Trying to move on from a disastrous engagement, Sophie Morgan needs a date for her best friend’s wedding—and fast! And what quicker way to find a man than speed dating? Only it’s bar manager Dan Halliday who catches Sophie’s eye.
Dan can’t resist helping a damsel in distress, so he offers her a deal—a few shifts in the bar in exchange for the date—no strings attached. But when pretence leads to passion, they both get more than they bargained for. And it’s too late to have any secrets between them….
A hugely enjoyable and terrific page-turner that sparkles with modern and believable characters, sizzling sensuality, red-hot sass, witty banter and searing emotion, Secrets and Speed Dating is an outstanding contemporary romance about starting over, mixed blessings and the meaning of love that will touch your heart, bring a tear to your eye and make you laugh out loud (5 stars). Cataromance
…from its opening lines gives plenty of whimsy and quirkiness…
Ashton has taken some liberty with the plotting approach and voice of her novel, and this one really stands out as a result. – Read in a Single Sitting
My heart broke for Sophie and her struggles, I really empathised with her character, especially as she is not written as self pitying or a martyr. She has so much chutzpah and spirit yet with the perfect amount of pain. Dan is a great hero too, and brilliantly written; during the major ‘black moment’ I hated and hurt for him at the same time.
The premise is original and well developed, I couldn’t stop reading as I needed to know how these characters got their HEA. And it’s worth it! – Everyday Is The Same
9/10 – Debra’s Book Cafe (audio review)
Read an excerpt
The Sophie Project (Project Manager: S. Morgan)
Task One: Find a boyfriend
‘Just so you know, I can’t have children.’
Sophie Morgan watched her date’s expression morph from a twinkly eyed grin to slack jawed surprise at her calmly delivered statement. She took a sip of her vanilla martini and met his wide eyes as she continued. ‘I really can’t. It wouldn’t matter if I ‘stopped trying’ or ‘went on a holiday’ or ‘just relaxed’.’ She shrugged. ‘It just won’t happen.’
Her date had barely blinked, so she gestured vaguely at her flat stomach. ‘Things down there just don’t function properly… reproductively speaking, of course. I mean, I can have sex. That’s all normal.’
The poor guy spluttered into his beer. ‘Ah, isn’t this conversation a bit… premature? We’ve known each other five minutes.’
He was being literal. A moment later, the high pitched chime of a small silver bell silenced the room.
The host of the speed dating evening – a depressingly stunning model-type who Sophie was sure would never need to attend such an event herself – waited until all eyes were on her. Unlike Sophie, her host looked completely at ease in the uber modern bar, with its black granite floor, chrome and glass furniture, and leather couches. Back in Sydney, this type of place had been Sophie’s domain. But now, back in Perth and her old life 3000 kilometres away, she felt like an impostor.
‘Okay, gentlemen, time to say goodbye and move on to your next date.’
Her date still look dazed, so she tried to explain quickly, hopeful she didn’t sound like a completely unbalanced lunatic. She did know blurting out her infertility wasn’t exactly normal behaviour. ‘Look, everyone here wants a relationship, right?’
He nodded. In fact, this speed dating event was specifically for people seeking long term relationships.
‘So, when most people picture a relationship, they want the whole package deal – wife and kids. With me, that’s not possible. I just thought it was only fair you should know.’
He shook his head. ‘Not everyone wants that. I don’t know if I want kids.’
Sophie smiled, but shrugged. ‘I still think it’s better to be upfront, get it out in the open. What you want now can change a heck of a lot in the future.’
People changed their minds. She knew that far too well.
Her date smiled at her. Reassuringly, he now looked more bemused than ready to run screaming away from her – that twinkle was even back in his eyes. ‘Who knows about the future?’ He asked as he stood. ‘Why not let a new relationship just flow? Why worry about that now?’
She watched him sit down at the neighbouring table, his attention already on his next date. She envied his naivety. The ability to live a relationship in the moment, to pretend that all you needed was each other. But Sophie wouldn’t do that again. She couldn’t.
Not that she didn’t want the fairytale. The Hollywood happy ending. She did. She’d love to grow old with her perfect man, whatever that meant. Definitely someone who didn’t want kids. And really didn’t – although she really had no clue how she could unequivocally determine that. Maybe someone who’d already had his children? Or was older? Not that she really went for much older men.
She took another sip of her cocktail, a humourless smile quirking her lips. Clearly she didn’t know what she wanted. She just knew that she wasn’t about to waste her time – or risk her heart – on some guy who would dump her once he knew what she couldn’t give him. Getting it all out up front was definitely a good idea. Anexcellent idea, even.
Still, when she flipped over her date card, she quickly circled ‘No’ beside her last date’s name. As she had the four dates before him, and probably would again for the remaining five.
No. She needed to – had to – think positive.
She wasn’t ready to admit that speed dating was a mistake. After all, it was the first task on her list. If she couldn’t do this, what chance did the rest of her project have?
And if she knew that dropping her bombshell was abnormal behaviour, she certainly knew that the very existence of her project tipped her over the edge into…well…a little bit nutty. Knew it – but was still determined to carry on regardless.
