A hard-working daddy's girl, Precious Cummings is sure she's going to college. But when her father is murdered, she discovers he lied for years about money they never hadand hid a shocking family secret. Shattered and lost, she starts hanging with savvy hood chick Keishaand falls hard for DaVon, LA's most powerful drug dealer. As his new lady, Precious soon gets the best of every luxurious thingand fast learns the ropes of her lover's lethal hustle . . .
"Saundra's unique look at a female kingpin who struggles with family and feelings adds dimension to an action-packed story."
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"Saundra writes page-turning experiences that readers feel. Drama at its best."
Tamika Newhouse, AAMBC
"Saundra should be applauded. . . . Enthusiasts of the series will love revisiting Mya."
Library Journal on Her Sweetest Revenge 3
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"You can't do that, Precious. No fair." My childhood friend Linda stamped her right foot and pouted. "I'm going to quit if you keep cheating."
"I ain't cheating though, just quick," I declared. We were standing outside my father's dry cleaners playing our favorite hand game, rock- paper-scissors. Anytime Linda was losing she would accuse me of cheating, but really, hands down I was just faster than she was. "Tell you what, I'll give you a ten-second head start." I stood with my arms folded.
"What does that even mean?"
"Just go." I laughed.
Smiling, Linda chanted, "Rock, paper ..." She stalled and I followed her gaze to where we could hear yelling coming from inside the dry cleaners. We looked toward the door, but then there was silence. We glanced at each other and I shrugged my shoulders. We started playing again.
"Ha-ha, I won," Linda chanted.
"See, I knew the head start would help, but I ain't giving you another one." We both started laughing and prepared for the next round. Then we heard loud voices again. Looking at each other once again, we started running toward the dry cleaners.
We stopped in our tracks as Ava, Linda's mother, burst out the door. Walking straight toward me, Ava stopped and looked down at me with tears in her eyes. Reaching out for me, she hugged me really tight. "I love you, Sweet Pea," she whispered in my ear. Loosening her grip, she looked me over then grabbed Linda by the hand and quickly walked away. Linda glanced back at me and almost tripped.
"Where we going, Momma?" I heard Linda ask, struggling to keep up with her mother.
"Get in the car, Linda. Now!" she yelled and let go of Linda's hand. Linda glanced back at me one last time.
Confused, I watched as they drove away at top speed. When I could no longer see the car in the distance, I turned around to find my dad standing in the doorway; I guessed he had been watching the whole time. I looked up to him, hoping for an explanation, but he had no expression on his face. Slowly turning away from me, he walked back inside the cleaners.
A few seconds later, when my legs allowed me, I put one foot in front of the other and started the journey inside the cleaners. My dad came out of the back from his office just as I entered.
"Come here, Sweet Pea." That was the nickname they had for me, especially when something was wrong. I didn't move, so he motioned me over. Slowly, I walked over to him. He reached out and put his left hand on my shoulder. "Ava and Linda are moving away, and they will not be returning."
"But why not, Daddy?" I asked.
"Well, Ava has a new job in another city ... and it's a good opportunity."
"And she's gone for good? Never, ever, coming back?"
"Yes, Sweet Pea."
I wasn't sure what to think. Ava had been in my life since I was a baby. I didn't have my own mom. Ava was the only mother I knew, and Linda was like a sister to me. Ava worked in the dry cleaners six days a week with my dad. The only time I wasn't with her was when I was home or in school. Linda and I went to the same school and were even in the same class. But just like that, they were gone.
"From now on it will be just you and me here to run this dry cleaners on our own. I mean, I may have to bring in some part-time help. But other than that, just us two," he explained, but I was still a bit confused. His emotionless facial expression suddenly seemed sad to me.
"Are you going to be okay, Daddy?" My bottom lip started to quiver.
"Of course, I'm fine, Sweet Pea." He looked down at me and smiled. "Now, don't you cry." He gently brushed his finger across my quivering lips.
"I'll help you, Dad." I hugged him tight. I would miss Ava and Linda; they were like family, but my dad belonged to me and I knew we would always be together.CHAPTER 2
Ten Years Later
I still couldn't believe it; it had been two weeks since I had walked across the stage, graduated high school, and turned eighteen years old. I still felt the same, but I knew that change was going to come. Since I graduated with a 3.4 grade point average, I had received several offers from colleges out of state. While I couldn't wait to taste a bit of freedom, I didn't really want to leave my city completely, or my dad. I was born and raised in South Central, on Bonsallo Avenue, and I loved my city. Although I have to admit it is not the best side of Los Angeles, but home all the same. So instead of accepting offers to Spelman College, and a host of other out-of-state colleges, I chose to attend college on my stomping grounds, UCLA. And I couldn't have been happier.
