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The Bandit and The Barmaid

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Dawn was her favorite time of day. It was a beginning, after what seemed like an end; a literal light in the dark. She loved to just sit and watch the day begin, watch the sun breathe life into the world again. She didn’t always enjoy the sunrise though, sometimes it wasn’t a blessed event where everything was light and happy, like when she was on the run. Running from what was different every time, but that didn’t change the fact that she ran because she had nowhere else to go.

 

She had always thought that a life on her own, out in the wilds, would be an adventure. That’s how the stories made it sound; like the extravagant, elaborate stories her Nanny used to tell her about Joan of Arc, and Ann Bonny and Mary Read, and Frances Clayton. The way her Nanny told it, these women took it upon themselves to try to change the world; either by conquering it by waging war in some far-off country or by taking its riches and spoils for herself at the tip of a sword or by stepping up to defend her country and her home. They had to change themselves in the process, but it seemed they weren’t worse for the wear because of it. Actually, it was as if they were so successful in their endeavors because they were women, simply dressed as men. Something about that had always appealed to her, the ability to be someone else, to be a boy instead of a girl, but she had never really been able to nail down why. Eventually though, her fascination with her Nanny’s stories had drawn her father’s attention and after that she didn’t have a Nanny anymore.

 

That was the first time she thought about running, thought about escaping whatever life her father had planned for her, but she had been scared, unsure she would be able to survive on her own. It was several years before she realized that, sooner or later, life has a way making decisions for you.

 

~~~

 

The first time she did run, it was from her own burning home, where she had just watched her father try to fight off a group of looters with nothing but a double barrel shotgun. She had hidden in the shed as they ransacked the house. When they emerged, she’d thought for sure that they would just leave, but when the front of the house went up in flames, she had no choice but to run. She only stopped to look back once, taking in the significance of her home burning. She knew instantly there would be nothing left when the blaze finally died away. She tried hard to remember all the good things, hoping to re-commit them to memory, because for better or worse, that part of her life was over. She thought about her father tucking her in at night as a child. She thought about her days of avoiding her chores, just to spend the day in the sun and fresh air. For the first time in a long time, she thought about her Nanny, a woman who was not her mother, but who had been the next best thing, at least until her father had sent the woman away. She blinked back tears as she turned from the house, vowing to never forget either of the two people who had made her who she was.

 

She made it as far as the next town over and after only a day in town, managed to land a job as a barmaid that also offered housing. It sounded like just the thing for her, but when she realized that she was going to be expected to both serve and service the customers, she had left there without a second thought. It was then she realized that, as a woman, she would probably never be more than a whore or if she was lucky, a wife, and that just didn’t sit right with her. She had never wanted to be a wife, and especially not a whore. Of course, her father had pressured her into accepting gentlemen callers from time to time as she had gotten older, but the more times she’d had to hold a man’s arm as she crossed the street, or reluctantly accept a chaste kiss on the cheek, the more she cringed each time it happened.

 

It was only a few days later, when she was thinking about her Nanny again, and the stories the woman used to tell, that she suddenly understood what she’d been trying to figure out for as long as she could remember. While, yes, she had never wanted to be a wife, it went deeper than that. She realized she didn’t want to be a woman at all. She had never felt like things were as they should be, that maybe there was something wrong with her, but her sudden realization brought a sense of relief she had never experienced before. She resolved to revel in the relief and decided it was time for a change. On her way out of town, she stole a bunch of men’s clothes off a laundry line and headed off into the unknown again.

 

That night, Nicole Elizabeth Haught, the blushing 19-year old girl with no home and a mostly dismal outlook on the future, had changed her clothes and had hacked off all her hair and became one Cole E. Haught, a rough and tumble cowboy with more than a little something to prove.

 

~~~

 

Truly, the change in her appearance had the most effective of benefits, and not just in the way she felt about herself. When she’d gotten into the next town, the people she met had instantly treated her differently, just because of the way she was dressed. She had asked around about work and after only a couple of days of looking, took a job as a cow-hand on a farm. It was a short-term arrangement; she’d only be employed for the birthing season to watch the herd overnight. It had paid alright, and her employer even let her sleep in the one of their sheds for free. Even though the job was supposed to be for only six weeks, Cole couldn’t help but feel proud of herself for landing the job to begin with. For the first time in her whole life, Cole had finally started to feel like herself, her true self.

 

Eventually, one town had led to another, and one job to another. Most of the time, it had been temporary work, but the couple of times she had actually tried to put down any roots, things just didn’t go her way. Of course, that meant she had had to run a few times, like the time she’d settled in for a while working as a farrier’s hand at the town livery in a sleepy, little town in East Kansas. She had even managed to make a friend, Shannon, or Shae for short, who at first, Cole had thought was just a friend, that was until the day Shae had kissed her. Cole knew she should have stopped her friend, should have explained, about herself, about her situation, but kissing Shae had felt so natural that Cole couldn’t help herself. It was so different from any intimacy she had ever experienced with any of the men her father had pushed on her. Shae’s lips were soft, and her face was smooth, and it didn’t take much for Cole to imagine what it would be like to kiss more than just Shae’s lips.

 

A couple of weeks later, after Cole had finally worked up the courage to tell Shae the truth, everything went horribly wrong. Shae had been understanding and even a little intrigued, and after much discussion, they had finally decided they were both interested in more. That night, Shae’s father caught them in the hayloft, definitely doing more than just kissing. There was screaming and fighting and death threats, and honestly, Cole had been lucky to make it out of that barn alive. Shae’s father hadn’t let it go either, because late that night, as Cole was packing her things, he and some other folks from town had shown up at the house where she’d been renting a room and had literally chased her right out of town. She’d spent many, many nights since then lying awake, wondering what it might have been like to actually court and marry Shannon, or any woman for that matter. It seemed like a farfetched idea, but that didn’t stop Cole from dreaming about it anyway.

