The author of Recipe for Persuasion —“not only one of the best but one of the bravest romance novelists working today” (Shelf Awareness)—adds an Indian American twist to Jane Austen's classic Sense and Sensibility in this delightful retelling that is a feast for the senses. Yash Raje, California’s first serious Indian gubernatorial candidate, has always known exactly what he wants—and how to use his privileged background to get it. He attributes his success to a simple mantra: control your feelings and you can control the world. But when a hate-fueled incident at a rally critically injures his friend, Yash’s easy life suddenly feels like a lie, his control an illusion. When he tries to get back on the campaign trail, he blacks out with panic. Desperate to keep Yash’s condition from leaking to the media, his family turns to the one person they trust—his sister’s best friend, India Dashwood, California’s foremost stress management coach. Raised by a family of yoga teachers, India has helped San Francisco’s high strung overachievers for a decade without so much as altering her breath. But this man—with his boundless ambition, simmering intensity, and absolute faith in his political beliefs—is like no other. Yash has spent a lifetime repressing everything to succeed. Including their one magical night ten years ago—a too brief, too bright passion that if rekindled threatens the life he’s crafted for himself. Exposing the secrets might be the only way to save him but it’s also guaranteed to destroy the dream he’s willingly shouldered for his family and community . . . until now.
Release date: July 6, 2021
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Print pages: 400
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Incense and Sensibility
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 not needing to expend energy on a relationship had meant undistracted focus on their work for both of them. Sure, it was unromantic, but romance hardly got things done.
Rico pressed his phone to his ear. “They’re ready for us. We’ve got to kill this one, Raje. We’ve got to put some distance between Cruz and you in the polls. I’m going to go get the crowd excited. Try to keep up.” Thumping Yash on the shoulder in his star-athlete way, he jogged out.
Abdullah Khan, Yash’s security guard, entered the holding room. “Rico’s about to pour fuel on them. You ready to throw the match, boss?”
A little morbid, but Yash loved it. He nodded. “Always ready.”
“Hey, Abdul. How’s the baby?” Nisha asked.
The burly giant, who could snap your neck with his bare hands and shoot you dead from five hundred feet, went as soft and fuzzy as the teddy bear Yash had brought Abdul’s newborn daughter yesterday. After seeing him hold the tiny pink bundle, Yash could not for the life of him stop thinking of the man as cuddly.
“She’s amazing. Has quite the lungs, just like her ammi.” Abdul winked.
“Thanks for being here,” Nisha said, hand on heart.
They had tried to get the man to take the week off after the baby was born, but he’d refused to let a new bodyguard take over just months before the election. Abdul had been with Yash since the start of the campaign and knew only too well how hard it was for Yash to trust new people.
“Where else would I be? Let’s go, boss, let’s get you elected.” Abdul hammed up a salute, then pointed with a flourish to the exit.
Nisha gave Yash a quick hug and hurried off to take care of the next thing, her pregnant belly not slowing her down in the least bit. Yash marched out behind Abdul.
This was Yash’s favorite part. This charged moment offstage, able to see the audience when they couldn’t see him, just before he went out into the bright lights. All the things he planned to address today were laid out in a precise grid in his head ready to be retrieved and articulated. Fiscal reform. Social reform. How the two intersected. His plans to tie them together.
A college campus was his crowd. Young people excited at the prospect of not having someone their parents’ age running things. All that raw hope that hadn’t yet been pounded down by cynicism and bills. Right and wrong still meaningful words not blurred by single-minded economic focus. Yash’s talking points about dismantling accumulation of wealth as a systemic norm were an easy sell here. Actually, it was a surprisingly popular opinion in the Bay, with its combination of greed and guilt.
The challenge was communicating the idea outside the bubble of the Bay without coming across as a hypocritical elitist. Being pro-business wasn’t a problem. It couldn’t be, in America. The problem was how businesses reallocated profits to affect economic change in communities where social change was most vital.
Talking points scrolled across his brain. His body vibrated with all that could be. Potential. Power. Purpose. This gave him life. This connecting with people. This knowing that he could change things for them.
Onstage, Rico had the crowd eating out of his hand. A chant of, “Yash is us,” started up and boomed across the arena like drumbeats. Excitement thrummed in the air like an electric force.
Abdul’s shoulders took up the rhythm of the chant even as he scanned the crowd with laser focus. Rico called out Yash’s name with all the aplomb of a sportscaster announcing a reigning champion before a big fight, and the cheering turned deafening.
“You’re a rock star, boss,” Abdul said, his fist bumping against Yash’s as they ran out onto the stage.
“I Love you, Yash Raje!” someone screamed from the crowd as though Yash really were a rock star.
