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.