Just a Bit

By: Alessandra Hazard

James just shrugged, looking away.


God, he bloody hated that Ryan called him that. No one but Ryan did it. Some of James’s friends tried to call him Jim, but it never stuck. The childhood nickname Ryan had given him sounded even more ridiculous now that they were both grown-up, yet Ryan kept calling him that, despite knowing that James hated it. Yeah, he hated it. Ryan just didn’t know the real reason why.

“Jamie,” Ryan said again, having no idea that he was turning James’s insides into a mushy mess.

“What?” James said, trying to pull himself together. It was never easy, but some days were harder. Some days he wondered what the point of all of this was. Lying and pretending never came naturally to him. Lying to Ryan was almost impossible. Good thing he’d had a lot of practice.

Ryan put a hand around his neck. James breathed in carefully. Ryan’s thumb pressed into his neck, a silent order to look at him. It had always been like this, even when they were kids: Ryan had always been the pushy one, the opinionated one, the leader in all their games, in all their mischief.

Ryan had been the king, the general, the main villain, the dashing hero or the dragon while James was his loyal sidekick. As a kid, James hadn’t minded it. As a twenty-two-old guy, he resented it, because old habits died hard and he still hadn’t figured out how to quit following Ryan around like a loyal, eager puppy, starved for a pat on the head. There was a reason his dad disliked Ryan so much and it wasn’t Ryan’s common background. Dad hated that someone else had a bigger influence on his son.

“Jamie.” The pressure of Ryan’s thumb increased slightly.

Sighing, James relented and looked at his friend.

A furrow wrinkled Ryan’s forehead. “Has he been pressuring you again?”

James almost laughed. Ryan didn’t know the half of it. His dad always pressured him, but Ryan didn’t need to know that. Ryan would just get mad, they would fight over it, then inevitably make up after a few days, because they were terrible at functioning without each other; always had been.

“Arthur has no right to ask this of you,” Ryan said, his eyes hard. “He’s your father, not your owner. The whole betrothal thing is bloody archaic and ridiculous.”

James shook his head with a thin smile. Ryan didn’t understand. He never did, no matter how many times James had tried to explain it. It was one of those few things that they just didn’t get about each other ’s life. James supposed it wasn’t that surprising, considering how different their background and upbringing was. Ryan had five siblings—four brothers and a sister—and James still remembered how strange Ryan’s family seemed to him when Ryan had brought him home for the first time all those years ago. It had been a cultural shock. As a child, James had lived in huge mansions all his life, the sole heir to an enormous fortune, pampered and spoiled by everyone around him.

By contrast, the Hardaway kids had lived in a small flat and there hadn’t been enough money to spoil any of them. It didn’t help that Ryan’s father had died shortly before James met Ryan, and that Ryan’s mother ’s health wasn’t good. The entire family had basically depended on Ryan’s eldest brother, who had become the de facto head of the family at the age of sixteen. James knew Zach had done his best, working overtime to make sure his younger siblings didn’t need anything. He succeeded for the most part, but for years, things had been difficult for the Hardaways, and all of them had grown up fast—because they had to. James still remembered how embarrassed and ashamed he felt for having it so easy when he saw Ryan’s home for the first time.

But money couldn’t buy everything. James would have given anything to have such a boisterous and close-knit family as Ryan did. James loved the Hardaways. By now they were a second family to him. Sometimes he actually felt more comfortable with Ryan’s family than with his own.

It wasn’t that he didn’t love his own family. He did. He was grateful for what he had. Their family may not be as warm and close-knit as the Hardaways, but his parents loved him; he knew it.

They weren’t the problem; the family name was—or rather, what being a Grayson entailed. The Graysons were one of the oldest noble families in Britain. Kings died, wars were fought, political systems changed, but the Graysons stayed, unchanged and proud, rich and influential, close advisers of prime ministers and the Royal Family. They were actually related to the Royal Family—his dad was eleventh in the line of succession. One who wasn’t born a Grayson couldn’t understand what it meant. Not even Ryan, who was as close to him as a twin, could. Maybe especially Ryan.

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