Chapter One: Burning House
The first time Waverly witnessed the destructive power of fire, she was six years old.
While she slept peacefully in her bed upstairs, the fire had started silently in the kitchen. A lone candle had been left on the table, its small flame burning innocently.
But soon…soon it turned ominous, having been knocked over by a strong gust of the prairie winds whistling through the open window.
The tablecloth quickly caught flame, the small flicker of fire rapidly spreading from chair to chair, floorboard to floorboard, until the entire kitchen was ablaze. Tendrils of smoke rose towards the ceiling as flames licked their way into the rest of the rooms, engulfing almost the entire bottom floor in a matter of moments…
Waverly doesn’t remember much from that night.
She vaguely recalled being carried out of the burning Homestead. Her older sister, Wynonna, struggling to hold her as she stumbled out of the fiery wreckage. Sometimes, she remembered the way the smoke had stung her eyes, had burned her lungs. The gray, hazy film that settled in the air. The suffocating thickness of it…
She remembered the heat, the smoldering scald of it. The temperature inside the burning house had been sweltering. Scorching. It had left her skin stinging for weeks…
And no matter how hard she tried not to, she always remembered the screams. The screams of those that had been left behind. Three of the five members of the Earp family had perished that night…their lives lost in the devastating fire. It was on that fateful night that Waverly learned about the raw power that fire held. It wasn’t just a collection of pretty orange and blue flames, dancing and twirling about, emanating an enchanting warmth.
Fire was a living act of entropy, reducing everything that crossed its path to ash.
Fire was destructively formidable.
Fire was calamitous.
Fire was deadly.
By the time she turned 21, Waverly had taken back control of her own life. She was no longer the little girl who had everything ripped away from her in a full, fiery, fated sweep.
Now, now she had learned how to tame fire, to make it bend to her will, to use it to make something beautiful.
When Wynonna had up and gone, leaving Purgatory without a word, she was left alone with her Aunt and Uncle. So she was barely through her teenage years when another person she loved left her. But the McCready’s were wonderful, truly the best sort of people. Aunt Gus and Uncle Curtis had raised her in a house full of love. They had fostered her love for history, for science, and for art. They had let her spirit run free, encouraging her to attend one of the most prestigious art universities in all of Canada.
But what did Waverly do with that freedom?
She used it to learn how to manipulate the very element that haunted her. She spent years studying the art of hand blown glass, of using fire to heat and shape the fragile material. She learned, and excelled beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, at honing the intricacies and complexities of the craft. Waverly built upon the natural talent within her and became one of the most talented glass artists in the world…
And part of her hated it. Hated that her artistic abilities were dependent upon the very component, the very thing, that had caused her so much pain. So much grief.
But there was another part of her, the stronger part most days, that loved it. It didn’t take a psychologist, with their fancy degrees and leather lounge couches, to tell her the reasons for that.
Beyond her passion for creating exotically ornate pieces of blown glass, each infused with such emotion, such splendor...her love for this art form stemmed from the control she gained from it. Because when she sat behind the furnace, hands wielding the tools and shaping the glass, she got to decide how fire worked. She got to bend it to her will, using it to create lamps and bowls, vases and sculptures, making it do what she wanted.
For the first time in her life, Waverly got to influence fire.
By pursuing this career, she was able to control an element that was supposedly uncontrollable, which in turn, made her feel like she finally was in control of her own life. And beyond her Freudian motivations and fiery passion, Waverly was talented. Insanely talented. There was a raw, real energy to her art. An almost indescribable quality to it. The fluidity, the movement she was able to capture with the glass, it was as if Waverly personally infused each piece with a bit of her heart, with a sliver of her soul.
There were pieces that screamed rage and anger, all red-hot with sharp angles. There were pieces that whispered peace and tranquility, all muted creams and soft edges. And there were pieces that brokenly cried out in sadness, imbued with blues and blacks, the glass imitating teardrops.
