energy producing a blood-thrilling hum all their own. The level of noise roseand fell with a distinct rhythm, the sound flowing from one end of the salonto the other as if in keeping with the gentle flow of the river currents beneathher keel.Montana's extraordinary blue eyes took in the length and breadth of theentire salon in a long, careful sweep as she savored the heady atmosphereshe had come to associate with wealth, power, and pleasure. Only the veryrich—or the very foolhardy—could afford what the Mississippi Queenoffered. She was an elegant gambling casino, a queen among queens, afloating palace that catered to all tastes ranging from expensive wine toexquisitely beautiful women.Montana's gaze rose from the churning activity in the belly of the salon and prowled slowly around the banistered, curtained alcoves that shared thesame level as the fountainous crystal chandeliers. Cigar smoke blurred thecurtained entrances to the private booths, hanging in thin, diaphanous layersthat shifted and swirled in tiny whirlpools as men and women moved from booth to booth in a shimmering kaleidoscope of color. Hostesses, clad inscarlet satin and glittering, feathered headdresses, disappeared behind the plush tapestries carrying full bottles of whiskey and bourbon, emergingseconds later with their trays burdened with empty bottles and dishes brimming with cigar butts. To the novice, what went on behind thosetapestries made for curious speculation. To the knowledgeable few, the private booths were where real money was won or lost.Montana felt a subtle increase in the pulsebeat throbbing through her veins.She had dressed carefully this night, meticulously brushing the dark emeraldvelvet of her gown until it gleamed with lushness. Her hair was gathered intoa mass of honey-gold curls that crowned the back of her head and trailed inshiny spirals over sloping white shoulders, drawing the eye downward to the breathtaking plunge of the scalloped bodice. Contrasting with the translucentwhiteness of her skin, the velvet seemed to cling by the merest of promisesto the rounded swell of her breasts. There, nestled snugly in the deep cleft,was her solitary adornment; a delicate, heart-shaped gold locket bearing anornately stylized M in fiery pinpoints of etched fire. The long, exoticallydraped tiers of her skirt hinted at equally long, exotic legs beneath. A frilled back panel of butter-yellow lace spilled from the narrow waist to trail almosta full pace behind her, causing anyone who wanted to gain entrance to thesalon to stop and circle a wide berth around her, like dark rushing watersaround a glittering gemstone.