“I shouldn’t have to do this. Why is it me?”
“You’re the oldest,” Ward snarled. “If we’re going to be driven to something like this, the least we can do is offer up the oldest.”
“Fabulous,” Willa spat, stealing her father’s glass of whiskey and downing it. “I hope you don’t expect me to be happy about it.”
Waverly, hidden behind the doorway to the kitchen, watched as Ward grabbed the glass back from Willa. “You don’t need to be happy,” he growled. “You just need to behave.”
The knock on the door was sharp and precise, and Ward immediately ordered his daughters into their places. Willa standing as politely as possible against the sitting room wall. Wynonna seated in a chair pretending to look amicable. Waverly hidden out of sight in the kitchen.
Ward opened the door and greeted the soldier in the doorway. “Colonel Haught,” he said, his voice pleasant enough to sell snake oil. “Please. Come in.”
Waverly found the right position to stay out of the way while still able to see the soldier as she stepped into the house.
She was pretty. Red hair cut to her chin, a small scar on her cheek, brown eyes that Waverly could tell even at a distance were smart. Her uniform fit her perfectly; all black with golden accents. Boots, pants, belt, and sword, and a jacket pulled together with horizontal strips that ran up her torso and had buttons on both ends. Waverly found her eyes drawn to the epaulettes on each shoulder and the golden circular pins on both sides of the high collar that indicated her division.
The Black Division.
The most respected and hardworking unit in the entire country.
Waverly’s breath caught in her throat as she realized what this woman was.
Worth far more than their entire house and everything in it.
The colonel stepped further inside, and Ward led her into the sitting room.
“This is Willa, my eldest,” Ward said, gesturing. “Willa, this is Colonel Haught.”
“Hello,” Willa greeted, not sounding very enthused.
Haught tilted her head to the side, studying her, and Waverly realized that she could see the animosity in Willa’s eyes.
It wasn’t a secret. And Waverly had already figured out that this soldier was no fool.
The colonel opened her mouth to speak, and Waverly somehow knew just from the twitch of dislike on her face that she was going to decline the offer.
Ward, sensing the same disinterest, cut her off by shouting for Waverly to serve everyone water.
Waverly hurried into the room and immediately felt Haught’s eyes snap to her as sharply as Ward’s belt fell on his daughters’ backs.
Before Waverly could scurry back out, the colonel’s voice said, “What of that one?”
Ward cleared his throat and snapped his fingers to keep Waverly in the room. “Th-This is just my youngest. You don’t want this one. Mousy little thing. Never does anything right.”
Waverly flinched, and she saw Wynonna’s hands tighten their grip on the arms of her chair. She also saw Haught’s expression shift. Get colder. Harsher.
The soldier beckoned Waverly closer, and Waverly set the water pitcher down on the table and did as she was told. She stood still, her entire body stiff, as Haught began circling her like a predator studying its prey. Haught reached out, skimming her finger across Waverly’s back from one shoulder to the next, and Waverly barely resisted the urge to start trembling.
She could see Wynonna in the corner, her knuckles now white, the look on her face one of rage and fear.
When Haught stopped in front of Waverly, however, Waverly could see a softness in her eyes that almost allowed her to relax. At the very least, it allowed her to stop worrying that she was going to be sick.
Haught’s gaze hardened again and shifted to Ward. “Her.”
“If we’re married quickly, I’ll double your gold.”
Ward was on his feet in moments, practically shoving Waverly aside in order to shake the soldier’s hand.
“You can take her whenever you want her, Colonel.”
Waverly was shuffled out of her childhood home so fast that she barely had time to grab her few belongings and hug Wynonna goodbye.
Her father got his gold from Colonel Haught and immediately headed from the courthouse to the nearest tavern, leaving Waverly with a stranger who was now her wife.
When Waverly stepped into Haught’s home, double the size of the one she had grown up in, she nearly dropped her small bag in amazement.
It was a simple place, certainly. One clearly maintained to a limited degree by an unwed soldier who was rarely home.
But to Waverly Earp, who had spent her life sleeping on pillows on the floor whenever Wynonna couldn’t manage to squeeze her into her cot, it was a castle.
“Your home is beautiful, Colonel,” she whispered.
“You can call me Nicole, you know,” the soldier said, shutting the door behind them. “I don’t have anywhere specific for your belongings, so feel free to find space anywhere you’d like for them.”
“O-Oh, I… uh… they can just stay in their bag.”
Nicole gave her an odd look.
“For now,” Waverly added quickly.
“As you like.” Nicole glanced out the window at the setting sun. “I apologize for cutting this short, but I do have to go to work in the morning.”
Waverly’s stomach dropped to her feet. This was what she had only had time to dread for a few minutes in the whirlwind of being sold off for marriage.
She was going to be expected to sleep with someone she didn’t even know.
As she swallowed and tried to stop herself from shaking, Nicole headed past her towards the bedroom and came back with a pillow and a blanket. “You can have the bed,” she said. “It’s only fair. You’ve had a bit of a day.”
Waverly stared at her, her dread rapidly replaced with confusion. “What?”
Nicole blinked and set her pillow down on the couch. She pointed behind her at the bedroom. “The… bed? Go sleep in it? It’s night time. You must be exhausted. I know I am.” She waved a hand at the setup she was making on the couch. “I’m going to sleep here.”
Waverly was utterly confused, but she couldn’t figure out how to question it. She didn’t want to, either.
With a tremble still wracking its way through her body, Waverly headed into the bedroom, leaving her new wife to sleep on the couch.