For a split second, she took her fate in both hands and pushed a stiff-lipped kiss against his lips. After all, she could always say she was delirious later.

"My Ma and ..." he started, an unexpected kiss cutting off the rest of what he was going to say. He blinked in surprise, his cheeks flushing with heat, despite the cold. "What was that for?" he asked, surprised but not unpleasantly so.

The shy light returned to her eyes as she shrugged one shoulder, brazening out the reaction as best she could. "'Cos I wanted to," she told him. "'Cos I like you."

"I like you, too, Maggie," Rob said, the blush fading a little, his expression softening. "Do you ... I mean, would you ..." he stammered, licking his lips where she'd just kissed him. What was it he was trying to say?

From just beyond the lip of the cave came the sound of heavy breathing, an animal panting, and a shape blocked most of the light from outside. Startled, Maggie twisted to look at the opening, to see a huge grey wolf peering in at them curiously, his mouth open and tongue lolling out ... almost as though he was laughing at them.

Rob might have asked for another kiss if they hadn't been interrupted by the appearance of a shaggy, yet familiar-looking, wolf. He looked startled for a moment before realizing that this particular wolf was a friend. He breathed a sigh of relief, smiling for Maggie's sake. "It's Emrys," he told her, relieved. They were found.

Maggie pointed a startled finger at the grinning wolf. "That's Emrys?" she asked. Unlike Rob, she wasn't close to Marissa and Emrys, and hadn't seen either of their alternate forms before now. "He's so big!"

At the opening of the cave, Emrys snapped his jaws shut, turning to lope off and bark to draw the riders toward the gully.

"Yeah, you should see Marissa. She's a tiger," he told her, though he wasn't sure if he was supposed to share that secret or not. Then again, if he couldn't share secrets with his best friend, who could he share them with. Rob frowned as Emrys disappeared again into the storm. "I bet he's going for your Pa," he speculated.

"Wow ..." Maggie's eyes were dancing, impressed by this new information. It was one thing to have heard about shifters, but quite another to be able to put two forms to one face. She grinned back at Rob. "And yours. Like they'd go out lookin' without each other."

A little smile flickered across Rob's face, knowing that was likely true. His father would stop at nothing to make sure his family was safe. "Probably," he admitted, looking relieved. "Looks like we'll be home before morning, after all," he told her. It would have been nice to have come home a hero, but coming home safe was more important.

"That, or we're sleepin' with Emrys tonight," Maggie teased him affectionately, squeezing her friend tight a moment longer. She was doing her best to hide her embarrassment at having kissed him, hoping she hadn't weirded him out too much.

"Your Da will want to get you home," Rob remarked, assuming his father would want the same thing. Of course, all of that depended on the weather, and the storm didn't look like it was letting up anytime soon.

As far as Rob was concerned, it didn't look like he'd minded the kiss; in fact, he might have returned the favor if Emrys hadn't interrupted. Now, he worried if he'd ever get the chance again.
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 04, 2019 1:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Outside, another howl went up - unfamiliar and unlike the howl that must have come from Emrys earlier - joined by a second howl a little closer. Maggie frowned, glancing at Rob as the light was blocked out at the entrance to their tiny cave again. Emrys had returned, standing guard over the young teens against whatever was out there.

Whatever Rob's thoughts about Maggie, the sound of howls from somewhere nearby drew his attention to the mouth of the cave again, where he saw the large, shaggy form of Emrys standing guard. Oddly, it didn't make him feel any safer to see the shifter there, knowing he wasn't guarding them against snowflakes. There were far more dangerous things in the wild than storms, after all. But it wasn't the howls that startled him and had him shaking so much as the sound of a sudden and unexpected gunshot.

Emrys didn't seem surprised by the shot, but the swish of his tail suggested a certain amount of tension. The sooner Evan and Duncan arrived, the better. Maggie gripped Rob's hand worriedly. "Sounds like there's more folks out in this than us."

"Why would anyone by out in this?" Rob asked, not really expecting an answer. The fact that he and Maggie had been caught by surprise proved others could have been, too. He also knew there were hunters and poachers to be wary of and that they had wandered off the familiar track when they'd lost the horses and Maggie had fallen into the ravine.

"Didn't you say Marissa said somethin' about poachers or some such?" she asked quietly, wondering if they should be holding their weapons just in case. At the entrance to the cave, Emrys' head lifted, ears angling toward a sound only he heard for the time being.

"Yeah, they steer clear of the homestead, but outside of that, there are poachers and hunters and shifters," he replied, with a worried frown, not to mention wild animals. "The woods are dangerous, but I've never come this far without Da." And they wouldn't be there at all, if not for the storm.

"My Pa's gonna tan my hide," she muttered to herself, though she knew Evan would never raise a hand to her. He was still capable of making her feel terrible for putting herself and her friend in danger, though.

"I'll take the blame, Maggie. It's not your fault," Rob insisted, circling back to the question of blame. He knew his own father wouldn't lay a hand to him, but he wasn't so sure about Maggie's father. Duncan was more likely to hug his son than punish him.

"You ain't takin' the blame for me bein' an idiot, Robbie, stop it!" she burst out, frowning at his insistence. "This is my fault, lemme take responsibility for bein' stupid for once, okay?"

It wasn't often that the two of them quarreled, but Rob could be just as stubborn as Maggie when it came to it. "It wasn't your fault, Maggie! It was an accident. If it wasn't for the storm, we'd have been home a long time ago!" Of course, by this logic, it wasn't his fault either. "Once we explain what happened, my Da will understand," he insisted, though he couldn't speak for her father.

At the entrance to the cave, Emrys huffed, sounding almost as though he was laughing at their argument. He knew that neither father cared whose fault it was; they just wanted their wayward children home and safe again.

"Me showin' off isn't an accident, Robbie," Maggie insisted fiercely, determined to be the villain.

"How were you showing off?" Rob countered. If she'd been doing it for his benefit, he'd clearly missed it. "I was the one who suggested we go a little further," he helpfully pointed out. In either case, it was really the storm and the horses to blame, though neither wanted to admit it. Rob glanced over at Emrys and narrowed his eyes, lowering his voice to a whisper. "Is it me or does it sound like he's ..." Rob broke off, jumping at the sound of another gunshot, this one much closer to the cave.

"I'm the one who got off the horse and fell down a gully," she countered, still in that fierce tone. At the sound of the second gunshot so much closer, her fierceness disappeared, replaced with stark fear. "That don't sound good," she whispered, tugging her revolver free from her coat.

All the color had drained from Rob's face. It was one thing to be lost in a storm with your best friend, but quite another to know your father and his friends were shooting at someone or something or being shot at. "What do you think is going on?" he asked, looking as fearful as she was. His gaze went to the revolver in her hand, his hand going for his own. He'd never shot anything in his whole life, and like his father, wasn't overly fond of guns.

"I think maybe our pops found someone who shouldn't be here before they found us," Maggie mused, absently checking over her weapon. Evan's lessons had been very pointed. "Maybe someone who was trackin' the wolf sounds?"

"Then, Emrys is in more danger than we are," Rob reasoned with another glance at the shifter. Why would anyone want to hurt a couple of kids? Oh, he knew there were bad people in the world - people like his dead stepfather - but ever since coming to Rhy'Din, he hadn't met many of them.

"But he's a shifter, right?" Maggie pointed out. "Most wolves, they don't think like a human. Shifters do. And, you know, they're kinda hard to kill. Remember what they said in school? 'Less those folks out there are packin' silver bullets, he's fine."

"But what if they're hunting shifters?" Rob countered, which was a distinct possibility. He'd heard his father talk of hunters who preferred bigger and more dangerous prey than that of wild animals. Maybe he was just letting his imagination get the best of him, but he couldn't be sure. "Or what if they're rogue shifters?" he speculated further. That wasn't out of the realm of possibilities either. Whatever the case, he was tugging the pistol from its holster and checking to make sure it was properly loaded.

From just outside the cave came the shuddering sound of bones breaking and moving, the groan of an animal becoming the pained sigh of a human. Then a new voice made itself known.

"Don't freak out in there. I'm Seren, I'm Emrys' sister. I'm naked too. I'm gonna shift back and come in there to keep you guys warm, okay? I'm smaller than him."

Rob exchanged a glance with Maggie. It seemed there were more people out looking for them than either of them had expected. Was it only because of the storm, or was there some other danger they were unaware of?

"Okay!" he called back, a little uncertainly. What was a shifter going to do to keep them warm? Snuggle with them?

Maggie was completely out of her depth at this point. She hadn't really met Emrys, and now his sister was here? From outside came the repeated sound of bone cracking and shifting, ended with a huff of animal breath, and a smaller wolf with soft green eyes peered into the little cave. Emrys nudged her flank with his nose, turning back to face outward, and Seren eased inside, avoiding the fire to circle around behind the two teens and curl up at their backs.

It had never occurred to Rob to explain the weirder parts of his background or his parents' background. It was enough for her to know that they'd come from another place and another time, just like she had. It was really Marissa and Emrys and their families who were different.

"It's okay, Maggie," he reassured her quietly. "They're friends of my Da's. They're here to help."