 

~~~

 

Her most recent mistake had been her biggest by far though, because Cole had fallen in with the wrong crowd in Dodge City and ended up stealing a horse trying to make a hasty get away after a botched highwayman job. She was still running from that in fact. She feared she would never stop running from that night.

 

It had gone downhill the second the stagecoach driver had drawn out this honking, hand cannon; it looked like a shortened, over-under double barrel shotgun. She had figured the shorter barrel would be terrible for accuracy, but when the driver pulled the trigger, it tore a hole through Todd the size of her fist, while she was standing right next to him. Well, she hadn’t hesitated to hop into the nearest empty saddle and get the hell out of Dodge, so to speak.

 

The sunrise after that hadn’t been pleasant. She had ridden all night, driving the stolen horse to near exhaustion before they had finally stopped. In the early light of morning, she had finally gotten a good look at herself and realized she was absolutely covered in Todd’s blood. As she scrubbed her clothes clean in a shallow creek she’d come across, she realized she couldn’t ever go back to Dodge City. Not only had she stolen the horse, but she had skipped out on Lou Rand and his gang too, and they would not be happy with her, if they ever saw her again that is. She would just keep going west, because truly the further she could get away from the image of Todd’s insides suddenly being his outsides the better off she thought she would be.

 

Stealing the horse really turned out to be one of the best terrible decisions Cole had ever made. She named the animal Jane, and she was a gentle thing, but could be damned fast when she wanted to be. She was steady in the face of rushing water, or rocky terrain and even, hissing snakes, and within the first few days of being together, Cole managed to get Jane to respond to her most subtle signals, making Jane almost effortless to ride. As far as making the best of bad situation goes, it also hadn’t hurt that one of the saddle bags on Jane’s back had been packed almost full of rations. Salted pork, hard rolls, a bag of dried beans, and maybe most importantly, a bag of coffee, were all stuffed down in one side. The other bag held a smaller pouch with a few coins inside. It wasn’t much money, but Cole wasn’t going to complain. There were other supplies in that side she would need for roughing it as well; a small cooking pot, a flint and steel, a full water-skin, and a tin cup that Cole thought was wide enough to double as a bowl. Possibly the best part though, was the bedroll and canvas tarp rolled up and tied across the back of the saddle. It acted as a cushion of sorts against the back of the saddle when she was riding, as well as giving her a place to sleep at night. She figured this must have been the coach’s guard’s horse, but seeming as he was a very good possibility he was dead, Cole figured he wouldn’t be needing it anymore.

 

She rode west through each day, camping along the Arkansas River each night. She stuck close to north side of the river, not just for the fresh water, but because she knew eventually her stolen rations would run out and she would be forced to cross, as all the towns in this area were on the south side of the river. The Arkansas wasn’t a wide, but the late spring rains had made it hard to tell how deep it might be, and no matter how steady Jane was in the water, Cole knew she would need to find a ferry to cross. She had seen a few maps of the area west of Dodge and figured she had to be coming up on the crossing where Sandy Creek branched off of the Arkansas to the north.

 

When she finally did arrive at the ferry she wasn’t surprised to find a fairly rickety flat boat that operated on a rope and pulley system. She was utterly thankful for the few coins she had found in the saddle bags then, having enough for the ferry with even a little leftover. The crossing didn’t take terribly long and before she knew it she was riding up on the town of Blackwell, Colorado. It wasn’t a large town, but the farms in the surrounding area where always looking for cowboys and farmhands for short term work and having a horse of her own helped her land a little honest work on a farm just south of town. She stuck around Blackwell through the summer cattle drives and then through the fall harvest, but when the work dried up, she decided it was time to move on. She thought maybe she could find somewhere in Pueblo to shack up for the winter, hoping to find work as a bartender, or farrier, or something, anything. She had decided to try to keep looking for honest work, but she suspected that she’d be hard pressed to find any in winter, even in a place as big as Pueblo. It wouldn’t be difficult to figure out who was who in town though, and Cole figured dishonest work would do when she started to feel a powerful need to eat.

 

She followed the Arkansas again, west out of Blackwell, knowing she would probably have at least two weeks on the trail before she came to Pueblo. Being on the south side of the Arkansas this time though, meant that instead of sleeping on the cold ground every night, she would be able to spend at least a few nights of the trip in an inn or saloon along the way. In fact, on the second night into her travels, she found herself seated at a poker table in Prowers, Colorado, grinning like a fool into her whiskey glass, as she cleaned out two of her competitors. She had decided to stay in town that night, too drunk to even think about taking her winnings and leaving. The saloon owner had offered her lodging and entertainment, and after quite the internal debate, Cole refused the entertainment, even though she wished for nothing more than a warm body in her bed. Part of her reasoned that, she would only be staying in town for the night, but the last thing she wanted was a repeat of what happened with Shannon. The owner had given her a funny look when he explained it was included in the price of the room, and she still declined, but she brushed it off, dragging her feet as she made her way to the rooms upstairs. The rest of the night passed without incident, and in the morning, she collected Jane from the town stable and rode west once again.

 

~~~

 

Almost a week in, Cole rambled into the seemingly quiet town of Purgatory, Colorado. The name seemed intimidating, but she figured she was a little shy of the halfway point between Blackwell and Pueblo, and that Purgatory was just as good a place as any to shack up for a few days. When she got down off Jane’s back at the stable, Cole knew she needed a break. Working the harvest season in Blackwell meant it had been a while since she’d spent much time in the saddle and after several long days of riding in a row, she could tell she was walking more than a little bowlegged. She made her way down the darkening street to the only place that was open, Shorty’s, seemingly Purgatory’s only saloon. When she got inside it seemed like a quiet little place, only a couple of folks drinking and playing cards, and not even for money. She sidled up to the bar, asking for a room. She paid the older man behind the bar for a few nights up front and was surprised at how relieved she felt when he didn’t ask if she needed any entertainment for the evening. The walk up the stairs to her room seemed to do her in anyway, because Cole barely made it to the bed before she collapsed, exhausted.

 

Feeling almost refreshed from the night’s sleep, Cole got up and dressed in her spare set of clothes. She took extra care with her chest binding, checking and double checking that it was tight and secured, not wanting anything to shift or slip during the day. Especially because she was actually going to have to interact with some of the good people of Purgatory. The binding wasn’t much more than an extra wide strip of muslin that was long enough to wrap around her body a few times, but it did the job, keeping things from just swinging in the wind as she walked. She wrapped it as tightly as possible around herself before tucking the tail through a couple of the wraps to secure it. It certainly wasn’t comfortable, squeezing her ribs and rubbing awkwardly against her skin all day, but it was better than going without. Sometimes, she hated wearing it, well, pretty much all the time, but sometimes she found herself hating the need for it, more than the actual feeling of wearing it. Cole was just beginning to accept things for the way they were, but that didn’t stop her from wishing to be a real man, that her body had gotten the message long ago, like in the womb.

 

Trying to dwell on the things she couldn’t change, Cole finished dressing quickly. Her first instinct was to find somewhere to wash her other set of clothes. She wasn’t sure her old blue jeans wouldn’t stand up on their own from all the dirt caked in the fabric. Being on the trail didn’t exactly lend itself to being or staying clean. She went downstairs to the saloon and settled at the bar with her laundry in her rucksack. She ordered some breakfast from the grizzled older woman behind the bar. When the woman came back with her eggs and toast and coffee, Cole inquired of the bar-matron, “Ma’am, is there somewhere I could wash up my dirties?” She hiked the rucksack up onto her shoulder as to emphasize her point.

