The Cowboy's Winter Bride - Unknown

By: Diana Palmer

Chapter One

I t was a hectic evening at the Bow Tie casino onParadiseIsland . MarcusCarrera was standing on the balcony smoking a cigar. He had a lot on his mind. A few years ago, he’d been a shady businessman with some unsavory contacts and a reputation that could send even tough guys running. He was still tough, of course. But his reputation as a gangster was something he’d hoped to leave behind him.

He owned hotels and casinos both in the States and in theBahamas , although he was a silent partner in most of them. The Bow Tie was a combination hotel and casino, and his favorite of all his holdings. Here, he catered to an exclusive clientele, which included movie stars, rock stars, millionaires and even a couple of scalawags. He was a millionaire several times over. But even though his operations had all become legitimate, he had to hold on to his vicious reputation for just a while longer. The worst of it was that he couldn’t tell anyone.

Well, that wasn’t entirely true. He could tell Smith. The bodyguard was a really tough customer, an ex-everything military, who kept a six-foot iguana named Tiny for a pet.

The two of them were becoming a landmark onParadiseIsland . Marcus sometimes thought his guests were showing up as much to see the mysterious Mr. Smith as to gamble and lounge on the sugar-sand beach behind the hotel.

He stretched hugely. He was tired. His life, never calm even at the best of times, was

more stressful lately than it had ever been. He felt like a split personality. But when he remembered the reason for the stress, he couldn’t regret his decision. His only brother was lying in a lonely, ornate grave back in Chicago, the victim of a merciless drug lord who was using a dummy corporation in theBahamas to launder his illegal fortune. Carlo was only twenty-eight. He had a wife and two little kids. Marcus was providing for them, but that didn’t bring back their husband and father. It was a damned shame to die over money, he thought furiously. Worst of all, the money-laundering banker who had set Carlo up for the hit was still running around loose and trying to help a renegade Miami gangster buy up casinos on Paradise Island. They wouldn’t be run cleanly, as Marcus’s were.

He took a draw from the cigar. It was aHavana cigar, one of the very best available.

Smith had friends in the CIA who traveled toCuba on assignment. They could buy the cigars legally and give them as gifts to whomever they pleased. Smith passed them on to his boss. Smith didn’t smoke ordrink, and he rarely swore. Marcus shook his head, chuckling to himself. What a conundrum the man was. Sort of like himself, he had to admit.

He lifted his leonine head to the breeze that blew eternally off the ocean. It ruffled his thick, wavy black hair. There were threads of silver in it now. He was in his late thirties, and he looked it. But he was an elegant man, despite his enormous height and build. He was well over six feet tall, as graceful as a panther, and just as quick when he needed to be. He had huge hands, devoid of jewelry except for a Rolex on his left wrist and a ruby ring on his left pinky finger. His skin was olive tan. It was set off stunningly by the spotless crisp white shirt he wore with his black dinner jacket and bow tie. The crease in his black slacks was knife-straight. His wing-tipped black leather shoes were so shiny that they reflected the palm trees on the balcony where he was standing, and the pale moon overhead. His fingernails were flat, immaculately clean. He was close-shaven and polished, never with a hair out of place. He was obsessive about grooming.

Perhaps, he thought, it was because he was so damned poor as a child. One of two sons of immigrant parents, he and Carlo had gone to work at an early age helping their father in the small automotive repair shop he owned with two other partners. The work ethic had been drilled into them, so that they knew that work was the only way out of poverty.

Their father had run afoul of a small-time local hood. He was beaten almost to death in his garage after he’d refused to let the hood use it for a chop shop, to process parts from stolen cars.

Marcus had been twelve at the time, not even old enough to hold a legitimate job. His mother worked as a cleaning lady for a local business in their neighborhood. Carlo was still in grammar school, four years behind Marcus. With their father unable to work, only what their mother brought home kept food on the table. But soon they couldn’t pay rent anymore. They ended up in the street. Both of the elderCarrera’s partners claimed that they had no obligation to him, since their agreement was only verbal. There was no money to hire attorneys.

It had been a bleak existence. Forced to ask for welfare, Marcus had seen his mother humbled and broken, while his father lay mindless in a bed from the massive concussion, unable to recognize his family, even to speak. A blood clot finished him a few months after the beating, leaving Marcus and Carlo and their mother alone.