It was that energy, that ability to capture the most heartwarming and heartbreaking of emotions, that made everyone want a piece of hand-blown glass fashioned by Waverly Earp.
By the age of 23, she was selling blown glass almost faster than she could make it. All of her pieces would sell within minutes, barely giving her time to upload them to her modest website before they were purchased, often for ridiculous amounts of money. But they always went for enough. Enough that she had been able to rebuild her family home, from the ground up. Once that was finished, she turned the rotting, downtrodden barn around the side into a state-of-the-art workshop, including top-of-the-line furnaces and the highest quality of materials.
And that’s where Waverly found herself this morning.
Sitting on a small stool in front of the furnace, waiting for the fire to get up to a workable temperature, waiting for the glass to liquefy. Her eyes tracked the flames as they twirled and twisted through the coals, mind wandering aimlessly until she was interrupted by a gruff voice from the door.
“I don’t think the fire’s got the answers you’re looking for, kiddo.”
Waverly blinked out of her daze and then slowly turned in her stool, spying Aunt Gus standing in the doorframe of her workshop, arms crossed over her chest.
“I didn’t think you were coming by today,” Waverly replied, leaning her elbows on her knees, a small, surprised smile gracing her lips.
“Wasn’t planning to…but then I remembered what tomorrow was.”
An almost unspeakable emotion flashed across Waverly’s face, anguish twisting her features momentarily. Her hazel eyes clouded as her expression turned stormy. But then the sorrow, the heartbreak, was quickly chased away, replaced with an almost faux-cheerfulness.
“You don’t have to worry about me, I’m fine! More importantly, how’s…how’s Uncle Curtis?”
Eyebrow quirking at the clear deflection, Gus pushed off the door frame and approached her niece with slow steps.
“Tough as nails, that man. A little bout of the flu won’t slow him down.”
Waverly released a long breath, not appeased by her aunt’s answer.
“Still, I really think you should take him in-”
“Give it a rest, kiddo. Curtis won’t go to the hospital unless he’s lost a limb…and even then, only if it’s one of the important ones!”
Huffing out a laugh that echoed her aunt’s, Waverly slowly rose from the stool. Wiping her hands on the front of her jeans, she made her way over to Gus and pulled the older woman into a fierce hug. She felt strong arms immediately wrap around her, a soft kiss pressed to her temple.
“Oh, Waverly…don’t worry about him. Your Uncle's not gonna leave us anytime soon…not like they did.”
Burying her face into her aunt’s neck, drawing strength from the embrace, Waverly released a shuddery breath, an almost choked sob bubbling up in her chest.
Like they did, twenty years ago. Tomorrow marked twenty years since-
Since Daddy, Willa, and Mama died.
Allowing herself one small moment to breakdown, to truly feel their loss, Waverly’s shoulders shook, her throat thick with tears as another sob wrenched itself from deep within her. Safe in her Aunt Gus’s arms, she let herself cry. For the ones she lost and for the one she hadn’t seen in almost a decade.
“There, there, kiddo. I know, I know…I miss ‘em too.”
After a few more tear-filled moments, Waverly sniffled and backed away, hands rising to wipe her eyes, unwilling to let herself dwell too long on the ghosts of her past. Releasing a heavy sigh, she lifted her watery eyes to meet her aunt’s and forced a smile.
“Sorry about that—umm—how about some coffee before you go?”
Chuckling, Gus reached out to wipe away a lone tear from Waverly’s cheek, one the young woman had missed.
“Since that offer usually comes with a heavy splash of whiskey, I think I’ll pass. Gotta get back.”
Waverly nodded, understanding Gus’s need to return home. “At least let me walk you out,” she offered, putting her arm around her aunt’s waist, feeling Gus’s arm land across her shoulders as they moved towards the door.
The two women walked out of the workshop into the chilly autumn morning, arm in arm, but soon stopped short when they saw a car parked next to Gus’s truck.
“Okay, breathe, remember to breathe…you can totally do this…” Nicole whispered to herself, fingers drumming along the steering wheel of the car.
