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The Ten Times Waverly Earp was Definitely NOT on a Date with Nicole Haught

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The Ten Times Waverly Earp was Definitely NOT on a Date with Nicole Haught

 

“Something's been creeping into my head / Turnin' my thoughts into a dizzy mess.
Something's been messin' up my bed / Stealin' my dreams, and now I'm gettin' no rest…

 You got me walkin' backwards / You got me thinkin' sideways
You got me talkin' circles / You've got me losin' my way
You got me crossin' every line
You've got me just in time…”

 — You Got Me, from Sweet Home Alabama / Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

 

 

Prologue:

Friday, May 27, 2016…  The Edge of Purgatory—11:30 a.m. Mountain Daylight Time

“Waverly, what are you doin’?”

Officer Nicole Haught’s cruiser slowly rolled alongside the younger woman as she walked at the edge of the gravel road toward the town limits of Purgatory. It hadn’t been difficult to recognize her, even at a distance, as she’d come upon her during her regular morning patrol of the area. It was the boots—the ones with the fluffy little pom poms—that gave her away. Much like every other ridiculously delightful little quirk about Waverly Earp—like the way she flitted and fluttered like a hummingbird when she was nervous or excited—Nicole found them amusingly adorable.

But right now, she wasn’t amused. Rather, she was a bit concerned given the way they’d left things earlier that morning. She hadn’t meant to be rude or dismissive, but in the moment, she’d felt as though Waverly wasn’t taking her seriously, and for some reason, that stung far more than it should have. She realized, in retrospect, that she was still chafed over the way Sheriff Nedley dismissed her experiences—her harrowing encounter with paranormal forces—the morning she and Wynonna were kidnapped. But that did nothing to excuse the way she had behaved with Waverly, and for that, she was truly regretful.     

“Being alone,” Waverly said. The huge russet-colored bag she had slung over her right shoulder swayed, and her boots crunched in the snow-covered gravel as she walked with determined strides, arms crossed over her chest. Her tone and posture were clear indications that she was still miffed, as was the uncharacteristically hard expression on her face. “I wanna be alone.” 

“Alright,” Nicole responded in a light, permissive tone. “Well, you’ve reached the edge of town, so… any further out and you’re gonna freeze to death. Just get in the car,” she pleaded, her tone gentle, reasonable. 

“No, thank you…” Waverly declined in a sing-song voice that paradoxically complimented and contradicted her cantankerous mood. She didn’t have a word for what she was feeling toward Nicole—at least not at the moment. All she knew was that it wasn’t good. Except that it was. Or at least it had been, until their unfortunate encounter that morning. She’d thought Nicole wanted to talk about what was happening between them, and Waverly, though not certain she was really ready for that talk, tried to find a way to express what she was feeling, only to have Nicole storm off without any real explanation.

And now she was just confused.

Nicole did that to her—or at least thinking about her did. Since the moment she’d met the woman, every time she saw her, or even thought about her, she didn’t know whether she was coming or going. She couldn’t think straight. It was like that song from the movie Sweet Home Alabama—Nicole had her walkin’ backwards, thinkin’ sideways; her thoughts, a dizzy mess.

And much to Waverly’s consternation, she couldn’t get enough of her.     

Christ, she’s stubborn, Nicole thought, as Waverly continued on, her gait resolute. Flummoxed, she frowned.  “I’ve got a Taser,” she noted with a flirty lilt to her voice, hoping to lighten the mood.  “Don’t you make me use it.”

Green eyes rolled. Why do you have to be so damned captivating? Right now, I just wanna be pissed at you.

Slowing her gait, Waverly reluctantly stopped. Willfully, she fought the grin that wanted to hijack her face, as she turned toward the gorgeous charmer, putting on her best disgruntled expression, only to find Nicole smirking at her, clearly quite proud of herself. Christ, you’re sexy.  

Realizing she’d won the battle, and hoping to avoid a war, Nicole pulled over onto the nonexistent shoulder of the gravel road that led out of Purgatory, bringing her police cruiser to a halt. And then she waited for the youngest Earp to come to her senses.    

