RUBIES ARE RED • by Sarah Ann Watts

“So, what do you think would happen if she knew about us?” I asked. My brother flinched and I almost felt guilty but I was having way too much fun to stop now.

“Sophie,” he said, “you can’t. We made her a promise.”

“You made her a promise.” I was smug. “I said nothing, remember. You always did let chivalry get in the way.”

For a moment I thought I’d gone too far. There was an ugly look in his eyes I’d never seen before. He frightened me then — I felt scorched like my dress had caught the flames. “You wouldn’t.”

He smiled. I let out the breath I hadn’t realised I was holding and turned away to light a cigarette. I handed it to him and he took it although I knew he’d quit a while back.

“You’re getting me into bad habits again.”

That was rich, coming from him. The whole thing was his idea, not my fault he’d fallen for the girl. I couldn’t see a happy ending. She was high society and we were adventurers, nothing more or less.

He held out his hand and slowly, reluctantly I showed him the paste necklace. It was a work of art. I was proud of it.

“Give it to me.”

I shrugged and let it fall into his cupped hand. “She’ll never know the difference.”

“I’ll know.”

“She’s leaving tomorrow. No reason to stay here after the funeral — bad memories.”

“She’s asked me to go with her.”

“As her drawing teacher?” That was unfair of me but he wasn’t the one being left behind.

“Look — you have the rubies. Isn’t that enough?”

“For now.” I was pushing it I knew but what else did I have to live on?

“You’ll be all right.” It was almost as if he was pleading with me.

“I’ll be fine.” I knew that was true. He was my little brother and I should let him go. The necklace would fetch a good price. I hesitated and then said, “Maybe you should tell her the truth.”

“They’d hang you.”

“For faking a necklace? This isn’t the Middle Ages.”

“Not for the necklace. Murder.”

I laughed at that and blew out smoke. “I didn’t kill her father.”

“You smothered him with a pillow.”

I let the cigarette fall and it flared briefly, ash nesting in the thick pile of the hotel carpet. I ground it out with the kitten heel of my slipper. I was bent over laughing and there were tears streaming down my face. He caught me by the arms and shook me. “Be quiet. Someone will hear you!”

I pulled myself free. There would be bruises tomorrow. My brother never did know his own strength.

“Why on earth would I kill him? He had a heart attack after his little girl, your beloved, brought him champagne on his birthday. As you know, champagne makes my head ache. I didn’t drink any but he did. She’s a careless killer, no thought for consequences. Yes, I tidied up the evidence. I’ll take the rubies as insurance.”

He was shaking his head. “I don’t believe you.”

That’s what love does to you. Twenty two years, allies against the world, and now he believed her word against mine? I couldn’t stay then. I left the room and watched from my balcony as they drove away the following morning. Later I read the papers — heiress’s whirlwind romance and a honeymoon on the Riviera. How banal.

I think for a while they were happy. Until the crash came and she tried to cash in on her inheritance. They say poison is a woman’s weapon but why would I kill the goose that laid the golden eggs? The old man was always good to me. He was going to give the rubies to me as a wedding gift. Poor Stephen — he never understood that the champagne was meant for me.

A daughter who kills her father instead of his mistress will always be grateful to the young knight whose quick thinking saves her from the gallows. I just wondered if he’d ever thought about who she’d have blamed for my death. And if she ever grew weary of his devotion then I would always be there, waiting for him to come home.

They say the price of a virtuous woman is far above rubies. I wouldn’t know.

Sarah Ann Watts lives in Hull, East Yorkshire. Her work has appeared in Bewildering Stories, The Hiss Quarterly, Apollo’s Lyre, Flashshot, Mytholog, The Future Fire, Crimson Highway, Whispers of Wickedness, Neon, Twisted Tongue, MicroHorror, Shine, The Ranfurly Review and HeavyGlow.

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