It was the first sound to hit him as he faced the crowd, anticipation rising from it and rolling over him like a wave.
The second sound blew out his eardrums just as fire exploded in his arm.
Two more shots followed the first and Abdul’s body slammed against Yash’s, pushing him out of the way. Yash fell back, his legs flying out from under him as he watched Abdul slam his head on the podium and crumple to the floor across Yash’s legs. Everything inside Yash braced for more shots. When none came, he felt his heart start beating again, but when he tried to move . . . nothing.
Why have I never googled what happens after you get shot? That should not have been Yash’s first thought after the deafening blasts rang through the stadium. But it was.
Scattering footfalls thumped across the ground beneath the stage. An endless ringing, like a suspended beep, was trapped deep inside his ear. Outside, everything was too bright, washed in white light. He felt like he was in a movie. How did filmmakers know how this felt? How many of them had experienced being shot?
His hands twitched for his phone in that internal tug that had become part of the human condition, the need for an immediate answer uncontrollable. The memory of crisp encyclopedia pages slid against his fingertips. As a child, he had found answers in his father’s library. The beloved knowledge-filled tomes had swallowed his questions, fueled them, and now they crammed landfills because of a machine that fit in his hand.
The weight across Yash’s legs twitched, pulling him from the tightly packed thoughts in his brain. This time when he tried to move, his body responded and he pushed himself up on his elbows. Abdul was lying across Yash’s legs, face down.
Abdul? The word left his lips but didn’t reach his ears past the suspended beep. Abdul! Was his bodyguard not responding because he didn’t hear him, or because he couldn’t hear him?
Should I move? God, sometimes questions were the bane of his existence. To stop and think before acting, it was supposed to be his gift. Controlling your emotions was the only way to control anything else. It might be the first thing Yash remembered his father ever saying to him. A lesson so early and strong that it had become twisted into the helixes of Yash’s DNA.
Animals operate on instinct. Humans temper their actions with intellect. A leader reins his emotions better than everyone else. A leader thinks.
His father’s voice crackled in his head. Yash had always known that when death came it would take the form of his father’s lecturing.
A man was lying on top of him, and reining his emotions was doing Yash zero good. “Abdul!” This time the sound had to have left his throat, because Yash heard it at a distance.
Abdul didn’t move.
Why am I not feeling anything?
He could feel Abdul’s weight across him. He could smell the dust and blood. But inside, where there should be terror and panic, nothing—just thoughts crashing against thoughts.
As gently as he could, Yash leaned forward and pressed a hand into Abdul’s shoulder. His body was utterly still. Blood pooled under them, springing from a gash on the side of Abdul’s neck, just above his vest. Damn it.
Bending forward, Yash reached for the wound but his hand hovered over it. Pressure seemed the most logical way to stop the blood, but what if touching it made something worse.
“Abdul,” Yash shouted into his friend’s body. The wetness under him made a squelching sound. Abdul was losing too much blood.
Pulling off his jacket, Yash bunched it up and pressed it into the wound as lightly as he could. Almost instantly red soaked through the pale gray linen.
Déjà vu soaked through Yash’s brain. It had been a full twenty-three years since his accident. He’d been all of fifteen when a driver had jumped a stop sign and hit Yash. He felt his belly bounce as he was thrown off his bicycle into the air. The sight of blood always made the collision come alive inside him, so he avoided it. Now every cell in his being felt like it was soaked in the memory.
Beneath his hands Abdul convulsed once. A sign of life. Yash increased the pressure just a little bit. Abdul had brought him a box of burfi this morning to celebrate his daughter’s birth. Naaz, they had called her. It meant pride. A beautiful, beautiful name. A name Yash had tucked away in the vault where he kept things that belonged just to him. Just in case a day came when he might have children. Oh God, Abdul’s wife hadn’t even gone home from the hospital.
“Come on, wake up.” Yash wanted to shake him, do something, but he was too afraid to take his hands off the gash in Abdul’s neck.
“Sir, are you all right?” A man ran up the stage and suddenly Yash was aware of the chaos around him. Screams and scrambling footsteps.
The man tried to pull Yash’s hands off Abdul, but Yash couldn’t let the spring of blood start up again. “You have to let go. We have to get him off you and get you looked at. The paramedics are almost here.” The man was another guard from the security company. Yash couldn’t remember his name.
“Don’t touch him.” Finally, Yash’s voice reached his own ears, loud and forceful. He should have felt relief. He needed to feel something. “Where’s the ambulance? Do you know what the golden hour is? If we don’t get him to a hospital right now, his chances of survival will fall by seventy percent. Do you realize what seventy percent is? Where’s Rico? Rico!” He looked past the guard who was crowding him.