Against her better judgment, Waverly found herself climbing into the front seat. Despite her cross mood, being so close to Nicole still made her belly turn summersaults. Every time she looked at the woman, her body reacted in ways it never had with anyone ever before. She was lost in those sensations when the sound of Nicole’s voice drew her back to the moment.     

“Okay, so… I’ll start,” Nicole sighed, breaking the silence between them. Waverly hadn’t said a word since closing the door. “Um, I’m sorry for being such an asshole before.”

“First you wanna talk. Then you don’t wanna talk. Then you tell me to talk, so I talk—,” Waverly rambled in clipped phrases, without even acknowledging Nicole’s apology. Clearly, she’d been stewing over it for a while.

Admittedly, Nicole had been frustrated by their earlier encounter but, in retrospect, she realized that they’d been having two completely different conversations. It was no wonder things had ended the way they did. Always with a cool head, she sought to bring reason back into their conversation, because miscommunication wouldn’t get them anywhere. “Okay—well, maybe we should figure out what exactly it is we’re talking about,” she interrupted, hoping to reel Waverly back in.

“Gus is selling Shorty’s,” Waverly abruptly announced. “She acts like she won’t, but she is. And everything is changing around me. But it’s all too fast, y’know? And it’s like… nobody ever asks me if I’m okay with it.”

Her breathing labored, she glanced toward Nicole, green eyes swirling with emotion, as Nicole held her gaze. “It’s like… could everybody just stand still for one frickin’ minute?!”

The words spilled from her lips, practically tumbling over one another, their volume and cadence increased exponentially; her heart rate and level of urgency rising along with it. Tension snapped along every nerve, coiling deep within her, and by the time she uttered the rhetorical question about everyone standing still, she felt so overwhelmed that all she could do was sigh.  

Not having an opportunity to get a word in edgewise, Nicole felt a little overwhelmed herself; but true to character, she handled it all in stride. Her heart went out to the younger woman. Clearly, she was struggling, and at this point, Nicole’s only desire was to ease her distress.

“Hey…” she said softly. Leaning forward, she reached out, gently taking Waverly’s hand in her own, giving it a comforting squeeze. “It’s gonna be okay.”

Simple words, but to Waverly, they were a soothing balm to her weary soul. She took a breath, her gaze dropping to her thigh, confirming the connection she felt the moment Nicole touched her. And then, casting a sideways glance toward Nicole before slowly turning her head, the expression on her face was a combination of edginess and chagrin—edgy, because Nicole was touching her and that set both her body and her emotions on a tilt-a-whirl—and chagrin, because she’d taken her frustration and stress out on the one person who had never done anything to hurt her.

The uncertainty in Waverly’s eyes made Nicole second-guess her decision to touch the girl. It certainly wasn’t the first time she’d touched her. There had been many an occasion over the past several weeks. But this felt different somehow, and she didn’t want to make Waverly uncomfortable. Self-consciously, she removed her hand; the sense of loss immediate—for both of them.

Waverly’s eyes softened, but she avoided Nicole’s gaze. “I just screamed at you,” she commented, her tone penitent. “You shouldn’t be nice to me.”

“You know, I think you’ve been dating too many shitheads,” Nicole declared forthrightly, leaning back in her seat.

Instantly, Waverly’s head snapped toward Nicole. “We’re not dating,” she barked. But her bark was far worse than her bite, as remorse quickly set in. It reflected in her face as she dropped her gaze again.

“I know,” Nicole quietly acknowledged, her eyes falling back into a sea of penitent green.

Waverly turned her head, staring out the windshield, as Nicole continued.

“God, Waverly,” Nicole said, sounding almost fatigued from their encounter. “I would never ask you to be someone you’re not.”

“Good,” Waverly declared. “Just don’t ask me to be anyone at all.”

“Fine,” Nicole said sharply.

