Kansas City Secrets

By: Julie Miller

Chapter One

“Why did you kill that woman, Stephen?” Rosemary March asked, looking across the scarred-up table at her younger brother. “And don’t tell me it was to rob her for drug money. I know that isn’t who you are.”

Rosemary studied the twenty-eight-year-old man she’d done her best to raise after a small plane crash several years earlier had left them orphans. She tried to pretend there weren’t a dozen pairs of eyes on her, watching through the observation windows around them. It was easier than pretending the Missouri State Penitentiary’s tiny visitation room with its locked steel doors wasn’t making her claustrophobic.

But it was impossible to ignore the clinking of the chains and cuffs that bound Stephen March’s wrists and ankles together. “You ask me that every time you come to see me, Rosemary.”

“Because I’m not satisfied with the answers you’ve given me.” She ran her fingers beneath the collar of her floral-print blouse, telling herself it was the heat of the Missouri summer, and not any discomfiting leer from another prisoner or the unsettling mystery of why her brother would kill a woman he didn’t know, that made beads of perspiration gather against her skin. “I hate seeing you in here.”

“You need to let it go. This is where I deserve to be. Trust me, sis. I was never going to amount to much on the outside.”

“That’s not true. With your artistic talent you could have—”

“But I didn’t.” He drummed his scarred fingers together at the edge of the table. For as long as she’d known him, he’d been hyper like that—always moving, always full of energy. Their father had gotten him into running cross-country and track; their mother had put a drawing pencil in his hand. Ultimately, though, neither outlet could compete with the meth addiction that had sent his life spiraling out of control. “Losing Mom and Dad was no excuse for me going off the deep end and not helping out. Especially when your fiancé...” The drumming stopped abruptly. “Just know, I was really there for you when you needed me.”

“Needed you for what? If you had anything to do with Richard’s murder, please tell me. You know I’ll forgive you. We never used to keep secrets like this from each other. Please help me understand.”

“I kept you safe. That’s the one thing I got right, the one thing I’m proud of. Even the Colonel would have finally been proud of me,” he added, referring to their father.

“Dad loved you,” Rosemary insisted.

“Maybe. But he wasn’t real thrilled having a drug addict for a son, was he? But I took action. The way he would have.” His gaze darted around the room, as if checking for eavesdroppers, before his light brown eyes focused on her and he dropped his voice to a whisper. “For the last time, I killed that lady reporter to protect you.”

Understanding far more about tragedy and violence and not being able to protect herself and her loved ones more than she’d ever wanted to, Rosemary brushed aside the escaping wisps of her copper-red hair and leaned forward, pressing the argument. “Dad wouldn’t have wanted you to commit murder. I didn’t even know that woman. That’s what doesn’t make any sense. What kind of threat was she to me?”

Stephen groaned at her repeated demands for a straightforward explanation. He slumped back in his chair and nodded toward the family’s current attorney standing outside the window behind her. “Why did you bring him?”

Fine. She’d let him change the topic. Although it was good to see Stephen clean and sober, he looked exhausted. Her younger brother had aged considerably in the months since he’d pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and been incarcerated, and she didn’t want to add to his stress. She glanced over her shoulder to the brown-haired man in the suit and tie and returned his smile before facing her brother again. “Howard insisted on coming with me. He didn’t want me driving back to Kansas City at night by myself. It was a kind offer.”

The drumming started again. “He reminds me too much of his brother. Are you sure he’s treating you right?”

She flinched at the remembered shock of Richard Bratcher’s open hand across her mouth putting an end to an argument they’d had over a memorial scholarship she’d wanted to set up in her parents’ names. Seven years later, she could still taste the metallic tang of blood in her mouth that reminded her she’d made a colossal mistake in inviting the attorney into their lives, falling in love with him, trusting him. Rosemary inhaled a quiet breath and lifted her chin. Richard was dead and she’d become a pro at setting aside those horrible memories and pasting a facade of cool serenity on her face.

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