Just a Bit Confusing

By: Alessandra Hazard

Ryan glanced over. “The redhead is pretty cute,” he said. “A few months ago I would have totally hit that.”

James reached for his tea and took a liberal swallow. His throat felt dry. He took another gulp.

“So you’re serious about Hannah?” he said casually, setting the cup down. Ever since Ryan had met Hannah a few months ago, he’d been completely fixated on her. James had never seen him so besotted before. Ryan had always been the type to fuck ‘em and leave ‘em—until Hannah.

“Yeah,” Ryan said, his voice softening. “She’s…I think she’s the real deal, Jamie.”

James opened his mouth and closed it. He smiled, searching for words. For the right words.

Thankfully, the waitress brought Ryan’s pasta, giving him a few precious moments to find them.

“So, when is the wedding?” he said.

Ryan laughed, knocking their knees together again. “You going to be my best man?”

James smiled brighter. His cheeks started hurting. “Only if you’re mine.”

Ryan’s grin faded, his green eyes turning intent and hard. “You aren’t seriously thinking of this, are you? Marrying that girl your dad wants you to?”

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.

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