"All right." Maggie might not trust the wolves, but she trusted Rob. If their presence was good enough for him, then it was good enough for her. And it was warmer with a big wolf against their backs. "Still be happier when our pops show up."

"I'll be happier when we're safe at home in front of the fire with some hot cocoa," Rob murmured. He gave Seren a furtive glance, happy for the warmth and protection she offered, but disappointed he and Maggie were no longer alone.

Seren caught Rob's glance, and did something no ordinary wolf would ever do - she winked at him. Then she yawned exaggeratedly, and closed her eyes, essentially giving him back the privacy he had been wishing for.
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 04, 2019 1:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Maybe you're gonna get cocoa," Maggie pointed out. "I'm gonna get sent to bed."

Rob frowned, feeling more than a little guilty that Maggie might have to endure punishment, while he'd likely be rewarded with hugs and kisses and hot cocoa. He couldn't believe her parents were so strict as all that, were they? He blinked in surprise at the wolf's wink, but wasn't quite so ensured of privacy that he'd dare stealing that kiss he'd been contemplating. "Maggie ..." he started, looking a little nervous about what he was about to ask her. "Do you think ... I mean ..." They'd been best friends for years. Why couldn't he just spit it out?

To be fair, being sent to bed was more likely overzealous parenting after her injury than punishment. As Rob stuttered, Maggie tilted her head toward him, her eyes warm and curious despite the lingering worry about the violence that had made itself known in the woods.

Rob might have worried if their fathers could handle themselves in the woods, but he knew better. His father was a warrior, and her father had been a soldier. If anyone could handle poachers, it was Duncan Mallory and Evan Lassiter.

"I was thinking ... My Ma and Da were best friends, you know, before they-before they fell in love," he stammered nervously. "I'm going to be fifteen soon." Or at least, he would be in a few months. "Do you think ... Would you like ..." He trailed off, stammering again, another sidelong glance at Seren. Maybe this wasn't the right time or the right place, but if he didn't get the words out now, he might never find the courage again. "Would you like to be my girlfriend?" he asked in a rush of words.

Maggie's curious smile softened into that shy flicker she'd shown him before she'd planted her kiss on his mouth earlier. "That was sort of what I was saying," she told him brightly. "I figured you wouldn't be interested until I sort of filled out more. Ma told me girls get prettier when they like someone special to 'em, so I reckon I'm gonna get prettier, 'cos I like you lots, Rob."

Rob's face brightened, a smile flickering across his face before his brows furrowed in confusion. "You're already pretty, Maggie. I can't imagine you getting any prettier," he assured her. As for himself, he knew he wasn't nearly as good looking as his father and didn't think he ever would be, but so long as Maggie was happy with him, it didn't really matter much.

She giggled quietly, shaking her head at the compliment. "Only person I wanna be pretty for is you," she pointed out in her usual blunt way. "If you're cool with it, then yeah ... I wanna be your girlfriend."

Despite their circumstances, Rob couldn't help but chuckle at Maggie's response to his question. "Of course, I'm cool with it! I asked you, didn't I?" he pointed out with a grin.

"Well, yeah, you asked me, but you might've been askin' me to be nice," she pointed out, her grin bright and teasing as she nudged him cheerfully. "So what happens now?"

"Uh, I don't know," Rob replied with a frown. He wasn't really sure what would change between them now that they were officially "dating". "I guess maybe we can hold hands in public?" he suggested, uncertainly.

"We already do that," Maggie reminded him, squeezing her arms about his shoulders as though reminding him that this was already quite a bit further than hand-holding. "But if, you know, being girlfriend and boyfriend is just, like, being lovey-dovey as well as best friends, we can do that, right?"

Rob furrowed his brows again, as he tried to form words for what he thought might change between them. "I think being boyfriend and girlfriend means we have a special relationship with each other. Even more special than being best friends," he explained, though he wasn't sure what that meant exactly. He knew it meant he wouldn't think of dating anyone else but her, but he'd already decided that before asking her.

Maggie was quiet for a long moment. "Well ... we're gettin' married, right?" she asked, pretty matter-of-fact despite the presence of a wolf at their backs. "I mean, not now, but when we're older?"

Rob arched a brow in surprise, not so much at her boldness, but at the realization that maybe she wanted the same thing he did. In truth, he'd wanted to marry her almost since the first day they'd met, but he hadn't understood those feelings then or been able to put them into words. Now, at nearly fifteen years old, that future wasn't so far away anymore. "I'd like to, if you want to," he countered, not wanting to push her into doing anything she didn't want to do.

"So ... nothin' really has to change right now," she said, a little afraid of their relationship actually changing somehow. She was still only thirteen, after all. "I mean, we know where we're goin'. We don't gotta do it fast, right?"

Rob furrowed his brows in thought before shaking his head. "No, it'll be at least a few years before we can get married," he said, assuming they finished school first. "But ... what if your Pa doesn't want you dating me?"

Maggie met his gaze head on. "It's not really his call, is it?" she said bluntly. "It's my life and you're who I wanna spend it with. If he's gotta problem with it, it's his problem. Like, what if your Pa doesn't want you datin' me?"

"My Da likes you," Rob pointed out, not really answering the question. "He might not want us dating yet though. He might think we're too young," he added with a frown. "Maybe we should keep it a secret," he said, almost forgetting that they weren't truly alone.

"I'm not good at keepin' secrets," she pointed out warily. "Ma's got this way of lookin' at me, and I just spill, right there."

Behind them, Seren lifted her head, looking toward the entrance to the cave.

"Okay, we'll ask their permission then," Rob said, knowing honesty probably really was the best policy. He caught movement out of the corner of his eye and followed Seren's glance toward the entrance. "It got quiet out there," he found himself whispering.

"Yeah, it kinda did." Maggie inched even closer to Rob, dropping her arms from around him to raise her revolver toward the entrance. "Hey, Rob? ... I'm scared."

Rob's fingers tightened on his pistol, though he still had a protective arm wrapped about Maggie's shoulders. "It's okay, Maggie. I'm not going to let anything happen to you," he whispered back. If anyone was going to hurt her, they'd first have to go through both their fathers, then Emrys and Seren, and finally Rob.

In front of the cave, Emrys stood guard, acutely aware of the forest around him, glad to have Seren as a second line of defense if necessary. He was going to owe Dorian at least a big drink for letting him borrow his mate at short notice. His head swung toward the sound of horses' hooves and human breath, lifting his muzzle to scent the air.

Duncan was the first one to emerge from the trees, astride a massive black horse. His face looked strained with worry, and he had a rifle slung over one shoulder, but otherwise, he looked all in one piece. The same could be said for Evan, who followed close behind, though the look on the cowboy's face was closer to anger and annoyance than worry.

Emrys huffed with relief, shaking off the snow that had settled on his fur despite the continued blizzard, and padded back toward the cave, jerking his muzzle toward it to signal to the men where their children were.
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 04, 2019 1:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Duncan put up a hand to signal to Evan that they should come to a halt a short way from the cave, so that the horses wouldn't get spooked by the shifters.

Inside the cave, Rob noticed something had changed, his heart hammering inside his chest in hopes their fathers were all right. "Do you think it's them?" he asked Maggie, uncertainly, almost afraid to venture outward and see for himself.

"I-I don't know," Maggie whispered. "I mean, I mean ... your doggie friend didn't die, did he?"

Behind them, Seren raised her head, her tongue lolling out in a canine laugh at this description of Emrys. It was definitely going to be repeated to him later.

"Wolf," Rob corrected quietly, knowing the difference. "Should we go see?" he asked, but before she could answer that question, both their fathers stepped into the cave, negating the need for more wondering. "Da!" Rob exclaimed, relieved to see them, but not quite yet sure all was well. "Are you all right? We heard gunshots."

"Oh, Pa ..." Maggie's relief was palpable, her hand shaking as she lowered the gun. She might seem daring and brave, but she was still a child in a lot of ways. It was a huge relief not to be alone with a couple of unfamiliar wolves.

Evan's gaze went first to his daughter's face and then to the revolver in her hand, as equally relieved that she had it and knew how to use it as he was horrified that she might have needed it.

"Put the gun away now, Maggie. It's okay. No one's gonna hurt you," he told his daughter, taking a step forward to welcome her into his arms, but not missing the way the boy's arm was already wrapped protectively around his daughter's shoulders.

Tucking her gun away, Maggie pushed up onto her one good leg to hop into Evan's arms - as close as she was to Rob, nothing was quite so comforting as her Pa's hug when she'd been scared. "What was happenin'?" she asked, lifting her head to look at him. "We heard shootin'."

"Ah, stupid damned poachers," Evan replied, hugging his daughter tightly into his arms. If he was angry at her, it sure didn't show. He wove his fingers into her hair as he held her close and leaned down to breath her in. Though he might not tell her so, he'd been worried sick about her. "What happened to your leg?" he asked, noticing the limp.

Meanwhile, Duncan didn't waste any time hugging his son, no matter if he was well on his way to becoming a man or not.

Maggie glanced over at Rob, her expression warning him not to say a word, before looking up at her father. "I fell down the gully out there," she admitted. "Cut my leg open on the ice. Rob wrapped it up neat when we got in here."