 

The older woman had a somewhat sour look on her face as she responded, “First, name’s Augusta, but most folks just call me Gus, and second, you can leave that with me and I can have my niece do it up when she comes in later. Won’t cost you nothing, either. She’s got behind on the washing anyway, so might as well teach her a lesson.”

 

Gus seemed stern and stoic, but as she began speaking about her niece, Cole noticed the older woman’s voice soften a bit, taking on a slightly more playful tone. Cole knew they must be close. “I think that sounds alright to me, Gus. But you’re sure I can’t offer you a few coins anyway? It seems only right to pay you for services rendered,” Cole replied with a wink, intending her tone to sound teasing as well.

 

Gus smiled a little coy smirk and said, “Well, now that you mention it, that does seem fair.” She paused, and Cole wondered what was passing through her mind. Gus seemed to be considering saying something more but didn’t know whether to speak or not. Eventually though, Gus seemed to push whatever else she was thinking aside to continue, “I’ll make sure those clothes are ready for you by morning, alright?”

 

Cole simply replied, “Thank you, Gus,” not wanting to start anything by calling the other woman out. She nodded as she handed over her rucksack and a few coins. Gus nodded back briefly, before returning to her other customers. Cole took a moment to look around before finishing up her breakfast. When she reached the front stoop, she slipped her Stetson onto to her head, and ventured out into town to explore.

 

~~~

 

The town itself really wasn’t very large, only two intersecting dirt streets, as they were, both petering out into nonexistence at the edges of town. There was a barber shop, that doubled as the doctor’s office and a small telegraph office, that shared a building with the post office. Cole meandered past a blacksmith too on her to the stable to check on Jane and to pay for her stabling and feed for the next few days.

 

Pete, the stable’s farrier, seemed like a good sort, so Cole decided to have him check Jane’s shoes and make sure she didn’t need to be re-shod while they were staying in town. Pete seemed excited at having something to do and that enthusiasm had Cole sure Pete would not only take care of Jane but take good care of her. Before Cole took her leave, she inquired about the general store in town. Pete gave pretty simple directions, and Cole thanked him before letting the young man get back to his work.

 

Cole passed a small church and the town’s water tower as she made her way to the somewhat run down looking general store. Once inside, she perused the shelves, picking up a few things she knew she’d need for the rest of her journey to Pueblo. Meandering amongst the few clothing racks the store had, Cole felt a rush of air as someone opened the front door to the shop. What she saw stopped her dead in her tracks. Brilliant hazel eyes, long honey brown hair, and a cute little smile, Cole instantly knew she was in trouble. She blushed when their eyes met, sure she was grinning like an idiot, but she couldn’t help it. There right in front of her was the most beautiful woman she’d ever seen.

 

The clerk called out, “Morning, Waverly,” from behind her and Cole snapped to, quickly realizing she had been staring and marched her way over to the clerk. She plopped her goods down on top of the counter and tried to have a cordial, yet hushed, conversation with the man as he wrapped everything in butcher’s paper. She wanted to tell him it wasn’t necessary, that he didn’t need to bother with the paper, but not a minute in, the little hairs on the back of her neck started to stand on end. She could feel Waverly’s eyes on her, watching Cole’s every move, and a small bead of sweat formed on her brow. She needed to get out of the store before she was forced to actually engage the young woman, not because she didn’t want to, but because she wanted to a little too much.

 

The clerk said something, but Cole didn’t catch it. She was about to apologize and ask him to repeat himself, but just then there was a presence right beside her elbow. She knew that Waverly was the only other person in the store and when Cole heard that sweet voice for the first time she almost fainted. “Seems like a tough decision,” Waverly said in sort of sing-song voice, lots or rise and fall, and Cole couldn’t help but get distracted by it. The words were simple, and it was a simple statement, but Cole just couldn’t follow, her train of thought totally derailed. And as if Waverly’s voice wasn’t enough to distract her, combined it with the twinkle in Waverly’s eye and the smile on her face, and Cole didn’t stand a chance. She simply stared blankly at the young woman as she continued, “What’d’ya reckon, Gray, is he a mute or something?”

 

The sound of Gray’s deep, hearty laugh finally Cole snapped out of her stupor, and she knew instantly she had to say something, anything. She quickly fell back on her native Georgia drawl, trying to sound only a little mocking as she said, “Nah, darlin. I ain’t deaf, just dumb.”

 

Cole was delighted when Waverly’s brows cocked up, sweet smile turning quickly to playful smirk. Understanding crossed clearly over Waverly’s features, instantly recognizing that Cole was, in fact, not dumb. Waverly’s coy reply came moments later, “Well, then if you need help deciding, I’d say get the brown one. It goes with your eyes.”

 

Cole looked back at the clerk, Gray, apparently, only to realize she had brought both a black and a brown canvas duster to the counter. She had only picked up the brown one to see if maybe it fit her better than the black one, and it hadn’t, but for some reason she hadn’t put it down. She had intended to just buy the black one, but now Waverly was standing there, saying such sweet things and Cole couldn’t think of a better reason to buy the brown one, than to flatter the young woman. She ducked her head in a little apology to Gray, and quickly turned back to the store to return the black duster to the rack she had taken it from.

 

When Cole returned to the front of the store, Waverly was still there, only this time leaning forward across the counter, and Cole couldn’t stop herself from allowing her eyes to trail up the young woman’s skirt-covered legs and hips. When she finally looked up, she realized Gray had just caught her, undressing Waverly with her eyes. He seemed smug about it, immediately leaning down to whisper something quietly to Waverly. The girl snapped around with a playful laugh, saying, “Well, handsome, if you want an eye full, why don’t you come by Shorty’s tonight and catch the show.”

 

Cole’s confidence soared when she heard Waverly calling her handsome, and she strode back up to the counter, tipping her hat as she said, “I’ll be sure to do just that, ma’am, but might I ask, what kind of performance will I be attending?”

 

Waverly blushed, eyeing Cole through her batting eyelashes, and said, “Well, I sing, mostly, but I have been known to dance too, if the right partner comes along, that is.”

 

Cole grinned furiously at that and easily replied, “Well, ma’am, my name will be first on your dance card tonight, I can assure you that.”

 

“Is that right? And what is your name, handsome?” Waverly asked, scooching a little closer to Cole.

 

Cole tipped her hat again, saying, “Cole Haught, ma’am. And who might you be?”

 

Waverly blushed a little deeper, reaching out delicately, to accept Cole’s hand when she offered it, replying, “Nice to meet you Cole. I’m Waverly, Waverly Earp.”

 

Cole faltered at that. Earp was a name she knew. Wyatt Earp to be exact. She’d run into him in Dodge City before she had fallen in with Lou and his gang of ruffians. Wyatt had seemed like a stand-up fellow, but when Cole had asked him if he knew anyone who had any work, he hadn’t, so she had moved on without a second thought. It wasn’t until she had been there a few weeks that she found out he was both a lawman and an outlaw, of sorts, and was not a man to cross. Cole thought that Purgatory was just too close to Dodge for the common name to be a coincidence. She immediately worried whether her actions in Dodge had reached as far west as Purgatory, if the law in town might actually be looking for her. She barely managed to utter, “I-It was a pleasure to m-meet you, Miss Earp, but if you’ll excuse me.” Cole tossed probably far too much money onto the counter and quickly scooped up her packages before rushing out the door, not relaxing a single muscle until she was safely back in the solitude of her room at the saloon.

 

