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Jasmine Croft walked up to the railing at the edge of her loft bedroom and looked out at the Atlantic Ocean through the patio doors on the main floor of her apartment. She frowned at the gray weather, biting the side of her mouth as she rethought her plans for the day. Turning away from the view, she headed to her bathroom, switching on the radio next to her bed along the way. It was a quarter after eight o'clock on Saturday morning, and she had a few minutes to wash up and get dressed before heading to the gym for a nine o'clock Pilates class.
When Jasmine left the apartment a few minutes later, she was dressed in an athletic tank top over a heavy-duty sports bra, knee-length yoga pants and flip-flops. Her thick, shoulder-length hair was covered and tied back with a bright colored scarf to protect it from the damp air and potential rain, her gym bag was slung across her back. She was a member of a large, full-service fitness club located a couple of blocks away from her building near the heart of Miami Beach's famous South Beach district. The street was already busy with activity—people of all ages running, biking, and rollerblading, or walking their dogs in the warm, sticky morning air. Jasmine was sweating by the time she stepped into the overly air-conditioned club after the brisk walk, but had ten minutes to spare.
"Hey, sexy," greeted the young man at the front desk as he flashed her a big smile. His youthful face was tanned a deep bronze and his white teeth sparkled. Stunning green eyes looked at her keenly.
"Hi, George," Jasmine replied cheerfully as she handed him her membership card.
"Are you taking Mark's class?" George asked. "I saved you a spot just in case."
Mark Santiago was one of the best instructors in South Beach, drawing members from all over South Florida to his Pilates classes, which were always so packed that they had to turn people away.
"Yup. You're the best," she told George with a flirty look.
He laughed while blushing slightly and handed back her card.
"See you later," he added.
Jasmine walked away with a bounce in her step. While she was certain George O'Toole was no more than nineteen years old and definitely not her type, he had an amazing body and was beautiful to look at. Their regular flirting was always fun and harmless.
Jasmine had said hello to several people as she made her way through the entrance of the gym toward the change rooms, but the call had come from behind her. She turned to find a pretty woman with coppery brown skin and short-cropped natural hair rushing to catch up to her. It was her best friend, Madison Cooper.
"Hey, Madie, I thought you weren't going to make it today." Jasmine replied, stopping to wait for her.
"My plans got cancelled," she stated with a twist of her mouth.
"No way. He cancelled again?" asked Jasmine.
The women continued walking and entered the women's change room, choosing lockers in their usual spot at the back near the showers and counters.
"Yeah, can you believe that?" Madison said. "He sent me a text message this morning saying something's come up and he'll call me later. That's the third time. Well that's it, then. That's the last time I'm making plans with him. In fact, I'm not even going to reply to his message."
"Wow," stated Jasmine while shaking her head. "I'm sorry, Madie. I know how much you liked him."
Madison sighed. "I did like him, and it started out so well. We seemed to have a connection and had a great time together for a few months. Then suddenly, he takes days to return my phone calls, and starts cancelling plans last minute. Typical story, right?"
Jasmine nodded sadly.
"Anyway, I know the signs, so I'm not going to waste any more time on him."
"Well, I'm glad you're here. I'm going to the spa after class for a mani-pedi. Do you want to come? We can hang out for the afternoon, do some shopping."
"Sure, why not. A little retail therapy sounds like good medicine," stated Madison with a dry laugh. "I was thinking about going into the office to drum up some business, but your suggestion is much better."
Madison was in real estate and did most of her work in South Beach.
"Good. I have a meeting at twelve o'clock at Mango's Café, but it won't take long and we can stay for lunch," Jasmine suggested. "We can go to Lincoln Road Mall after."
"Sounds like a plan. You're meeting a new client?" Madison asked.
"No, it's an interview with a writer for the Miami Weekly for an article on dating services. Maya Jones set it up and they want to talk about the services that Croft Connections provides to its clients."
"I hope so," replied Jasmine. "It could be great marketing for my business." Once they were ready, and carrying their mats, they joined several other class participants and headed to the studio for the intense one-hour power Pilates class. Mark Santiago was waiting at the front of the room with a slow Latin ballad playing softly in the background. He was a short man, about five feet six inches, with a thin build but ripped beyond belief with long lean muscles everywhere and next to zero body fat. As usual, he ran the class like a drill sergeant, pushing everyone to the limit and leaving them dripping with sweat. Everyone cheered at the end, and he bowed with a cheeky grin.