Evan knew his daughter well enough to know when she was lying, and it didn't seem she was. There was no reason for her to lie, in any case. He was just relieved to have found them both safe and in one piece. Still, he couldn't help but scold them a little. Maybe that way, there wouldn't be a next time.

"You should'a stayed closer to home with a storm rollin' in," he told her, softening that with a kiss to the top of her head. "Both of you," he added, looking over at Rob. He'd thank the boy for wrapping his daughter's leg up later, if at all.

"It's my fault, sir," Rob was quick to take the blame, just as he said he would. "We didn't plan on being out long, and then something spooked the horses, and Maggie fell, and we had to find shelter from the storm," he told the man in a rush of words.

Beside him, Duncan ruffled the boy's hair. "It's all right, lad. No one's blaming you."

"No, no one is blaming you," Maggie agreed from where she was wrapped in her father's embrace, flashing Rob an encouraging grin. She looked up at Evan. "Pa, are we goin' home now?"

Evan grunted in acknowledgment of the boy's statement. Both men were covered in snow, which was slow to melt in the dying embers of the fire. "Storm's not letting up. It's too dangerous to travel," he replied, and then there was her leg.

"The homestead's not far from here, and Marissa knows some healing," Duncan pointed out. "It might be crowded, but it's just 'til the storm lets up."

Evan nodded. "I reckon so," he agreed grudgingly.

Emrys' big shaggy head pressed in through the mouth of the cave, chuffing an agreement with Duncan. It might be a bit close in the homestead, but it would be warm, and Marissa would probably enjoy the company.

"Won't they mind us just showin' up?" Maggie asked worriedly.

Duncan chuckled at her question and tossed a knowing grin at Emrys. "Marissa will probably be tickled pink to have someone to fuss over for a while," he said, meaning Rob and Maggie. As for himself and Evan, well, they'd just have to suck it up for one night. "We should try and get word back to Brambles though," he added. He knew the women would be worried sick.

At the back of the cave, Seren lifted her head, making eye contact with Emrys for a moment. Then she nodded her muzzle, seemingly agreeing to something. Emrys caught Duncan's eye with a reassuring gaze. They'd get word to the Brambles easily enough. Seren could swing that way on her way home.

Evan caught a glimpse of the silent communication that was going on between the pair and murmured, "Reckon we don't gotta worry about that no more."

"I reckon not," Duncan agreed. The only real problem was getting the pair safely to the homestead in the snow. "Can you walk?" he asked of Maggie.

Maggie glanced down at her leg, still slightly numb but also throbbing painfully in places. "Sorta," she offered. "I mean, I can hop if someone helps me."

At the cave mouth, Emrys actually rolled his eyes, loping out of sight as Seren moved to leave the cave and join her brother.

"I'll take her," Evan interjected. "She can go on my horse," he said, leaving no room for argument.

Duncan nodded in agreement. He'd been thinking the same thing. "You two hungry? We brought some supplies," he told the pair.

"I have half a bear claw," Maggie offered hopefully, glad that things seemed to be moving toward getting to somewhere warm and safe. She jumped at the sound of another gunshot in the woods, and the startling sound of a loud growl and heavy impact. And given the fact that both Emrys and Seren were still visible outside the cave, that was not one of them engaged in a fight.

Evan growled like a bear and let go of his daughter, moving toward the mouth of the cave, his rifle coming down to perch against his shoulder. "Stay here," he ordered before disappearing into the snow.

Duncan remained where he was, deciding someone needed to stay behind and protect the children. "Probably just another poacher. Marissa says they're all over the woods, especially this time of year. She's tangled with a few of them herself."

"Pa ..." Worried, Maggie hopped to the cave mouth, unable to go further when Seren blocked her path.

Emrys was padding at Evan's side, though he seemed supremely unconcerned by the noises coming from the woods. It didn't sound like a wolf doing that growling. It wasn't the growl that had Evan concerned so much as the gunshot. He knew how deadly guns could be in the wrong hands, and he didn't want anyone getting hurt, especially the kids.
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 04, 2019 1:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"He'll be okay, Maggie. He knows what he's doing," Duncan assured her, as he slid a pack from his back and yanked it open. "You hungry? Mara packed some food," he told the pair.

"Rob, toss another log on the fire, will you?" he asked the boy, who blinked out of his thoughts and went to do his father's bidding.

Still frowning worriedly, Maggie turned back toward Duncan and Rob, limping back into the warmth of the fire. "Are we really gonna stay here all night?" she asked. "'Cos it's not a big cave, and you're kinda ... well, you and Pa, you're big."

"Nae, soon as your father deems it safe, we'll head for the homestead. It's not far," Duncan replied, crouching down to dig some cheese and bread from his pack and hand it around. Rob would have preferred to help Maggie back to the fire, but instead he did as he was told and added wood to the fire.

"All right." Maggie sighed, easing back down onto the ground awkwardly. "Can I help with anythin'?"

Outside, Seren let out an excited bark, bouncing on her front paws like a particularly hyperactive small dog.

"Just relax, Maggie. It'll be okay. Your Pa knows what he's doing and we're not going to let anything happen to either of you," Duncan replied, chuckling a little to hear Seren's response to someone or something outside the cave. "I have to admit, it's handy having shifters for friends, especially in this weather."

"They're real big," Maggie pointed out. "Like, so much bigger than normal wolves are. Is that normal? Or is Rhy'Din kind of weird like that?"

"I think it's normal," Duncan said, handing them each a hunk of bread and cheese.

"Marissa is a were-tiger," Rob interjected, mostly for Maggie's benefit, before tearing off a hunk of bread with his teeth.

Maggie's mouth dropped open. "Like, a proper big tiger?" she asked in astonishment. "That's so cool! Can I see her? D'you think she'd let me? I really like cats."

Duncan winced at Rob's eagerness to share Marissa's secret so readily, but at least, it was only Maggie he was sharing it with. "I don't think you should ask her. Wait and see if she offers. She's a bit secretive about it," he explained as gently as he could.

Rob frowned, looking remorseful. "Sorry, Da. I forgot."

"O-oh." Maggie made a show of nodding sagely. "I won't let on, Mr. Mallory. Won't say a word about it, promise." She glanced at Rob, her smile apologetic.

Outside, the noise of the fighting had stopped with no more gunshots - it seemed as though the poacher had well and truly lost.

Duncan smiled at Maggie's promise. "Just wait and see if she tells you," he repeated. Rob opened his mouth to say something, but was cut off by a trail of obscenities from Evan as he stormed back into the cave, looking like he was in a foul mood.

"Goddamned poachers. What in hell are they doing out in a storm? Pack up, Mallory. We gotta get the horses out of the storm before they freeze." He turned to face the children, accustomed to giving orders. "Maggie, you're with me."

"Yes, Papa." It wasn't unusual for Maggie to be obedient to her father, though she didn't usually leap to obey every last instruction. She hesitated at the sound of a low grumbling sound outside the cave, and the unexpected sight of white fur as a creature even bigger than Emrys' in wolf form padded out of the snow.

It wasn't that Evan was being bossy so much as he was used to taking charge and just wanted to get everyone someplace safe that wasn't a cave in the middle of a blizzard.

"Oh, Demi's here, too," Rob said, with a grin. Just how many shifters were there in Rhy'Din? "There's your chance to meet a weretiger, Maggie."

"D-Demi?" The girl quavered, staring wide-eyed at the white tiger as the great head swung around, casting a piercing blue gaze into the cave.

She was enormous, bigger than Emrys' Alpha wolf, but somehow softer on her big paws. She chuffed a greeting to the group inside the cave, padding back out of sight along with Seren. It seemed as though the group was going to be escorted to their destination.

"Da, can we?" Rob asked, as if he needed permission to introduce Maggie to the great white tiger.

Duncan took one look at Evan's scowl and winced. "We should be going, Rob. Maybe you can introduce her when we get there," he said, as it seemed the shifters weren't going anywhere. They'd be safer for the escort anyway.

Disappointed, Maggie rolled her eyes, pulling herself up onto her feet again to grip her father's sleeve and steady herself. "It ain't too far, is it?" she asked. She'd never been to Marissa's homestead before; in fact, this was the furthest she'd been from the Brambles into the wilds before today.

"Not too far," Evan confirmed, scooping his daughter up into his arms as easily as if she were still a small child.

Rob frowned, wishing he could have done that, but he wasn't half as big as Maggie's father and wasn't sure he ever would be.

Duncan gave his son's shoulder a reassuring squeeze. "We'll have you both warm and toasty in no time," he promised.

Any other time, being picked up in front of her best friend would have been embarrassing, but right now, Maggie just felt safer with her father holding her. It had been a long time since she'd been in any kind of direct danger, and last time, it had been Marin and Mr. McAlister who had come to save her and her brother. That was how she knew her parents would always come for her - they had done it before.

Outside, Emrys hung back, careful not to spook the horses, giving directions to the two females who were circling the area unseen through the snow.

Once Evan had Maggie settled atop the horse, snuggled up in a blanket to protect her from the snow, and Duncan had done the same with Rob, the group started off with Emrys leading the way to the cottage he shared with his wife and their children. It was slow going through the snow and the wind, but as promised, it wasn't too far.