~~~

 

Later on, sometime in the afternoon, Cole got restless hiding in her room and made her way downstairs to the bar, only to find one Waverly Earp folding her laundry on the bar top. She steeled her nerve and approached the young woman hoping to simply get her clothes and go back upstairs, but Waverly seemed to have other ideas, instantly commenting, “Well, I wondered whose clothes these were, but I guess I shoulda figured it out. You are our only guest.”

 

Cole wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that and decided to gloss over it, saying, “Well, ma’am I do appreciate the care you are taking with my things, but you don’t have to fold it all. I’m afraid I’ll be moving on in a day or two, so those will more than likely end up just shoved down in one of my saddle bags.”

 

Waverly’s eyes sparkled for just a moment, before growing utterly dim. Cole could only assume it was because of what she had just said. The look Waverly was giving her made her not want to leave, but it was really for the best. She knew she had only put about 200 miles in between herself and a death sentence, but she couldn’t deny that there was a part of her wanted nothing more than to stay in this little crossroads of a town, just to be near Waverly. She knew she could look into those beautiful eyes every day and never get tired of it.

 

Waverly finally broke the silence that had formed between them, asking quietly, “Where are you headed?”

 

“Pueblo for now, but after the winter, if I can’t find work, I’ll probably move on from there, too,” Cole answered as easily as she could.

 

Cole watched as Waverly positively lit up. She barely had time to process the dramatic change before Waverly blurted out, “Well, if you’re looking for work, Purgatory is looking for a new sheriff’s deputy. Sheriff Nedley is hoping to retire in a year or two, but he can’t without a deputy to train.”

 

Cole shifted uncomfortably on her feet. The last place in town she wanted to go was to the Sheriff’s office. She smiled as politely as she could manage and said, “Oh, I don’t know if I’m cut out to be a lawman.” She found herself wanting to tell Waverly that truthfully, she was more of an outlaw, most likely one with a bounty, but it seemed easier to just be vague and brush it off.

 

Waverly did seem to realize there was more to the statement too and rather bluntly asked, “What are you wanted for?”

 

“Well, I ne-” Cole began, pausing only to swallow back the bile in her throat. She wanted to lie, to tell Waverly she wasn’t wanted, but for some reason she found herself compelled to tell this young woman the truth. “I sort of fell in with the wrong people back in Dodge and being involved with them may have lead me to steal a horse trying to get away from a bad situation,” Cole confessed, with a cringe. It had been months since that night and yet, the sound of Todd’s blood curdling scream still rang loudly in her ears every time she thought of it. She didn’t want to admit it, but it felt oddly good to tell someone, even that much. The stress of being wanted had been hanging over her for far too long.

 

Waverly’s hand brushed against her forearm a moment later and Cole had to fight to keep herself from jerking away from the touch. “That’s awful,” she heard Waverly say, but something about the way she said it didn’t make Cole think she meant that it was awful that she had stolen horse, but that it was awful that she had had to do it. That assumption proved to be right when Waverly continued, saying, “Listen, we all make mistakes, Cole, but it’s what we do after that matters. Maybe you ought to try for the Sheriff’s job, might be you could do some good to counteract the bad.”

 

“I- I’ll think about it. Thanks for wash and fold, Miss Earp. I’ll, uh, I’ll see you later?” Cole replied, trying, but failing, to keep the hope out of her voice. She couldn’t help feeling a little unsettled as she took her folded laundry and rucksack off the countertop.

 

“I’m sure you will, Cole, I’m sure you will,” Waverly said, a smug smile on her face.

