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Authors: Sandra Chastain

Scarlet Lady

BOOK: Scarlet Lady
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Scarlet Lady
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

A Loveswept eBook Edition

Copyright © 1997 by Sandra Chastain
Excerpt from
Flirting with Disaster
by Ruthie Knox copyright © 2013 by Ruth Homrighaus.
Excerpt from
Taking Shots
by Toni Aleo copyright © 2013 by Toni Aleo.
Excerpt from
Long Simmering Spring
by Elisabeth Barrett copyright © 2013 by Elisabeth Barrett.

All Rights Reserved.

Published in the United States by Loveswept, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

L
OVESWEPT
is a registered trademark of Random House, Inc.

Mac’s Angels: Scarlet Lady
was originally published in paperback by Loveswept, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. in 1997.

eISBN: 978-0-307-81731-0

www.ReadLoveSwept.com

v3.1

PROLOGUE

The New Mexico mountain hideaway known as Shangri-la to its creator and Angel Central to its grateful clients, had been peaceful for weeks. Lincoln McAllister knew it was too good to last. A need would arise and an angel would be asked to return the help given to him or her.

This time the call came from Sterling, secretary and administrative assistant to Mac’s old friend Conner Preston. Because of Mac, Conner had been reunited with the only woman he’d ever loved. Now they were on their honeymoon, leaving the ever-faithful Sterling in charge of Conner’s firm. But this call wasn’t business, it was a personal request for Mac’s help.

Sterling needed an angel.

“It’s Katherine Carithers,” Sterling explained. “Her brother, Carson, came to see me. He’s made some bad business decisions and Katie has come up with a plan to rescue him. Seems Carson’s tried to recoup his losses by
gambling. He lost. Then he put up his share of the family plantation as collateral for his gambling debts.”

“Plantation?” Mac said with a laugh. “As in the Old South? What is this, some kind of antebellum melodrama?”

“Almost. The Caritherses go back that far. Old Carson, one of the first planters along the Mississippi, gambled on cotton and indigo. He won big. He was smart, too, put his money in foreign banks before the War Between the States. The present Carson, his great-great-great-great-grandson, just gambled—not for himself, mind you, but in a foolish effort to save that business.”

“What’s your connection, Sterling?” Mac asked. With every telephone call he received, Mac became more intrigued by the mysterious Sterling, who ran her boss’s business empire but was never seen by the public. Though he and Sterling went back a long way, Mac had never known her to ask for a personal favor—until now.

“Katherine is the daughter of one of my mother’s oldest friends. She and her husband were killed in a plane crash two years ago. The family business has already gone under, but Katherine is determined to protect the plantation and her brother. Mother says she’s a certified genius when it comes to numbers.”

“Okay. She’s a genius with numbers.”

“Oh, Mac, I’m explaining this badly. According to Carson, Katie went to a casino tonight to gamble. She expects to win enough money to pay off her brother’s gambling debts and buy his marker back from the man who holds it and the plantation. I’d like to help her, but
she’s so proud she isn’t likely to accept help, and I … can’t leave here.”

“Sounds like foolishness runs in the family.”

“Carson says she’s a poker whiz. But she’s never played with professionals. Mac, she’s convinced she can win.”

“So was her brother.”

Sterling gave a low, throaty laugh. “Mac, the man she’s taking on is a real pro.”

“Oh? Who?”

“He calls himself Montana now, but I managed to find out that his full name is—can you believe this?—Rhett Butler Montana. He owns a Mississippi riverboat casino called the
Scarlet Lady
.”

Mac couldn’t hold back a chuckle of his own. He’d gotten Montana a job on that boat years ago when his family had disowned him. Now he owned the boat. And he’d dropped the famous name his starstruck mother had given him. Montana suited him very well.

“Ah, Sterling. Not a world-shaking dilemma, but interesting. Is Katherine beautiful, smart, and conniving?”

“I don’t know what she looks like, but she’s just as determined to keep her family together and save their land as the original Scarlett. And she thinks Montana is ready to take it. Carson is worried. I said I’d see what I could do. If you can help, I’ll owe you.”