"God, I'm exhausted!" exclaimed Madison still lying on her back. "I could fall asleep right here."
Jasmine laughed and stood looking down at her limp friend. She felt the same way, but knew the tiredness would fade quickly and an energy boost would kick in the minute she stepped into the shower.
"Well, you better get up quick. My appointment at the spa is in thirty minutes."
Madison rolled onto her knees with a groan.
"Uggggh! You're always on a schedule, Jay!" she grumbled. "It's Saturday. Relax a little."
Jasmine was used to the ribbing from her friends about her tightly managed timetables, so she ignored the comment. She rolled up her mat and headed out of the room, assuming that Madie would eventually follow along. Mark, the instructor, was standing near the exit of the studio and gave her a friendly smile as she approached.
"You did great today," he stated, his voice flowing with a distinctive Puerto Rican accent.
"Thanks," replied Jasmine. "It was a great class."
"I'm glad you enjoyed it. See you again next week?"
"Definitely," she stated firmly.
"Good," he added with sincerity.
Jasmine smiled and continued out the door.
"Wow," whispered Madison as she stepped close behind Jasmine.
"I told you he was into you! You should have seen the way his eyes followed your tush as you walked away. It was like he couldn't help himself."
Jasmine gave her friend a glance that clearly said, Oh please!, causing Madison to laugh.
"First poor George, and now our famous instructor. That body of yours should require a license, Jay. It's dangerous."
"Don't be ridiculous. The instructors flirt with everyone, especially George. Why do you think there are so many female members?" said Jasmine dismissively. "And the place is full of Miami babes with unbelievable bodies, including yours. I could do a million more crunches and would still never have a hint of the six-pack you do."
"Yeah, well, these abs have never put a man into a hypnotic trance like your deadly combo of T&A," teased Madison, still grinning.
Jasmine ignored her and continued to the change room. But once they were ready for the showers, she couldn't help feeling embarrassed, wrapping the towel around her naked body a little tighter than usual. While others thought she should proudly flaunt her more than necessary curves, Jasmine secretly hated them, and the unwanted attention they always attracted. While almost every woman in Florida was addicted to push-up bras and silicone implants, Jasmine dreamed of a reduction. Under the spray of hot water in the private shower, she looked down at the plumb swells of her breasts, wishing instead they were normal-sized B cups. And it didn't help that her behind was a little too full and round to ignore, clinging to the fabric of everything she wore.
Jasmine and her sister, Jennifer, were raised in Fort Lauderdale by their Cuban-Jamaican mother. While growing up, they learned an appreciation for both cultures, including the many shapes and sizes of Caribbean women. Both sisters had similar smooth, nutmeg-toned skin. But Jennifer, who was four years older, seemed to inherit everything else from their mother's side of the family, like her naturally lean, athletic figure. Apparently, Jasmine was the spitting image of their father, with his smooth square-shaped face and rounder body. Since Clifton Croft had disappeared out of his daughters' lives when Jasmine was three years old, the descriptions and comments about her resemblance to him were almost never positive or flattering. She grew up feeling as though her body was a curse and she was stuck with all her physical attributes. It was pointless to try and change genetics, so why bother to try.
As a teenager, she was chubby, and became completely overweight while in college. Then two years ago, when she thought seriously about starting up her personalized dating service, it became essential to take better care of her body. Her early research into the business and consumer market indicated quite quickly that single, eligible men and women would not trust her to find them a partner unless she looked the part—someone whom women wanted to be seen with or men would want to date. It was the motivation she needed to get in shape.
Eight months later, with the help of a personal trainer, a rigid workout schedule, and a complete overhaul of her eating habits, Jasmine dropped over forty pounds. While her new body was firm and toned with a flat abdomen and lean legs, her bustline hardly budged. And, to her dismay, as the rest of her body slimmed down and was redefined, it only made her breasts appear larger. Jasmine was thrilled with her new body, but it did create a whole new set of issues, like the relentless and unwanted attention from men.