When they passed the warding edge of the homestead, Emrys abruptly left them, accelerating through the snow to reach his home first. A few minutes later, he came back into sight - human and dressed - raising his hand to guide them in. Despite herself, Maggie was relieved to see that the big wolf was still just a man underneath it all, relaxing at the sight of the homestead coming into view through the snow.

Marissa was apparently still inside the little cottage they called home. It was small, but it was cozy and warm with smoke coming from the chimney and looking an inviting place to take respite from the storm. It was going to be a little crowded, but at least they'd be safe and warm.

"All right, folks?" Emrys called as he approached them. "Let's get you all inside and the horses stabled so Demi can come into the wardings. She's going to stay with you until you're back at the Brambles - Marissa's given Seren a note to give to Mara so the ladies know where you all are."

Evan helped Maggie off the horse, this time setting her gingerly down on her feet, almost as if he was allowing Rob to step forward and help her.
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 04, 2019 1:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The boy didn't disappoint, moving immediately over to Maggie and whispering, "You okay?" before sliding an arm around her back to help her up the stairs and into the warm house.

Wincing just a little as she was set down, Maggie flickered a grateful smile to her father as Rob took charge of her, looping her arm over her friend's shoulders to let him help her up and over the porch. "I'm good," she promised. "Kinda sore. You good?"

"Just cold," Rob replied, trying hard not to shiver. And hungry, but mostly cold.

Marissa pulled open the door to let them inside, a friendly smile on her face. "Come in, come in! Before you freeze to death!" she said, ushering the pair inside and leaving the men to deal with the horses and their gear.

"Hey, Ms. Marissa," Maggie greeted her a little awkwardly. "I'll try not to bleed on anythin' important."

The warmth in the cabin was a welcome relief. There was something very reassuring about a roaring fire and the smell of food and coffee; the sight of a pair of small toddlers playing together on a padded area of the floor. It felt safe.

Marissa frowned as she took the pair in, noting their ragged appearance and the makeshift bandage around the teenage girl's leg. "You look awful. Both of you, but first things first. Rob, would you toss another log on that fire, please? And Maggie - it's Maggie, right? Have a seat, Maggie, so I can take a look at that leg."

"It's not as bad as it looks, ma'am," Maggie attempted to say, wincing as Rob helped her down into a seat. "I mean, it looks pretty bad, but it's nowhere near as bad as it could have been, right?"

"I've seen worse," Marissa replied, though she had yet to unwrap the bandage and take a good look at what she was dealing with. "And you can call me Marissa," she corrected the girl, as she gathered the supplies she'd need to clean and tend the wound. "What happened?"

"I kinda fell down a gully and put my leg through pond ice?" Maggie suggested, hoping it didn't sound as ridiculous as she thought it did. "Rob covered it up, but it was kinda frozen and icky for a while there."

"Kinda?" Marissa echoed with an amused smile, as serious as the circumstances were.

"Is she gonna be okay?" Rob asked, as he joined the pair at last, after properly stoking the fire.

"She's gonna be fine," she assured the boy. "Why don't you fill that bowl there with warm water so I can clean the wound?" she asked as she crouched down in front of Maggie and started to unwind the makeshift bandage. "This might hurt a little, okay?" she warned the girl.

"Yeah, kinda," Maggie agreed. She wasn't going to tell an adult that she'd been trying to swing off a frozen tree branch above the gully in question when she fell. Grimacing at the painful ache in her calf, she leaned forward to watch as Marissa undid the bandage.

Marissa had the hands of a healer - sure but gentle - as she carefully unwound the wrapping that covered Maggie's wounded leg. There wasn't much she could do until she had the wound uncovered and knew what she was dealing with.

The bandage had frozen to the bloodied wound in the short time it had taken to get from the cave to the house, sticking painfully before it came away to reveal the angry-looking gash on the girl's lower calf. It didn't look too bad to practiced eyes, but to the teens, it looked awful. And, Maggie being Maggie, the injured party was enthralled. "Hey, if I had a phone I could take a picture of that," she told Rob cheerfully. "Make it out of wax and corn syrup for next Halloween."

Marissa's expression remained friendly as she carefully tended Maggie's leg. She even laughed a little at Maggie's suggestion. "There's a phone on the table, if you want," she told the pair. Apparently, not everyone associated with the families at the Brambles was unfamiliar with technology, least of all, Marissa.

"Nah, I'm bound to get hurt again,"Maggie said dismissively, not really wanting to use someone else's personal item for anything so trivial. She grinned over at Rob. "You look like you're the one getting bandaged up."

"Huh?" Rob said, looking up from his contemplation of Maggie's leg. Marissa had cut away the lower part of Maggie's pants so that she could have better access to the girl's wound, but it wasn't the flash of skin that had Rob enthralled. "Could you teach me?" he asked, abruptly. "Teach you what?" Marissa asked, as she carefully dabbed antiseptic over the wound. "This is gonna sting a bit," she warned the girl.

Maggie grimaced, tensing as Marissa wiped the antiseptic over her wound. It did sting, a sharp pain that fizzed for a moment before beginning to subside, but did manage to produce a quiet acknowledgment of that pain from the stubborn teen's mouth.

"Sorry," Marissa apologized, trying to be as gentle as possible, but needing to stave off infection. The wound itself looked a lot worse than it was, but that was probably little comfort to Maggie. "Teach me to do that?" Rob replied, wincing as Maggie acknowledged the pain. "First Aid?" Marissa asked. "Yes, I can teach you," she said, never taking her eyes from Maggie's leg. "Rob, why don't you put some water on to boil? The kettle's on the stove. I'm betting you two wouldn't mind a hot cup of cocoa."

With the three of them so focused on Maggie's leg, it shouldn't have been surprising that the twin toddlers would come crawling over to take a look themselves. Cerys pulled herself to stand up, prodding at Maggie's knee, and the teenager automatically lifted the little girl up onto her lap, well-used to doing the same for Rob's little sister.

"Mama!" the other twin declared as he pulled himself up near Marissa's leg. "Hush, now, Bevan," she told the little boy in a soft, but stern voice. "Mama's busy. You can watch, but don't touch." "I can watch them for you, if you want," Rob volunteered, accustomed to having a little sister following at his heels.

On Maggie's lap, Cerys sneezed, going momentarily cross-eyed before grinning over at Rob cheerfully, apparently very proud of her two front teeth. Maggie laughed, watching as Marissa worked on her leg. "I guess these two're yours, huh?"

"Mmhm," Marissa murmured as she started wrapping a clean bandage around Maggie's wound. Thankfully, she hadn't even needed stitches. "You want to keep that clean and dry for a week or so. I'll give you extra bandages so you can change the dressing every day," she instructed, smiling up at the girl. "I'll think you're gonna be okay." She rose to her feet and set the med kit on the counter before turning back to scoop the little boy up onto her hip. "Now, you two little imps, how about you say hullo to our guests? Maggie, Rob, this is Cerys and Bevan."

"Thanks, ma'am." Maggie smiled back at Marissa, bouncing Cerys on her knee as she did so. The little girl cackled, waving her fists around happily. "Nice to meet'cha, Bevan, Cerys."

Bevan saw all the fun his sister was having and lunged for Maggie to have some fun of his own. "Oh, no, you don't!" Marissa said, catching the little boy before he dove right out of her arms. "Here, Rob. You have a little sister, don't you?" she said, handing the twin off to Rob, so that she could go about fixing the hot cocoa.

Rob's eyes widened as he caught the toddler in his arms, not expecting to have the boy passed off to him like a football. "Yes, ma'am," he replied. "Dee Dee is gonna be three."

"Boys aren't so different from girls when they're little," Maggie pointed out to her friend. "Cal was only that big when I met him, and he was cool. I never had a little sister, though," she added, tilting her head to look at Cerys cheerfully. "Girls smell better."

"What's the matter with the way I smell?" Rob asked a little defensively, claiming a chair at last so that he could balance Bevan on his lap. Marissa laughed.

"Oh, they're a lot different, Maggie! Boys have to be taught to aim!" she offered with a wink, as she took out a couple of mugs and filled them with water and hot cocoa mix, which she'd made herself from real cocoa.
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 04, 2019 1:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"No, I mean baby girls smell better," Maggie assured her friend in amusement, quite happy to cuddle with the toddler on her lap for the time being. "Cal was always sticky and smelled kind of like mud."

From the porch came the sound of heavy paws, a white tiger dipping her head to look in through the windows.

"That's because he was always playing in the mud!" Rob pointed out, though she probably already knew that.

Marissa sensed the tiger's presence before she heard or saw her and smiled. "Looks like we have another guest. It's gonna get crowded in here!" She laughed and moved over to open the door. "Are you in or out?" she asked the tiger with a bright smile on her face. After all, the two were old friends by now.

Maggie twisted about to get her first proper look at the big were-tiger as Demi dipped her head to look in through the door. The white tigress chuffed, gently nudging her nose against Marissa's arm, but the conversation they had was imperceptible to the humans in their midst. If I come in, I'll have to go human. Do you have a shirt or something?

