The Playboy’s Dark Secret by Madeline Ash
Leaving behind an international career and an elite party lifestyle, soccer star Dean Thorn has returned home to run the family vineyard after thirteen years abroad. Tormented by a dark secret, he has vowed never to get close to a woman again.
No stranger to hard work, Rafi Dalton is too busy for love. Since running away from her career as a professional ballerina, she has been building a new life for herself as a seasonal worker with little money and no fixed address.
Rafi is nothing like the women Dean left behind. She is strong, independent and not remotely interested in his fame or money. The attraction between them pushes him right to the edge – but can he trust her enough to leave his past behind?
The Playboy’s Dark Secret is a tender, sexy romance set on a beautiful Australian vineyard.
‘So,’ she said, voice quieter now, ‘why didn’t you just come over again?’
He didn’t turn around. ‘Because that was a bad idea.’
Her work boots scuffed on the ground as she moved to stand beside the barbecue. She faced the back of the property, with Lucy on the far side of the heat. He refused to fall into the eyes he knew were on him. ‘Which part?’
‘Going inside your cabin,’ he said, nudging the steak. Everything after that had been an even worse idea. ‘Talking. Touching.’ He tensed. ‘Feeling you against me.’
‘Oh,’ she all but whispered. Lust flaring at her closeness, Dean looked up into blue pain. ‘Those were the parts I liked best.’
Jaw tight, he didn’t respond. Hell. She’d changed her mind. Evidently, bad luck had slung an arm around his shoulder and knuckled his damned hair. ‘Buddy,’ it said. ‘Let me give you something. I want to give you something nice. How about a girl?’
So here Rafi stood. Misfortune’s most beautiful gift.
‘You think it was a bad idea because I’m younger than you,’ she said, her level stare unable to disguise the quaver in her voice.
He jerked his head. An easy lie.
She drew a deep breath. ‘So how old are you?’
‘I’ll be twenty-two next Sunday.’
‘And I’ll be thirty-three in November. You can’t catch up, Rafi.’
‘That’s not fair,’ she said, a dismayed refusal of the truth.
He kept his silence.
‘But you want me.’
Want made her sound like something to be ticked off a list. He wanted to hear Dave Matthews play live and see the Aurora Borealis. He wanted to learn guitar. No, he didn’t want Rafi. He felt her. A kick in his chest, a surge of possession, a shadow stirring in a forgotten corner. But feeling didn’t mean touching or having or keeping.
In this specific instance, it meant pushing away.
‘Dean!’ Rue’s holler cut him off. ‘How’s the food?’
He turned. Rue was standing by the fire, hands in his pockets, eyes set on him. Most of the workers had turned their heads at the question, exposing his and Rafi’s private conversation. ‘Another ten minutes,’ he returned, voice barely loud enough to carry.
‘Rafi,’ Rue said next, all good-humoured host. ‘I’ve saved a good spot here for you and your bub. Better snap it up before the others get here.’
She smiled. ‘Coming!’ When everyone turned away, she shot Dean a look of betrayal and spoke under her breath. ‘He’s as subtle as a broadsword.’
‘He’s doing what he thinks is best.’
Her frown was confused. ‘What does he think I am? Some teen fangirl trying to score with the rich soccer player?’
She pulled back, eyes wide with shock. Her hands covered Lucy’s ears as she said, ‘You arsehole.’
Dean held her stare as the curse cut his heart like shrapnel.
Now she would turn her back, hurt by his cruel assessment, and give up on him. And he’d have saved them both from his urge to get her naked and keep her there as long as they both should live.
‘Not because you meant that,’ she continued, hands falling from her daughter’s ears. ‘But because you didn’t. Don’t try to cheapen the way I feel around you in the hope that I’ll go away. I’m used to insults, Dean. I can walk through them like a nasty gale. So I can feel when there’s a genuine force behind them and yours didn’t even stir the air.’
‘I can’t do this with you,’ he growled, stepping towards her. She shifted her weight, meeting his advance, brow raised in defiance. Bold to a fault, he thought as his eyes fell to her mouth. Her lips parted and a rush of blood-red lust filled him, so acute it stung. The kind of reckless lust that had ruled him only months ago. The kind he had given in to time and time again, slick, rash, empty.
‘I can’t,’ he said again.
Rafi’s hungry gaze didn’t believe him for a second.
‘You want to hear a genuine insult?’ She shifted Lucy higher up her waist and stepped passed him, heading for the fire circle. ‘You’ll never be happy.’
Q: Romance readers have a lot of choices these days. What makes The Playboy’s Dark Secret stand out in the crowd?
A: This story touches on a dark conflict I haven’t read in this genre before. It’s blended into a moving, sexy romance, set on a beautiful vineyard during harvest season.
Q: We like to include our favorite quote in our reviews of the books we read. What is your favorite quote from The Playboy’s Dark Secret?
A: My favorite quote from The Playboy’s Dark Secret is:
‘Sorry,’ she said, darting a look at him. ‘I’m just talking to distract you from the fact that you can’t outrun me.’
About Madeline Ash
Madeline has always lived in Melbourne. She is emotionally allergic to spontaneity, and yet doesn’t mind the weather that drags her into rain when she’s planned for sunshine. She likes to call this her wild side.
She is blessed with two sisters, one older, one younger. She knows her family would carry her to the end of the earth and back, because they’ve done so a few times already. This has inspired her to bolster the romance in her novels with the love of family.
She writes romance because she’s in a long-term relationship with the genre and writing such stories makes it happy.