After showering, the women were dressed again in about twenty minutes. While Madison changed into jean-shorts, a T-shirt and flip-flops, Jasmine left the change room wearing a pretty linen sundress in a light tan color and gold-tone sandals adorned with polished stones the color of topaz. Her meeting with the magazine writer was at noon, and there wouldn't be time to stop at home after her spa appointment to change again. She combed out her hair until it fell smoothly around her shoulder in a long bob.
They took their purses and walked to the club spa at the front of the building, leaving their gym bags and workout clothes in their lockers. Jasmine spent the next hour getting pampered until both her hands and feet were silky smooth and finished with French manicure polish. Madison opted for a facial instead and was waiting in the front reception area drinking tea when Jasmine emerged to pay for her services.
"Do you want to walk or take a taxi?" asked Madison once they were outside.
It was just past 11:30. The sky was still cloudy, but the sun was starting to peek out.
"We can walk. We have time and it's only a few blocks away," Jasmine replied.
When they arrived at Mango's Café, Madison decided to stop at the drugstore across the street so Jasmine could have her meeting privately. Jasmine secured a table outside on the sidewalk and still had a few minutes to spare. She took out her mobile phone to check for messages. There was a text message from her friend, Maya Jones. Jasmine knew immediately what it was regarding, and could not help rolling her eyes.
The message read: Everything all set for tonight?
Jasmine quickly tapped out a response: So far so good.
She looked up at that moment and recognized the young woman who turned into the café patio from the street. The hostess greeted her, then pointed to the table where Jasmine was seated. Jasmine used the next few seconds to type up another text message in reply to Maya: I'll call you a little later with details.
The woman standing over her was tall, slender, and very blond. Her sky-blue eyes had a friendly sparkle.
"Yes," Jasmine replied as she stood up and extended her hand. "Hi, it's Amanda, right?"
"Amanda Bryant, with Miami Weekly," she replied while accepting the handshake.
She sat back down, and Amanda took the seat across from her. A waiter approached their table at that moment and took their orders for coffee. The women exchanged polite conversation about the weather as they waited for their drinks to arrive.
"Thank you for taking the time to meet with me," Amanda stated as they sipped their hot drinks. "As I mentioned on the phone, my article is about the surge of online dating services and how it's changing the dating scene and nightlife in South Florida. I recognize that your firm is not strictly an online service, but I was intrigued by what you are offering and think it's worth including in the story."
"It's my pleasure, Amanda," replied Jasmine with a bright smile. "An article like this can help highlight what makes us different from those Web sites and hopefully help us reach some potential clients who don't realize there are other kinds of dating solutions."
"Great. So let's get started."
Amanda then proceeded to pull a digital micro-recorder out of her purse, turn it on, and place it between them on the bistro table.
"Your Web site says you started Croft Connections three years ago. What made you decide to go into the dating business?" she asked Jasmine
"It was a combination of a few things, but mainly my experience and the right timing. My first job out of university was in the sales department of a larger online service. I was only there for about nine months, but I learned a lot about membership services and gained some knowledge about the industry and our competitors. I left there to take a position as a corporate recruiter for a marketing and communications firm. That's when I realized that I had an intuitive ability to assess people and identify the best candidate for our positions. It was a great job, but the company went through a merger and my position became redundant. Around that time, I happened to introduce two people who were acquaintances of mine from different circles. They were friends of friends who I saw regularly at parties or get-togethers, and they hit it off right away.
"Thinking back on it now, I really had no intentions other than the impulse to see two single people meet each other based on what they said they wanted in a partner and relationship. Then I did it a few weeks later, again with great results. By then, I was unemployed and getting anxious about finding another job quickly. That's when it occurred to me that I had all the tools to start my own dating services," Jasmine recalled with a modest smile. "Necessity forced me to accept another recruitment position, but the idea stuck in my head and grew as I thought about the perfect business model. The next time I offered to set someone up, I asked for a fee. That was four years ago. I established the company about a year later, but didn't quit my recruitment job until last year."
"Wow, that's a very interesting start-up," Amanda said. "So, what can clients expect from Croft Connections? What services do you provide?" she quizzed.
Jasmine paused for a couple of seconds before responding. Her mission statement was available on the Web site, but she wanted to convey more than that.
"The short answer is that we offer access to an exclusive private approach to connecting single people in South Florida. It would be too simplistic to say that Croft Connections is a dating service. We're much more than that. Yes, we help people meet each other, maybe for casual dating, maybe for serious relationships. But our approach is what makes us different from other companies and online services. We take the time to meet every new member to the Connection and recommend matches based on our personal knowledge of the individuals, not a computer program."