 

~~~

 

Cole stowed her gear upstairs and only a few minutes later slipped out of the saloon, intent on just wandering around town until it was late enough to go back to the saloon for a proper dinner and a drink and of course, Waverly’s show. Before long she found herself standing in front of the sort of dilapidated looking Sheriff’s office, knocking on the door. This was probably the worst idea she had ever had, but she felt like it couldn’t hurt to go in, look around, see if her face was on any of the wanted posters inside and then get out.

 

An older bearded man answered the door, a grumbled hello the only greeting he offered. He was appraising her the moment the door opened, though. For an older man, he had sharp watchful eyes and he seemed to be taking in every little detail of Cole as she waited to be invited inside. Cole took off her hat out of respect and it seemed that was just the right move. The Sheriff must have at least mildly approved of her presence because the next moment he stepped aside, and pushed the door open wider to allow her entrance.

 

The inside of the office was just as dingy and run down as the outside, but despite the musty smell lingering in the air, Cole felt oddly at ease. The Sheriff ushered her inside and gestured towards one of the two empty chairs in the place. She accepted the seat and waited patiently for the Sheriff to take his own seat. Finally, the man spoke, “What’s your name, son?”

 

“Haught, sir, Cole Haught,” she stated firmly, adding a little gruff to her own voice in response to his husky tone.

 

His brow furrowed, and it was all Cole could do to remain still. If he made a move to arrest her, she knew she could out run him, but she really didn’t want to have to run anymore. She really did want a place to settle down, a place to call home. Before she could get too nervous though, the Sheriff finally said, “Well, Cole, I’m Randy Nedley, Sheriff of this one-horse town. What brings you to my office today?”

 

Cole couldn’t explain why she felt like she could tell this man anything, maybe it was something in his eyes, but she couldn’t quite figure it out. She found herself speaking before she really even thought about it, saying, “Well, sir, I’m new in town, obviously, and I’m looking for some honest work and I heard that you might be looking for a deputy.”

 

Nedley seemed to be appraising her even harder after that, eyes glinting, as he replied, “And what makes you think you might be a good deputy?”

 

“Well, sir, if I’m being honest, I haven’t been the most law-abiding citizen the last few years… In fact, there’s probably even a warrant for my arrest back in Kansas, but I think that my experience on the other side of the law might be what makes me the perfect candidate for being your new deputy,” Cole said, instantly regretting it. Her hands gripped the arms on her chair tightly, ready to push off of it to get away if she had to.

 

She needn’t’ve worried though, because Nedley’s next question ended up throwing her for a loop. “What for?” he stated flatly, fixing her with an expectant look. She couldn’t do much more than stare at him, unable to really grasp what he meant. Thankfully, he elaborated, “What’s the warrant for?”

 

Cole was nervous about continuing with the conversation, instincts screaming at her to get the hell out of there, but she wasn’t going to shy away from what she had done anymore. “Horse theft, sir,” she finally replied, squaring her jaw and looking him right in the eyes.

 

The Sheriff made a noncommittal sort of sound and asked, “Did you do it?” Cole simply nodded, truly surprised he hadn’t moved to arrest her yet. She let her eyes drop, truly feeling the shame of what she had done. The sheriff’s next question had her eyes jumping back up to meet his again. “Alright, but the real question is… why’d you do it?”

 

Cole thought about the answer to that question. The obvious answer was that, it was a choice between stealing the horse or taking a blast to stomach like Todd. Cole knew there was something more to it though. She had been wanting out of Dodge City for a while, had been wanting to move on, to move west like pretty much everyone else in the country. ‘The land of opportunity,’ she thought bitterly before finally answering his question, saying, “The short answer is I got mixed up with the wrong sort in Dodge and when I saw my opportunity to get out of there, I did. The long answer is… well, it’s long…”

 

As her voice trailed off, she fixed the Sheriff with a solemn look and simply waited to hear what the older man had to say. His overly large moustache twitched once or twice, and his brow creased with a deep furrow. It seemed to Cole he was trying to look into her very soul, and as much as she wanted to look away from his prying eyes, she knew something needed to change in her life and this was a good chance for a fresh start, if he would just give it to her.

 

“How about this, son? Let’s us go over to Shorty’s, have a round or two and you can tell all about it, alright? It’s almost time for dinner anyway,” he finally asked, much to Cole’s relief.

 

“That’s sounds beyond fair of you, sir,” she replied easily, smirking as she added, “Would you consider it bribery if I offered to buy the first round?”

 

The Sheriff’s lips crooked up into a smile as he replied, “Hell no, son. One thing Randy Nedley does not do is turn down free hooch.”

 

Cole chuckled at that, leading them out of the office, saying, “I’ll be sure to remember that, sir.”

 

~~~

 

Randy, ‘You buy me hooch, you call me Randy,’ Nedley seemed like a good man, maybe even among the best of men; reasonable, intelligent, and above all else, fair. He listened as Cole explained all about her time with Lou’s gang in Dodge, and after, the nights on the trail and the ranch in Blackwell. Eventually, he asked about before Dodge. Cole simply asked him not to and was pleasantly surprised when he didn’t press. They grew quiet for a few minutes, the Sheriff obviously deep in thought, when Cole finally caught sight of Waverly, sashaying her way down the stairs. Her breath hitched in her throat when the brunette turned on the landing, eyes sweeping the entire room, but only landing on her.

 

Cole’s audible gulp snapped the Sheriff out of his thoughts, and he harrumphed, mumbling, “Well, don’t that beat all,” under his breath.

 

There was a moment Cole didn’t quite know what he meant, until she caught the sight of Waverly’s smile. It was face-splittingly wide, all teeth and lips and it was definitely contagious. She couldn’t help the slow smile that crept over her own lips. Cole watched as this angel descended the rest of the stairs. Waverly stopped and chatted with what seemed like half the town as she made her way across the bar. Cole’s heart pounded at the sight before her. Waverly was in a long flowing gown, complete with bustle and bustier, looking delicate and dainty in blue. She was the very definition of beauty. So beautiful that when she finally made her bar across the crowded bar, Cole couldn’t make more than, “You are a vision,” come out of her mouth.

 

The blush that flushed over the brunette’s features was everything. Cole’s smile widening as Waverly demurely replied, “Thank you, Cole. I was hoping you would like my dress.”

 

Recovering herself, and leaning in a little bit, Cole half whispered her next compliment, “It’s pretty, but it’s nothing compare to the beauty underneath.” A clearing throat behind her had Cole pulling back though before she could say more, before she could say how much she wanted to see everything underneath that dress. ‘That would be too forward anyway,’ Cole thought as she tried to take in the look on Randy’s face. He looked amused, but wasn’t overtly laughing, a simple knowing smirk on his face. She knew that Randy must know Waverly, he probably knew everyone in town, but she thought being polite was the right way to go and said, “Randy, you know Waverly Earp, don’t you?” while gesturing to the newest addition to their conversation.

 

“Oh, of course, I do. I’ve known little Waverly since she was about yay high,” he replied easily, bending back a bit and putting his hand out, down low. Cole turned to look at Waverly, catching sight of more beautiful blushing as Randy continued, “She’s quite the popular girl around here.”

 

Something about the way he said that disturbed Cole a bit, like he knew something she didn’t, but she pushed those thoughts aside when Waverly piped up, “Yep, it’s all in the smile and wave.” Cole knew for sure there was something there, seeing Waverly’s response to his words. The nonchalance, the bravado of her fake smile and almost timid wave, hiding something painful and deep, but one moment it was there, and the next it was gone. “Would you look at the time? I’ve got to finish getting ready,” Waverly added, glancing up at something over Cole’s right shoulder. She leaned in a little, placing a hand on Cole’s arm, drawing her down so Waverly could add at a hushed whisper, “I hope you still want that dance, ‘cause I’ve been looking forward to it all day.” Cole gulped at the seductive tone in Waverly’s voice and nodded a little too excitedly. Waverly giggled against her ear, and Cole couldn’t think of a better sound on the planet. The brunette was pulling away and Cole let her, even though she didn’t want to and after a polite head nod and a simple, “Sheriff,” Waverly was off.

 

Randy laughed beside her, clapping a hand on her back as Cole watched Waverly walk away. “Now, I see why you came into my office today looking to settle down,” he said, before turning up the last of his drink.

