We Set the Dark on Fire (We Set the Dark on Fire, #1)(11)

But he didn’t look back. A chilly sort of boredom emanated from the only Garcia son, like he got married every day. Like it was nothing. Dani felt her dread intensify. She needed a sign. A whisper from the gods in the candle flames or the starlit diosas outside to tell her she didn’t need to run. That this was the right thing to do.

They stood together, Mateo staring unseeing at the contract before them, Dani with melting iron in her spine, looking for something to hold on to.

“. . . And Segunda,” the headmatron said, consulting the paper in front of her.

Dani didn’t let herself close her eyes.

“Carmen Reina Lara Santos!”


The relationship between Primera and Seguda is not one of competition, but of harmony. Their complementary skills form a perfect whole.

—Medio School for Girls Handbook, 14th edition

THE NUMBNESS DANI HAD FELT earlier was nothing compared to her shock when Carmen was called.

Where Dani’s name had drawn whispers, too-polite claps, and eyes like daggers, Carmen’s name caused hysteria. The girls surrounding her rushed in, embracing her, shrieking, even sobbing. The ones not lucky enough to sit so close whistled instead, applauding until the sound echoed from the walls and the headmatron was forced to call order.

Carmen rose from her admirers like a bird taking flight. Her smile was radiant, her dress an ostentatious bright gold.

Rather than cause panic, Carmen’s presence had made Dani calm. This was the sign she had been looking for. On the night of her greatest uncertainty, the Moon Goddess had given her Carmen Santos.

She had trusted her instincts once before, Dani thought, the day she told Carmen who she was. It had been the worst decision of her young life, and if Carmen was here, it was as a reminder that Dani did as she was told. When she didn’t, disaster struck.

There was no reason now to think of the future shaping itself before her, or to plan her escape. Carmen was taking her place on the other side of Mateo, completing the trifecta that would carry them through the rest of their lives together. She was dazzling. Perfect. Everything upper-class breeding and a lifetime of wealth and doting had bought her.

“Primera, please recite your pledge.”

Carmen seemed to remember Dani’s existence at that moment, and she turned her gaze across the podium with a smile that probably looked warm and welcoming to the audience. Friendly, even.

But Dani knew the truth. That every moment of her life would now be a fight. A competition. A battle for dominance. That Carmen would never stop looking for a way to intimidate and undermine her.

And if she paid close enough attention, if she discovered the secret Dani was hiding with those false papers in her desk drawer, Carmen would finally be able to ruin her. The way she’d inexplicably wanted to since their first day at the Medio School for Girls.

“Primera?” said the headmatron, a wrinkle of concern between her brows.

“Of course,” Dani said, pushing her worries aside. “My apologies, se?or.”

Her apology was directed to Mateo, who acknowledged it with an impatient nod.

“Se?or Garcia,” she began. “As your Primera, I pledge to be a beacon of light when the darkness is closing. A sturdy boat in choppy seas. I will be your partner, your solid ground. I will honor and respect you as long as we both shall live.”

Short and to the point, Dani had thought when she was writing it. It was only a formality anyway; everyone knew what was expected of a Primera without flowery language to belabor the point.

Mateo extended his hand, and she pressed her palm into his, hoping to convey with this gesture what she hoped for their life together: that they could make a life they loved, even if it was different from the one she had left. She was rewarded with a moment of eye contact, a brief softening of the hard lines around his eyes.

“Segunda?” said the headmatron.

Mateo dropped Dani’s hand in an instant, turning with almost inappropriate eagerness toward his shiny new Segunda, raking his eyes over her body in a greedy way that made Dani want to avert her gaze. Segundas were, of course, the child-bearers of the family, but Mateo wouldn’t be sharing a bed with his Segunda until she reached childbearing age. Usually around twenty, but dependent on an examination by the family’s physician.

Carmen responded with a smile, acknowledging his appreciation, but Dani noticed something tensed behind the Segunda’s eyes. It almost made her feel sorry for Carmen.


“Se?or,” she said, in a voice like the silk draping her curves. “In a world that will ask for much of you, I promise to be a respite, a joy. To nurture and to please you . . .” Several Segundas made whooping sounds, and Carmen winked at them.

Mateo allowed himself a grin.

Dani fought the urge to be sick.

“. . . To fill your home with beauty and love as long as we live.”

When Mateo mouthed thank you to her, Dani felt smaller than she ever had.

He pulled out the cloth next, woven of the Garcia family colors: blue, black, and silver. Powerful colors, and cold. The cloth his mama had woven was a marvel, much more intricate and sophisticated than the others Dani had seen tonight.

Dani thought she understood the symbolism as she considered the real, glinting metal woven in among the silver threads. Though Mateo’s eyes were a deep brown, it was as though you could see all his family’s ruthless colors swirling behind them.

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