Penn’s rage came to a head less than a week after Bastian had died. She was tearing apart his room, looking for any clues as to where he might have gone so she could find him and kill him. The other three tried to stay out of her way, and spent the afternoon in the sitting room.
Gia had taken to playing the piano and singing. Aggie was sitting in a chair, working on her needlepoint, which had been her favorite pastime for over a century. Thea sprawled out on a chaise, attempting to read a book, when Penn burst into the room.
“Which one of you did it?” Penn snarled, and Thea’s heart froze.
“What?” Aggie asked.
“Bastian.” Penn had some pieces of paper crumpled in her hand, and she held them up for all to see. “I found this in his room. Which one of you wrote this?”
“Whatever are you going on about?” Aggie asked, but Thea already knew.
As soon as she’d seen the papers, she understood what Penn was talking about, and she cursed herself for being so stupid. She thought she’d been so careful and had cleaned up any evidence of Bastian’s murder, but she hadn’t thought to erase signs of their affair.
“These!” Penn threw the papers to the ground. “And don’t play dumb. I know one of you did it.”
Aggie set aside her needlepoint, and she got up from the chair. She picked one of the pages up from the floor, smoothing it out.
“Bastian, my dearest love, I cannot wait until our next moment together. Every moment we are apart, I fear I will not survive until I can feel your embrace again,” Aggie read. She looked up from the paper and shook her head. “Forgive me, dear sister, but I do not understand. What do your love letters have to do with anything?”
“Those aren’t my love letters, you nitwit,” Penn hissed. “I never wrote those. One of you did.”
Thea sat up on the chaise, but she said nothing and tried to keep her face expressionless. She could feel Gia watching her from the other side of the piano, but Gia didn’t speak up, either.
“How do you know one of us wrote them?” Aggie asked reasonably. “These could be from the servants or any of Bastian’s old lovers. They could even be from his wife.”
“No, no, no.” Penn shook her head and knelt on the floor to tear through the letters. “This one. Here.” She held it out for Aggie to read.
“Your siren song, it calls to me in the night. Even when I am with your sister, I assure you, I am thinking of you,” Aggie said.
Internally, Thea winced, but she remained motionless. She and Bastian used to slip each other love notes under their bedroom doors. Thea would often carry his in the bodice of her dress so she could take them out and read them over and over again.
But in the process of making love, her dress often came off, and the notes would get lost or left behind. That one she’d apparently left in Bastian’s room after one of their trysts.
“See?” Penn asked, her eyes blazing. “One of you was trying to steal him from me!”
“Penn, even if one of us did sleep with him, and I’m not saying one of us did, I know that I have not,” Aggie said. “That means nothing. Bastian left you. He didn’t run off with one of your sisters. He left us all behind.”
“No.” Penn shook her head and got back up to her feet. “One of you drove him away. One of you was having an affair with him, and you scared him off. You went behind my back, and you chased away the man I love. One of you has to pay.”
“Penn, calm down,” Aggie said. “You don’t want to do anything rash.”
“Which one of you was it?” Penn shouted, ignoring Aggie. In fact, she wasn’t even looking at Aggie. She glared at Thea, and then at Gia.
Thea met her gaze evenly, her heart pounding so loudly in her ears that she heard nothing else. Penn’s eyes flitted over to Gia, who immediately lowered her eyes. She’d done nothing wrong—she simply cowered anytime Penn came at her.
But Penn took that as a sign of guilt.
“It was you!” Penn roared and ran at Gia. “You did this, didn’t you?”
“No, Penn, I would never—” Gia tried to argue with her, but Penn wrapped her hand around Gia’s throat and slammed her back into the wall.
“Penn!” Aggie got to her feet. “Stop it! Put her down!”
“She destroyed my only chance at happiness,” Penn growled. “And now I’m going to destroy her.”
Gia’s blue eyes were wide, and she pulled at Penn’s hand. By then Penn had already begun the transformation into the bird. Her legs were shifting underneath her gown, and she grew taller, with the feet and legs of an emu sticking out below.
Her arms were elongated, and her fingers had hooked talons at the ends. Her silky black hair thinned out as her head bulged and changed shape to adapt to the mouthful of fangs. The wings burst through the back of the dress, flapping as they unfurled and partially blocking Thea’s view.
Gia never changed, though. Her eyes stayed blue the entire time, so none of her shifted into the bird-monster that could’ve protected her.
Thea had many years to think on this day in the future, and she never came up with a satisfactory reason why Gia didn’t. There were only two reasons she could come up with. Perhaps Gia didn’t believe what was really happening. She didn’t think Penn would actually hurt her, so she didn’t want to defend herself and upset Penn more.
Or maybe Gia wanted to die. She’d never really wanted this life or belonged in it in the first place. So maybe she welcomed Penn’s reaction, and that was why she never fought back or betrayed Thea’s confidence.