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Birthdays sucked.

As a child, her parents combined her Christmas and birthday gifts, if and when they remembered to buy gifts at all. She’d learned to keep her expectations low to curb her disappointment after too many childhood hopes and dreams were shot down by a pair of disengaged, free-spirit parents, who Bella had subconsciously emulated—at least, the partying part.

This year’s birthday hit her harder than usual.

Twenty-fucking-six years old.

She’d rather curl up in bed with a box of chocolates and an ugly cry movie than be subjected to a birthday party tonight, especially one orchestrated by her judgmental oldest sister. Every one of her sisters had their act together, was settled down with a wonderful man, and was looking to the future.

Bella, instead, found herself focusing on the past and how little she’d achieved. She was closer to thirty than twenty, and therein lay the crux of the problem and the reason for her current crappy mood.

Bella bounced from interest to interest, never settling on one thing. She had no direction, but that hadn’t been a big deal in her early twenties. Now it was.

She faked a smile and cocked her head, pretending to be captivated by whatever bullshit was being spouted by the young Seattle Sockeyes hockey players who gathered around her, vying for her attention. Normally, she’d be flattered and completely enjoying their efforts.

Not tonight.

She sought out Cedric in the crowd, still a little peeved at his disappearing act with the blonde last Saturday night. In fact, as soon as he’d slipped into the VIP room, she’d left alone.

He met her gaze, winked, and headed toward her. Her heart skittered with excitement and her lady parts tingled with anticipation. She fought their insane chemistry with every fiber of her being, as futile as it was. Cedric had always been different—the way he touched her, the way he looked at her as if she were special, the way he made her feel as if she were the only woman who mattered. Maybe he made every woman feel like that, maybe it was part of his allure, his charm, and maybe she was delusional for thinking she meant anything more than a fantastic lay. Cedric had the power to ruin her, crush her heart in his skillful hands, and blast away at her carefully constructed, and completely fabricated, air of confidence.

He was oh, so wrong for her.

The only thing Cedric was serious about was hockey. Bella needed a strong and steady guy like each of her sisters had, not a pretty boy who leapt from one adrenaline high to another and matched her on the flakiness scale. She needed a man to balance her, not tip her over the edge.

The first time she’d laid eyes on the handsome Swede, she knew after just one look into those incredible blue eyes, she wanted him. Usually wanting a man for a night or two would be enough. Only every time she swore she had her fill of Cedric, he gave her one of those sexy grins guaranteed to get her naked and him inside her. The lure of those playful blue eyes, brilliant white smile, and shredded body sucked her into a web of need and desire she’d struggled against ever since.

Cedric slid up next to her, slipped an arm possessively around her, and cupped her ass. The boys’ faces fell at his arrival.

“Move over, novices. The master is moving in,” he quipped.

Bella offered a shrug of apology to the disappointed youngsters and smiled up at Cedric, gracing him with a demure smile rather than her usual playful, naughty smile. He grinned back, gifting her with his trademark wolfish leer.

“Let’s take this party somewhere else,” he whispered in her ear, biting down on her earlobe for emphasis and slipping into their usual foreplay-before-foreplay banter.

Finally, something to distract Bella from her too-serious mood. She moaned and leaned into him, squeezing his ass and gazing up at him with sultry promise.

Mouths hanging open, Cedric’s teammates gaped at them, jealousy etched on every face.

“Watch and learn, boys,” Cedric said with an emphasis on the word boys.

Bella laughed as he hustled her from the crowded room.

“You’ve been driving me fucking crazy all night in that little dress.”

“Part of my devious plan to get you naked.” She spoke in a throaty, husky whisper guaranteed to harden his dick in a split second.