 

Cole didn’t respond until Waverly was completely out of sight, finally turning back to the Sheriff. “Everything I said before is true. I am looking for honest work, an honest life. Waverly’s got nothing to do with it,” Cole said, even though she knew that it wasn’t entirely true. While Waverly was part of it, she didn’t want this man to think she wasn’t serious about wanting more for her life than just running. She had gotten a taste of it in Blackwell, and while being a hand on a farm had suited her just fine, she felt like she hadn’t been lying when she told the Sheriff she thought she would be a good fit for the deputy job. She was quick on her feet and quicker on the draw, but she had always used those skills for personal gain, for her own survival. She wanted more from her life than that. “I want my life to mean more than it has so far, and I think I could do that here, in this town, if you’ll give me the chance,” Cole said, finally bringing her eyes back up to meet his.

 

He seemed to consider her words for a moment before he said, “Alright then, Haught. I’ve just got one question left for you…” Randy paused, probably for dramatic effect before he added, “Can you start tomorrow?”

 

Relief flooded through Cole like a tidal wave. Her smile returned, this time puckering up the dimples in her cheeks and replied, “Of course, sir. Thank you, sir. You won’t regret this, s-”

 

Randy cut her off, “Say sir one more time and you’ll regret it.” Cole winced, but she relaxed a little as he continued, “Sir, makes me feel old, son, and I don’t need any help there. Just come on over to the office in the morning and we’ll get you deputized.”

 

“Sounds good, s-Sheriff,” Cole said, stuttering, almost saying ‘sir’ again, but Randy’s smile was easy, as he nodded his head, and got up from his stool.

 

~~~

 

A half hour later, when the piano player took his seat and began to play, Cole turned and found the most beautiful sight before her. Waverly was leaning against one end on the piano, chest out, head back. Her mass of brown locks coiled up in a tight bun, leaving the delicate lines on her neck and collarbone exposed. Cole was mesmerized by the amount of skin and cleavage so boldly on display, but when the brunette’s mouth opened, and her voice rang out, Cole’s jaw actually dropped.

 

Waverly’s voice sounded like a siren’s song, and all eyes in the room turned to her as she crooned out the words. When Cole could finally look away from the brunette, she realized this was why Waverly was such a popular girl. She was enthralling, all beauty, and grace, and intelligence and talent; she was perfect. Cole didn’t have the mental capacity to process all the information her senses were sending to her brain. Waverly was overwhelming, the few drinks Cole had consumed notwithstanding. Cole wasn’t aware of the passing of time, or Gus refilling her drink, or anything else in the room when Waverly locked eyes with her as that voice swelled with a crescendo in the music. Cole couldn’t look away and it seemed Waverly couldn’t either.

 

Which meant, it was quite the surprise when a single gunshot rang out in the night out front of the saloon. The spell broken, Cole’s eyes snapped towards the sound, body moving for the door an instant later. Pistol already drawn, Cole pushed her way through the shocked crowd, most people too busy looking at their own feet or hiding under tables to be much off an obstacle for her. She chanced one glance back at Waverly before she slipped out the door.

 

~~~

 

The street was quiet, almost too quiet, and Cole hesitated for a moment before she realized that there was someone lying in the street. She moved as quiet as possible out towards the figure, hair on the back of her neck prickling to attention as she moved. She knew she was being watched, but the question was, by who. When she reached the body, she made to roll it over before a hand on her shoulder made her pause. “Eyes up, son. They’re coming,” Randy Nedley whispered into the night behind her. In an instant, they were back to back, guns pointing out, watching both ways down the street, waiting for whatever was going to come. Randy grunted and nudged her with his elbow and she swung around, eyes taking in the figures of four men standing down the street from them.

 

They were moving closer, ambling down the street, all casual like, towards the Sheriff and his new almost-deputy. When the men finally got close enough to make them out, Cole realized these men were not townspeople. They were dirty and unshaven; they looked like they’d spent days, or even weeks, on the trail. The most unnerving thing to Cole was that they all looked mean enough to shoot first and then not even bother asking questions after. They were armed, but none of them had a weapon drawn, even though they were staring down the barrel of Randy’s pistol as well as Cole’s own six-shooter.

 

“This doesn’t concern you, son. Git back on in the saloon and we’ll let you live,” the grimy man in front called out.

 

Cole was nervous as cat in heat, but she didn’t show it, barking back, “The way I see it, ya’ll are at the disadvantage here. Might be ya’ll who wanna be moving on.” She couldn’t help the way her southern drawl leaked into the words. The accent always came back when she was stressed.

 

The man took a step forward, laughing at the top of his lungs, fixing Cole with his wild eyes as he replied, “You hear that boys, seems like we got us a Georgia peach all the way out here in Colorado.”

 

Cole cringed at his words, knowing her strained voice must have been higher pitched than she thought. ‘Could he know?’ she thought as he continued to move closer. She wasn’t going to take any chances and it seemed Randy wasn’t ready to give up either, both cocking the hammers back on their pistols at the same time. The outlaw paused, studying her, eyes scrunching up in thought. A wicked grin spread over his lips, revealing broken black teeth underneath. Cole wasn’t sure whether it was that grotesque sight or the knowing look in his eyes, but she was soon so on edge that she was afraid she might pull the trigger just to wipe that look off his face.

 

Thankfully, he didn’t push his luck, or theirs, as he conceded, “You know what boys, let’s blow on out of here. Doesn’t seem like we’re all that welcome.”

 

What he did next shocked Cole to utter speechlessness. He simply turned his back on the two of them, guns still aimed right at him, and walked away, gathering his boys to him as he went. Cole and Nedley watched them as they made their way off into the darkness at the edge of town, and even a little after, just to be sure they were gone.

 

After a few more, deep breaths, Cole holstered her pistol and turned back to the body in the street. Just as she was about to roll the body this time, it sprang up from the ground with a shout, “WOO! Man, you said it would work Nedley, but I really didn’t believe you.”

 

“Well, Wynonna, of course it worked. You think ole Robert Svane would pass up the opportunity to kill another Earp?” Randy replied with a bitter laugh, crossing to Wynonna. “We oughta get you outta the street, though. Don’t want it getting back to Bobo that his shot didn’t do the trick. I’m sure Waverly’s real worried, too,” he added quieter than before, glancing over his shoulder at the saloon.

 

Cole was still trying to get her breathing under control, after the shot and the confrontation and then the dead coming back to life. She was more than a little shaken, but when Randy mentioned Waverly, her gaze shot over to the bar as well. Sure enough, there was little Waverly Earp, arms folded across her chest, a deep scowl scrunching up her features. “Who’s the new kid?” came from behind her and it took a fair amount of will to turn away from Waverly standing in the window.