“Fine,” Waverly said with finality. And then her face took on an expression of sadness and regret, as she thought better of her careless words. She hadn’t meant them at all.

Turning her head, Nicole opened her mouth, contemplating saying something else. And then she changed her mind. Exasperation set in her jaw as she turned to stare out the windshield. 

Waverly took a fleeting glimpse of Nicole, and then dropped her gaze to her lap. She felt like a complete ass, but she didn’t offer an apology. She wouldn’t even know where to begin. “Well, maybe just friends,” she ventured, looking back at Nicole with a touch of hopefulness in her eyes.   

Uncharacteristically, Nicole let out a short, cynical laugh. “Yeah, sure, Waverly, whatever you want,” she said out of sheer weariness. Sometimes the back and forth was exhausting. There was no sense trying to reason with the girl, and there was certainly no sense in trying to point out the fact that she was living in complete denial of her own feelings. Reaching for the ignition, she started the cruiser, and without another word, she pulled back out onto the road, heading toward town.    


Friday, May 27, 2016…  Ghost River County Municipal Offices—12:00 p.m. Mountain Daylight Time

Ten dreadfully silent minutes later, they were pulling into the parking lot at the Ghost River County Municipal Offices where Purgatory’s Sheriff’s Department was housed. Swinging her cruiser into its assigned space, Nicole cut the engine, and turned toward her passenger, poised to apologize again. But the expression on Waverly’s face stopped the words before she could say them.  

She looked so young, and so uncharacteristically sad that it nearly broke Nicole’s heart. Immediately, she regretted being angry with her. Everything in her wanted to reach out to the girl, to comfort her; but she thought better of it. She had no idea what Waverly was thinking, and she didn’t want to do anything to make it worse. Thankfully, she didn’t have to fret long.

Slowly, Waverly reached for the door handle. She looked like she wanted to say something, like there was something heavy on her mind. But when she opened her mouth, all that came out was, “Thanks for the ride, Nicole. I, uh… I was really cold out there.”

It was the truth. It was freezing outside, and she hadn’t meant to wander so far from town. But the interaction with Nicole had left her feeling so confused, so empty, and walking off the loneliness was the only thing she could think to do. Without meaning to, she’d lost track of time and distance, and she was grateful that Nicole had come along when she did.

Now, sitting here with Nicole, there was so much she wanted to say. But she couldn’t find the words. She glanced sheepishly at Nicole then, offering a faint smile. A second later, the door clicked as she pulled the handle. And just that quickly, she was gone.

Releasing a slow sigh, Nicole dropped her head back against the headrest. She hated how disconnected she felt from Waverly right now. She’d wanted to reach out to her, to touch her, just for a moment; to solidify their connection again. But Caution warned her against it. Tension coiled deep inside of her now, and she tightened her grip on the steering wheel, as she struggled to let it go. Difficult as it was, she knew she had only herself to blame. How had she let it get this far? She knew better. She’d been down this road before.

But the truth was, the heart wanted what it wanted. And God help her, it wanted Waverly Earp. She wasn’t just falling hard for the girl, her heart was already gone.


Friday, May 27, 2016…  Shorty’s—12:15 p.m. Mountain Daylight Time

Taking her time, Waverly meandered along the sidewalk, her boots crunching in the frozen remnants of last night’s snowfall, as she made her way down the block to Shorty’s. She usually arrived by noon on Fridays, and she knew she was running late; but she couldn’t muster the energy to care. It was so unlike her. But in the moment, she felt almost… devastated.

The entirety of her encounters with Nicole that morning had been a complete shit-show, and she hadn’t wanted to leave things with her the way she did, but she was at a loss as to what to do about it. How was it possible that a woman she wasn’t even involved with could make her feel so damned mad—and so utterly adored—all at the same time? It baffled her. And oddly, she found herself yearning for more of it. That was most baffling of all.

Arriving at the bar, she took a deep breath, steadying herself, and then she reached for the door handle, stepping inside the antechamber. She was grateful to find the inner doors pulled shut—it gave her a few more moments to collect herself before facing Gus, and tackling her day.