After the amorphous, directionless mess of the past six months, she needed a goal – needed a plan.
Reaching into the handbag hanging on the back of her chair she ran her finger along the sharply folded edges of the piece of paper that had led her here this evening.
A single piece of paper. Flimsy – it could so easily be crumpled and thrown away. But she wouldn’t be doing that. Instead, it gave her focus. Just like when she’d sat down at her laptop and methodically put the document together. Soothing lists of tasks and deliverable dates, familiar in their structure – yet so different in their type and intent to the project plans she was used to. For this time, Sophie Morgan, Project Manager was not implementing a major software upgrade, or rolling out new hardware or coordinating a change management programme.
No, this time, the project was her life. Her new life.
Sophie took a deep breath. Straightened her shoulders.
It didn’t matter that she didn’t know who or what would make her circle ‘Yes’. She just owed herself – and her remaining dates – her full attention, and at least the tiniest smidgen of hope. No premature circling of Nos.
And definitely – definitely – still disclosing her…uh, situation.
So far the reaction to her announcement had been almost comically consistent, except for the beer spluttering of her last date. That had been new – but then – so had her rather graphic description. She grinned at the memory. She probably shouldn’t have done that, even if a more than slightly sick sense of humour had always helped her deal with her problems, infertility or otherwise. She figured that was healthier than the total denial of her mid teens to early twenties: I never wanted kids, anyway. They’re just snotty alien spew-makers. Yuk!
Her next date settled into his seat. Middling height, with bright red hair he beamed at her, and she couldn’t help her grin becoming a smile.
‘Hi,’ he said, obviously about to launch into a well practiced line. ‘Why on earth would a stunningly beautiful woman like yourself need to go speed dating?’
But she laughed, anyway – determined to enjoy the next four and a half minutes.
And then she’d let him know.
After his third or fourth surreptitious glance, Dan Halliday decided to just give in and look. Something about the woman who’d stayed long after the other speed daters had left kept drawing his attention. Unsurprisingly, the appeal of polishing wine glasses or counting the night’s takings really couldn’t compete with the beautiful woman propping up his bar.
She was twisted slightly on her seat so she could stare out the window that ran the length of the Subiaco Wine Bar. He had the feeling she wasn’t people watching though, as the one time he’d asked if she wanted another drink he’d felt like he was interrupting, that she’d been lost in her own little world. He’d left her alone since then – surreptitious glances excluded.
If she had been watching, she would have seen the constant stream of cars and the packed café tables of a few hours earlier transition into the rowdier, typical Friday night club crowd. The cafes and restaurants that spilled onto the busy inner-city street were now mostly closed, and only the late night pubs and clubs remained open. His bar needed to close too, and she was the last customer.
Her hair was long, dark blonde and swept back off her face in a pony tail, which he liked. He’d never understood women who hid behind curtains of hair. This way he had an unrestricted view of her profile: pale, creamy skin with a touch of colour at her cheeks, a long, slightly pointed nose and a chin that hinted at a stubborn streak.
He couldn’t tell her height, seated as she was, but he’d guess she was tall. She wore a deep red, silky blouse that skimmed the swell of her breasts and he could just see her crumpled, obviously forgotten speed dating name tag stuck beside the V of pale skin her top revealed. But he was too far away to read it.
And then she turned her head and locked her gaze with his. ‘Are you closed? Do you want me to go?’
Even from where he stood, a few metres away, he was caught momentarily by the intense colour of her eyes. They were blue, but unlike his own boring plain blue, hers were darker. Richer. More expressive.
He gave himself a mental shake. Dan Halliday philosophizing over the colour of a woman’s eyes? Really?
Dan cleared his throat. ‘Yes to the first question, but no to the second. You’re welcome to stay and finish your drink.’
‘You sure? I must have been here for…’ she glanced at her watch, ‘…almost three hours, and I’ve only had half of my cocktail. You could be waiting a while.’
He put down the glass he’d been not polishing while he’d stared (leered maybe, Dan?), and walked to her end of the bar. ‘Really, I don’t mind. I’ll tell you what – how about I give you a fresh cocktail on the house – and you can get back to that serious contemplation you looked to be doing while I finish up.’
She shook her head. ‘Thank you, but no. I’m sure you don’t want me staring out the window like a zombie any longer. I’ll go.’
‘So it’s all figured out then?’
Her brow furrowed. ‘What is?’
‘Whatever it was you were contemplating – it’s all sorted. Done and dusted?’
She laughed, but it was a brittle sound. ‘No. Not sorted.’ She sighed. ‘But trust me, one more cocktail is not going to sort out the total mess of my life.’
Dan knew he should just let her leave. That right about now all of his instinctive, confirmed bachelor alarm bells should be ringing. This was a woman who had just attended a speed dating evening and had a self-confessed messy life. That was one alarm bell for ‘Wants a relationship’ and another for ‘Has baggage’. The noise should be deafening.
Instead, he reached for a fresh martini glass, and didn’t bother analysing why he didn’t want her to go. ‘Stay. Stare like a zombie all you like.’
A moment passed. Then another. But eventually she smiled, and nodded. ‘Thank you.’
His gaze flicked to her name tag.
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