Can love happen in just 22 days?
Having suffered the loss of her fiance, cushy job and luxury Midtown Atlanta condo at the height of the U.S. recession, Nina Drake packed up and left the ruins behind to start anew in sunny South Florida.
With no life and no friends, Nina settles in and resigns herself to the simple existence of a gift shop attendant where she passively observes the scores of colorful clientele living in the five-star resort where she works. After a few random run-ins with a peculiar resident, Nina’s boredom gives way to curiosity and she blindly steps out of her dull routine into someone else’s shoes…and the arms of an irresistible stranger. But it’s only a matter of days before Nina goes from dreaming of romantic possibilities to realizing that this tawdry hookup can never evolve into something real…
In spite of Nina’s aversion to his sordid past, Dean Whitmore is determined to make her believe that his intentions are as real as their instant connection. And the fact that he only has a few weeks to prove it to her before life leads them in different directions just makes the challenge that much more appealing…
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EXCERPT FROM 22
FIVE MINUTES | NINA & DEAN
Even though I didn’t run into Mr. Dean Whitmore again the rest of the night, I still found myself wandering over to the gazebo five minutes after Judy congratulated me on a job well done.
I’d convinced myself that this was no different than all the other times I took the scenic route to the garage on beautiful starlit nights before I headed home.
Besides, Dean wouldn’t be there anyway because the event was still in full swing and he had no idea when I’d be done working. As far as he knew, I was still giving tours of the property. He had no reason to be out here this early—
But there he was.
Sitting alone on a bench across from the gazebo.
Seemingly lost in thought.
I stood still. Not ready to alert him to my presence. Fighting off that now familiar urge to flee.
Sensing he was no longer alone, Dean looked over and smiled at me. “I’m glad you came.”
“I got off early. All done.”
“Come sit with me.”
“I’m really tired. Need to get home.” I twisted the sapphire ring on my middle finger. “Five minutes, remember?”
He rose from the bench and closed the distance between us. “Yes. Five minutes.”
“So,” I began, nervously. “How did you like—”
“Can I kiss you?”
I stepped back from the bold request as he daringly stepped forward. Lifting his hand, he gauged my reaction as his fingers caressed the side of my face, his thumb finally making its way over to my glossy lips. I closed my eyes, fighting off the mounting arousal.
His ardent request was barely a whisper as it traveled from his lips to my ears, followed by his tongue on my right lobe.
I should’ve slapped him.
Found myself sighing instead.
Encouraged, he moved his lips to mine. The feel of him was light, teasing. As if he wanted me to show him how badly I wanted it. Confused, I remained reserved. Kissed him back like it didn’t matter. Like I was returning a favor.
He moved closer and bit my lip, making me gasp. Then his tongue slipped in, pushing past my defenses and facades and boundaries, finding that part of me bold enough to wear a dress so tantalizing that even the clergy present tonight had been tempted to backslide into the garden of Nina.
I could feel his smile as he began teasing me again, his barely-there nipping riling me up even more until I grabbed his head in frustration, sucking his bottom lip. He invaded my mouth again, this time roughly twisting his hands in my hair as he pulled me closer, our tongues dancing passionately. No longer polite. No longer tentative. Our status as strangers slipped away as he wrestled for dominance and I struggled to understand our bizarre connection that was surprisingly deeper than consciousness.
A light came on in the distance.
He pressed his lips softly against mine one last time before pulling away, leaving me lightheaded. He stepped back, watching me. “Five minutes.”
I didn’t move.
“You said you needed to get home,” he explained, shoving his fists in his pockets. “Just keeping my promise that I wouldn’t keep you long.”
I nodded absently, my mind reeling.
“Thank you for this time,” he continued. “I can walk you to your car if you’d like.”
I ran a hand over my hair, shaking my head at his offer. “I’m fine. I need…I don’t need you…to walk me to my car. It’s not far. I can make it on my own.”
We stared at each other.
I rushed away without offering a reply, the cool ocean breeze wrapping around me like a wet blanket.