Dropping down onto the worn wooden bench, she slipped her wet boots from her feet, swiftly replacing them with the sneakers she had stuffed into the shoulder bag she carried with her to work each morning. It was a ritual, and sometimes it made her giggle as she thought about watching Mr. Rogers change his sweater and shoes every morning on that childhood show she used to find so enthralling.

The make-believe segment had always been her favorite, and she loved it when Trolley would come chugging out from behind the wall, taking them into the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. The memory brought a momentary smile to her face, and she stood up, stored her boots on the rack to dry, and though she still felt a bit preoccupied, she pulled the double doors open, poised to face her day.   

“Hey, Honey,” Gus greeted warmly when Waverly stepped through the doors. She was busy wiping down the cappuccino machine.

“Morning,” Waverly said offhandedly, closing the doors firmly behind her.

Gus studied her niece intently, noting that she looked distracted, and maybe a little upset. “You’re kinda late this morning,” she commented without judgment.

“What?” Waverly muttered absentmindedly. Her mind was in a fog. And then she realized what Gus had said. “Sorry, Gus,” she said penitently. Slipping her bulky blue coat off, she hung it on the back of the office door alongside Gus’s. “I just… I went for a walk, and lost track of time.”

“Well, there’s no need for apology, Hon,” Gus said warmly. “I’m just concerned about ya, is all. You okay?”

“Yeah,” Waverly sighed. “I just… I’ve got a lot on my mind.” Without forethought, her eyes darted toward a single familiar table near the office door, and the weight of all that had transpired dropped onto her shoulders again. She felt overwhelmed, the comment she’d made about not dating Nicole haunting her, forcing her to take stock of the relationship that had been developing between them from the moment she’d set eyes on the woman…


 

Chapter 1—Coffee and Crumpets:

Wednesday, April 13, 2016…  Shorty’s—8:15 p.m. Mountain Daylight Time

Music blared. The snap and crack of pool balls electrified the air. And laughter rang out from the far corners of Shorty’s bar. It was a typical Wednesday night, a few of the locals having dropped by for a drink and a few laughs on their way home from work. Waverly busied herself, tidying things behind the bar in preparation for her shift to end. Tuesdays and Wednesdays were her early nights, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, her late. 

Heavy boots clunked against the hardwood floor, drawing Waverly’s attention toward the double doors, and right into the piercing gaze of Nicole Haught. She was there again, leaning against the doorframe, that Stetson dangling loosely in her fingertips. Honest to god, it was the sexiest thing Waverly had ever seen.  

Just the sight of her made Waverly’s pulse race. She didn’t want to think about what it did to other parts of her body. She was still reeling from their initial encounter where, by the time they parted, she was sopping wet—and not just from being sprayed by the wayward tap. Her breath caught in her chest at the mere memory. It was a little scary, but surprisingly, not unwelcomed. Taking a deep breath, she steadied herself, and offered that smile—the one that made Nicole’s heart stop.

“Long day, Officer?” she inquired, trying to sound casual when she felt anything but, as Nicole sauntered toward her, that disarming smile playing on her perfect lips. Swiping a thick, absorbent towel across the nicked and dented surface of the bar, she watched Nicole’s every move as she perched herself on a barstool with an air of self-confidence that Waverly found irresistibly appealing.

“Not too bad,” Nicole answered in that smooth laidback style of hers.

Setting her Stetson on the bar, she clasped her hands together in front of her. Anything to keep from reaching out, touching the other woman. “How ‘bout yourself?”

Waverly tilted her head in that adorable way of hers, and smiled. “A little less crazy than the last time we talked.”

Nicole grinned. “Glad to hear it.” She leaned back on the barstool, surveying Waverly with appreciative eyes.

“What can I get ya?”

“Just a coffee to go.”

