Home > The Emma Project (The Rajes #4)

The Emma Project (The Rajes #4)
Author: Sonali Dev

 


Chapter One


Vansh Raje wasn’t hypocritical enough to see his life as anything but charmed. Handsome: Vogue had declared him the most gorgeous of his siblings, and even he wouldn’t argue populist opinions about beauty with Vogue. Smart: Not book-brilliant like his siblings, but cleverer than all of them put together, as his grandmother always assured everyone, and who would argue with a grandmother about the intelligence of her grandchildren? Rich: that, of course, was the most tangible of labels, so no reinforcements of proof were necessary.

Add to that a loving—fine, make that doting—family, and a contagiously sunny disposition that was his greatest asset, and Vansh had made it halfway into his twenties without ever facing anything to throw him off his admittedly spectacular game.

“Well, don’t you look all pleased with yourself, Baby Prince,” Naina Kohli said. She had known Vansh his whole life and had the only voice on earth that had this particular impact on him. A potent combination of reprimand and amusement that made Vansh want to wipe his face like a toddler caught eating dirt, while also making him feel like no one else ate dirt quite as impressively as he did.

“And don’t you look resplendent, Knightlina,” he said, raising his glass of celebratory bubbly at her.

A flash of anger slipped past her guarded brown eyes. She hated her given name—enough to have legally changed it at eighteen. Vansh was the only person on earth who got away with using it anymore. And he only used it when that tone of hers made the otherwise nonexistent orneriness bubble up inside him. Then she smiled and did a quick half turn showcasing her charcoal-gray silk pantsuit.

“Not bad for the spurned ex, ha?” she offered.

“Not at all bad for the spurned fake ex,” he countered.

She shrugged as though she cared not a bit for anything, least of all that distinction. They drank to that, and took in the night sky reflected in the pool on Vansh’s parents’ estate. Naina had chanced upon him here after Vansh had made his way to the private alcove behind the pool house to get away from the thousand-odd guests celebrating his brother’s historic election win.

Yash, Vansh’s oldest sibling, had just won California’s gubernatorial race in one of the closest elections in recent history, also known as a bloodbath. Or that’s how it had felt in that last week of campaigning when Yash’s opponent had dropped the gloves and every modicum of decency and gone after Yash as a liar, a cheat, and when nothing else worked, as a foreign-funded, idol-worshipping philanderer.

The only reason Yash had been able to pull off the win was because he’d convinced the people of California that he could make law and order work without compromising social justice. Yash had brought the leaders of the Black justice movement and the police union leaders to the negotiating table. A meeting Vansh had pulled together for Yash, thank you very much, because Vansh had been friends with the leader of the union from his Peace Corps days.

“Do you think they have something a little stronger? Or a lot stronger?” Naina asked, her always self-possessed voice slipping slightly as her eyes widened with disbelief.

Vansh followed her gaze to the couple who rounded the corner into the private alcove. It struck Vansh that Naina had probably also been looking for some privacy when she’d found her way here. Which was obviously precisely what his brother and his girlfriend were looking for as they came into view, hands all over each other, making out like horny teenagers, entirely unaware of Vansh and Naina tucked away out of their line of sight.

Desperate sounds of arousal escaped from them as they tugged at each other’s clothes and hair.

Vansh almost cleared his throat—he probably should have—but he was frozen at the sight of this new version of Yash. India said something, and laughter shivered through the two of them in a way so intimate Vansh stepped in front of Naina to protect her from it.

It had been barely a few months since Yash had, very publicly, left Naina for India Dashwood just weeks before the election, effectively risking his lifelong dream of becoming the governor of California to be with India instead of Naina. A fact that Naina seemed to be reliving with every cell in her being given how hard she was trying to appear nonchalant.

With another possessive moan, Yash pushed India into the wall and she arched her body against his. This uninhibited, reckless Yash couldn’t possibly be the tightlaced brother Vansh had grown up in the shadow of.

Taking care not to look at Naina, Vansh cleared his throat loudly enough to break through whatever pheromone-fueled idiocy had gripped the newly elected governor at this very well-attended party.

Yash and India jumped apart with all the force befitting two usually uptight people caught in the act of quasi-fornicating in public.

Pushing India behind him, Yash spun around to find Vansh trying to channel their mother and glare without glaring. If Naina had not been standing next to him, Vansh would have been rolling with laughter. This was the sort of thing comedic writers spent hours workshopping. Vansh had spent four months, years ago, working with a friend on his sitcom. It had sounded like much more fun than it had turned out to be, and they’d never come up with a situation nearly this ludicrous.

“Naina.” India was the first to break the mortified silence. Flaming cheeks notwithstanding, her voice was calm and filled with warmth. This was not a surprise. India had the sort of Buddha vibe Vansh had seen monks in Dharamshala aspire to with little success. “Vansh. I hope you’re both having a good time,” she added, doubling down on the yogic vibe.

That made Yash press a cough-laugh into his fist. God, was this really his brother?

India threw what could only be called the fondest glare at Yash, who seemed to be tearing up with the effort of containing his mirth. To be perfectly honest, if Vansh met his brother’s eyes they would both burst into laughter.

“Oh, we’re having a great time,” Naina said, with every bit of the elegant drollness Vansh associated with her.

“Although not nearly as much fun as we interrupted,” Vansh said before he could stop himself and gave up on holding his laughter back. “What the hell, Yash? This is literally a political party thrown by your political party.”

“We just needed a moment,” India said, her blush deepening. “It’s been a lot.”

Yash sobered and slid a protective arm around her. “The worst of the circus is over,” he said, his statesman shoulders widening with purpose. “Campaigns are the worst part. Now the press will shift its focus to my work. They’ll leave you alone. I’ll make sure of it.”

The relief on India’s face was palpable.

Naina’s body stiffened infinitesimally. She covered it up with more of that determined breeziness and smiled kindly at India.

Before anyone could say more, another intertwined couple turned the corner into the private alcove that was turning out not to be so private after all.

“I’ve been waiting for you to use your gavel all evening, Your Honor.”

God, please, no! Those were the last words on earth Vansh ever, ever, wanted to hear his oldest sister say to her judge husband. Ever.

Yash, who was generally not the sort of guy who snorted with laughter, snorted with laughter so violently that Nisha and Neel jumped apart like someone had fired a cannon.

Nisha’s hands pressed into her face. “No. No. Nononono. What the hell are you all doing here?”

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