Misty skies darkened from lead to charcoal as Angie prepared for the hunt. The lodge was hardly more than a cabin, with a living area, kitchen, and a room full of bunk beds. Alaric, one of her client’s human servants, had arrived ahead of her to get a fire going in the fireplace, and the scent of wood smoke drifted through the air. As soon as she assured him she had everything she required, the man climbed into his jeep and drove away.

She supposed it was a reversal of sorts, for prey to wait for the hunter to arrive. Vampires who stalked the unwilling behaved much as any other predator, tracking or lying in wait for them. But when her clients hired her to play the part of a victim, it wasn’t the same as actually being one. Angie planned these scenarios in advance and laid out specific ground rules. So long as the client stayed within certain boundaries, he could hunt, torture, feed, and use her sexually however he wished. For an exorbitant fee, of course.

This wasn’t the only service Angie offered. She’d made a career out of fulfilling vampires’ fantasies and had performed a wide variety of roles over the years. Friend, mother, daughter, seductress, submissive, prey, even hunter. But the part she would play tonight was her most popular by far. This particular client had requested a unique twist to the game. He wanted her to portray a fairy-tale character. She chuckled as she got into her costume of plain white cotton panties under a girlish dress, knee socks, flat shoes, and a red wool cloak that covered her from head to toe when she drew up the hood. Should she tie a ribbon in her hair? She found a mirror and studied herself. She’d never pass for a teenage girl in the light of day. The woods at night would be dark enough for her to create that illusion, though. No ribbon needed.

Her face was pale beneath her tan, and she suddenly found she was shaking. This would be her first hunt after the attack she’d barely survived just a month ago. Louis Rimbeau, vampire Monarch of the Rocky Mountain Territory, had kidnapped, tortured, and nearly killed her. The memory still gave Angie nightmares. That had been no negotiated, role-played rape. He’d hurt her far beyond the bounds of what she allowed her clients to do. If it weren’t for an experimental treatment, she would have been scarred for life.

Angie took a deep breath. It would be all right. Tonight’s client, Julius Craft, had used her services before. He knew and respected the rules. He wasn’t Louis Rimbeau.

Once she’d pulled herself together, Angie went outside and paused to inhale the rich evergreen scent of the woods before she started down the path through them. She stopped when the lights of the lodge grew faint and drew a flashlight from the pocket of her cloak. For a moment, she closed her eyes to concentrate on becoming the fairy-tale girl. Innocent. Foolish. Daydreaming her way through the forest, unmindful of time passing until it was too late. Her own personality sank from her conscious mind as she brought the character to the front.

Her nickname was Red. She was on her way to her grandmother’s house, and she had to hurry.

A breeze stirred the fir branches overhead. Red opened her eyes and flicked on her flashlight. What was that noise? A rabbit, maybe. She hoped. She swept the beam over the underbrush but didn’t see anything, so she gathered her courage and continued down the path. The sound of a branch breaking stopped her.

Red turned back. She no longer saw the lights of the lodge, only forest, black and cold and full of the unknown. The hairs on the nape of her neck stood up. Hugging her cloak around her, she hurried on.

Something growled, and her heart began to race. There were bears in this area. What time of year did they come out of hibernation? And mountain lions. They didn’t hibernate.

And wolves.

Don’t run. It will just make them chase you. She looked for a stick, but all she found was a fallen branch that was too heavy to use. The beam of the flashlight wavered as she tightened her grip and walked on.

Something hit her hand. The flashlight went flying. It landed on the path several yards away, its glow a single beacon in the blackness. Red choked on a scream. Instinctively, she ran toward the light, red cloak fanning out behind her. Something caught hold of it and yanked her to a halt, then just as quickly let go, so that she stumbled and fell onto her hands and knees. She jerked around, but saw nothing. In her peripheral vision, the beam of the flashlight moved.

“Wh…who’s there?” The forest swallowed her thin cry.