As she watched the door of Waverly Earp’s workshop swing open, revealing two women, Nicole took a deep breath and reached into her bag. Pulling out her Black aviators, she slid them on and straightened her shoulders, her features hardening.
Piece by piece, she built the persona, slid on the mask, of the cocky and cunning gallery director. The one who spent her days scouring the ends of the Earth, searching for the freshest and newest artistic talents. It wasn’t her favorite mask to don, but she did what she had to do. And damn it, she was good.
Nicole boasted an impeccable track record, signing the most difficult and tempestuous of artists with her family’s gallery. She was cunning and efficient, the perfect amounts of tempting and charming. But for the most part, it was an act, a part she had to play to ensure her family's success.
So as she sat in the idling car, eyes tracking across the features of her next target, she felt a flicker of fear in her stomach, the same one she always did before brokering a deal. The day she lost her nerves was the day she would throw in the towel. A healthy dose of them kept her grounded, kept her on her toes. Made her the success she was.
Blowing out a long breath and adjusting the glasses, Nicole shut off the car and gave herself one final pep talk, a final assurance that this act would serve her well one more time.
“You got nothin’ to worry about, Haught…this works every time.”
“That a friend of yours?” Gus queried, grip tightening around Waverly’s shoulders, almost protectively, as they looked at the car.
“No friend of mine drives a car like that,” Waverly replied, curiosity lacing her words.
After a few moments, the driver’s side door opened, the sound reverberating through the quiet of the morning. The first thing Waverly saw was a flash of red hair, flawless pale skin, face half-obscured behind black Aviators. And then she watched as the woman stood up gracefully from the driver’s seat and shut the door, revealing herself completely. She was professionally dressed, sporting a black suit, the three pieces to it clearly tailored to fit her tall frame. The brilliant, blue button-up beneath stood out in stark contrast to the otherwise muted tones of her outfit. Her fiery red hair was cropped a little past chin-length and her mouth was drawn into a line.
She looked as if she had stepped right out of an Armani catalog, even had the black, wing-tipped shoes and expensive-looking gold watch on her wrist to prove it. This woman was clearly far from home and Waverly couldn’t figure out for the life of her why she would be here.
“Umm—why don’t you get going, Gus? I’ll make sure to swing by to grab you and Uncle Curtis tomorrow before heading into town,” Waverly said slowly, inquisitive gaze never leaving the woman.
Gus narrowed her eyes and looked between her niece and this redheaded newcomer, feeling put off by the silent, charged stare-off the two women were currently engaged in.
“Hmmm…well you remember how to use that shotgun, the one I saw propped up in the workshop?”
Waverly nodded, tilting her head up to look at her aunt in amusement.
“Good girl…use it if you have to. I’ll see you tomorrow, kiddo.”
With that, her aunt gave her a tight, one-armed squeeze and began to stalk across the dewy grass towards her truck. As Gus got closer to the two cars and the mysterious woman, she saw the redhead remove her sunglasses and offer her a warm smile.
“Good mornin’, ma’am.”
“Ain't nothing good about it,” Gus replied brusquely, visibly sizing the redhead up, scrutinizing gaze taking in every bit of her.
The woman seemed to squirm uncomfortably under the gaze, much to Gus’s satisfaction. Finishing up her inspection and feeling like her niece wasn’t in any danger, Gus smirked at the redhead and rounded her truck, sliding into the driver’s seat.
The tires squealed as Gus peeled down the gravel path, finally leaving the two women alone.
Eyes drifting away from the back of Gus’s retreating truck, Waverly locked gazes with the redhead. A sudden bolt of something shot through her at the smoldering look in the woman’s eyes. Her stomach clenched and her heart began to pound, the noise thundering in her ears.
It was as if those chocolate brown eyes were looking right through her…past all of her walls…right into her soul.
Feeling incredibly uneasy at the feelings swirling around inside of her, Waverly narrowed her eyes and spun on her heel, heading back into the workshop. Whoever this woman was, whatever she wanted, it could wait. Her furnace had to be up to temperature by now and she was absolutely burning with inspiration for her next piece.