 

Quickly stepping across the distance between them, Cole reached out her hand to Wynonna and said, “Cole Haught, ma’am. I just got in to town last night.”

 

Wynonna clasped her hand in a tight grip as Randy clapped her on the back, saying, “Yeah, Cole here is my new deputy. Starts tomorrow, though, I guess I’m lucky he’s got a death wish, staring down Bobo like that.”

 

They started to move towards the saloon, as Cole replied, “Not a death wish, Sheriff, just got no patience for men like him.”

 

“Well, patience or not, son, you made an enemy today. They’ll be back, though now that they think Wynonna is dead, it may be a little while,” Randy said wistfully.

 

Wynonna’s next words chilled Cole to the bone, though.

 

“Oh yeah, they’ll be back, and they’ll be after Waverly next.”

 

~~~

 

The saloon cleared out pretty quick after that. The townspeople didn’t seem to be the brave sort, most having dipped out the back of the bar the second Bobo and his gang had shown their faces on the street. The patrons still there were either too drunk to really understand what exactly had happened, or they were simply too scared to move until Randy assured them it was safe to go on home. Eventually, it was just Randy and Gus, and Wynonna and Waverly, and Cole. She couldn’t help but feel like an outsider. Randy and Gus were obviously not more than friends, though it seemed like they had known each other for a long time, the way they laughed and carried on together. Waverly had clutched onto Wynonna the moment they had entered the bar and hadn’t let go since. Cole knew instantly they were sisters, family resemblance and all, but the way Waverly seemed almost desperate to reassure herself that her sister was alright, told Cole they must be incredibly close.

 

“Hope I’m not interrupting anything,” came from the front door, all eyes quickly turning towards the sound.

 

Waverly was first up, crossing the room like a hummingbird, fast and light. “DOC!” she shouted as she wrapped both arms around the newcomer, sighing when her head met his chest. Cole felt jealous instantly, standing from her stool, hand instinctively coming to rest on her pistol. A moment later, Randy had his hand over hers. Cole turned to meet his eyes and a brief shake of his head and a grim expression were enough to cool Cole’s heels. Gus and Wynonna had already crossed the room during their silent exchange, so Cole trailed after Randy as they went to greet the new arrival.

 

Pleasantries were exchanged, hugs and cheek kisses and handshakes until Doc got around to greeting Cole. He stared her up and down like he’d seen her before, just unable to place where. He offered her a firm handshake which she returned in kind. The twitch of his moustache was the only indication of movement before Cole was turned around, arm jacked up behind her back, him hissing in her ear, “You’ve got some nerve, boy, stealing a man’s horse and then trying to shake his hand.”

 

Cole barely managed to bite back a whine as he wrenched her wrist up to her shoulder. Both joints were screaming in pain, but his grip relaxed a little a moment of two later. She craned her neck around to see Waverly with her hand on his shoulder, a pleading look in her eyes. “Doc, why don’t we get you a drink and then Cole can explain himself, alright?” Waverly asked quietly, tipping her head towards the bar. He must have been giving Waverly some look in return because Waverly turned to her and asked, “You won’t try to run, right?”

 

Cole instantly shook her head, saying, “No, no, I- I would like a chance to explain. I- I didn’t mean to steal your horse. It, uh, well, it just sort of happened.”

 

Doc’s grip relaxed a bit further, and a bit further until he had a simple grip on her wrist. “I could gun you down at a hundred yards at a dead run, boy. Don’t try me.” Cole shook her head again and merely followed them to the bar, gratefully accepting a shot of her own when Gus poured her one. She wasn’t sure what she was going to say, but when he called out, “Alright, start talking,” she downed her shot and turned to him.

 

“I- I’ve got a sob story I’m sure you don’t care about and explanations you probably wanna hear even less. I guess, all I can say is I was running for my life after that carriage driver killed Todd, and Jane was closer than Todd’s horse,” Cole stated shakily, trying desperately to keep the fear she was feeling out of her voice. “Truth is she did save my life, too. I was just surviving before, doing things I never thought I would just so’s I could eat, but having her to take care of, I- I got a job as a farm hand in Blackwell, so I’d have money to keep her up. Hell, only reason I got that job was ‘cause I had a horse. Point is, I’m real sorry I stole her from you, but doing it changed my life, so if I had to, I’d do it again.” She couldn’t believe what she was saying, she was admitting to stealing this man’s horse and admitting she didn’t regret it. She was sure he was going to be dragging her back to Dodge for a trial, i.e. an execution, but still she couldn’t regret stealing Jane that night. It really had changed her, having something to care about again. It meant she was more open to caring about other things too, like the night in Blackwell when the barn got struck by lighting and caught fire. She ran in to get all the horses out, not just Jane, but all the others, and then stayed up half the night helping the other hands put out the blaze. The change showed on nights like this one, too. Old Cole would have never intervened in a street fight and would have run at the first sign trouble with Doc, but now she was resigned to whatever happened because while she couldn’t change her past, she could do better in the future, if he’d just give her the chance.

 

“I’ve already heard the whole story, Doc. I think he’s telling the truth. Actually, I had decided to hire him as my new deputy, unless you’ve got a problem with that,” Randy said, coming over to stand next to Cole. He put a hand out on her shoulder and she couldn’t hold in her sigh of relief. Here was a good man, to step up for her like she had done for him not an hour ago. It was surprisingly touching, and a small smile spread across her lips.

 

The best part was that her own smile seemed contagious now, because when she looked back to Doc he was sporting a little grin himself. “So, you still have her?” he asked, obvious hope in his voice.

 

“Of course, sir. I left her with Pete at the stable here in town. I checked on her just this morning,” Cole replied, hope slipping into her own voice as well.

 

Doc was quiet for a long moment, appearing to consider her words before he finally said, “Well, seeming as I already have a new horse, and he is a beaut, how’s about I sell my old horse to you, and then we can put this whole business behind us?”

 

Cole wanted to agree immediately, but the money she had left-over from the job in Blackwell and her winnings from poker a few nights before were already running short and she didn’t know when or how much she would be paid as a Sheriff’s deputy. She hesitated before offering a tentative, “Alright, how much would you want for her?”

 

Tapping a finger against his moustache, he replied, “How’s about forty dollars? She’s not a young thing anymore, otherwise I’d be asking double. In her prime, she was the fastest horse around.”

 

Cole was beyond relieved, forty dollars she could do. She may not have much to eat on until she got paid, but she could make do. She sighed and was about to open her mouth to thank him when Doc interrupted, “Actually, I feel a plan forming. Wyatt and I are having a hell of a time nailing down your old boss, Lou. How’s about once I’ve finished my business here you come back to Dodge with me and help us nail him and you can keep the horse for free… Assuming Sheriff Nedley here, will be kind enough to loan you out for a while.”

 

Cole was more than happy to agree, glancing over at the Sheriff to say, “Sheriff, I’d love the chance to right some of my wrongs, after we deal with the problems here, of course.”

 

Nedley simply smiled and replied, “I think that can be arranged.”

 

