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“Si!” Taylor said back. “You know Dominic, you really should teach us more Italian so we can sound just as sexy as you do when you speak.”

The old man blushed and hustled the girls over toward their table, “Stop it, bella. You make-ah old man feel silly.”

“Awwww, Dom. You know we love you!” Katherine said, giving him an extra tight squeeze.

“You girls ah...are the best. You both look fantastico tonight! Have-ah fun.” He put his two fingers and his thumb to his lips and kissed them as if the girls were a perfect dish he had just created for royalty.

Katherine couldn’t help but notice how Cooper’s eyes lit up at the sight of her. She wondered if she’d ever get used to the way he looked at her and then she secretly hoped she wouldn’t.

It didn’t escape her that he made her feel things too. For example, from the moment she looked over and saw his face, she hadn’t been able to stop smiling. And she started to get that familiar feeling she got whenever she was near Cooper Donovan. Her pulse raced and her heart felt like it was going to beat out of her chest. If her body told her anything, it was that it really liked this Cooper character.

Danny hopped out of the booth as Taylor jumped into his arms and wrapped her legs around his waist in the sweetest display of bear-hug and affection Katherine had ever seen. Everyone in the restaurant turned to stare, but the couple didn’t seem to notice or care. They gave each other a kiss before Danny gently placed Taylor’s feet back on the restaurant floor.

“My lady,” Danny said with a bow as he directed her to get into the booth.

“Kind sir,” Taylor responded with flair as she scooted in.

Katherine moved into the booth so that Taylor was on her left and Cooper was on her right.

“Your hair looks really pretty,” Cooper admired her curls and Katherine blushed.

“Thanks,” she replied as calmly as she could.

Cooper looked at her and smiled. Every time she looked into his green eyes, she felt herself unable to look away. She couldn’t help it, though. They were easy to get lost in. She focused mostly on the one with the speck in it. “Maybe that’s his only flaw,” she thought to herself.

“Are we going to eat or are you two just going to stare into each other’s eyes all night?” Taylor interrupted.

“Shut up,” Katherine said in response.

“Actually, I’m fine with doing either,” Cooper said as he bit his bottom lip. Of course, that was just one more thing Cooper Donovan did that seemed to drive her completely crazy. She noticed the sweat again and cursed under her breath.

“What was that, Miss Johns?” Cooper asked her.

“Nothing, Mr. Donovan. You just...well it’s just make me sweaty,” she finally blurted out, and then looked at Taylor horrified. She couldn’t believe she had actually said that out loud.

Danny laughed as he turned to Taylor and asked, “Do I make you sweat, Tay?”

“Not if I can help it,” she replied lovingly at him.

“I can’t do anything right. I hate you, Donovan,” Danny moped.

“Stop being such a wimp in public. It’s embarrassing,” Cooper razzed.

“Ah, come on, Danny. Stop. Maybe my sweat glands just don’t work the same as Kat’s do. She is from California and all. Maybe she has like movie star sweat glands or something?” Taylor said sweetly.

Cooper leaned over in the midst of all the chaos and whispered into Katherine’s ear, “I like that I make you sweat. It means you like me.”

His breath was warm on the side of her face and she felt tingly as she struggled to maintain her composure. She never knew that a whisper could make her feel that way; it almost stopped her from functioning at all. She had to remind herself to keep taking in air because breathing no longer came naturally.

She looked over at him and said, “Don’t do that to me.”

“Don’t do what?” His smile was virtually irresistible and he looked at her as though he could read every thought she ever had with just one glance. “Have I ever told you that you have gorgeous eyes?”

She wasn’t ready to be complimented by him. She wasn’t ready for anything when it came to him. “No, you haven’t. But, thank you,” she responded, her breath catching.

They ordered dinner and while they waited for it to arrive Katherine realized she didn’t really know much about Cooper.

“I have to ask you about your Jeep,” she started off.

“My Jeep? What about my baby?”

“I was just wondering. Did you do all the work to it yourself, or are you the type of guy who pays someone to do all the hard things for you?”

Danny and Taylor both shouted “Ouuuch!” in unison. Katherine didn’t try to be rude, she just wanted to see what kind of man Cooper Donovan really was.

“For your information, I did everything to that Jeep myself. My dad helped with some things when I needed an extra set of hands, but otherwise, I did it all. It took me months to take it apart and rebuild it.”

“I’m impressed.”

He winked at her before saying, “Me too.”

She was flustered again. “So…how long have you been playing hockey?”

“I’ve been playing since I could lace up my skates and get on the ice. My dad encouraged me at first, but then I fell in love with it.”

“Do your parents pressure you to play? Do you get along with your parents? Do you have any brothers or sisters?” Katherine shot questions at him like a rapid-fire interrogator.