Yes, of course! I'll be right back! Marissa replied silently. She closed the door to keep the cold out and set the cups of hot cocoa on the table, along with a plate of cookies. "I'll be right back. I have to get Demi something to wear," she told them, without much more explanation than that.

"Uh, okay." Maggie glanced at Rob, tilting her head curiously at her friend. "Have you met Demi before?" she asked him, a little less freaked out by the enormous tiger now they were in a strangely domestic setting.

Rob nodded. "She's a little bigger than Marissa's tiger form," he told her, reaching for a cookie and handing it to Bevan before he climbed onto the table to get one. "They're both shifters - weretigers - but I think when they shift, their clothes don't shift with them," he whispered, as if it might embarrass Marissa to overhear him.

"I guess that makes sense," Maggie considered, echoing his movement to make sure Cerys had a cookie of her own as well. "I mean, tigers and wolves don't wear clothes, so it'd be kind of weird. And Seren said she was nude too."

"But some shifters use magic to shift their clothing with them," Marissa interjected as she re-entered the room, not intentionally eavesdropping, but it was hard not to overhear when one had preternatural hearing. "It depends on the shifter." She had a long wool sweater and a pair of thick socks slung over one arm, rather than just the requested t-shirt. The sweater was thankfully baggy enough that Demi wouldn't have any trouble getting into it.

"And you guys aren't that kind of shifter?" Maggie asked, completely unembarrassed to have been caught talking about it. After all, she tended to rely on other people to tell her if she was being impolite.

"Well, I am, sort of ..." Marissa admitted, frowning a little in thought. "It's kind of hard to explain." But before she could even start to explain, she was opening that door again and stepping out onto the porch to help Demi get changed - without even bothering to put a coat on.

The sound of a were-tiger shifting back to human form was not so very different from the sound of a werewolf doing the same, but this shift ended with a very distinct female voice declaring, "Holy crap, that pig's completely fearless!"

Maggie snickered, not knowing what was going on, glancing at Rob in amusement.

"That pig is one of my babies, and you, Dr. Ashton, are not allowed to eat him!" the other distinct female voice replied with laughter in her voice. Rob only smirked and shrugged his shoulders at Maggie.

"I wasn't going to eat him," Demi answered, briefly muffled as she covered herself up. "There aren't many pigs in the multiverse who aren't even mildly frightened by an enormous predator right next to them, that's all."

"Well, he is kind of used to it, you know. Kind of puts the story of the wolf and the three little pigs to shame, doesn't it?" Marissa said with a giggle, tugging on her friend's sleeve to pull her into the cottage, whether she was finished dressing or not. "Come on, before we both freeze out here!" Which was quite possible without their fur to keep them warm.

"All right, all right!" Laughing, Demi let herself be pulled into the warmth of the cottage, a diminutive woman in long socks and a long sweater, dark hair and dark eyes. She smiled over at the teens. "Enjoying your adventure so far?"

"It's my fault," Rob was quick to take the blame again. "We should have headed back sooner." He frowned guiltily, not looking for absolution. "I'm sure your parents won't hold it against you," Marissa said, looking from one of the teens to the other. "They had adventures of their own when they were young, you know."

"Stop saying that," Maggie told Rob sharply. "It's not your fault, so shush up, would you?" Demi bit her lip, trying not to smile too broadly as she glanced at Marissa. "Well, whatever the issue, we'll be here until the storm passes, and I'll escort you all back to the Brambles."

Rob frowned at Maggie's scolding, mumbling, "Sorry." Marissa noticed the slight tension between the teens but said nothing of it, letting it go unmentioned. "Who's got the kids?" she asked, as she went to make two more cups of hot cocoa - one for herself and one for Demi.

"Neville and Dorian are competing to see who is better, poppa or uncle," Demi told Marissa with a smile, glancing briefly toward the teenagers. Her practiced eye could see there was a closeness there that a few sharp words wouldn't affect, drawing her attention back to her friend with a smile. "I am dreading the day they start walking, though."

"Well, there are three of them," Marissa pointed out, handing her friend a mug of hot cocoa before blowing into her mug to cool it off. She looked over at her own children, whose faces and fingers were smeared from the chocolate chip cookies they'd been nibbling. She laughed again and sighed. "There's no rest for the weary, I guess," she said, setting her mug aside so she could scoop up one twin in each arm and drag them off to get cleaned up.

Left alone with the teenagers, Demi smiled faintly, moving a little closer to where the two of them were sat together. "Trouble in paradise?" she asked innocently.

Maggie blinked, her cheeks coloring a little as she glanced at Rob. "Huh?"

Rob looked between his two companions, a little perplexed. Were he and Maggie having an argument or was she just tired and upset about what had happened? He shrugged, unsure how to answer. He had a feeling she was annoyed at him, but he'd apologized once already.

"Been a long day," he replied. At least, that was partially true.

Maggie wasn't annoyed so much as frustrated with Rob's refusal to let her take responsibility for her own actions. But it wouldn't last - they were too close for such little blips to mar their relationship.

Demi's smile deepened as she eased down onto one of the chairs, sipping her cocoa. "Long days make everyone a little fretful," she said easily. "Especially when they've been as tiring as today was for you two."

But Rob didn't feel it was solely Maggie's fault. After all, it had been his idea to go for a ride. He was as much to blame as she was, and yet, what did blame matter now?

"I just wish Maggie hadn't gotten hurt is all," he said, which was true enough. No harm, no foul, his father probably would have said. But Maggie had gotten hurt, when Rob had promised to protect her.

"I got hurt 'cos I was bein' an idiot, Rob," Maggie reminded him gently. "We've been goin' round in circles on this for a while now."

"Then it is probably best that you agree to disagree and not mention it again," Demi suggested. "You don't have to always agree with one another, and learning how to respectfully disagree is one of the best skills you will ever have."

Rob frowned. It wasn't even a question of blame - it was a question of who was taking the blame. That was the difference. "I just don't want Maggie's Da being mad at her," he said, which again, was true enough. Wasn't taking the blame the heroic thing to do?

"He ain't mad, Robbie," Maggie insisted. "Pa's always kinda gruff when he's had a scare, and we kinda scared him. He ain't mad at you, and he ain't mad at me, I promise."

Rob nodded, hoping she was right. All he could really do was take her word for it. He knew her father was annoyed, but it was hard to tell if he was more annoyed with them or the poachers.

"If it helps at all, neither of your fathers smelled angry in the slightest," Demi informed them, seemingly with absent interest as she licked chocolate from her fingertip. "But parents have to discipline their children, or children will not grow up to share their parents' morals and manners. So while it may seem that they are angry or upset, it is a lesson they're trying to teach you, and not a punishment they want to give."
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 04, 2019 1:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"You can smell if they're angry or not?" Rob asked with interest. It never occurred to him to doubt her word. After all, there was still a lot he didn't know about shifters or even about Rhy'Din.

"Well, it's a combination of scent and training," Demi admitted. "Humans emit certain scents when they feel strong emotion, but I am also a fully trained psychologist. I can read someone without needing to smell them."

Maggie stared at her, mildly horrified for a moment as she looked over at Rob. Did that mean Marissa and Emrys could also ... smell emotions?

Rob met Maggie's gaze, brows arched upwards. What did Demi sense or smell about their emotions, and could the other shifters do the same? He was unaware that his thoughts were echoing Maggie's. Did Demi know what their feelings were for each other?

"They weren't angry at all?" he asked, turning back to Demi. Then again, neither of their fathers knew that they'd finally agreed to be more than just friends.

"As far as I can tell, Evan is furious with the existence of poachers, but that is about it," Demi assured him easily. She watched the pair of them exchange glances. "And I don't share secrets. You're the ones who have to tell your families how close you are."

"We're best friends," Rob declared emphatically. More than that he wasn't willing to openly admit just yet, but perhaps he didn't have to.

"Your parents were best friends when they were kids, too, Rob," Marissa was heard to say as she rejoined them, sans twins.

"Did you know Mr. and Mrs. Mallory when they were kids, Ms. Marissa?" Maggie asked, curiosity bright in her expression, though she could be forgiven for wanting to get away from the subject of her own attachments.

"No, but we're good friends and they told me their story," Marissa replied, reclaiming her cup of cocoa and frowning to find it had gotten cold. She moved to dump it and make fresh. "They've known each other nearly all their lives," she told them.

"And people didn't want them to be together, did they?" Maggie pressed further, taking advantage of the opportunity to ask about Rob's parents. She didn't mean to be nosy or rude, but it was fascinating.

"No, they didn't," Marissa said, looking to Rob, knowing he knew all this already. After all, he had lived through some of the story, long enough to know it could have ended in tragedy.

"It's because of you that we're here," he told Marissa, knowing it was in good part true.

"Not only me, Rob," Marissa told the boy with a soft smile. "Your father came back for you and your mother. I just had good timing." Of course, there was far more to it than that, but she didn't really want to take the credit.

"Well, your Pa is a hero," Maggie pointed out to her friend. "He has a sword and armor and everything. Is he still wearing a skirt when he's workin' at home?"