A crush of bodies moved in a wave toward the back of the stadium, leaving overturned chairs in their wake. Twenty thousand. Twenty thousand young people with their lives ahead of them. At the mercy of a shooter. Because of him.
Where was Rico? Had he made it off the stage when the shots went off? Yash’s hands trembled on Abdul’s wound. What if Rico was bleeding somewhere too? Rico wasn’t just a friend, wasn’t just Yash’s media wiz. He was dating Yash’s sister. Technically Ashna was his cousin but Yash only ever thought of her as his sister. Rico was family. Ashna was happy. It had been years since Yash had seen her happy. Just this morning Yash had teased Rico about his intentions toward his sister.
I intend to let Ash use my body for her shagging pleasure for the rest of my life, mate.
Had Ashna been at the rally? Why couldn’t he remember who else was here?
He turned to the guard. “I need you to find Rico Silva for me. Right now.”
“I’m here, mate.” Rico’s face came up behind the guard whose name Yash couldn’t remember.
Yash never forgot names. Ever.
He was also never this cold. Rico was alive and Yash could feel absolutely nothing. I should be feeling something. Something!
“Abdul needs to be in an ambulance,” Yash said as Rico squatted next to him.
He looked unhurt. The only sign that this wasn’t just another day at just another rally was that the giant YASHRAJE FOR GOVERNOR button on Rico’s jacket had come askew and was hanging lopsided.
“You need to let Abdul go,” Rico said, face tight with so many emotions that the emptiness inside Yash doubled down. “The ambulance is here. They need to look at you.” Rico looked over his shoulder as paramedics rushed at them with gurneys.
“This way,” Yash shouted, but they were already tugging his hands off Abdul and lifting him off Yash to a stretcher.
A paramedic helped Yash up and onto a gurney. “You need to let us look at you.” He tried to get Yash to lay down but Yash wouldn’t let him.
“I’m fine. He was hit.” Yash didn’t recognize his own voice, but something about his tone was familiar. “Why did it take you so long to get here?” Just like that Yash knew why it sounded familiar. He sounded exactly like his father. Yash had spent his life trying not to sound like his father.
He tried to soften it, tried to sound more like himself. “He’s within the golden hour. That means he’s going to be okay, right?”
The paramedic gave Rico a look and Rico pushed Yash back with a “Please, Yash.”
Yash resisted but suddenly pain shot through his arm making him lightheaded and he lay back.
He didn’t want to be on a gurney. The last time he’d been on one he’d ended up in a wheelchair for a year. His blood-soaked clothes, the pain throbbing in his body, all these paramedics. The numbness in his legs. He wasn’t fifteen, this wasn’t that day. He didn’t even have real memories from that day. Just these splashes of sensation.
It took some effort to stop himself from searching his surroundings for his bike. The one that had become as twisted and mangled as his broken spine.
“They’re taking care of him.” Rico pressed a hand into Yash’s chest to keep him on the gurney.
Before Yash could respond a woman screamed his name and ran at him.
Yash knew the woman.
He couldn’t for the life of him remember her name.
“Yash, honey. Oh no.” She was sobbing. Mascara ran down her face. She looked like she’d lost someone she loved.
That’s how I should look. That’s how I should be feeling. But nothing. He felt nothing.
“Naina, he’s going to be okay,” Rico said.
Naina. Of course.
Naina and Yash. Spoken for. The words made him laugh. They made him think of his parents. How would Ma survive it if he died?
Spoken for. Ma had come up with that label when Yash and Naina had said they wouldn’t get engaged. Ma, who always found a way to make things okay.
Spoken for. And he’d forgotten her name.
Naina kept stroking his arm. Then she leaned over and kissed his forehead. Mascara-tinted teardrops splashed onto Yash’s face. A light flashed with a sound Yash knew so well it could wake him from the dead. A camera.
“Honey, please let them do their job.” Spoken-for Naina sobbed as more cameras clicked.
“Their job is to make sure Abdul doesn’t die.” He tried to catch Rico’s eye, but Naina had wrapped herself around Yash and he couldn’t see. The smell of her perfume was so strong he couldn’t breathe.
Twisting in her embrace, he spoke to the paramedic who was clamping a monitor to his finger. “What’s taking so long? That man needs to be in a hospital. Don’t you understand? He has a bullet inside him.” His father was back in his voice.
“Actually, sir, he doesn’t,” the paramedic said, pressing something into Yash’s shoulder, making it feel like he’d taken an ax to it. “The bullet went through him. You’re the one with the bullet inside you.”
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