Daddy? Nat’s voice on the phone was small and tremulous.The Arrangement, Prologue opening
Natalie, a young art student in New York City, is struggling to pay her bills when a friend makes a suggestion: Why not go online and find a sugar daddy—a wealthy, older man who will pay her for dates, and even give her a monthly allowance? Lots of girls do it, Nat learns. All that’s required is to look pretty and hang on his every word. Sexual favours are optional.
Though more than thirty years her senior, Gabe, a handsome corporate finance attorney, seems like the perfect candidate, and within a month, they are madly in love. At least, Nat is…Gabe already has a family, whom he has no intention of leaving.
So when he abruptly ends things, Nat can’t let go. She begins drinking heavily and stalking him: watching him at work, spying on his wife, even befriending his daughter, who is not much younger than she is. But Gabe’s not about to let his sugar baby destroy his perfect life. What was supposed to be a mutually beneficial arrangement devolves into a nightmare of deception, obsession, and, when a body is found near Gabe’s posh Upper East Side apartment, murder.From Goodreads
‘Sugar dating’ (aka ‘sugaring’), for those who don’t know the term, is a fascinating dynamic “…typically characterized by an older wealthier person and a younger person in need of financial assistance in a mutually beneficial relationship…Payment can be received by way of money, gifts, support or other material benefits in exchange for companionship or a dating-like relationship.The person who receives the gifts is called a sugar baby, while their paying partner is called a sugar daddy or sugar momma”(Wikipedia). While this non-traditional arrangement may work well for some, it can also be rife with all sorts of dangers and twisted desires that can intermingle to form explosive relationships. And, as it turns out, this makes for excellent reading material. Robyn Harding uses her research into the area of sugar dating to craft an unputdownable thriller with believable characters, bringing readers deep into the dark side of transactional dating.
Main character Natalie (Nat) is from a broken family. Her estranged father left them a few years back – a shock Nat and her mom were coping with together until her mom met someone new. Nat is stung but happy for her mom. Unfortunately they gradually grow distant and Nat watches her mom pour attention into building her new idyllic family. Nat is already more or less on her own so she decides to forge her own path, moving across the country from Blaine, WA to dazzling New York, New York to attend art school and pursue her dreams. She’s been settled for a while and barely squeezing by when simmering interpersonal issues explode and Nat is left in desperate straits. A classmate introduces her to the world of sugar dating. Nat isn’t keen on the risks but she has limited options so she creates a profile on the website and starts chatting. That’s when Nat meets Gabe. What follows is a wildfire story of love, obsession, and revenge that keeps you on the edge of your seat.
Nat is a bit of a wreck in this book. She’s had a rough time, and she’s obviously vulnerable when she decides to try out sugar dating (as I’m sure anyone in her situation would be). It makes what transpires later on all the more tragic. My sympathy towards her as a reader started strong then wavered as the story progressed, but all the while you’re cognizant that there’s very real, powerful human emotions and needs fueling this storm. Motives like a yearning to feel loved and cared for – or to feel the strength of a support system – can be heady for someone who has wanted for that most of their life. Under its influence we see independent Nat transition rapidly from hesitant acceptance of her situation, to infatuation and justification, to wholehearted abandonment and complete desperation. She goes to reckless measures to attach herself to Gabe, and their once amiable arrangement becomes volatile.
Gabe is a refined, sleek but somewhat sleazy character. He has a seemingly happy life, but is missing a component of physical intimacy with his wife after she underwent cancer treatments and recovery. Unfortunately, he decides to search for that fulfillment elsewhere, cycling through sugar babies on weekdays when he’s out in town away from his home-bound wife and their teenage daughter. While it’s reprehensible, I thought this did a nice job touching on how everyone has difference facets of a relationship that makes them fulfilled. That’s not to justify his actions by any means, but thinking of that made him feel very human and again harkens back to what I said before about the power of these needs/emotions driving the plot forward. In this way readers also feel somewhat sympathetic towards Gabe. He grew on me as a character and I did feel he was treated poorly towards the end of the book despite his cruel actions.
This is a twisted, emotional story of obsession, desperation, and love – deliciously real and depraved. Robyn Harding introduces us slowly to the world, building a rich backstory for Nat and her rationale for dipping into sugar dating. After Nat and Gabe make their arrangement the story amps up until half to two-thirds the way through when their situation escalates into a dramatic race to the finish. I loved the topic of sugaring as the backdrop. It was never something I would have thought to read on my own but I’m glad to have picked it up. I’d highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys obsession based thrillers or is curious about sugar dating.
TW: stalking, rape, self-harm