The Dumont Brand

The Dumont Brand

The Civil War burned Texas…and fanned the flames of love.

On the eve of the Civil War, family secrets threaten everything a ranching dynasty has built…until one son finds salvation in the wrong woman’s love. In the aftermath of battle, a woman destroyed by betrayal brings peace to his brother’s wounded soul.

The Big Uneasy
To escape the unthinkable with a man about whom she knows too much, New Orleans belle Josephine LaPierre agrees to marry a Texan about whom she knows nothing. Falling in love with his brother was not part of her plan.

Making Peace
After four long years in hell, Confederate cavalry officer Bennett Collier just wants to go home—assuming home still exists. Widowed Jayhawker Maggie Fannin will hold onto her home at any cost…even if she must face down the imposing Rebel soldier who accuses her of squatting.

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Excerpt from The Big Uneasy

June 1860, the Texas Crescent

Josephine LaPierre nearly tumbled from the seat when the buggy’s wheel struck yet another hole in the muddy road. She gripped the padded armrest with one hand and steadied the tiny dog in her lap with the other. Vibration beneath her gloved fingers warned of an impending explosion of temper.

“Hush, Napoleon.” She scratched behind his bat-like ears until he quieted. “All is well, mon petit.”

Napoleon sneezed. After turning three circles in her lap, he nestled into Jo’s skirt. She bestowed a fond smile upon her fearsome bodyguard, running a hand across the top of his head and down his smooth back. Her tiny knight in soft, fawn-colored armor.

The man beside her took the horse in hand with a flick of his wrist, passing an amused glance over Jo and the dog. “Feisty little critter, ain’t he?”

The suppressed laughter in startling blue eyes sent a flicker of heat dancing across Jo’s cheekbones. She looked away. “He can be. I warn you, his bark is not worse than his bite.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Chuckling, the driver scratched the top of the little dog’s head.

Jo tensed, prepared to intervene, but Napoleon stretched toward his admirer and licked the man’s glove.

The driver withdrew his hand to run a finger between his stand-up collar and his neck. Then he swatted at his dark broadcloth trousers and frockcoat as if they inconvenienced him, as well. “I imagine this trip’s been a mite rough on you and that little fella.”

Not in the least disposed to admit her posterior might never be the same, Jo pulled on the most gracious smile she could find. “Monsieur—”

“Amon.” Though gentle, the correction was much firmer than she was accustomed to hearing from servants. “No monsieur about it. Just Amon.” The French word rolled from his lips with practiced ease. How odd.

“Amon. How much farther must we travel?”

“Won’t be long now. House is just up the road a piece.”

Her gaze followed his nod. How could anyone judge distance in such a place? Texas was nothing at all like New Orleans. Although the land here lay as flat as at home, Texas remained wild and unpopulated. Even on the docks where she disembarked hours ago, no laughing patois chatter brightened her ears, nor did young women of color in vivid tignons compete for attention with azaleas and bougainvillea. No aroma of magnolia and honeysuckle, of strong coffee and fresh beignets, greeted her arrival.

The afternoon sun, brighter here somehow, chased the last of the morning’s rain from the landscape. The scent of wet earth rose with the steam, intertwining with damp wood and a vague fishiness from the nearby bayou. Strange cattle with wicked, curling horns as long as their bodies dotted miles and miles of green, overgrown in patches with thorny brush and vines. Here and there, brief flashes of yellow peeked from tall, waving grass.

What did Texans eat and drink and admire in this odd, monochromatic country? What did they do for entertainment? With no other humans around to practice the art of conversation, did they forget how to speak?

Jo flicked open the blades of sandalwood dangling from her wrist and fanned herself and Napoleon in an unsuccessful attempt to dissipate the suffocating heat. “Have you worked for Monsieur Collier long?”

Rubbing knuckles along the line of a strong jaw, Amon stared over the bay horse’s ears. “All my life.”

His voice, quiet yet strong, soothed some of her unease. The man spoke at least a little French. Perhaps a modicum of civilization existed in the wilderness. “Tell me about him, s’il vous plaît.”

“Not much to tell.” The gaze he swung from one horizon to the other caressed each tree, each blade of grass in its path. “Edson Collier owns everything we’ve driven through. All you can see, smell, taste, or touch. Every living thing on this property wears a Collier brand.”

 

Excerpt from Making Peace

July 1865, the Texas Crescent

Keeping to the shadows on the porch, Maggie Fannin peeled back the shotgun’s twin hammers and hauled the weapon to her shoulder. She didn’t need to aim. Simply pointing two barrels in the general direction of the Johnny Reb slumped astride a gaunt blood-bay would blast him clean out of the saddle if she pulled the triggers.