“Wait! Hold on a minute!” came a melodic voice from behind her, a slight drawl coloring the words.
But Waverly kept moving, grabbing her goggles from the workbench and sliding them on, rolling up the sleeves of her Uncle’s flannel as she went. As she dropped into the stool in front of the furnace, her steady hands snagged the now preheated blowpipe. She slowly slid the tube into the molten glass pooled within the furnace, gathering some on the end of it with smooth turns of the pipe, like honey collected on a honey dipper.
The opening of her workshop door alerted her to the arrival of the redhead. Waverly tightened her grip on the pipe, eyes watching the molten glass drip from the end of it as annoyance flashed through her. Apparently, the woman hadn’t gotten the hint from the dismissive way Waverly had turned on her heel and slammed the door of her workshop. Her somewhat passive aggressive attempt at sending the redhead away clearly hadn’t worked.
Hearing the door slam shut behind the redhead, Waverly couldn’t help but tense up. Besides Aunt Gus and Uncle Curtis, no one else was allowed in here. This was her workshop. As private as a writer’s notebook, as revealing as a painter’s self-portrait. This was where she was at her most authentic. Her most vulnerable. She didn’t take kindly to strangers waltzing in like they owned the place. Especially impeccably dressed, strikingly beautiful ones.
“Miss Earp, if I could just have a moment-” Nicole began, sweet exasperation filling her voice.
“Did you see the ‘No Trespassing’ sign on the gate, or were your windows just too tinted?” Waverly said, eyes fixed on the fire.
“This is private property. I’m sure you know what that means.”
“I…I do. But this is kind of important, so if I could just-” Nicole tried to say, only to be once again interrupted by Waverly.
“Look! If you’ve got the nerve to come onto my land and interrupt me while I’m working, the least you can do is pass me the punty from the table,” Waverly said, her voice hard.
Silence met her request as Waverly transferred the glass onto the marver next to the furnace, the heated material cooling as it hit the stainless steel. She bent her head and gently blew air into the pipe, causing the glass to bubble out. Moving it back to the furnace, she draped a few more layers of liquefied glass over the bubble.
Finally, Waverly heard metallic clanging, telling her that the woman had picked up one of her tools. Moments later, she heard the woman return.
The single word was uttered with such soft wonder that it gave Waverly pause. Half-turning to look over her shoulder, Waverly was momentarily floored by the sight of the woman up close. From this distance, despite the obstacle of her bulky goggles, she could see the dusting of freckles across the redhead’s nose, the small beauty mark under her left eye, the swirls of dark caramel nestled within her brown irises. Her mouth was turned up in a small, almost awestruck, smile, a dimple popping up in one corner.
Swallowing thickly, Waverly’s eyes dropped to the tool that the redhead held in her outstretched hand. With a snort, she turned back to the furnace.
“That’s a jack, genius. Try the rod-shaped tool on the other side of the table, the one with a spike on the end of it.”
With that Waverly turned the blowpipe a few times, making sure her glass hadn’t overheated during her momentary distraction. Seeing nothing but perfection within its fiery depths, her mouth quirked up in a grin and she removed the glass from the furnace. She transferred it over to the marver once more, settling down onto the stool in front of it.
Nicole watched Waverly work for a moment before returning to the table with the tools. Spying the one Waverly had described tucked near the edge, she grabbed it and spun around, holding it proudly in front of her.
“How’d I do this time?” Nicole asked, the tone of her voice almost playful.
But Nicole was woefully unprepared for Waverly to pivot on the stool, pushing the goggles high up on her forehead. Nicole felt all the breath leave her lungs, felt her eyes widen marginally at the sight of the literal goddess seated before her.
Waverly Earp was stunning.
Nicole swallowed thickly, her eyes tracing across delicately striking features and sun-kissed skin, finally rising to meet Waverly’s eyes. And just like that she was hooked, unable to tear her gaze away. Those eyes…they were captivating.