Dad was also happy because not only did this mean I would be close to home, but I could still help out at the dry cleaners. I had chosen to stay on campus so that I could experience being an adult. Pushing the curtains back in the living room, I saw the mailman outside. Sliding into my slippers, I set my cup of orange juice on the coffee table and went to check the mailbox. To my surprise, there was a letter from UCLA. When I was back inside, I sat down on the sofa and opened the letter. As I read the words I became confused because according to the letter, my tuition was not paid. And that was shocking news to me because as far as I knew, Dad had taken care of that months ago. There had to be some kind of mistake, and I had to get to the bottom of it quickly. Since it was almost time for my shift, I got dressed, jumped in my 2005 Toyota Corolla, and headed over to the dry cleaners.
"Hey, Precious," Katrina said. Katrina was the other part-time person besides myself who worked at the dry cleaners. Dad was the only one who worked full-time.
"Hey, K." That's what I had called Katrina since day one and she didn't mind. "Where Dad at?"
"In his office, he just got back from the bank."
"Did they get the machine fixed?" One of the pressers had been down for two days and it was costing us business. Daddy had called up one of his old friends, Earl, who was a shade tree mechanic. And sometimes he could get junk to work when it still had a little life left in it. I hoped that was the case with that broke-down machine.
"Yes, Earl just left about an hour ago. I'm glad you made it in. I'm leaving early today, I got a few things I have to do. Are you going to go to that party that I invited you to? You never gave me a definite yes or no and it's tonight."
It was a good thing she brought that up because I had forgotten all about her inviting me to that party. "I don't think I can make it, K." I shook my head because I knew she would be disappointed. "I don't have anything to wear. And I haven't had time to do any shopping."
"Precious, girl, you got to stop making excuses to keep from having fun. You just graduated and turned eighteen. That, girl, is a reason to turn up. And don't blame your dad, because he can't stop you now. And I already told him you were going," she threw in.
"I know, I know, and I'm not blaming him this time. I'm just not prepared, but next time, I promise, I'ma go."
"A'ight. You gone miss out though. But I gotta bounce." I liked Katrina, she was really cool. She was twenty-one and from around Compton, so she was a bit rough around the edges, but she had a two-year-old daughter named Mandiee, who she credited for changing her into a much calmer person. And she was working hard and planned on finding another part-time, and was just trying to get herself together.
Two customers came through the doors as Katrina exited. After taking care of them, I made my way back to Dad's office.
"Daddy, this came in the mail today. What are they talking about?" I handed him the letter.
Observing the name on the envelope, he hesitated before flipping it over and pulling out the single piece of paper. I was a bit anxious, so I shifted my weight from my left leg to the right. I watch Dad's eyes as they scanned the words. It seemed to take an eternity, but finally his eyes met mine. "Is Katrina gone?"
"Yes, she left about twenty minutes ago."
"Lock up for a minute."
"What about the customers?" I asked. His request was a little unusual. Dad hated to close up on the one day he was scheduled to be closed, so to lock up on a day we were supposed to be open made me raise my eyebrows with curiosity.
"Just do it, Precious." This time I scrambled to the front door without question, then went back to his office. Dad sighed before speaking. "I've been meaning to talk to you, but it's been difficult." I saw the worry on his face and the lines in his forehead and I was alarmed.
"What is it, Dad? Whatever it is, I need you to know I'm not a kid anymore."
He looked at me as if from those words he just realized I had grown up. "Nope, you're not," he agreed with another sigh. "The dry cleaners is suffering. Business just has not been good. But I'm sure you know that much already. The equipment is declining and I need to put some money into it ... some real money. Because without the equipment, we shut down."
I was not surprised to hear that the equipment was breaking down. And I also knew that if he could afford to replace it he would have done that a long time ago. "So what are you going to do? That equipment is expensive."
"For starters, I'm going to have to let Katrina go."
Now that stunned me. "Daddy, K needs this job." I couldn't help but think about Katrina and the goals she had. She was trying to save up money so that she could take her baby and move out of her mother's three-bedroom house, where her eight brothers and sisters all still lived with their children.
"Precious, I know that." He hung his head as if he was ashamed. He had heard Katrina, time and time again, talk about her goals. "I have considered all of that. But I have no choice in the matter. I have to try and save the business. It's all we have."
"When are you going to tell her?"
"Tomorrow. I can't put this off any longer. I should have done it six months ago, but I have been trying to find other solutions. One more thing ..." He dropped his head again, then he slowly raised it, his gaze fixed on me. "I know how much school means to you, and you know how much it means to me that you go. But right now I just can't afford it."
"Daddy." Tears instantly started to fall from my eyes.
"I know, Sweet Pea, and I'm sorry, but it's just for a while. I need you to sit out for one year. By then things should be back on track. I'm almost certain they will." A tear slid down his cheek and I felt bad for crying like a baby, because I knew how hard he had tried.
This dry cleaners was his life; I had spent my entire childhood here and not once had it let us down. Dad spent all of his time here, day and night, and not once had he ever complained. So this was a time for me to be strong, suck up my feelings and wants. As difficult as it was, I wiped my tears.
"I got your back, Dad. I will sit out of school and help you out full-time until the cleaners is back on track."
