“Looking for me, lawman?”
The click of a gun cocking accompanied the question. Enoch froze, hands out to either side.
He crouched over the dry, rocky soil, where a faint print had caught his eye. He’d dismounted, hoping for some clue that would lead him to the outlaw he’d been sent to track down.
And now someone had gotten the drop on him.
Where the devil the man had come from, Enoch couldn’t guess. The land here was open, nothing but rock and scrub brush for miles. Nowhere to hide, or so Enoch had thought.
He hesitated, but there didn’t seem much point in dissembling. The fellow had pegged him as a lawman, even though Enoch dressed like a simple cowboy for disguise.
“That depends,” Enoch said. “You the fellow who robbed the blackleg hexes off the stagecoach outside of El Paso? The Gentleman Bandit?”
He was rewarded by a wry chuckle. “So they call me. Stand up and turn around—slowly. I want to see the face of the man who’s after me.”
Enoch’s heart thudded against his ribs. He weighed his chances of getting to his gun before the outlaw could pull the trigger and found he didn’t like them. So he put one hand on the ground to lever himself up, scooping a bit of sand into his palm as he did so. Turning around, he faced the bandit.
The wanted posters hadn’t done the Gentleman Bandit justice. Warm coppery skin glowed in the sunlight. Thick black hair framed a devilishly handsome face. Denim encased long legs and hinted at a body that might turn a man’s head, given half the chance.
But it was his eyes that really caught Enoch’s attention. At first glance, they were a rusty brown, but the more he looked, the more he was convinced they were a little too orange for an ordinary human.
“You’re a familiar?” he asked, startled. That part wasn’t on the wanted posters.
Not to mention it didn’t make sense. The hexes the bandit stole were already primed by magic, ready to be used by ordinary folk.
Of course, most of what the Gentleman Bandit had done didn’t make sense. The stagecoach robbery had brought him to the attention of the magical division of the federal marshals, but he’d already been wanted for a string of more mundane hold ups. They tracked down the hexes, but—as with most of the money and more ordinary goods the bandit took—he’d neither kept nor sold them. Instead, he’d distributed them among a group of hardscrabble ranchers suffering an outbreak of blackleg among their herds.
The Gentleman Bandit took his time answering. Though the gun in his hand didn’t waver, he ran his gaze slowly up and down Enoch, taking in the worn boots, travel-stained shirt, brown skin, and tightly curled black hair. “Good eye,” he said eventually. “You’re a Hexas Ranger, I take it?”
Enoch winced at the name. “Technically, I’m a deputy in the US Federal Marshals, Magical Law Enforcement Division.” But that was a mouthful, so some wit had come up with the nickname Hexas Rangers, as they operated out of San Antonio. Dumb, but it had stuck.
“Deputy. So unbonded.” The familiar tilted his head to the side curiously. “They wouldn’t let an unbonded witch chase law breakers like me through the wilderness on his own. Where’s your posse?”
Twenty miles back, sick from bad food, not that Enoch was going to let on. “They’re close by. So I suggest you turn yourself in, Mr…?”
The outlaw laughed. “You can call me Rafael. And good try, but there’s no one within ten miles of here. You’re on your own, brujo.” He cocked his head, a lock of black hair tumbling over one burnt umber eye. “Which is why I stopped by to give you some advice.”
Enoch’s mind raced. If the Gentleman Bandit—Rafael—was a familiar, that could explain some of his more mysterious escapes. What sort of animal did he turn into? And, more importantly, did he have a witch partner waiting to cause trouble should he be arrested?
“You in the habit of offering advice to lawmen?” Enoch asked.
Rafael gave him another once-over, and this time Enoch felt heat rise to his cheeks. He’d learned the subtle cues and small signs that indicated a man was interested. To be looked at so blatantly—and by someone so damned handsome—put him off his stride. And sent a rush of blood south to his cock, but he was trying to ignore that.
“Not usually,” Rafael allowed. “But there are some bad men in the area, far worse than my poor self. And you’re too handsome to end up feeding the vultures. Go home.”
“Not without you,” Enoch said, and flung the handful of sand he’d scooped up at Rafael’s face.
Somehow, Rafael was ready for him. He danced back and shot Enoch a grin. “Surely you wouldn’t arrest your own familiar, now would you brujo?”
Enoch froze in shock. Which was no doubt what Rafael had intended, because seconds later, the rufous and brown feathers of a Harris’s Hawk replaced his human form. He soared off, vanishing into the harsh blue sky.
Enoch stared dumbly after him. “My familiar?”