The Plus-One Agreement

By: Charlotte Phillips

ONE

Q: How do you tell your fake boyfriend that you’ve met a real one and you don’t need him any more?

A: However you like. If he’s not a real boyfriend, it’s not a real break-up. Hardly likely that he’ll start declaring undying love for you, is it?

Chance would have been a fine thing.

This Aston Martin might fly before arm candy addict Dan Morgan developed anything more than a fake attraction for someone as sensible and boring as Emma Burney, and it wasn’t as if she hadn’t given it time. Getting on for a year in his company, watching an endless string of short-term flings pout their way through his private life, had convinced her she was never going to be blonde enough, curvy enough or vacuous enough to qualify. In fact she was pretty much the opposite of all his conquests, even dressed up to the nines for her brother’s art exhibition.

She glanced down at herself in the plain black boat-neck frock and nude heels she’d chosen, teamed as usual with her minimal make-up and straight-up-and-down figure. Romance need not apply.

She did, however, possess all the qualities Dan wanted in a supportive friend and social ally. As he did for her. Hence the fake part of their agreement.

An agreement which she reminded herself she no longer needed.

Not if she wanted to move forward from the suspended animation that had been her life this last year. Any residual hope that what was counterfeit between them might somehow turn genuine if she just gave it enough time had been squashed in these last few amazing weeks as she’d been swept off her feet by a whirlwind of intimate, luxurious dinners, expensive gifts and exciting plans. What was between her and Dan was now nothing more than a rut that needed climbing out of.

She watched him quietly for a moment from the passenger seat of his car, looking like an aftershave model in his dark suit and white shirt. His dark hair was so thick there was always a hint of spike about it, a light shadow of stubble lined his jaw, and his ice-blue eyes and slow smile had the ability to charm the entire female species. It had certainly worked on her mother, whose ongoing mission in life was to get Emma and Dan married off and raising a tribe of kids like some Fifties cupcake couple.

Perpetuating her gene pool was the last thing Emma wanted—a lifetime in the midst of her insane family had seen to that. Having Dan as her pretend boyfriend at family events had proved to be the perfect fob-off.

But now she had the real thing and the pretending was holding her back. All that remained was to explain that fact to Dan. She gathered herself together and took a deep breath.

‘This has to stop,’ she said.

* * *

‘You’re dumping me?’

Dan shifted his eyes briefly from the road to glance across at her, a mock grin on his face. Because of course this was some kind of joke, right? She simply looked back at him, her brown eyes serious.

‘Well, technically, no,’ she said. ‘Because we’d have to be in a proper relationship for me to do that, and ours is a fake one.’ She put her head on one side. ‘If it’s actually one at all. To be honest, it’s more of an agreement, isn’t it? A plus-one agreement.’

He’d never seen fit to give it a name before. It had simply been an extension of their work dealings into a mutually beneficial social arrangement. There had been no conscious decision or drawing up of terms. It had just grown organically from one simple work success.

Twelve months ago Emma, in her capacity as his lawyer, had attended a meeting with Dan and a potential client for his management consultancy. A potentially huge client. The meeting had overrun into dinner, she had proved a formidable ally and his winning of the contract had been smoothed along perfectly by their double act. She had seemed to bounce off him effortlessly, predicting where he was taking the conversation, backing him up where he needed it. He’d ended the evening with a new client, a new respect for Emma and the beginnings of a connection.

After that she’d become his go-to ally for social engagements—a purely platonic date that he could count on for intelligent conversation and professional behaviour. She’d become a trusted contact. And in return he’d accompanied her to family dinners and events like this one today, sympathising with her exasperation at her slightly crazy family while not really understanding it. Surely better to have a slightly crazy family than no family at all?

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