Those hazel pools were full of mysteries, swirling with secrets, brimming with life. They struck Nicole to her very core, pulling her in, tethering her to this moment. They were the roots of her willow tree. They were the lighthouse to her stormy sea. And Nicole couldn’t bring herself to do anything but breathe and gaze deeply into them.
But if Nicole had been able to look away, she might have seen that Waverly was just as affected as she was.
Waverly couldn’t help but be equally enchanted, unable not to notice the way the light of the fire danced across the redhead’s angular cheekbones, highlighted the red tint of her hair. This woman standing in her workshop was breathtakingly gorgeous and had Waverly fighting off a fierce blush.
How incredibly irritating and inconvenient, Waverly thought.
Shaking herself out of it, Waverly wrenched the punty away from the redhead. She turned back around to begin to transform the glass on the marver into what she had envisioned. Waverly retreated to what she knew, to what she was comfortable with. She returned to hand-blown glass, turning her back on the woman who seemed to call out to her heart.
Waverly worked in relative silence, the crackle of the fire the only occasional sound echoing off the walls of the workshop. Waverly got lost in the process, humming softly under her breath as the piece she had imagined came to life before her eyes. She had honestly completely forgotten the other woman was there, deluded into thinking she was alone with her art...until she felt a presence at her elbow.
“Wow…it’s beautiful,” Nicole whispered.
Waverly started at the interruption, almost dropping the punty and causing the blown glass sculpture to topple off the workbench.
“Jesus, wear a bell or something,” Waverly admonished, her tone causing Nicole to retreat a few paces.
Abandoning her tools and pulling off her goggles with a huff, Waverly pushed an escaped piece of hair behind her ear and turned to face the woman completely.
The redhead fixed her with a charming, dimpled grin, holding up her hands in mock surrender.
“My apologies, ma’am. I couldn’t bring myself to interrupt. You—you were mesmerizing to watch.”
“Don’t call me ma’am, makes me feel old,” Waverly shot back, irritation swirling within her. Giving Nicole a quick once over, she smirked. “Besides, I’m pretty sure I’m younger than you."
Seeing the redhead set her jaw, ready to respond, Waverly quickly added, “And I would go so far as to call what you just did there incredibly intrusive.”
Pursing her lips, Nicole’s eyes trailed across Waverly’s features for a moment before returning to her eyes.
“I—I think we got off on the wrong foot here…let me start over,” she began, holding a hand out, offering it to Waverly. “I’m Nicole, Nicole Haught. From Nedley Galleries.”
“You’re from a gallery?” Waverly scoffed incredulously, leaning back against the workbench, not taking the woman’s offered hand.
“A handful of galleries actually, I’m one of their senior directors."
Despite the small thrill of satisfaction, of pride, that Waverly felt…this whole thing was incredibly disconcerting. Feeling her defenses go up, she eyed this Nicole Haught warily.
“What brings a senior gallery director to my humble abode?”
Nicole slowly lowered her hand, her dimpled grin refusing to drop as she fixed Waverly with an unreadable look.
“I want you.”
Those three simple words, uttered with such conviction, had Waverly’s insides twisting, her heart hammering in her chest. Ignoring her body’s reaction to the cleverly worded turn-of-phrase, Waverly went for casual and shrugged her shoulders.
“Get in line.”
Nicole seemed taken aback, her eyes widening slightly, almost as if she hadn’t been expecting Waverly’s rebuff.
With a well-timed eye roll, Waverly leaned back onto her elbows on the workbench.
“You think you’re the first bigwig from the big city to show up here, trying to tell me what’s best for my artistic future?”
Nicole’s brow furrowed, confusion flashing across her face as her mouth turned down in a small frown.
Annoyed that she found Nicole’s frown enticingly adorable, Waverly let her irritation carry her to safer shores, away from the unknown waters of the woman in front of her.
“You’re dang right 'no'! And I don’t need any help from some hotshot gallery director, either!”
