Dr. Marcus Egan patted the border collie on the head. The beast would favor the foot, but Marcus had spelled him to ensure it healed quickly and well. Closing the dog’s paw wound was easy for a warlock of his power. But Marcus didn’t want to scare the old rancher into a heart attack, so he’d had to use stitches on the poor dog. Such a shame I have to hide my magic from mortals.

“Thanks, Dr. Egan,” said the old man, stroking the dog from neck to tail. Clearly, the dog was more than a working dog to him. “I’m glad you were here. When’s Dr. Hunter due back?”

“Next week,” Marcus replied. He gave the dog a last pat on the rump and lifted it down from the examination table. He watched the owner and his furry friend head down the hall toward the front desk. The animal probably sensed his magic but wouldn’t be telling anyone.

The Robbers Canyon Veterinary Clinic provided a convenient cover for Marcus, and he called upon his trusted friend, the regular town vet, whenever he was in this area of the mortal realm. Together, they’d brought a coven of rogue witches to justice the November before. Ninety-nine more years to go on their sentence encased in a rock prison. Marcus shuddered at the thought.

The recent sudden and violent death of two locals caused this community to lock its doors. Their escalated fears didn’t come close to the reaction his magical world had to the murders. Devlin Gwynn and Eavan Kemena, known throughout The Otherland as ‘The Lost Guardians’, had finally surfaced in the mortal realm. The governing Witches Council didn’t waste any time sending him through the portal to find out what the demon’s damn had happened.

Marcus straightened and headed out of the examination room. If he had no more patients, he needed to get back to his investigation. The hair on the back of his neck suddenly stood on end. Magic slid over his body like a warm blanket. He slowed his steps, hesitating in the hall.

He drew his power into a Protection Shield and pushed a Sensing Spell towards the outer reception area. He recognized the expected mortal life signature of the vet technician and receptionist, Cora West. The strong magic signature hovering near the counter shocked him.

Who or what was out there? Should he call out to Cora? He schooled his face into a neutral mask and stepped into the outer office.

A woman with an enormous black dog stood in the waiting area talking to his receptionist. The visitor was breath-taking—platinum white hair, fair complexion, and a slight build—at least a foot shorter than his six foot two. She wore a plaid shirt and a black baseball cap, with her long braid pulled through the back. Not exactly the image of an immediate threat.

He relaxed enough to lean back against the wall. Neither of the women at the front desk noticed his presence. He considered the woman. A new face in town.

Most of the key players within the 3000 people in Robbers Canyon were known to him. He had a nodding acquaintance with the mayor and his wife, Sheriff Morgan, and Deputy Lewis. He’d chatted with the bank manager and the odd-looking bartender at the Powder Horn Saloon. And like anyone else in town, he knew the local character, Jack. Are this woman and her dog new in town, or are they visitors?

The young woman rested one arm on the counter. “Do you know anyone he’s done work for?” she asked Cora.

Was she checking his references? It wasn’t like there were many vets to choose from in Robbers Canyon.

Cora’s voice drifted to him as a mumble.

“And she was happy with his work?” the woman asked, her voice soft but clear.

Cora nodded as she reached for a pad of paper and scribbled something before handing the note across the desk.

The second woman smiled. “It’s so hard to find a good contractor. I’m glad you could recommend this Shipley guy, Cora. I’m not ready yet, but I will need him soon.”

Ah, not checking on the vet, but looking for a contractor. George Shipley had arrived in town around Marcus’s previous visit to Robbers Canyon. Last November. A quiet middle-aged man who apparently only worked for cash.

Marcus took a breath. His talent for making not only mortals, but even another witch’s eye look past him without registering his presence, was valuable. He felt another power surge. What the…. It’s not the woman. It’s the dog. A familiar? There hasn’t been one of those in The Otherland for centuries.

And the beast already knew Marcus was there. The woman couldn’t see him yet, but the dog did. Marcus frowned. What the hell is a familiar doing here? They can’t be summoned. But what powerful spirit decided that a great danger existed in Robbers Canyon and needed a familiar? And what was it doing with this woman?

Marcus pushed away from the wall and walked to the reception desk. By habit, he moved with quiet steps, yet the young woman seemed to sense his approach and turned in his direction. She pulled the cap from her head, brushed loose wisps of hair from her forehead, and looked up at him.

He smiled and kept the familiar and the woman in his vision field. The woman returned his smile. The dog bared his teeth and growled. Marcus froze. He spoke directly to the animal. “I mean you no harm.”

The woman frowned and put a hand on the dog’s neck. “I’m so sorry.”

“Does he always growl at strangers?” Marcus asked her, keeping his gaze on the familiar.

The beast rumbled again, as if insulted.

“Only you, as far as I know,” she replied. Her voice was a rich alto. “He was fine with the sheriff and me yesterday.”

Marcus blinked, sorting the information. Isn’t the dog hers? The familiar stayed seated. Marcus murmured a reassurance in the ancient tongue that only the magical creature would understand. “What’s his name?” he asked the woman.

“I don’t know, really. He showed up last night with no collar.” She shrugged and blushed. “I’ve been calling him Busby. You know, after the big furry hats the guards at Buckingham Palace wear. When I first saw him on my porch, that’s what he reminded me of.”

Marcus eased his hand towards the beast and let it scent the strength of his power. That answers one question. He’s here to protect this woman. But she doesn’t seem to know that.