Disgraced politico bad-boy JOHN EDWARDS is romancing a sexy single mom nearly half his age – and The ENQUIRER has world exclusive photos of the pair on a secret date!

They’re already so close that the woman has become a surrogate mother to Edwards’ two youngest children with his late wife Eliza­beth, sources say, and she’s even spent time at the family’s plush vacation home.

Despite that, the woman’s mother told The ENQUIRER that she was completely un­aware of the hush-hush affair – and sources say Edwards’ mistress Rielle Hunter will explode when she finds out about it.

The ENQUIRER has identified the wom­an as Danielle King, a 35-year-old clinical research coordinator at Duke University’s Cancer Care Research Program in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Just one week before we reported that Edwards, 60, kicked Rielle, 49, out of his Chapel Hill mansion over her publicizing more details of their scandalous relation­ship, the disgraced politician shared an intimate lunch with Danielle on Oct. 18.

The willowy brunette drove to Edwards’ palatial home in Chapel Hill, but the couple tried to keep their liaison under wraps by driving separate cars to a nearby restaurant called Panzanella.

Edwards arrived first and got a table. Danielle walked in soon after, as if it were a complete coincidence they’d run into one another!

But once they sat down together, “it was obvious they were enchanted with each other,” said an eyewitness.

“They were very smiley and ab­solutely engrossed in conversation. They gazed into each other’s eyes as if they were the only two people on the planet.”

Sources say Edwards has been in­volved with Danielle for about a year and has even invited her to his vaca­tion home on North Carolina’s Figure Eight Island.

“Smooth-talking John is an expert at womanizing and seduced Danielle with his tales of being a White House contender and rub­bing elbows with the rich and famous,” said an insider.

Danielle has also looked after Ed­wards’ son Jack, 13, and daughter Emma Claire, 15, on weekends when the former North Carolina senator was out of town.

Jack is so close to Danielle that he referred to her as “my hero” on Facebook and wrote a lengthy school essay about her. He’s also called Danielle’s son Austin his “brother” on Facebook.

On her Facebook page, Dani­elle posted a picture of her with Jack and wrote: “Happy Birth­day, Bud. I love you so so so so so much. Thank you for being you and making my world, and ev­eryone else’s, a better place.”

She also thanked Edwards, Jack and Emma Claire “for be­ing the family I never had and for the countless things you’ve done for Austin and I.”

Despite Danielle’s cozy personal relationship with Edwards and his children, her mother was shocked when shown photos of Danielle with the onetime presidential candidate.

“Danielle has never shared any of this with me!” her mother, Patty King of Melbourne, Fla., told The ENQUIRER in an exclusive interview. “I’m a Chris­tian lady and I don’t like to say bad things about anyone, but John Edwards is not a nice person.

“I love and respect my daughter, but I find this very disturbing. She’s a young woman with her whole life in front of her, and as her mother, I’m very concerned.”

Within hours of the interview, pictures of Danielle with Jack Edwards and at the Edwards’ homes in Chapel Hill and Figure Eight Island were deleted from her Facebook page.

When contacted by The ENQUIRER about her relation­ship with Edwards, Danielle refused to comment.

Meanwhile, sources say the photos of Danielle with Edwards and Jack will send Rielle off the deep end.

“When Rielle finds out John is serious about someone else, she’s going to go nuts!” a source close to her told The ENQUIRER.

To make matters worse, “Jack and Emma Claire are aware of what Rielle did to their family, especially their mother, and they can’t stand her,” the source said.

The ENQUIRER ripped the covers off Rielle’s illicit affair with Edwards in a bombshell series of exposes that revealed the married White House hopeful was not only cheating on his cancer-stricken wife Elizabeth with Rielle, but also that he’d fathered her daughter Frances Quinn, 5.

Rielle and her daughter live in Charlotte, N.C., and as The ENQUIRER recently reported, Edwards blew up when she announced plans to update her tell-all book with a new mem­oir, titled “In Hindsight, What Really Happened: The Revised Edition: John Edwards, Our Daughter, and Me.”

“John has been able to keep Rielle from telling the whole truth about their affair, the money and the cover-up for years,” a source told The ENQUIRER.

“But now that John’s moved on, you can bet that Rielle will go for the jugular. She’ll write the ultimate tell-all – and she won’t hold anything back.”