In the golden age of the Mississippi, men and women from all walks of life climbed aboard the mighty riverboats and forged a nation's destiny. Dexter McKay, the gambler, had a heavenly way with a deck of cards, and a devilish bag of tricks when his luck ran out. Clifton Stewart, land owner, was heir to a cotton and sugar empire. But his hard head for business was betrayed by his soft heart for a pretty woman. Mystie Waters, the chambermaid, caught the eyes of every man on board.
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Having impulsively thrown away his chance for forbidden love with Mystie Waters, Clifton Stewart knew he had made a mistake. Forsaking his family fortune, he signed on as a crewman with the Tempest Queen to search for the mysterious chambermaid. His search was interrupted by an assault that left him with amnesia and Captain Hamilton's beloved boat vulnerable to a gang of hard bitten river pirates.
Campaigning for the presidency of the United States, Senator Stephen Douglas is the target of assassins who hope to benefit from a war between the states. His trip on the Tempest Queen offers a golden opportunity for the charming but deadly Genevieve St. James, the assassin. Meanwhile, Clifton Stewart is still searching for his lost love, Mystie Waters. He finds the ruins of the riverboat she last served on and can only conclude that she was one of many casualties of a tragic explosion.