A masculine chuckle was the only response. The light shone into her eyes, and she raised a hand to shield them. She glimpsed a black form. Then the light went out, and she saw nothing at all. Red scrambled to her feet and tried to run back toward the lodge. She held her hands in front of her, hoping to feel her way, but it seemed as though the underbrush surrounded her on all sides.

Something tugged her cloak so hard the ties dug into her neck. They strangled her shriek. She tried to wriggle her fingers under them, but an instant later the pressure vanished. Her harsh breath was the only thing she heard for several moments.

His chuckle vibrated next to her ear this time. A sob of terror escaped her as she scurried away, but she got no more than a step when she ran into something hard. A tree? She grabbed at it and found fabric covering a firm body.

Deep beneath the fairy-tale character, fear surged through Angie, but excitement followed close behind. It was like the exhilaration of jumping out of an airplane, knowing a horrible death awaited if the parachute failed. Mad joy filled her, along with a sense of relief. Feeling that thrill meant she was going to be all right, not crippled by the memory of Rimbeau. She forced back a grin. She had to be Red, a terrified girl, now, not herself.

Desperate, Red flung herself away from her attacker. He caught her arm, yanked her back, then let go. She tried again, only to run into him a second time. Hadn’t he been on the other side of her? Were there two of them? She staggered into the underbrush, too frightened to care whether she had left the path.

Powerful hands grasped her shoulders and spun her around. She writhed as he hauled her against his chest. An animal growl froze her in midmotion. Was this a man or something else? The paralysis broke. Red brought her knee up as hard as she could, and whatever this creature was, he had the same reaction as a human male. His body folded, and he snarled a curse. His hold relaxed just enough for her to pull free. She staggered away, deeper into the underbrush. Brambles tore her clothes. Vines tripped her, and she nearly fell when her shoulder hit the trunk of a tree, but she managed to stumble on.

He caught hold of her cloak again, and this time when he yanked her back to him, he wrapped it around her so tight she could hardly move. Red twisted. She let her legs go out from under her in an attempt to catch him by surprise and slide out of his hold, but he only picked her up, shoved her against a tree, and trapped her with his body. She screamed as he caught a fistful of her hair and yanked her head to one side.

Pain erupted in her neck. Sharp teeth tore her open, and the slurping sound of him drinking her blood told her what he was.

He could have dulled the pain if he’d chosen. Vampires could give pleasure with their bite, but he wanted her pain and terror. That was what he paid her for, and that was what she delivered.

Endorphins flooded her system to combat the agony, allowing her to ride it like a surfer on a wave, and Angie reveled in them. She didn’t just do this for the money. The pain and violence thrilled her almost as much as it did him. She took care not to allow it to show and kept her character firmly in place.

“No,” Red sobbed. She continued to struggle, though she could hardly move. “Please!”

He drew back and licked the blood that had smeared around her wound. The punctures began to close. If not held open by a vampire’s suction, they healed almost immediately.

“Do as I say,” he hissed, “and I might just let you live. Tell me you understand.”

Red nodded.

“Say it,” he insisted.

“I…I understand.”

“Bon.” He moved away and used her hair like a handle to haul her around him. “Walk.”

“I can’t see,” she protested, raising her arms to ward off low-hanging branches that brushed her face and snagged her hair.

His grip tightened so hard she cried out, and he guided her back to the path. “Go. Forward.”

Red stumbled over rocks and tree roots, but his hold kept her upright. The lights of the lodge came into view. They illuminated the way just enough for her to see where she was going. He released his grasp so he could place his hand on her shoulder, and squeezed it hard enough to bruise. As soon as they were in the lodge he let go, closed the door, and turned to study her. Red backed up until she bumped into a wall.

He was only a few inches taller than she and had an average build. Brown hair curled tight against his head. His skin must have been darker when he was human but had lightened to café au lait. His dark brown eyes gleamed with menace.

“Come here.” He crooked a finger.

Red huddled in on herself. She couldn’t obey at first, but he bared his teeth, and she forced her feet to move.