“Geez, Detective…slow down,” Taylor teased before she turned to give Danny a quick peck.

Cooper laughed in response before he answered, “I don’t mind. I’ll tell you anything you want to know Katherine. My parents don’t pressure to me to play at all. While my dad definitely encouraged playing as I was growing up, if I didn’t love it, he wouldn’t want me to keep playing.”

He shrugged his shoulders and then continued, “They just want me to be happy, and if that means playing hockey, then so be it. I have a great relationship with my parents, but I don’t need to see them all the time. I like keeping them at a distance. Not because I don’t enjoy them, but I just prefer to be on my own. Does that sound terrible?”

Katherine sensed that he might not be sure of how he sounded. It was the first time he actually seemed vulnerable since she’d met him all those weeks ago. “It doesn’t sound terrible at all. I can totally relate. My parents are great, but I don’t feel like I need to see them or talk to them all the time. I love them and all, but I love myself and my freedom more…you know?”

“Exactly,” Cooper responded enthusiastically. “I feel the same way. And yes, by the way, I have two brothers and one sister.”

“Holy cow. Big family,” Katherine was an only child, so she thought anything more than one was a lot. She couldn’t imagine that many kids under one roof.

“We are Irish,” Cooper joked.

Katherine forgot she was on the East Coast where Irish and Italian families were prevalent. They were typically large with family members that lived close by and constant family gatherings. She didn’t feel like family life was the same in Southern California at all.

“It’s so different here than back home,” Katherine commented.

“Good different or bad different?” Cooper asked her while their food was being handed out to them.

“Definitely good different. Probably because it’s all new to me. Everything is different out here, from the people, the buildings, the trees and even the food.” Katherine looked over at Cooper’s face before she continued, “But I love it and I totally appreciate everything that is different from what I’m used to.”

“You’re different from what I’m used to,” Cooper remarked, giving her one of his trademarked looks.

He threw his arm around the back of the booth and his fingertips gently touched a part of Katherine’s shoulder. She glanced back to make sure it wasn’t her imagination playing tricks on her. Nope. Those were definitely Cooper Donovan’s fingers that brushed against her bare skin.

She tried to concentrate on breathing again. It was the obvious the way he affected her. It partly intrigued and excited her, but it also annoyed her. The last thing she wanted to do was to come off like another one of those girls who couldn’t contain themselves in Cooper Donovan’s presence.

“So, California, any more questions?” he asked politely.

“Actually, I do have one more.” Katherine looked at Taylor whose expression told her she couldn’t wait to hear this one. “Why does everyone treat you like a god or something? What is the deal with you?”

Danny and Taylor laughed out loud. “It’s true, bro. he girls are ridiculous when it comes to you!” Danny blurted out while he still laughed.

“Yeah, Cooper, why are you New Jersey’s freaking royalty?” Taylor added, as she mimicked a reporter with a microphone.

Cooper just looked at them all and fell silent. He gave Katherine one long glance before he said, “I guess it’s the hockey thing.” He shrugged his shoulders. “People think I’m going places and I think they just want to come along.”

“You are going places, Donovan,” Danny added and then turned to Katherine. “He’s probably the best this college has seen in the past ten years. He’s going pro and everyone knows it.”

Katherine smiled at Danny’s enthusiasm. “Is that true?”

Cooper removed his arm from behind Katherine’s shoulder, and then crossed them both in front of his chest. “That’s the rumor. But we’ll have to wait and see.”

“Is that what you want to do?” Katherine wondered.

Cooper smiled, “No one ever asks me that. They always just assume that I do.”

“So, do you?”

“I don’t know,” Cooper answered nonchalantly and continued to eat his pasta.

“What do you mean, you don’t know? Coop, come on. If the Rangers called you up right now and said they needed you to start playing for the team tomorrow, you wouldn’t go?” Danny asked in a surprised tone. “I’d give anything to be in your position.”

“Well then I’d tell them to call my buddy D Rossi and they’d be in good hands.”

“Ah, thanks man,” Danny said it so sweetly it made the girls giggle.

“Great, I’m caught in a love triangle,” Taylor looked at Danny and rolled her eyes. He leaned in to kiss her sweetly and she let him. Taylor’s eyes opened wide and she quickly shouted, “Wait! Wait...I have a question! But it’s for both of you guys.”

The guys smiled and only imagined what would come out of Taylor’s mouth. “Go ahead,” said Cooper. “Shoot,” said Danny.

“Well, Kat and I were wondering if you guys could lift up your shirts for a second?” Taylor looked at Katherine and winked.

“What? Why? Our shirts?” the guys said, as they talked over each other.