Excerpted from All Caught Up by SOPHIA SHAW Copyright © 2011 by Sophia Shaw. Excerpted by permission of DAFINA BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted September 7, 2011
"Readers will become All Caught Up with this incredible tale that will capture your heart." "Jasmine Craft is in the matchmaking business and finds herself assisting her new client, the handsome successful author, Robert Rankin, who at best challenges her ability to find the perfect match for him." "Jasmine thinks she has found the perfect date but at the last minute she has to step in literally. They are both pleasantly surprised by the immediate attraction, and decide to see where it leads." "As the relationship evolves a mysterious burglary occurs that leads to a big reveal that ultimately disrupts their exciting existence together. Secrets are revealed, jealousy exposed, and a painful past could potentially derail their love." "An engaging romantic read that is formed with appealing characters and real emotion."
2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 2, 2012
THE PERFECT BALANCE!!!!!
THIS WAS MY FIRST BOOK BY THIS AUTHOR, SOPHIA SHAW. AND I MUST SAY SHE HIT THE BALL RIGHT OUT THE PARK ON THIS ONE. SHAW GAVE US JUST THE RIGHT AMOUNT OF CHEMISTRY, ROMANCE, SUSPENSE, AND EXCITEMENT.
JASMINE AND ROBERT ARE JUST HOT, HOT, HOT!!!!! FROM THE MOMENT THEY FIRST MEET AT THE HOTEL TIL THE VERY LAST MINUTE, WHEN JASMINE GOES TO KEY WEST, YOU KNOW THAT THIS COUPLE IS MEANT TO BE TOGETHER.
I HAVE NEVER READ OVER 300 PAGES IN JUST ONE DAY. THAT IS JUST HOW GOOD THIS BOOK WAS. I DID NOT WANT TO PUT IT DOWN UNTIL I SAW WHAT THE ENDING WAS. BOY DID I WANT TO SLAP CARA UPSIDE HER HEAD TOO. WHAT A GREAT READ!!!
I RECOMMEND THIS BOOK TO EVERYONE. ENJOY...........
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 26, 2011
This is the first book from Sophia Shaw that I've read and I doubt it will be the last! Jasmine is a woman I would be honored to call friend. She is levelheaded, smart, funny and very kind. She has always been a woman to help someone in need. After years working for others, she decided to take her ability to help people to the next level and started her own dating service. Her unique ability to match people is amazing and her business is growing exponentially. Busy beyond belief and surprisingly happy in her life, Jasmine is content. She didn't realize she was missing anything until she finally meets her most difficult client face to face. Robert has led a charmed life. Growing up Minneapolis he fell in love with hockey. He had a natural ability for the sport and it led him to play for the NHL and the highlife. Fast times and fast women, he thought he had it all. Nothing could have been further than the truth. Widowed and injured, he decides it's time to retire. Several years later and his priorities reevaluated, he is now a bestselling author. To keep his family off his back about moving on and finding love, he decides he needs a date for his brother's wedding. He sure wasn't expecting the lovely lady that walked into the hotel lobby. Jasmine and Robert meet due to a cancelled date. They hit it off immediately and find they enjoy each other's company. Neither went into this relationship expecting much, but came out of it in love. All Caught Up was a wonderful novel. I think the best description I can find for this story is that it is an easy book; easy to love, easy to read, and easy to connect with. Ms. Shaw was phenomenal with the details, her continuity was spot on and the emotions she evoked were poignant. I started this book in the evening thinking I could get a few chapters in before bed. Well at 4:30 am I finished it. I could not put it down. It flowed so naturally and I enjoyed it right from the very first page. There is no drama, mystery or suspense, just a lovely story of two people coming together. I was so emotionally invested that even though I knew a scene was coming up and the likely outcome, I raged at the character and felt all the way to my toes. That is storytelling at its best. All Caught Up is a sensually gripping novel. It is a relaxing effortless story. It is a nice change of pace to sit back and enjoy a book for its simplicity. I was engaged with the characters and enjoyed every splendid word. I highly recommend this romance. I loved, loved, loved it!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 26, 2011
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Posted February 1, 2012
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Posted November 29, 2011
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Posted December 17, 2011
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