“You can’t be serious.”
Jenny watched as her friend’s eyes went wide and she swallowed hard.
“It’s a Dawson City tradition. I’m very serious.”
“Why didn’t Sam do this?” Emma Taggart adjusted the Bride to Be banner over her chest and glared at the two women.
“Come on Em, you know you’re the tough one. I’m more delicate.” The newly married Samantha Gray batted her eyelashes at her best friend.
“Jenny, I can’t believe you let her put you up to this,” Emma growled.
“I will always do my best to accommodate my friends’ wishes, besides we didn’t really have enough time to arrange all this for Sam’s bachelorette party.” Jenny pushed the shot glass toward her friend. “Bottoms up toughie.”
Everyone in the saloon, which happened to be appropriately named The Sourtoe, stared in Emma’s direction and began cheering.
“You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow, but your lips have gotta touch the toe,” they chanted in unison.
“No!” Emma shook her head.
“Yes.” Sam smiled like a Cheshire Cat. Jenny nodded slowly.
“You are both evil, wicked creatures.” Emma picked up the shot glass of Yukon Jack and stared with disgust at the mummified human toe resting on the bottom. “I will get you both back, you just wait.” She closed her eyes, listening to the other patrons cheer her on as she put glass to lips, opened her mouth and drank down the liquid. It worked. The disgusting body part hit her partly opened lips. Don’t think about it. Just drink! She quickly set the glass on the bar counter and wiped her mouth.
“I can confirm I saw the toe touch her lips,” Jenny announced loudly. The bar went crazy with applause.
“That’s horrible. How can that possibly be a real toe?” Emma grimaced, and taking a big drink of her wine, shoved the glass back toward the bartender. He nodded in affirmation. “It’s a toe and now back it will go.” Using tongs, the grilling kind, he removed the toe and plunked it back in the larger bottle of whiskey, put the lid on and replaced it on the shelf.
“It’s a legend here in Dawson City. As the story goes, back in the 1920s a man named Louie Linken and his brother Otto left Dawson City in a blizzard with their dogsled team. Apparently, Louie stepped off the sled and into some water—Well, he eventually had to put himself into a drunken state with rum and chopped his frozen toe off with his axe. Afterward, he placed it in a jar of alcohol to preserve it,” Jenny explained the story as she understood it. “It was discovered years later.”
Emma shook her head, fighting against the revolt rising in her stomach. “I’ll say it again. You two are vile beasts.”
Sam handed her another glass of wine. “Oh come on, you know it was fitting for you.”
“What do you mean by that?” Emma said in astonishment.
“I’ll say it again. You are the tough one here,” Sam purred, taking a sip of her own drink.
“They are right.” A woman joined them and set another shot of whiskey down in front of her without the toe.
“Shayla Talbot,” Emma said in surprise.
The woman nodded. “I hope you don’t mind me being here.” Her eyes met Samantha and then back to Emma. “Jenny invited me. She said you wouldn’t mind.” She hung her head shyly.
Emma reached out and touched her arm. “Of course I don’t mind. How are you doing?”
Shayla shrugged her shoulders. “I’m better every day. Oh, and it’s not Talbot anymore. My maiden name is Harris. Shayla Harris.”
“I guess I should apologize for deceiving you like I did?” Emma declared outright.
Shaking her head violently, Shayla said, “No. No you shouldn’t. You were doing what you had to do in order to find the ones you loved. I should have been brave enough to stand up to Tucker. I should have confronted him.
“I don’t deserve your forgiveness, I realize that. I let my fears get in the way and…that monster…my ex husband, he could have killed the ones you love. I didn’t realize how serious it was. Over and over in my head I tried to gather enough courage to leave, but each time I tried he beat it out of me. I have to work every day on trying to forgive myself and to build a resemblance of somebody who can have courage. Somebody like you…” Tears gathered in her blue eyes as she watched Emma.
Jenny’s emotions were running high, she was certain each of them felt the same way.
Emma stood and pulled the woman into her arms. “Hey, it’s all right. It’s over now, and that miserable excuse for a man is exactly where he should be.”
“I’d like to be strong like you.” Shayla wiped her unshed tears.
“I think Emma can help you with some of that,” Jenny jumped in. “Or the physical part of that.”
Emma stood and winked at Jenny while she adjusted the makeshift crown on her head. “I’m teaching some self defense classes. Maybe you’d like to participate?” Emma asked.
Shayla’s eyes went wide, and Jenny could see the look of fear and insecurity. “Oh, I don’t think I could—I’m not good enough.”
“Hey now…let’s not have any of that talk anymore. You are good enough, and if you don’t want to join a class I’d be happy to show you some techniques one on one.”
Her face lit up. “You’d do that for me?”
“In a heartbeat. My schedule is a little less hectic here in Dawson City, and I can’t have myself getting out of shape for the sexy man of mine.” Emma picked up her shot glass and made a toast. “To Shayla and her journey to become tougher than that shithead Tucker Talbot.”
They all laughed and tossed back a drink. Jenny was happy Shayla had made the decision to come to the bachelorette party. She deserved so much better than the man she’d married. The man who’d belittled, degraded and mentally and physically abused her for years. The determined strong path the woman made for herself would get easier each day, or Jenny hoped it would.