“You know, there’s an actual coffee shop just up the street,” Waverly mentioned offhandedly, pointing toward the west. She emphasized exactly what type of shop it was. “I hear they make a mean cappuccino.” 

“Yeah,” Nicole readily acknowledged. She was well-acquainted with the place. “But they don’t have a Waverly, so...”

God, this woman is irresistible. Waverly couldn’t help but smile.

She didn’t want to give the deputy the wrong impression, but she had to admit she was intrigued by her. Despite the fact that Nicole made her ridiculously nervous, she wanted to know her. She’d been contemplating calling since the moment Nicole left her business card on the bar the previous Friday. The way she dropped it there, so casually, and yet with such confidence—like she had no doubt Waverly would call—left an indelible impression. Truth was Waverly had slipped the card into her phone case with every intention of using it—as soon as she got up her nerve. And now, here she was, face-to-face with the gorgeous deputy right across the bar, once again. It was like Déjà vu, in more ways than one. Her belly did a flip-flop, sending the most delightful sensations splaying throughout her body, and she prayed the other woman hadn’t noticed the color she felt rising in her cheeks. 

“So… I get off in about fifteen minutes,” Waverly commented, as she leaned against the bar, doing her best to sound casual. It had taken her this entire time to summon the courage to say the words, and now she held her breath, awaiting Nicole’s response.

“Fifteen minutes, huh?” Nicole looked amused, and a little bit too smug for Waverly’s liking.

Shit. She could feel it coming—the flirtatious comment—before it even fell from Nicole’s lips.

“I bet I could get you off in less than two,” Nicole husked, that ever-present air of self-assurance shining through. God, it looked gorgeous on her.  

A deep blush colored Waverly’s cheeks, and she bit her lower lip adorably. Her insides trembled, and she failed at stifling a grin. “I was talking about work,” she said, emphasizing the part about her shift ending. 

“Oh!” Nicole tried to feign innocence, but the mischief in those arresting brown eyes gave her away. 

“I walked right into that one—didn’t I?” Waverly admitted with a sheepish glance toward the young deputy. Maybe she should just stop talking.

Nicole laughed softly. “Yeah, ya kinda did.” She paused for a moment, and then crooked an eyebrow. “So you’re off in fifteen?” The rising lilt of her voice begged to know the meaning behind Waverly’s impromptu announcement.

“Yeah,” Waverly confirmed. Her heart started racing again, and she struggled not to fumble over her own words. “I thought maybe I could, uh… I could buy you that cup of coffee. Y’know, if you’d like,” she offered with a shrug. 

“Fifteen minutes notice?” Her brow crinkling, Nicole looked suitably skeptical. “I thought you were a planner.” It wasn’t really a question. 

“Oh, I am,” Waverly replied with a nod and a shrug. She slung the towel over her shoulder with expert ease. “And right now, I hope I’m planning the rest of my evening.”

That adorable dimple appeared on Nicole’s left cheek as she smiled. Her heart skipped a beat, and she high-fived herself in her head. This was better than she’d hoped for, better than she could’ve imagined! Outwardly, she simply said, “I’d love to have that coffee with you.”

Before she could think better of it, Waverly found herself reaching across the bar, her fingertips lightly brushing Nicole’s hand. “Are you hungry?” she asked, the caretaker in her taking over.

Starving. For you. “I could eat,” Nicole answered noncommittally.

“What can I bring you?”

“How ‘bout some crumpets to go with my coffee?”

Waverly’s mouth twisted at the corners, and she arched an eyebrow. “This is coffee in Purgatory, not high tea in London, Nicole,” she said with a playful laugh.

“Pity,” Nicole replied with a meaningful frown. “I think you’d be well-suited for London.”

“Why?” Waverly crinkled her nose. “Do I look British to you?”

Nicole laughed. No, but you do look sexy enough to eat, she thought, but didn’t dare voice. “No,” she said. “But you’re definitely not like any other small-town girl I’ve ever met. There’s a whole lot more to you than you let on, Waverly Earp. I can feel it.”