“Of course,” Mac said. Finishing their conversation, he dropped the phone into its cradle and leaned back in his chair. “And I think we can keep the lady from knowing she’s being helped.”

Mac had been surprised at the emotion in the normally
unruffled Sterling’s voice. Gamblers who got themselves in trouble weren’t Mac’s idea of people with earth-shattering problems, but he couldn’t ignore her request to bail the girl out, and it
was
time he checked on the man calling himself Montana.

Though if Katherine had already left for the riverboat casino, Mac was too late to stop her. Maybe losing would teach her the lesson her brother hadn’t learned. Of course, she could win. Katie, Rhett Butler, and the
Scarlet Lady
.

Intriguing.

If the players were anything like their namesakes, the South could rise again. It was time he called in his marker from Montana. He tried the gambler’s office. Montana was on the river. Mac left a message and sat back to wait.

While he waited he thought about the mysterious Sterling who was never more than a voice on the telephone.

ONE

A hush fell over the rowdy Saturday-night crowd of gamblers on the third deck of the Mississippi riverboat known as the
Scarlet Lady
.

The dark-eyed man, Rhett Butler Montana—Montana to his customers—glanced up, searching for the reason. The third deck was reserved for the serious gamblers, but this kind of silence meant trouble. It took one look at the woman standing in the doorway to know he’d found the reason.

Her hair was shiny black, pinned up with a swatch of red glitter and feathers. Her dress, held up by thin straps that challenged the law of gravity, had a short skirt barely covering long legs that ought to be illegal.

She simply stood, studying the scene before her with mesmerized concentration—until she spotted Montana. Then, deliberately, it seemed, she parted and moistened her lips.

“Whoa, boss,” Royal Lennox whispered from his
customary position behind the cashier’s booth. “Who’s the lady?”

But Montana didn’t answer. The connection between them was so potent he had no words. She didn’t move, and neither did he. Her gaze wasn’t just a question; it was a come-and-get-me dare. She was defying him to respond.

Lazily, he reached into his pocket and pulled out his signature cheroot, biting off the end and clamping it between his teeth. Then he dipped his head slightly in acknowledgment of her challenge.

Two could play whatever game she had in mind. In fact, he was counting on it.

The gamblers soon lost interest and the noise level rose once more. For another long heavy moment she continued staring, then gave a quick nod and started toward him in long graceful steps more like the slinky moves of a jungle cat than those of a woman wearing four-inch heels.

“Look out, boss, she’s giving you the evil eye. A woman like that’ll take your soul before you even know it’s gone.”

But Royal was wrong. Three steps before the woman reached Montana, she tilted her head, put a hint of a pout in her bottom lip, and gave him a nod that said they’d come out even, then moved past him and came to a stop at the change window in front of Royal.

“Yes, ma’am, Ms.?”

“Katie, just Katie,” she said in a low voice. She could feel the man with the dark eyes watching.

The man inside the iron cage seemed spellbound.

“Chips”—Katie’s voice was as smooth as silk, more Ivy League than Southern belle, until she added—“please?” She dipped into the purse swinging from a thin gold chain over her shoulder and pulled out two folded hundred-dollar bills that she handed to the banker.

Royal made a gallant attempt to speak, failed miserably, managing only a gulp as he slid a small stack of chips across the counter.

She turned, caught sight of Montana, then moved rapidly away. Moments later she was perched on a stool across from Montana’s best blackjack dealer.

As the smoke from his cheroot drifted into the darkness overhead, the riverboat owner groaned. Two hundred dollars’ worth of chips wouldn’t last her long. Not long enough for him to find out more about her, coax her into having a drink with him, and whatever might follow. Reaching a decision, he directed Royal to take the dealer’s place.

“Make sure she wins often enough to stick around,” he told his astonished employee.

“You want me to cheat, boss?” Royal’s voice came back in shocked dismay. “Really?”

Montana nodded. “If you have to.”

Having Royal cheat to lose wasn’t going to happen. He was a bad enough gambler to do it honestly.

As Royal relieved the dealer the puzzled man found Montana and lifted his eyebrows in question before turning over the cards.

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