Mouth opening and closing, Nicole seemed to wrestle with her surprise at the outburst for a moment before her mask slid back in place. The calm air about her returned as she changed tactics, hands falling to her belt buckle.
“Miss Earp, my boss and I, we can pay you-”
Throwing her arms out and gesturing around her, Waverly smoothly replied, “And I don’t need the money! Got anything else to put on the table?”
Nicole clenched her jaw, eyes flashing with something as she quickly closed the remaining distance between them. She stopped when she towered over Waverly’s seated figure. Hands falling to the workbench on either side of Waverly, Nicole leaned down, bringing her face within inches of Waverly’s.
Waverly sucked in a breath, her eyes widening as she looked up at Nicole, trying her best to focus on the huskily whispered words coming out of Nicole’s parted lips.
“What if I told you that I could make your wildest dreams come true? Waverly, I can take your art and put it on display for the whole world to see. I can lift it up…put it where it belongs.”
Waverly tried to listen, she really did. But she couldn’t help but be insanely distracted by the redhead, by the way Nicole’s words filled the space between them, by the puffs of breath hitting her lips.
Throat bobbing as she swallowed, Waverly willed her eyes not to drop to Nicole’s lips.
“Wha—what makes you think I want that? Especially from you?”
“Oh darlin’," Nicole replied with a dimpled grin, "everybody wants that…especially from a woman like me.”
Waverly bristled at the borderline arrogance exuding from the woman towering above her, narrowing her eyes at the insinuation lacing Nicole’s words.
“Well—I’m—I’m not everybody! You—you can’t just win me over with a handful of compliments and some sultry bedroom eyes!”
Nicole laughed as she leaned back, hands falling away from the workbench. Rising to her full height, Nicole crossed her arms over her chest and shook her head side-to-side, vaguely condescending.
“Waverly Earp…I heard you were a feisty one, I just didn’t believe it. Clearly, I should have.”
Waverly rose from the stool, her hands falling to her hips. She got toe to toe with Nicole, head tilted up in a challenging manner.
“Clearly. Now, if this was all you came here for, then I think it’s time for you to leave.”
Nicole’s eyes flashed with amusement at the dismissal.
“Oh, I’m just getting started. You might be known for your sweet but spitfire nature…but I’m known for my stubbornness.”
With a huff, Waverly shook her head. “Sorry, Haught, but you’re wasting your time. I’m perfectly happy where I am.”
Uncrossing her arms, Nicole's expression momentarily softened as she slowly lifted a hand towards Waverly’s face. With a delicate swipe of her thumb, she wiped a bit of dirt off Waverly’s cheek, some that had been left behind by the goggles.
Waverly felt her breath catch in her throat at the intimacy lacing the gesture, at the emotions swirling in the eyes of the woman standing in front of her, at the soft seduction dripping from her next few words.
“That’s because you don’t know any different…let me show you…let me show you a world where your art will be revered. Where you will be treasured,” Nicole whispered, dropping her hand to her side, eyes never leaving Waverly’s.
Letting out a shaky breath, Waverly slightly shook her head, dropping her eyes to the floor. She was too overwhelmed…too distracted to really consider what Nicole was offering. She needed time to mull over her options…she needed to think clearly, which she wouldn’t be able to do when she stood mere inches from a woman like this.
“Come back on Monday. I’ll have an answer for you by then,” Waverly managed, slightly embarrassed by the stutter of her words.
Victory flashed across Nicole’s face, causing her dimpled grin to deepen.
“Perfect. I’ll be back at 9 o’clock sharp.”
With that, Nicole flashed her one more smile before spinning on her heel and swaggering confidently away. As Waverly watched the retreating form of Nicole Haught exit her workshop, she tried to make sense of the emotions swirling within her.
That last one, it had Waverly worried. This immediate and intense attraction to Nicole Haught…it could only serve to seriously complicate things.
And Waverly didn’t do complicated...
...or so she thought.
~~ End Chapter One~~