Delivered with resolute conviction, Nicole’s words rendered Waverly utterly speechless. She felt exposed, but oddly, she didn’t seem to mind it. Not with Nicole. And she didn’t know why. Her face twisted into a perplexed expression. She wasn’t quite sure how to read the other woman—at least not yet. Before she could manage a response, Nicole leaned forward, as if to tell her a secret. “I don’t really care what you bring me, as long I get to enjoy your company while I’m eating it.”

Blushing, Waverly smiled faintly. “Are you always this smooth?”

You inspire me.  “Hardly.” Nicole chuckled at the mere thought. And then she sobered, realizing she might be making Waverly uncomfortable. That was the last thing she wanted to do.  “I’m sorry if I’m being too forward. Honestly, I don’t know what’s gotten into me.”

“I really am in a relationship,” Waverly said, sounding almost disappointed.

“I know,” Nicole replied. “And I respect that. I really do. I just… I really would like a chance to get to know you, that’s all.”

Waverly’s smile lit her eyes, as she searched Nicole’s face, noting the sincerity in those soft brown eyes. “I’d really like that too.”

“Good,” Nicole said with a sense of finality. “So… we’re gonna wile away the evening, talking over coffee, and you’re gonna feed me, and we’re gonna not be on a date.”

“Exactly.”

Nicole offered that knowing grin. “Okay, so I’m just gonna…” She pitched a thumb over her right shoulder toward an empty table near the back of the bar. “I’m gonna go grab that table, and I’ll meet you there in fifteen.”

Twisting her left wrist, Waverly glanced at her watch. “Make it ten, and I’ll bring you a heaping plate of something delicious.”

I bet you will. A playful smirk flashed across Nicole’s lips, causing Waverly’s face to flush again. “I can hardly wait."


Thursday, April 14, 2016…  Shorty’s—1:00 a.m. Mountain Daylight Time

“I hope you don’t have to work tomorrow,” Waverly commented. The bar was long-since closed, and quiet had settled around them like a cocoon. The only other person there was Gus, and she was in the office working on the books.  

“Oh, yeah, I have the early shift,” Nicole said passively. Her brow furrowed. “Why?”

“All this caffeine, you’ll never sleep tonight,” Waverly noted, as she poured another cup for Nicole. She’d lost count, and she was certain Nicole had as well.  

“Oh, god, no,” Nicole said, waving a hand in dismissal. “I could drink an entire pot, and go right to sleep.”

Waverly chuckled. “You sound like my sister, Wynonna,” she commented. “Not me. Sheesh… If I drank all that, I’d be buzzing for a week. And believe me, I don’t need any help, especially generating nervous energy.”

A soft laugh tripped from Nicole’s lips. She could definitely see the truth in that. “Caffeine’s never really bothered me,” she said. “In fact, with the workload of a triple major, I practically took it through an I.V. in college.”

“Triple major?” Waverly said, her tone questioning. She was noticeably impressed.  

“Yeah,” Nicole said, almost sheepishly. She shrugged. “What can I say, I’m an overachiever.”

“Wait a minute. Don’t tell me,” Waverly said playfully, a hand lifted to halt Nicole from giving her any more information. “Let me guess... Criminal Justice, Sociology, and…” Her forehead crinkled as she contemplated what she knew of the deputy, and then she added, “Forensic Psychology.”

A look of surprise flitted across Nicole’s face, and she leaned back in her chair, smiling. “Impressive.”

Waverly shrugged. “I’m kinda good at reading people.”

Nicole grinned. “I’ll be sure never to play poker against you.”

“What about pool?” Waverly challenged with a glance toward the pool tables on the other side of the bar.

An eyebrow arched, and Nicole laughed. “I have a feeling you know your way around a pool table. You’d probably wipe the floor with me.”

“Yeah, well, I practically grew up in this bar,” Waverly commented.

“Oh, yeah?” Nicole sounded intrigued. “What, does it belong to your parents?”