Rob didn't bother to mention how his father had left them all those years ago - or been forced to leave. All of that was over now, so what did it matter? He'd held no love or affection for his step-father and wasn't sorry the man was dead.

Rob shook his head. "It's a kilt, and he says it's only for special occasions."

"Are you gonna wear a kilt on special occasions?" his cheeky friend asked, her face lighting up with a mischievous grin as she nudged him affectionately.

Across from them, Demi caught Marissa's eye and grinned.

Rob smiled a little nervous smile at that and blushed prettily. If Demi and Marissa weren't there, he might have asked if she wanted him to, but instead he merely replied, "I don't have one." At least, not yet or not anymore.

Marissa grinned back, turning around to finish fixing herself a fresh cup of hot cocoa.

"Yeah, but if you did have one, would you?" Maggie pressed, leaning against his shoulder and tilting her head his way with her best innocent smile teasingly shining at him.

"I don't know," Rob replied uncertainly, unsure why this should be important to her or why his mother liked to teased his father likewise. "Do you want me to?" he asked finally, despite the onlookers. The real question though was why?

The teenage girl looked thoughtful for a moment, and then produced another impish smile, wiggling her eyebrows at her best friend. "Yeah," she said. "'Cos I bet you got dimples on your knees, and that is the cutest thing ever."

"You've seen my knees, Maggie. I don't have any dimples," he insisted, both of which were true, though she hadn't had a peek at his knees since they'd been swimming last summer. "Besides, if I have to wear a kilt, then you should have to wear a skirt," he countered, grinning back at her.

Maggie narrowed her eyes at him and abruptly grinned brightly. "Sure, you're on," she agreed without offering any kind of resistence at all. "I got skirts and dresses, I can do that. And you can't wriggle out of it, 'cos we got witnesses!"

"No, a short skirt. Not like the kind your Ma wears," Rob said, upping the stakes. If he had to show his legs, it was only fair she did the same. He'd seen other girls wearing short dresses; it wasn't like he was asking her to walk around naked.

"What, you think I'm gonna back out on this?" Maggie giggled, content to wear a short skirt if that was what it took. After all, she wore shorts in summer - where was the difference, really? "Might havta go shoppin' for one, though."

"Not only that ..." Rob continued. He was on a roll now. "You have to come with me to the Valentine's Day dance at school." Now that was really upping the odds. Not only was he asking her to wear a dress, but to go on a date with him - in public. If no one knew they were a couple before that, they'd certainly know after.

"Is that an order, or are you askin' me to the dance, fella?" she countered impishly, pretending not to notice the fact that there was at least one indulgent grin happening on the other side of the room.

Marissa's back was still turned to them, as if it was taking an inordinate time to make that cup of cocoa, but secretly, she was biting back laughter.

"I'm asking," Rob confirmed, looking just a little annoyed with her question. He'd never order her to do anything she didn't want to do, and she was the one who'd asked him to wear a skirt - er, a kilt.

"Then I'm comin'," Maggie answered with a sweet smile. "You didn't really think I'd let you go to the dance without me, didja? I been ready to fight someone to go with you for weeks now."

"Fight who?" Rob asked, since there was no one else he was interested in asking, and as far as he knew, no one else who was interested in asking him. "You'll go with me then?" he asked, as if he needed further confirmation.

"Sure I will," Maggie promised him, pretending not to hear the request for names. She knew he had a few admirers in school, but so far none of them had made their interest plain.

Even if they had, Rob only had eyes for one girl and had for years. He grinned at her reply, eyes twinkling with a rare hint of mischief. "Do I really have to wear a kilt though?" he asked, hoping he didn't, mostly because he was worried the other boys might poke fun at him. It would probably make the girls happy though, so who would be the fool then?
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 04, 2019 1:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

She laughed, nudging him fondly. "Not to the dance," she promised. "But you're gonna, sometime. Do I really gotta wear, like a mini-skirt to the dance?"

"Not to the dance, but sometime," he echoed her reply, tit for tat, a smirk making itself known on his face. He wasn't sure when, but they'd figure it out.

"You know, Rob, girls think kilts are sexy," Marissa interjected as innocently as she could, before taking a sip of her cocoa.

"Very much so," Demi agreed with an easy smile. "There's something awfully attractive about a man with a well-turned calf."

Maggie goggled at the women - sexy was not in her experience. She was only thirteen; the kilt thing was all about teasing her best friend right now.

Marissa smirked at the look on Maggie's face. "You'll understand in a few years," she assured her. "In the meantime, since it looks like you're both spending the night, what would you like to do?"

"You really think the storm's gonna last all night?" Maggie asked worriedly. "Ma'll be really worried. And Cal, too. They get antsy when folks aren't all home in bad weather."

"Don't worry, Maggie. We sent a message to your Ma. She knows where you both are and that you're okay," Marissa assured them both.

"My Ma, too?" Rob asked, just as worriedly.

"Of course," Marissa replied. "I'm not sure where we're going to put everyone, but ..." She frowned as she glanced to the window, where the storm was still raging outside. "I think it would be best if you stay the night."

"We can sleep in the barn," Maggie suggested. "It'll be warm with the animals, and that way you and Mr. Emrys get to keep your house."

Demi tilted her glance toward Marissa. She herself would be going home for the night, if it was decided that everyone was staying, and return in the morning to escort them home.

"Nonsense," Marissa said. "We have plenty of room," she assured the girl, though it might be a tight squeeze if their fathers decided to spend the night, as well. And if they did, they'd likely be far more comfortable in the barn than the children would. "We'll sort it out. Never you worry."

"Well, if that is decided, I should probably get home and rescue my mate from my own children," Demi said with a rueful smile. "I'll be back in the morning, but if the storm holds, the poachers are taking their lives in their hands just being out in it after dark."

"Will you be okay?" Marissa asked, concerned for her friend's safety. She didn't want any poachers taking any potshots at a certain white tiger that roamed the woods.

Demi shrugged. "I have better camo in these conditions," she pointed out, "and I can move pretty quick. I should be fine."

Maggie glanced at Rob; she had no idea quite what they could say in this conversation.

"I could have Emrys escort you home," Marissa suggested.

Rob offered a small shrug to Maggie, at a loss as to what to add to the conversation, as well. He didn't know all that much about shifters, but he did know poachers could be dangerous.

"He'll still have to come back alone," Demi pointed out. "I'll be fine, Marissa. I've never yet been caught by a poacher, it isn't going to happen tonight. For a start, Neville would never forgive me."

"You would think the storm would keep them indoors," Marissa grumbled. She didn't like the idea of Demi out there alone, though it wouldn't be the first time. "I'm going to have to do something about it. They're starting to get out of hand."

"Maybe the pack should do something about it," Demi suggested gently. "You're not alone anymore." She rose, reaching over to hug Marissa fondly. "I'll leave the clothes folded up on the porch, okay?"

Marissa smiled at the reminder as she returned her friend's hug. She'd been alone far too long, but she wasn't alone anymore. Not only did she have a mate who loved her, but she had the love and companionship of friends and family, too.

"Thanks, Demi," she whispered back, grateful for her friendship.

The teenagers watched as the two diminuitive women embraced, and Demi slipped from the cabin. A few moments later came the sound of bones breaking and shifting, and Maggie couldn't resist. She lurched up, out of her seat, and pressed her face to the window, watching the white tiger shake out her fur and pad away into the storm.

Marissa smiled at the girl's inquisitiveness. "Never saw a shifter shift?" she asked, though that much seemed obvious. "It's a very private thing to a shifter. Kind of like you when you're changing your clothes."

"Does it hurt?" Rob asked, wincing at the sound of breaking and shifting bones.

Marissa shrugged. "Not really, but there are different kinds of shifters. I was born that way. It's in my genes, but I didn't make my first shift until I was about your age."

"Never saw a white tiger, neither," Maggie pointed out, finally blushing a little as Marissa pointed out how private a thing such a shift was. "I wasn't tryin' to spy, I just ... I guess I should've asked, huh. Does it hurt, all those bones breakin' and stuff?"

"White tigers are rare," Marissa told her, smiling at the girl's blush. "It's okay. Demi isn't exactly shy," she informed her further. She shrugged at Maggie's question, which echoed Rob's. "Maybe you could ask her tomorrow. I'm sure she'd be happy to answer your questions."

Maggie opened her mouth to ask about Marissa being a tiger, and abruptly remembered her promise to Duncan not to say a word about it. Her mouth snapped shut, then opened again. "You know, we can sleep on the floor," she suggested, wanting to be helpful. "We ain't precious, are we, Rob?"

Marissa had made it no secret that she, too, was a weretiger - at least, not to those she considered friends - but she made no further mention of it. She smiled at Maggie's suggestion. "It's funny you should say that. I was thinking maybe you two would like to camp out in sleeping bags near the fire. It will be sort of an adventure!"

"And our pops'll be okay in the barn, right?" Maggie asked, needing to be reassured. She had a feeling Evan and Duncan were probably annoying each other with their desire to be home and to keep their children safe, but wouldn't be sleeping in the cabin with them.