Dad stood up. "Thank you, Sweet Pea." He kissed me on the forehead. I wasn't worried. A year would fly by, then I would be enrolled and attending school again at UCLA.CHAPTER 3
Two Years Later
"You have the whitest teeth I have ever seen." Kevin leaned on the counter. He was close, almost closing the space between us, forcing us to be face-to-face. He was close enough to smell any plaque that might have graced my teeth and given my breath a foul odor. But I wasn't worried; the spearmint gum in my mouth would kill any bad breath that attempted to attack. And I in return thanked God that Kevin's breath didn't stink either.
"Boy, you better get off this counter before my dad catches you." I giggled, but I was serious at the same time.
"Man, I swear Mr. Larry stay trippin' off me." I had known Kevin for about four years. We had graduated high school together. He had started at my school our sophomore year, but was suspended most of the time. His mother had sent him down from Oakland to live with his grandmother. Back in Oakland he'd been in and out of juvie for petty crimes. But his grandmother, Mrs. Lucy, ruled with an iron fist, and by senior year he was a model student. His grandmother had her Sunday clothes cleaned here, so he was in at least once a week to pick them up. And I didn't mind seeing him because he was fine. Dark chocolate, low-cut fade, and six two. I needed some eye candy to keep me sane from spending so much time at the dry cleaners.
"You really think my teeth are that white though?" I smiled again to showcase my teeth.
"White as snow. Real talk, you are beautiful, Precious. But I think you know that already."
Honestly, I didn't think about my looks much. I wasn't one of those girls who stood in front of the mirror and praised her looks. But I was well aware that I was considered the full package. I had stopped growing by the time I was fifteen, but the growth spurt I had between twelve and fifteen was significant. I stood five foot eight, with a waistline identical to Meagan Good's, high cheekbones, and straight teeth to match. I could have easily hit the runway as a Victoria's Secret model. But I had no interest in that. Kevin was amusing though, and I always enjoyed his company.
"Let me take you out on a date?" I was about to answer just as Dad appeared from his office. "What's up, Mr. Larry?" Kevin said.
"Hey, did you get your grandmother's order yet?"
"Yep, Precious took care of me." Turning to me, he said, "Umm, a'ight, Precious. Think about that. I'll call you." Kevin grabbed the bag with the clothes and was out.
"Dad, why you have to make him nervous?" I grinned.
"How I make him nervous? His lil ass ain't up to no good. That's why he nervous. Talkin' bout will you go on a date with him."
He had heard Kevin. I had wondered if he was eavesdropping, and I was right. "Dad, you were listenin' to our conversation?" I accused. I often wondered if he was listening to conversations because he always seemed to pop up when it got interesting.
"This is my shop, I pay attention to everything. So yes, I heard and I don't like it one bit. I don't want you going anywhere with that hood." I wasn't surprised to hear him say that. He always found something wrong with any guy who liked me. In his eyes, I was still a baby.
"Daddy, you shouldn't call Kevin names. He really is a good dude and definitely not a hood. Besides, I'm twenty, and whether or not I go out on a date with him should be my decision."
"Hmmm," he said. Before he could elaborate on his sarcastic sound, Keisha, another one of my old schoolmates, pushed her way through the glass door. Dad exited toward the back.
"What's up?" Keisha said, chewing on some gum.
"Same ol' thing. Work, work, around here." I sighed.
"Girl, for real that's all I see you do. Shit, what you need to do is get out in this sun. It's baking but it's beautiful. Ain't no way in the hell I could be in this damn shop all day." Keisha swung her sixteen-inch weave off her shoulder and pulled off her sunglasses. She was always dressed to the nines when I saw her, and she always looked like she had somewhere to go. But she was in the dry cleaners often, picking up clothes. Everything we cleaned for her was name brand. I'm talking that expensive stuff. So I always took extra special care with her things.
I felt what she had said about me spending so much time at the cleaners, but this business was our survival. And now was not the time to focus simply on myself. But I didn't have to explain that to anyone. So I replied, "I feel you. Let me get your clothes." After grabbing her order, I took her money and wished her on her way.
I watched as she bounced back out into the LA streets, where everything was possible. I briefly wondered when my time was coming. It had been two years since graduation and a year longer than Dad had all but promised I would be in college. That had not happened, though, and two years later, I was still working full-time with no mention of college. But to be honest, not much had changed business-wise, and I knew that. Grabbing the UCLA catalog off the counter next to me, I thumbed through and glanced at the updated list of classes. I was really considering changing my major from communications to business, when and if I ever did get into college. Maybe then I could help my dad with the business side of the dry cleaners, help the business thrive and be successful.
Dad came out of his office and saw me thumbing through the book. "Don't you worry, Sweet Pea, the time is coming soon. I promise you that." I knew he could tell I was restless. I tried daily to hide it, but sometimes it was difficult.
"I know ... You know, I was thinking about maybe going for a business major when I do go."
"You changing your major?" It was apparent in his tone and gesture he was shocked. I had been full of passion about becoming a news anchor since I was in middle school. It's all I had ever talked about. When I was only twelve, I would stand by the television with my karaoke set and act as if I was out on the scene reporting the news. "What about your dream of becoming a news anchor? You can't just give up on that dream."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "A Hustler's Queen"
Copyright © 2019 Saundra.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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