The question caught Waverly completely off-guard, and she scrambled for a response that wouldn’t sound pathetic, or worse… like a cry for pity. She had long-since been done with that shit. She opened her mouth to answer, only to be saved at the last moment.  

It was then that Gus came shuffling out of the office, failing miserably at her attempt to stifle a yawn. She’d been working at her desk for hours, catching up on paperwork and bills—and keeping a watchful eye on her niece. Her desk had a clear view of the table where Waverly was sitting with the young deputy. It did her heart a world of good to hear her niece laughing, to see her looking so happy and carefree.

“You finished with the books already?” Waverly sounded surprised.

“Already?” Gus questioned. “It’s one in the morning.”

“Omigosh!” Waverly exclaimed. “I didn’t realize it was so late.” They’d been talking and laughing for nearly five hours. And yet, somehow, as she looked at Nicole, it felt as though time stood still.

Gus smiled. “Clearly, you’ve been engrossed,” she teased gently. And then she leaned down, pressing a light kiss to Waverly’s cheek. “You girls enjoy the rest of your evening. Make sure you lock up.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” Waverly said with obvious affection, as Gus ambled toward the door, the heels of her boots thudding against the hardwood floors. She turned her attention back to Nicole then, offering a faint smile. “Gus owns the bar with Shorty,” she reported. “She’s my aunt.”

“Ah,” Nicole said, thinking she understood. “Guess that explains why you spent so much time here growing up.”

“Yeah,” Waverly shrugged. “Something like that.”

Nicole understood then that the subject was closed. Waverly, for all her openness when it came to others, was guarded when it came to her family. Nicole could certainly respect that. She had a few things of her own that she kept close to the vest. “So,” she said, poised to change the subject, “other than people, what else do you read?”

Books! Waverly’s favorite subject. They had been her friends when she was lonely as a child, her solace when the world took her Wynonna away. And later, they had become sources of invaluable knowledge when she thirsted for something beyond the narrow boundaries of the Ghost River Triangle. Her face lit up like a kid at Christmas to have someone she could talk about them with. “I read all sorts of things.”

The sense of pride in her tone drew a smile from Nicole. Leaning back in her chair, she crossed her legs and settled in, eager to hear all that Waverly wished to share. “Tell me more, she said, the expression on her face welcoming, open, ready to receive. She didn’t care that she had to work in six hours. All that mattered was that irresistible sparkle in Waverly Earp’s dazzling green eyes as she opened herself up to Nicole, sharing her love of books and knowledge in a way that she hadn’t with anyone else, ever.


It was another three hours before they finally locked up Shorty’s, heading out into the stillness of the dark Purgatory night. Waverly pocketed the keys, and turned to find Nicole leaning casually against the door beside her, that ever-present Stetson held loosely in her fingertips. She looked as relaxed as she had the first time Waverly set eyes on her. The sight of her there, shards of moonlight dancing in her soft brown eyes, nearly took Waverly’s breath away.

“Thank you for tonight,” Nicole said sincerely, her gratefulness encompassing all that had transpired between them. “This was the nicest time I’ve had since I moved here.”

The soft smile that played on Waverly’s lips illuminated her green eyes. “I’m glad,” she said. “I had a really nice time too.”

“Can I give you a lift home?” Nicole offered.

“Oh, I’m good, thanks,” Waverly graciously declined, pointing across the street to her ride.

“Ah, okay then, at least let me walk you to your Jeep,” Nicole said.

“I guess chivalry isn’t dead,” Waverly remarked, as she looped her arm easily through Nicole’s.

“No, I guess not,” Nicole chuckled. Gently, she covered Waverly’s arm with her hand.

When they reached the Jeep, Nicole leaned against the side, as she opened the driver’s side door, pushing it wide enough for Waverly to slip in between. The girl was standing so close she could still smell the lingering aroma of her shampoo—it smelled like wildflowers on a spring afternoon, and Nicole found it intoxicating. She struggled to clear her head, even as she cleared her throat.