~~~

 

Cole trudged up to her room, barely managing to keep her eyes open as she crested the stairs. She flopped onto her bed the instant that she was able, the last of her adrenaline expelled with a sigh. Before she really knew what was happening, someone was tugging on her boots. “Generally, isn’t it customary to wait until the someone is dead before you steal their boots?” she grumbled, flipping over in the bed, trying to pull her feet away. A pained squeak came from the foot of the bed as her foot made contact with something solid and Cole shot up in the bed, coming face to face with Waverly Earp, at the foot of the bed, on her knees, cupping her chin with tears in her eyes. “Oh, Lord. Waverly, are you alright?” Cole exclaimed, probably a little too loud, especially for it being the middle of the night.

 

“I’m alright, just bit my tongue, is all,” Waverly said, sniffling a little before she added defensively, “And I wasn’t trying to steal your boots, I just thought you’d be more comfortable with’em off.”

 

Cole smiled at that, liking Waverly’s obviously spunky nature. If she was feeling bold she would have asked, ‘Well, do you want me to kiss it and make it better?’ but instead she asked, “Not that I’m complaining, but what are you even doing in here?” Cole loved watching the blush creep up Waverly’s cheeks at her words and couldn’t help but notice that same blush creeping down her neck and onto her upper chest as well. She wondered how far down that blush went. Shaking her head, she quickly brought her eyes back up, knowing that that was not an option, knowing that if they started anything, she wouldn’t be able to stop. She dismissed her more sordid thoughts completely, quickly realizing she wasn’t exactly sure Waverly would be accepting of her particular situation anyway.

 

When their eyes met again, Waverly merely smiled softly and said, “I wanted to stop by and thank you for what you did earlier. Wynonna and Nedley had this half-hatched plan to lure Bobo into town to fake Wynonna’s death. Thing is, they weren’t expecting him to show up with so many of his friends. I-I’m afraid what might have happened to them if you hadn’t been there to back them up.”

 

Cole smiled as Waverly spoke, watching as the younger woman settled next to her, sitting along the edge of the bed together. She clasped her hands together in her lap to keep from reaching out for the brunette, as she replied, “You don’t have to thank me. It just seemed like the right thing to do at the time.”

 

When Cole glanced over at Waverly, she found the younger woman clutching her own hands together. “I-I didn’t mean to come into your room uninvited, either. It was- It’s just that you didn’t answer when I knocked, and I got sort of worried. I can just go,” Waverly said, her hands fidgeting a little before she stood abruptly and marched towards the door.

 

“Wait!” came out of Cole’s mouth before she could even think, her body instinctively following the younger woman. She quickly crossed the room, taking Waverly’s hand in her own as she explained, “I really was looking forward to dancing with you tonight, Miss Waverly, and I mean… Do you- Would you like to dance with me now?”

 

Waverly giggled, hand flexing against Cole’s and for a moment Cole could barely breath, until Waverly voice broke in between them, “Well, we don’t have the piano, but I suppose could sing something for us to dance to, if you wanted?”

 

The brunette’s tone turned very shy by the time she was finished speaking and Cole thought it was the sweetest thing she’d ever heard, Waverly offering to sing so they would have something to dance to. She immediately returned that soft smile and swept Waverly into the center of her small room. The rush of air that escaped Waverly’s lips at the maneuver played across Cole’s face and her smile widened as she said, “I’d like that very much, Waverly.”

 

Waverly began humming a soft tune. It was almost recognizable, but Cole couldn’t think where she might’ve heard it before. She shivered slightly as Waverly’s hands snaked up around her neck, Cole’s own hands coming to rest on Waverly’s waist at almost the same time. They swayed back and forth, as Waverly’s humming finally became lyrics. Cole quickly realized the tune only sounded familiar, but that didn’t seem to matter, all that mattered was right in front of her. The way Waverly was looking into her eyes, Cole knew this was already going too far, but she couldn’t stop herself from leaning in a placing a sweet kiss to Waverly’s lips in between verses. Waverly gasped at the move, but didn’t pull away, instead she pushed forward into the action, kissing Cole like she couldn’t imagine doing anything else. It was soft and passionate and so special, Cole found herself fighting the urge to simply lay Waverly out on her bed and kiss the young brunette for the rest of the night.

 

Eventually, when they finally broke apart, both gasping for air, Cole husked a little laugh into Waverly’s mouth, beginning with, “Waverly, I-” before her voice caught in her throat. She suddenly realized how far Waverly’s hands had wandered while they had been kissing. While her own hands were still firmly settled on the younger woman’s waist, Waverly’s hands had sunk down on to her upper chest, just above her bound breasts. She immediately became self-conscious, cursing herself for letting her guard down. She couldn’t afford to get involved with Waverly. She couldn’t afford for people to find out about her. She was just starting to get her life together here, and even though being near Waverly had been part of her deciding to try to make Purgatory a home, she knew deep down this was a very a bad idea. She remembered the anger in the faces of the townspeople in East Kansas, how they hated and feared her just for being a woman dressed as a man. She remembered the look on Shannon’s father’s face when she discovered them that night in the hayloft. She grimaced, imagining Gus and Wynonna and Doc and even Nedley chasing her through town, out for blood. She shook her head; she couldn’t let that happen. Cole had made a deal with Doc, anything that would happen with Waverly would have to wait until she made those wrongs right.

 

Thoughts still running a mile a minute, Cole pushed on Waverly’s waist, creating as much distance as she could. She didn’t look Waverly in the eyes as she tried to speak again, “Waverly, I- I can’t do this. I’m sorry. I- I can’t explain either but trust me when I say while I want nothing more to keep kissing you, this, this just isn’t a good idea.”

 

Cole was almost expecting what happened next, she just didn’t expect it to hurt quite so much. She barely had time to close her eyes before Waverly’s open hand collided with her face as she spat, “Well, fine time to tell me that. I can’t believe I let you… let myself… UGH!”

 

Cole’s cheek and jaw felt like a hundred bees had stung her all at once as Waverly whirled around and stomped towards the door. All she could do was watch, open mouthed as Waverly slipped through the opening, slamming the door shut behind her.