"They'll be fine, Maggie," Marissa replied, refraining from adding, So long as they don't kill each other. She doubted the men hated each other, but weren't exactly best friends either. What were they going to say when they found out that their eldest children wanted to be more than just friends, she wondered. That thought made her smile. She didn't think Duncan would mind, but she wasn't so sure about Evan. Then again, if there was anyone Evan could trust with his daughter, it was probably Rob. "That's so long as your fathers agree to the arrangement," she added.

Rob exchanged a worried glance with Maggie. They'd been having sleepovers since they were little, but they weren't little anymore.

"Should we take some dinner out to them?" Maggie then added, catching Rob's worried glance with an attempt at a reassuring smile. They both knew their fathers, after all.
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 04, 2019 1:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"That's a good idea," Marissa replied. "I hope they like stew," she added, nodding at a pot that was simmering on the stove. No, she wasn't psychic, but stew was always a good choice on a cold, blustery day. "But they'll probably come in for a while," she said, wondering what was taking so long in the barn, as it was. Even Emrys hadn't come inside to check in yet.

"They're probably just getting the horses settled," Rob suggested. Or arguing whose kid was more at fault for getting lost in the storm.

It was anyone's guess what was taking the men so long, but Maggie was antsy to see her father again. "Shall I go and get them to come in?" she suggested, gesturing toward the door. "Rob's real good at cookin', he's been learnin' with Elise and everythin'."

Marissa frowned, unsure if she should let the girl go out in the storm alone again, even though the barn was only a short walk away. It was only a matter of time before Emrys returned, but she didn't think much harm could come to her in the meantime. "Okay, but bundle up warm. I'm gonna watch you from the window."

Rob's frown deepened, wondering if Maggie was trying to get rid of him, or at least, leave him behind. "I could go with you," he suggested. She was the one who'd been hurt, after all.

"I will." Relieved, Maggie shrugged back into her coat and hat, tugging her gloves back onto her hands. There wasn't much she could do about the jean leg that was flapping open, but at least there was a thicker bandage there now. She looked over at Rob. "D'you wanna come out in the cold again?"

"I don't want you going out in the cold again," Rob replied. He wasn't sure why it was so important for Maggie to see her father and why she wanted to see him alone.

"It's okay, Rob," Marissa assured the teen. "You can see the barn from here. See?" She stepped over to the window and pulled the curtains back to point out the barn. It was a little hard to see through the blowing and drifting snow, but they should be able to watch Maggie get there safely.

For her part, Maggie frowned at Rob, disliking the sudden change in his attitude toward her that seemed to mean he was going to disapprove of everything she decided to do without him. It wasn't as though she had assumed he wouldn't come, she'd just thought he would prefer to stay in the warm.

"Well, I'm goin'," she told her friend. "Are you comin', or what?"

It wasn't that he disapproved; it was only that they'd just got safely out of the snow and that she was hurt, and he didn't want her getting hurt again. That and he felt a little left out and was worried she might say something to her father about them dating and he might forbid it. But he wasn't going to keep her from doing what she so clearly wanted to do. He knew how much her father meant to her, after all. It felt a little strange that he wasn't rushing to do the same.

"You know what?" Marissa broke in, sensing a little tension between the pair. "The twins will probably be getting up from their nap soon, and I could use some help. Would you mind staying back and helping me, Rob?"

The boy nodded, looking almost relieved to have Marissa decide for him. "Sure, I can do that," he replied.

"Okay," Maggie said quietly, feeling off-balance with the sensation that Rob was mad at her for wanting to go and see her father. "I'm just goin' to get them. I'll be quick." Tugging her hood up over her hat, she slipped out through the door, pulling it firmly closed behind her.

"Be careful, Mag-" Rob called after her, but she shut the door before he was finished. The funny thing was, he was feeling the same way and worried she was mad at him.

With the little homestead set up the way it was, the wind didn't throw snow into Maggie's face or threaten to push her over as she stepped down into the powdery drifts that were nudging the porch. Still, it was very cold, and she made her way quickly to the barn, barely limping at all, to heave the wicket door open and stumble inside.

Once inside, she could hear the sound of male voices, but it didn't sound like they were arguing, so much as discussing the care of the horses and whether or not they should stay the night.

"It don't look like it's gonna end anytime soon," Evan was overheard saying.

"Even if it ends in the next ten minutes, you will still be staying here to eat," Emrys countered. He was carefully positioned so as not to spook the Brambles' horses, though his own sturdy pack horse was well used to the predator that owned her. "We have room to bed you all down if necessary, and I can all but guarantee Marissa has already started planning it out."

Neither man seemed to like the idea of staying any longer than they had to, but they also didn't want to leave without their children.

"I reckon we can manage for one night," Evan grudgingly admitted.

"If the storm lifts overnight, we can head back in the morning," Duncan put in.

"Well, that's good, 'cos Ms. Marissa says that it's nearly time for dinner and that you should all come in the warm," Maggie offered as she moved toward them.

Emrys didn't even try to hide his grin; of course he'd known she was there.

"Maggie!" Evan exclaimed, surprised to find his daughter there, but not unpleasantly so. "You all right?" he asked, his gaze sliding toward the torn open leg of her jeans.

"Yeah, I'm good." The teenager glanced down at her leg as her father did, wincing a little as she realized the sight she presented. "It looks worse'n it is, pa, honest."

Duncan wasn't stupid and sensed father and daughter might like a moment alone. "Emrys, why don't we head over to the cabin and see if Marissa needs help?" he asked, which would also give him a moment to check on his boy.

"Sounds about right to me," Emrys agreed. "Everything's settled in here." He had his own children to check on as well - Emrys loved being a father, even when the twins were being particularly recalcitrant.

Evan didn't bother to stop them. He'd make his way over to the cabin soon enough, he supposed. "I just want to check on the horses again," he told the other two men, though it was just an excuse to stay behind with Maggie for a few minutes.

"Don't be too long," Emrys warned gently, clasping Duncan's arm as the two men left the barn.

Maggie bit her lip, looking up at her father a little worriedly. "Are you mad, Papa?"

Evan turned to fuss with one of the horses, making sure he had enough feed, his back to his daughter, but all too aware of her presence. "Now, why would I be angry, Mags?" he asked, his voice even and without so much as a hint of anger.

"Because I did somethin' stupid, again," she admitted quietly. It was a strange habit for a teenager to have formed, but Maggie never tried to lie to her parents. She always took responsibility for her harebrained schemes and reckless behavior, especially when it resulted in other people being dragged into things. "I'm sorry, Papa."

Evan finished whatever he was doing with the horse and turned to face his daughter, who had grown like a weed this past year but still stood more than a foot beneath her father's towering height. "What is it you reckon you did that was stupid?" he asked, taking a lean against the paddock, arms crossed against his chest - an imposing figure of a man, though his bark was far worse than his bite.

Fidgeting awkwardly, Maggie looked down at her snow-covered boots as she answered. "I was showin' off," she told her father. "I got off Snowdrop and I was swingin' from a tree over the gully, only I lost my grip and dropped and when I yelled, the horses bolted. It is all my fault, Pa."
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Maggie Lassiter
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 04, 2019 1:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

To his credit, Evan's expression never changed at his daughter's confession. He didn't look angry or upset or disappointed; in fact, his mouth may have twitched just a little in a hint of amusement, but it could have easily been mistaken for annoyance. It was hard to tell with him. "Is that the truth? 'Cause it seemed to me that Mallory's boy is eager to take the blame."

She frowned at her father, crossing her arms across her chest. "He's got a name, Pa, and I know you know it," she reminded her father. "He's just ... he's gone all protective on me and it's weird."

Something she said there got a reaction from him with an uptick of a brow and another twitch of his mouth. "Has he now? Why do you think that is?" he asked. Though he suspected he already knew the answer to that question, he wanted to see if she could sort it out on her own.

Maggie pulled a face, rolling her eyes. "Because I might've kissed him and we might be goin' out," she answered defiantly, lifting her chin to meet Evan's eyes boldly. "He's tryin' to be you and his pa, and I don't need lookin' after."

Evan sputtered, coughing to hide the laughter that was bubbling up at her declaration. "Might've? Mags, you either did or you didn't. Which is it?" he asked, having a hard time hiding the amusement from his face.

"Depends, are you gonna be weird if I did?" she countered, but her own lips were twitching. She did know her father, after all, and he couldn't hide the smile from his eyes. Maggie had a feeling he didn't have a problem with her being a little bit closer to Rob than they were this morning.

"Reckon it depends on why you kissed him," he replied, not letting her off the hook or assuming why it had happened, though he had a pretty good idea. The pair had been practically inseparable since the Mallorys had arrived at the Brambles, and he had a feeling she didn't think of the boy as a brother.

Maggie was quiet for a moment, but she visibly pulled herself up and braced for a bad reaction before speaking again. "Because I'm gonna marry him when we're old enough, and I don't care what you and Ma say, but you should like it because you like him and you like his family and we're all good, right?"

"Bit young to be thinkin' about marriage, ain't you?" Evan pointed out, though he didn't seem to be angry, only curious. The girl was only thirteen, after all. She had quite a few years yet before she would be of marrying age, at least as far as he was concerned.