“So…” she said, summoning her courage. “Would asking you tonight, if you’d like to go hiking with me on Sunday, give you enough time in your planner?” Her tone was light, teasing, yet simultaneously serious. “The mountains here are beautiful, and… I’d like to get a better view.”

A swirl of emotions played across Waverly’s face as she contemplated the invitation. “It’s a little early in the season for the mountains,” she noted. “Kinda cold up there.”

A daring grin teased at the corners of Nicole’s mouth. “I like to walk on the wild side.”

Waverly’s breath caught, that taut cord of attraction tightening in her belly, and before she could think better of it, she found herself nodding. “I’d love to go hiking with you.”

Nicole beamed, the excitement of a day with Waverly already building inside her. “Great,” she said. “Then it’s a…”

Realizing what she was about to say, Nicole stopped mid-sentence, biting her bottom lip. Changing course, she said, “Well, I don’t know what it is, but… it’s definitely not a date.”

Waverly laughed softly. “Right,” she said, with an accentuating nod of her head. “Definitely not a date,” she agreed, trying to convince herself that it was true. She climbed into the Jeep, and keeping her body turned toward Nicole, she met her gaze, holding it steadily. “But… whatever it is, I’m looking forward to it.”

“Me, too,” Nicole smiled. And then she nodded and stepped back, firmly closing the Jeep door.

Much to her pleasure, Waverly rolled down the window, not yet ready to part. Nicole stepped close again, her hand lightly brushing over Waverly’s fingertips as the lay curved over the door’s edge. “Goodnight, Waverly Earp,” she said softly, as she slipped her Stetson into place on her head.

Waverly smiled, her belly doing that flip-flop thing again. God, the woman was sexy. Everything about her—the way she looked in that Stetson, the way she moved, the sound of her voice, that gorgeous dimpled smile—made Waverly’s insides tingle. She wondered what Nicole would look like with those beautiful auburn locks set free of that French braid. And she had a sudden urge to pull the hat from Nicole’s head, and free them herself just to see. But she wasn’t brazen enough to do such a thing, and so in the moment, the only response she could muster was a softly murmured, “Goodnight, Officer Haught. I’ll see you on Sunday,” even as she prayed that she’d see her again far sooner than that.

“That’s an affirmative,” Nicole said with a tip of her hat and a teasing glimpse of that dimpled grin. It earned her another smile from Waverly—one that made her heart skip a beat.  

She stepped back then, as Waverly rolled up the window and started the ignition. Responding to Waverly’s cute little goodbye wave with one of her own, she stood watch as Waverly pulled out onto the main road. Her watchful gaze never wavered until the Jeep’s taillights were out of sight, and only then did she turn away, disappearing into the night.


Friday, May 27, 2016…  Ghost River County Municipal Offices—1:30 p.m. Mountain Daylight Time

Drawn from her memories of that first evening spent with Waverly, Nicole sighed longingly. Everything about the girl called to her, drew her near. And every moment they’d spent together since had only intensified that connection. That was why, she assumed, the sense of disconnect that accompanied Waverly’s departure just a few hours ago left her feeling so alone, so vulnerable.

Despite her steadfastness, she had to admit the roller coaster was a challenge at times; the stops and starts, frustrating. But two things she knew for certain: One, she would never push, or ask Waverly to be someone she wasn’t. She’d meant every word of that when she’d spoken it to her that morning. Waverly called all the shots. And two, no matter how long it took, or how frustrating the journey at times, she would never lose hope. Waverly Earp was the one she’d been waiting for her entire life. Everything in her told her it was true. She just had to wait until Waverly realized it too.       

Leaning back in her desk chair, she propped her boots up on the desk, opening the file for the new case Sheriff Nedley had just assigned to her. This one would no doubt take some work, and she was up to the task. She was eager to prove herself to the Sheriff, and this case was the perfect place to make her mark. Not to mention that it would be a welcome distraction while she waited patiently for the woman who owned her heart.


TBC in Chapter 2—Whiskey and Doughnuts…