Immediately Jenny’s thoughts went to Tristan, the man who’d managed to take her heart with him when he left six months earlier. He said he had to return to Italy to take care of business before he could come back to Dawson City. Finn Avery, Emma’s husband to be, had offered him a job. Not just any job but a good one. The Avery Gold Mine employed many new people to the town of Dawson City and of course there was talk between Emma, Finn, Samantha and her husband Hunter about what they’d discovered on the last adventure into the mountains. Finn had uncovered a diamond, the rock Emma now wore on her ring finger. The business they’d started up on the mountain remained unfinished, and Tristan knew that. Jenny twisted the drink glass in her hands lost in thought. Tristan hadn’t come back. Not yet anyway.
“Look at her.” Samantha’s voice broke Jenny’s thoughts of Tristan. Emma had proceeded to get up on the bar top and dance to an old 80s tune.
“She’s definitely anything but shy.” The bar patrons cheered the bride-to-be on. “She’s kind of a hero around her.” Jenny took a drink of her wine.
“I know,” Sam agreed and raising her hand changed the conversation from Emma to Jenny. “So, how are you doing?”
“Work is busy, and you know my family drives me crazy with their silly demands.”
Samantha twisted her wine glass by the stem. “Tristan will be back any day, I’m sure of it. He did accept Finn’s job proposal.”
Jenny’s heart skipped a beat, but she refused to show the anticipation building in her stomach. “Good for him,” she responded coldly.
“Aren’t you a bit excited?”
“Not at all.” Jenny shrugged her shoulders, playing it cool.
“I don’t believe that. Tristan has always had the hots for you. He was crazy about you.”
“Somebody who’s crazy about someone doesn’t just up and leave and not give a call or send a letter in six months.”
“You knew he had to leave.” Samantha took a drink.
“Yes, I knew he had to leave, but he said he’d be gone for three weeks. Not six months. You know what, it’s not a big deal. He has a life, I get that. I have one too. I’m busy…too busy for a man like Tristan. Besides, you know my stepfather would never approve, and I had a terrible time dealing with Chet when Tristan was here the last time.”
Shaking her head Sam set her glass back down on the counter. Why does Chet not get the picture? You’re not interested in him. He should just leave you alone.”
In Jenny’s world there were pecking orders. Her stepfather was an elder and people respected his wishes. He wanted Jenny to marry Chet, and that was all there was too it—in his eyes.
“Your stepdad won’t stop loving you if you don’t marry Chet. He’ll be upset but he’ll get over it. Chet isn’t the man for you.”
“And Tristan is?”
“Don’t knock it. I saw how he swooped you up in his arms when you fainted after our photo shoot. He was angry and protecting you like you were a precious doll.”
Jenny burst out laughing. “It was kind of funny.” She pulled her long black hair over her shoulder. “He said I could be Pocahontas, but that I was more beautiful than that.”
Samantha nodded her head. “Why do you think all the men flock around you? Especially now that your picture is on the cover Chicago Fashion, Flare and Style. It’s everywhere. You’re breathtaking.”
“I admit I do have a bunch more attention now that I’m in that magazine. My stepfather was not happy, and neither was Chet.”
“It is what it is. You have those incredible dark eyes, beautifully sculpted facial features and your skin makes me envious. Nobody has that silky cream colored complexion without faking it.”
“You’re making me blush.” Jenny chuckled.
“Just stating the truth babe. You are a knockout.” Sam stepped back, looking at her. “The whole five foot five package. Not to mention you’re a successful business woman.”
The bartender sent two shots down in front of them. Jenny opened her mouth to protest. “Hey, I just do what I’m asked.” The waitress pointed to the men sitting over by the far wall.
One of them lifted his glass to Jenny with a big smile.
“Oh God…kill me now Sam,” she groaned.
“Well these shooters might just do that. Bottoms up friend.” Samantha lifted her glass.
“You’re right, this may just kill me.” The sharp distinctive smell of tequila wafted up her nose as she held her breath and emptied the shot. “Tell me those guys aren’t coming this way.”
Sam looked over her shoulder. “Yup, I believe they are.” She rubbed her hands together and snickered. “I haven’t had this much excitement since I was in Chicago.”
“This is not funny. I don’t know what to say to them.”
“I’m sure you’ll figure something out. Besides, he’s kind of cute. Maybe you could take him home.”
Jenny’s eyes went as wide as saucers in shock. “I’ll pretend you didn’t say that!”
“Oh, but I did. You need to have some fun too.” Sam poked her.
“I don’t need that kind of fun Samantha Gray.”
“Everyone needs that kind of fun.”
“Come on, you have to help me out of this. They are almost here.” Jenny looked uneasy.
“All right. If you can’t beat ’em, we can join them.” She pointed to Emma who still danced on the bar top.
“My choices are to either dance on the bar or talk to those men heading our way?” Jenny said incredulously.
“Your choice.” Sam gave her the alternative.
“Shit. Let’s go, shall we.” Jenny swallowed down the last of her drink, and grabbing Samantha’s arm, climbed up on the bar.
“I thought you’d see it that way.”