Incense and Sensibility (The Rajes #3) - Sonali Dev

Chapter One

From the day he was born Yash Raje had his entire life planned out for him and he was wholeheartedly on board with the plan. Sure, there was the prophecy—your life tended to leave the realm of mediocrity when you had a clairvoyant cousin who saw great things in your future—but the real reason was that Yash wasn’t an ungrateful prick.

There were those born under the diamond-studded blanket of privilege who were tortured by it. Then there were others who took it as their due. Both those types of people struck Yash as asinine. Yash looked at his privilege as a test. How worthy could he make himself of all these opportunities, and how much could he change with them? Yash had always been a great test-taker. Perfect scores on the SAT, ACT, and the LSAT, thank you very much.

“Ready to go get them?” Rico Silva, his media strategist, strode into the holding area behind the stage of Santa Clara University’s soccer stadium. His enthusiasm matched the purposeful energy coursing through Yash. Rico was a World Cup–winning soccer player and media darling, and hiring him to handle his press and messaging was one of the smartest things Yash had done for his campaign.

Not only did Rico possess an uncanny sense of what voters needed to see and when, but being a star athlete also made him the perfect person to introduce Yash at rallies with talk of dreams and pushing the limits of human potential. Running for political office was a test of how well you could sell that dream. The dream of hope. Yash had every intention of acing that test as well.

Rico’s introductions always fired up the audience, and a fired-up audience was exactly what Yash needed three months before California’s gubernatorial election. Yash was still doing a back-and-forth two-step with his opponent for a lead in the polls.

“Always ready,” Yash said, adrenaline drowning out everything but his goal: that podium, that audience, and owning them both.

“Ready to go get them?” His sister Nisha echoed Rico’s words. Nisha had managed all of Yash’s campaigns since his very first one as the youngest person running for state senate.

He mock-frowned at her. “Actually, can we cancel? I have a tummy ache.”

She made a face. “Funny.”

As a little girl Nisha had used tummy aches as an excuse to get out of anything she didn’t want to do. Usually this involved activities that might ruin her hair (swimming with her siblings) or her clothes (literally, any physical labor). When it came to Yash’s political campaigns, however, his sister was an unstoppable force. “Where is Abdul?” Her eyes swept the room for Yash’s bodyguard.

“He’s checking the stage one last time. Rico and I were ironing out some tweaks to the speech. Did you check up on Naina?”

“Your girlfriend is just fine.” Nisha started tapping on her iPad with her usual focus. Everyone was in the zone. Yash never left the zone. The zone was his dominion. “She’s seated next to the university chancellor. I’m sure she’s charming the pants off him.”

Of course she was.

With one last tap, Nisha finished what she was doing. “I just texted Naina and she thanks you for checking up on her and wishes you luck even though she knows you don’t need it.” Then, eternal romantic that she was, she sighed and gave Yash a smile that said you-two-are-so-adorable.

Rico threw him a wary glance. As a man newly in love, he wasn’t quite as convinced about Yash and Naina’s romance. And people liked to claim that women were more intuitive than men.

Rico was right to be skeptical. Sometimes Yash wondered how more people didn’t see through his arrangement with Naina. They’d been together—more accurately they’d been pretending to be together—for ten years. It had started off as two friends trying to help each other get their parents off their backs about marriage, and it had worked out perfectly.

Naina was off in all parts of the world studying how to structurally dismantle the gender imbalance caused by centuries of systemic economic dependence of women. Yash was here trying to change the world from the only place where it could actually be done: California.

Which made Yash a thirty-eight-year-old who was hanging on to a deal he had made with his friend when they were twenty-eight, so they could live life on their own terms and circumvent their overbearing families without hurting them. Sure, it sounded a tad bit cowardly, but only if you didn’t know their families.

The added bonus of