“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.”
“I’m not jumping,” Emma declared.
Finn couldn’t help but laugh. “I can’t believe you’re scared.”
Not one cloud danced in the bright blue sky, and the golden sun reflected the magnificent jade colored water below.
“I’m not scared.” She placed her hands on her hips. “I just don’t want to get my hair wet,” she stuttered through the lie.
Finn’s eyes danced over her five foot six toned, tanned body. Perfect from head to toe. Her shoulder-length blonde hair bobbed at her shoulders with every move she made.
“Face it, you’re terrified.” Finn continued mocking her.
From way below in the water came a voice. “Come on Em. Jump.”
It was Finn’s sister Samantha, beckoning from the swirling pool.
“I’m going to kill her for this,” Emma seethed. “Just wait till I get my hands on her.” She stomped closer to the edge.
Finn followed. “You know you want to.” He smirked at her angry glare.
She turned and stared at him. “All right,” she responded. “I’ll go if you go.”
He lost his smile. “I don’t have my trunks on.”
“You don’t need trunks. Just wear your briefs,” she said with a conniving smile.
“I’ve done this a hundred times. I live here, remember?”
“Maybe you’re the one who’s scared,” she countered.
“Don’t be ridiculous. I’m not scared,” Finn ground out.
“Prove it. Drop ’em and jump.”
“You really are a vixen, you know that?” He unbuttoned his jeans, kicked off his shoes and approached the edge. “I’m too old for this.”
“You’re not too old. I’ll follow if you go first.”
“I can’t believe I’m doing this.” Finn stood looking over the edge down at the mighty Yukon River. “You better keep your end of this bargain, Emma Taggart.”
“I will.” She nodded while Finn watched her eyes travel over his body.
Finn turned and jumped from the ledge. His body hit the water and plummeted into the cool depths of the river, never hitting bottom. Slowly, he began the ascent toward the surface, happy for air he gulped into his lungs.
His sister Sam squealed with excitement while she treaded water. “I can’t believe you jumped.” She smiled at him.
“She goaded me into it.” He pointed up at Emma.
He spied her up above chewing on her finger. “Come on scaredy cat,” he shouted, knowing she’d be angry.
From over on the shore just a bit downstream stood another man watching them. “How’d he get out of this?” Finn glared at Sam.
“If Hunter jumped off the ledge Savage would follow.” She shook her head.
“Yes, really. He’s a tough wolf, but he’s still recovering from his injuries.”
“Thank heavens for Savage.” Finn smiled at her.
On the ledge Finn watched Emma turn and walk away. “I’m going to kill her if she doesn’t get that body of hers in this water.”
“I don’t know if she will.” Sam shook her head.
To their surprise Emma returned to the ledge holding something in her hands.
“What? She wouldn’t.” Finn stared up at her in disbelief as she dropped what was in her hands over the edge, then plugged her nose and jumped.
“That little…” Finn watched his pants and shirt fall to the water. “Damn her!”
Emma screamed the whole way down until her body plunged under the surface.
Samantha laughed while Finn managed to rescue his pants and shirt before they sank.
Emma broke the surface sputtering and coughing. “Ouch!” she yelled. “You didn’t tell me to hold my arms in,” she ground out. “It feels like a belly flop but worse.”
Finn swam toward her with his wet clothes in hand. “If you think that hurts wait until I get my hands on you. Your butt will have my finger imprints all over it,” he shouted back.
“Oh shit!” Emma glanced at Sam. “See you by the fire.”
Finn watched her gracefully break into a front crawl and pull away from them. “Get back here you little brat.”
“Fun times.” Sam laughed, making her way toward the shore.
Samantha glared at him. He was no gentleman. Pulling her suitcase behind, she watched as he approached what must be his vehicle. That thing was no truck! It looked like a bulldozer. She scrutinized him from the back. He must be at least six foot maybe four inches she thought. He was very tall and getting in the thing with four wheels wouldn’t be a problem for him. However, how the hell would she climb up. Sure enough he leapt in and closed the door. When she got to the side of the monstrous vehicle, she had to reach way up just to open the back door. How the hell was she going to get her suitcase up there? Hell would freeze over before she gave him the satisfaction. A regiment of weights, running and swimming made her tough and strong. She slammed the handle down on the suitcase and grabbed it by the side, attempting to lift it in. With all her might she managed to get it off the ground, but to get it over her head into the backseat would be almost impossible. Hoisting it up and using her legs to help she got it up to the running board of the truck. In her state of determination she didn’t even hear him exit, where he now stood behind her. He put his arms around her and grabbed the suitcase, lifting it effortlessly into the backseat.
“Oh,” was the little squeak that came out of her mouth.
“You’re welcome to sit in the back on the other side if you like,” he said. “The front is reserved.”
At that moment a very large black head with yellow eyes looked between the front bucket seats at her and made a tiny growl.
Alarmed Sam stepped back and tripped over herself. Before she could fall in an unceremoniously heap onto the ground, Hunter reached out and caught her around the waist. She almost let out a sigh of relief.
He continued to hold her, and she realized how awfully small she was in his arms. She stared up into his face and they locked eyes. Damn him for being so ruggedly handsome. Not the type of man she’d find in her polished Chicago lifestyle. Sam took a deep breath of air and realized she was now staring at his lips and wondering what it would be like to have them pressed up against hers. Time seemed to halt, but before she knew what had happened he had her standing fully upright.
Wow. Did she really just act like that? Embarrassed, she pulled herself together and out of the trance. Make a note to yourself Sam. When you get home go out for a date and hopefully get lucky! I can’t believe you were just thinking that.
In the pickup truck, she peered around the door to the massive animal in the front seat who glared back with yellow eyes.
“That does not look like a dog.” The concern in her voice was clear.
“He’s not, but then that would be illegal so for all intents and purposes he’s just a very large dog that looks like a wolf.”
The statement left her speechless. How did a normal person respond to that?
“If you’d really like to sit in the front seat your welcome too.” Hunter closed the door.
Sam put her hands up. “Heavens no! I don’t need that beast looking at me like I’m dinner.”
He chuckled. “Did you mean my wolf or me?” He winked at her.
All right—things didn’t catch her off guard, she expected unusual outcomes and lived by that. In the past five minutes this man had caught her off guard a few times.
“No. Thank you. I’ll take my chances in the backseat, unless there is something else I don’t know about?” She asked the question with a weary glance at him.
“You should be okay for today at least. Since I’m out here would you like a hand getting into the backseat?”
“No, I’ll be fine.” Sam walked around to the other side of the truck and opened the back passenger door. The rain made everything slick and the way her luck was going she’d slip and end up on her ass. With one hand on the inside of the door and the other on the seat she managed to lift her foot up onto the running board and thrust herself up with the standing leg. For Pete’s sake it was like a workout getting into the beast of a machine.
“Good to see you managed on your own.” He looked over his shoulder at her.
The wolf also looked at her. Sam pushed herself as far back into the seat as she could and tried to shake the rain off her head.
“Welcome to Dawson City, Ms. Avery.” He looked at her from the rearview mirror.