SIDE CHICK NATIONby Aya de León
A Justice Hustlers Novel
Publication Date: June 25, 2019
Genres: Adult, Romantic Suspense, Urban Fiction, Feminist Crime, Standalone
Meanwhile, New York-based mastermind thief Marisol already has her hands full fleecing a ruthless CEO who’s stealing her family’s land in Puerto Rico, while trying to get her relatives out alive after the hurricane. An extra member in her crew could be game-changing, but she’s wary of Dulce’s unpredictability and reputation for drama. Still, Dulce’s determination to get justice draws Marisol in, along with her formidable Lower East Side Women’s Health Clinic’s heist squad. But their race-against-the-clock plan is soon complicated by powerful men who turn deadly when ex-side chicks step out of the shadows and demand to call the shots . . .
Praise for Aya de Leon and her novels --
“Staking out space for women of color in the heist-fiction genre, Aya de Leon’s smart, sly writing is a knockout.”
–Andi Zeisler, Bitch magazine
“This well-written and enjoyable installment in de Leon’s unique, feminist, urban crime-fiction series . . . infuses satisfying power in both plot and character.”
--Booklist on The Boss, STARRED review
Water flooded the storage space as Dulce slept. It seeped through the metal slats in the pull-down door. It pooled on the concrete floor. It rose around the mattress where Dulce was sleeping. Although she was not exactly sleeping, more like in a stupor or a spell from the cocktail of rum and marijuana. It dulled her hearing, so she didn’t startle with the shrieking winds and battering rain, and thudding of broken branches against the building. It dulled the panic she would have felt—alone in a storage space where she was living illegally. In a hurricane. And nobody knew she was there.
Water seeped up, turning the mattress into a giant sponge. Soon her back was wet. The crisscross of her racerback tank top, the cotton shorts. The moisture soaked into the fabric, even above the surface of the water she lay in. Inch by inch, the line crept up her feet, her beautifully painted blue toenails, the sides of her arms and legs and torso. It saturated her hair, destroying the remains of the blowout she’d been trying to conserve. She had sweated out the roots, but the tips of her hair had stayed somewhat straight, even in the humidity. She’d kept it up in a ponytail over the last few days, so the ends didn’t erupt into tight curls from the sweat on her back and shoulders.
But now, the water rose just above the mattress, soaking her hair, and it bloomed into springing curls all around her head.
Still she slept.
It wasn’t until the water seeped into her ears that her body moved at all, beyond the rise and fall of her chest. Her shoulder flinched with the moisture tickling her ear canal, but it didn’t wake her. First one side, then the other, as her head was slightly tilted on the mattress. No pillow. But then both ears filled and the tickle was gone. Her body stilled again in sleep. The now full canals dulled the howls of the storm.
The flooding outside was anything but gentle, yet the water could only seep in through the slats in the metal door, and the crack at the bottom above the cement floor. So the water level rose slowly. It crept up gently along her neck, her jawline, her cheekbone. The water sidled up tenderly, like a lover.
Dulce slept, like a maiden awaiting a prince, awaiting a kiss.
Yet she slept on when the water first touched her lips. Only when it began to drip into her mouth did she truly stir. The water, pooling in the back of her throat and making it impossible to breathe properly now. The prince had come. The rescuer on his horse. The discoverer. The pimp.
She flashed back as the water choked her. She recalled his hands around her throat, the bruising press of fingers against skin and muscle and tendon and windpipe. As the floodwater of the hurricane trickled delicately into her throat, her body recalled the searing pain of constricted breath. The scrabbling panic of asphyxiation, her heart was hammering frantically, as if it needed to escape her body to survive. Then the half-blackout, feeling her body slump to the floor, wincing with the sharp press of his boot toe as he delivered a single kick to her hip.
Her hip was soaked now in the floodwater, the left hip. Her pelvis was tilted slightly, and her left side pointed down toward the sodden mattress. Her right side was slightly raised, the hipbone jutting above the waterline like a disappearing island of brown skin, as water pooled between the tops of her thighs.
Yet she could feel that the real threat was at her throat. Again.
Like that other time, her pimp had sent one of his thugs to kill her. The man had a knife at her throat, as a few dozen women and some of their kids looked on in horror. She had been standing outside the shelter on the icy Manhattan ground in only socks, numb with terror, unable to feel the freezing concrete beneath her feet. Again, the press at her throat. The knife threatening not only skin and muscle and tendon and windpipe, but now her carotid in jeopardy, as well.
More water trickled into her throat, and she coughed weakly, her gag reflex still kicking. And with the gagging, part of her brain began to register the fact that her life was in danger. Some fight or flight response activated her tongue, dragging it into action to spit some of the water out.
Her life was in danger. Her body struggled to wake, but couldn’t quite push through her half-sleeping stupor, in which the unbidden memory bloomed in her mind like a nightmare. The time she’d been fool enough to go back to her pimp. And he’d thrown her against a wall. Paint and plaster crashing into her back and shoulder like a drunk driver. When she staggered to her feet, he’d choked her. His thick fingers were more insistent than ever, despite her own hands, gripping his wrists, digging her fingernails into his skin, trying in vain to open the vise of his oppositional thumbs. Yet it was her own grip she could feel loosening as she began to lose consciousness.
That had been Dulce’s breaking point. The moment she decided to leave him for good. Or rather, she passed out fearing she might die, but deciding to live if she found she had a choice.
That same resolve woke her inside the storage unit.
She sputtered to life, coughing through a burning throat. In total darkness, completely soaked. Her body was sluggish and disoriented with the marijuana and the residuals of rum. She tried to lift her head, but her hair was unexpectedly weighed down with water.
Slowly, through the chemical fog, she rolled to her side. As if in slow motion, she dragged an arm beneath her, propping herself up on one elbow, her mouth fully above the water line.
She coughed hard and gagged, suddenly vomiting. Yet the retching made her a bit more lucid. Even in the total darkness, she was able to orient herself, to make sense of the bizarre combination of mattress and moisture, screaming winds and crashing thuds.
Storage space. Hurricane. Flooding. Fuck.
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