"Ain't no younger'n the Mallorys were when they decided," she pointed out defensively. "Ain't no younger'n you were when you made Momma your sweetheart, neither. Why's it gotta be complicated?"

Evan shrugged, in a conciliatory manner, perhaps remembering what it had been like to be her age and first falling in love. It seemed like a million years ago. "It don't," he replied, in apparent agreement. "I just don't wanna see you get hurt," he added, though he doubted the Mallory boy would ever hurt her on purpose. In truth, he liked the boy, though he thought him just a little soft.

"But you said that bein' in love meant gettin' hurt sometimes," she reminded him, her posture relaxing as her hands dropped to her sides. "I ain't got a word for what I feel about Rob, Papa, but it's more'n just friends."

Evan sighed, having to face the fact that his little girl was growing up - and falling in love. It was a fact that was sometimes hard for a father to accept. He'd have to share her now with someone else, but in truth, he'd already been doing that for a while now. "You like him that much?" he asked, already knowing the answer to that question.

"Yeah, I do," she told him honestly. "And it's not like anythin's gonna change, like, right now or anythin' like that. I mean, we got a lot of growin' to do and stuff, right? But it feels like this is a good decision we made."

"If you already made up your mind, then you don't need my permission," he pointed out, though he knew she'd prefer to have it. He'd never really asked her what she wanted to do with her life. Somehow, he'd always assumed she'd stay on at the Brambles in one capacity or another - maybe take over the farm someday. Now, he wasn't so sure that's what she wanted.

"I wasn't askin' for permission, Pa," she countered, that sass having been well learned from Marin over the years. "Be nice if you approved, though. And, yanno, didn't make Rob cack his pants every time you look at him."

Evan grunted, half grumble, half chuckle at his daughter's sassy and stubborn response, not to mention the image she'd just put into her father's head. "If'n the boy cacks his pants every time someone looks at him the wrong way, he needs to learn some courage. And if he really wants to court my daughter, he should be man enough to ask my permission," he pointed out further.

Maggie scowled at her father. "He ain't courtin' me, I'm courtin' him!" she informed him firmly. "So I'll ask Mr. Mallory if it's okay for me to do that, and you don't get to be mean to him just for ships and giggles."

"Well, I guess you told me," Evan replied, unable to repress the half-grin from his face at his daughter's sassy response. He wasn't sure who she took after more - him or Marin. Her birth mother wasn't half as feisty as her daughter.

Maggie subsided as he conceded, rubbing a gloved hand over her nose briefly. "But is it okay?" she asked then, her voice a little quieter and a lot more worried. "It's not like I don't still love you, Papa."

"I know that, Magpie," he conceded, his grin softening into a fond smile. "I reckon I just ain't ready to let you grow up yet," he admitted, dropping his arms from his chest and reaching to pull her into his embrace. "You're always gonna be my li'l girl," he whispered into her hair.

"Course I am, Papa," she promised, burrowing into his embrace with a relieved smile. They might have spent many years apart, but there was a bond between Evan and his eldest that could not be broken. "And Cal can marry someone nice and sweet and take over the Brambles."

"Let's just worry about that when the time comes," Evan told her, in no hurry for her to plan her whole life out just yet. It would be years before she was old enough to get married, and anything could happen between now and then. "I just want you to be happy," he told her, whether that was with or without Robert Mallory.

She squeezed him tight for a moment, then lifted her head to look up at her father warily. "You still didn't say if you're mad about me bein' stupid again."

He smiled down at her, his arms wrapped around her to hold her as close as she'd allow. "I ain't mad and you ain't stupid. A little foolhardy maybe, but not stupid," he told her, believing there was a world of difference between the two. Spirited. As wild as a filly, in some ways, but never stupid.

She smiled, her worries alleviated with just one conversation with her father, and hugged him tight once more. "Can we go have dinner now?" she asked quietly. "I'm kinda hungry."

He chuckled, amused at the way his daughter had phrased that. "Just kinda? I'm so hungry I could eat a horse!" he said, with a playful smirk. "Present company excepted."

Maggie giggled, rolling her eyes at her father. "Hey, did Snowdrop make it back okay? She was totally freaked out when I yelled."

"Yeah, they made it back okay. How you reckon we knew you were in trouble?" he asked, though they'd have gone out looking sooner or later when they hadn't made it back with a storm rolling in. "Next time, keep an eye on the weather," he told her, affectionately chucking her chin, before swinging an arm around her shoulders to lead her back to the cabin. "'Rissa fix you up good?" To Evan's credit, he didn't warn against a next time; only to be more careful.

"It wasn't s'posed to be stormy," Maggie grumbled, tucked close under Evan's arm as they stepped out of the barn and into the softer blizzard. It was definitely easing off, but was unlikely to stop until deep into the night. "Yeah, Ms. Marissa put some gunk on it and it doesn't hurt no more."

"S'pect that girl could give Hale a run for his money," Evan remarked, his demeanor relaxing now that he knew Maggie was safe from harm. "Storms can come up out'ta nowhere in Rhy'Din, Mags. You should know that." It was admittedly hard to plan for them sometimes, but he wanted her to be more aware.

"Yeah, yeah. If I'd've had a phone, I could've called you and told you where we were and what happened," she countered innocently, grinning up at him with cheerful good humor.
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Maggie Lassiter
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 04, 2019 1:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

He arched a brow, unsure if she was subtly asking for one or just making a point. It was no secret that Evan was suspicious of technology, but his daughter was of a different generation. "Maybe you should have one then." If it was a matter of keeping her safe, he didn't need much convincing.

"That was easy." Maggie snickered quietly, leaning on him as they mounted the steps onto the porch. "Ma was pretty sure you'd blow a gasket over me havin' some kind of modern thingy always on me."

"Can't say I'm fond of the gadgets, but I reckon they have their uses," Evan replied with another shrug. There was some irony somewhere in the fact that he preferred his daughter to carry a revolver than a cell phone.

"Thanks, Papa." She hugged him briefly, unhooking her arms from his waist to knock on the door as a fair warning that they were about to go inside.

Evan grunted in reply again. He could have told her to make sure he didn't regret it, but that would have only broken the trust between them. He only wanted her to be happy, but even he had his limits. He might have told her how much he loved her and how proud he was of her, but Marissa was already at the door and welcoming them inside, and he didn't want anyone to overhear him. He had a certain reputation to uphold, after all.

Maggie stumped inside, waiting for the door to close before she started removing her layers again, glancing around at the crowded cabin's main room. Emrys was sitting on the floor with Bevan in his lap and Cerys hanging off his back, their antics holding most of the room's attention. So it wasn't quite so hard as she'd thought it would be to go over to Duncan.

"Um, Mr. Mallory, sir?"

Evan eyed his daughter a moment, watching momentarily as she approached Duncan before turning to fetch himself a cup of coffee. Meanwhile, Duncan was chuckling with the rest of them at Emrys and the children, before his attention turned to Maggie.

"Aye, lass?" he asked, a half-drained cup of coffee in his hand.

Maggie opened her mouth, and hesitated. She didn't quite know the right words for asking this question, but now she'd committed to it, she was going to do it. "Um ... Mr. Mallory, I would really like to date your son. May I have your permission to court him?"

Thankfully, Rob was busy helping Marissa with supper and hadn't yet noticed that Maggie had approached his father. Duncan's brows ticked upwards curiously, his gaze drifting briefly to Rob before swinging back to Maggie. Why was she asking him, instead of Rob asking Evan? But then, Evan could prove an imposing figure, until you got to know him.

"Uh, what does he have to say about it?" he asked, meaning Rob.

"Uh, uh ... I think he wants to," Maggie fumbled, glancing over at Rob. "I mean, I'm the one who kissed him, and I kinda backed him into askin' me out, so he might just be goin' along with it, but I don't think so. I think he likes me enough. I really like him, Mr. Mallory."

"Well, I think it's up to Rob, Maggie," Duncan pointed out. "But if it's all right with him, it's all right with me. Does that answer your question?" he asked hopefully, feeling just a little awkward at being put on the spot.

A faint grin flickered on her face. "Yeah, I think so," she nodded cheerfully. "Thanks, Mr. M."

With that out of the way, she all but skipped over to the kitchen to see if she could help with the cooking, whispering everything that had happened to Rob in the process.

"Huh, well, that was interesting," Duncan murmured to himself with a chuckle, his gaze following Maggie a moment, noting how Rob's face lit up at her news. The boy glanced over at his father and smiled, and Duncan knew he'd made the right decision.

Over on the hearth with the twins, Emrys was grinning, having heard every word of that technically private conversation. He caught his mate's eye, his grin widening for a moment, and abruptly gagged as Bevan inserted his whole hand into his father's mouth for fun.

Marissa grinned happily back, as she set the table for dinner. It was going to be a tight squeeze, but for a woman who had felt alone for so long, she couldn't be happier. Not only did she and Emrys have a family of their own, but she enjoyed the extended family her pack offered, and the companionship of their friends at the Brambles. Today's little adventure had ended happily enough for all parties involved, and that was just the way Marissa intended things to stay.

Just ... maybe next time, they could leave out the snowstorm and the blood.
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