And she would do it, if he came any closer. “Hold up right there, mister. What business you got here?”

Head hanging, the horse let loose a long blow saturated with fatigue. Maggie couldn’t see much of the rider’s face with his stained slouch hat pulled low like it was, but the dust coating both him and the gelding said neither had seen rest—or a bath—in a long while.

“Expecting trouble?” The grate that trailed from beneath the hat’s brim bore equal measures of Southern grace and exhaustion.

She adjusted her grip on the gun. “It don’t hurt to be careful.”

The Reb must’ve been some kind of officer, judging by the shabby braid encircling his hat and crawling up the cuffs of his tattered shell jacket. A sheathed saber at his side rattled when he freed his boots from the stirrups with a halfhearted kick and slid from the McClellan saddle. He dropped the reins over the horse’s head, and then clutched a fistful of mane to steady himself.

Muscles aching under the shotgun’s weight, Maggie reoriented her aim. Except for the saber and a knife peeking from one knee-high boot, the stranger wore no weapons. Saddle holsters held a carbine and a pistol. He didn’t seem inclined to reach for either, but she mustn’t drop her guard. Too many dispossessed graybacks, poor as dirt and looking for trouble, had drifted through in the months since the Confederacy surrendered. A woman alone on a rundown homestead made easy prey.

The dilapidated cabin might crumble around her ears, but never again would someone chase her from her home. “I don’t remember invitin’ you to step foot on my property.”

Your property?” The Reb shoved away from the horse. A boot met the lowest porch step with a thud. Slinging a gauntleted grip around the handrail for support, he pulled off his hat and ran a faded sleeve across his brow. Ragged brown hair, graying at the temples, spilled across sallow skin and hung limp beside hollow cheeks glistening with sweat.

His gaze traveled the length of the shotgun’s barrels until the most startling blue eyes she’d ever seen fixed her with an unsteady stare. “You out here all by yourself?”

Maggie fought her trembling arms to keep the gun level. “That ain’t none of your business.”

The Reb cast a glance over the cabin and the surrounding brush. Tall grass, already seared brown at the tips by the summer sun’s relentless glare, waved in the slight breeze. The man swayed, as though the wind blew him, too. “You’re on Collier land. How long have you been here?”

“Long enough.”

“How long?” The growl behind the words set her pulse bounding even as the Reb’s face contorted, and a sharp hiss snaked between teeth set on edge. His battered hat tumbled to the ground when his hand rose to grip his temples between thumb and fingertips.

My God. He’s sick, and no tellin’ with what. The gunstock slipped, dropping the barrels an inch. “You need to leave, mister. Right now. Or I will shoot you.”

The shaggy head rose and a fever-bright gaze captured her with a plea wrapped in a challenge. “Then pull the triggers.”

Union-blue eyes—so wrong in a secesh’s face. Before she could escape their hold, the Reb mounted the remaining steps in a single stride and yanked the shotgun from her grasp. After lowering the hammers, he tossed the weapon over the porch railing. The movement unbalanced him. He staggered into an upright beam supporting the sagging roof. Three frayed stars clung to the stand-up collar of his jacket as he ran a hand inside and gripped the back of his neck.

Maggie inched backward across creaky boards, wiping damp palms on the waist of her dress. If she could get inside the house…

The Reb stalked her all the way to the wall. Throat closing around half-drawn breaths, she tipped back her head and sidled toward the door a mere two feet away. The Reb kept pace. His bloodshot eyes blinked too often.

The door handle jabbed her in the back. Easing a hand behind her, she clicked open the latch. When the Reb jammed the heel of his hand against his temple and scrunched his eyes shut on a groan, she darted inside.

A scuffed boot blocked her attempt to slam the door.

Maggie scrambled across the single room to the worktable beside the hearth. Her fingers closed around a boning knife and she whirled, brandishing the weapon.

Chest heaving beneath the sodden shirt showing through the open front of his coat, the Reb slumped against the doorframe. He peered at the knife from behind heavy eyelids. “If I meant to hurt you, I’d have done it by now.”

“Get out.”

“I’ve every right to be here.” He slid into the room and braced his shoulders on the wall, resting the back of his head on the bare wood. “You’re the one who’s squatting.”

“I don’t know who you are, mister, but this is my home fair and proper.”

“I’m Bennett Collier.” He began a slow slide down the wall.  “Unless you’ve got a deed—”

The intruder went limp and crumpled to the floor.