Fighting for Alexa (Fallen Heroes)

By: Jennifer Ann

A Fallen Heroes Novel




For all the badass women I know (like Bethany Lopez, Alejandra Bruce, Chelsea Sonnek, Tamara Rosa, my sister, and her sister-in-law) who have stepped up and served our country.





Eleven Years ago





Alexa




Multiple footsteps creak over my head, causing all the invisible little blonde hairs on my body to stand on end. Through the rays of the small lamp on the floor next to the mattress, I watch particles of dust from the floorboards rain down around me. Before a sneeze can slip out, I slap my hands over my mouth and pinch my nose.

It’s late. Too late for anyone to be walking around unless…

Terror squeezes my insides so hard that I’m certain I’d throw up if there was anything in my stomach.

They left hours ago to drink at the bar again. I had hoped they’d passed out at their friends’ house or somewhere on the beach and forgot about me like the last few times. It was a blissful, though rare escape, so I should’ve known it wouldn’t last. Nothing good ever lasts these days. Then again, I can’t remember a time when it ever lasted.

At least when I was younger I had a wild imagination that took me to better places. I might’ve convinced myself that the footsteps belonged to someone coming to save me from my personal hell like the hero in one of the stupid books I often stole from the school library. But by now I know better. No one cares enough to stick their neck out for someone like me. There aren’t actual heroes in real life, just people trying to survive any way they can.

I shove the well-read paperback novel under the stained mattress before they take it away and shut off the light. I curl into a ball and screw my eyes shut, hoping that if they think I’m sleeping, they’ll leave me alone, though it’s never worked before. I try to slow my breathing, but it’s a hard stone of air wedged inside my lungs, ready to burst free.

The door to the basement creaks open and my chest cinches tight around the lodged ball of air. Heavy footsteps fall on the rickety stairway with the gait of an elephant. The stink of booze and stale cigarettes float down the steps and gather around my frozen limbs as sinuously as snakes. My fingers curl into my ratty blanket.

I hold my breath, counting down the number of steps before they reach the bottom.

Five…

A tear rolls across the bridge of my nose and into my hair.

Four…

My knees push into my chest as though I could crawl through my skin.

Three…

A whimper rushes up my throat and squeezes through my clenched lips.

With the rumble of two voices—one I know all too well, and the other I’ve never heard before—my heart tries desperately to escape through my throat. Not again.

“She’s a bit shy at first, but she’ll warm up to ya.”

“You made the right decision, Jeremy. We’re both getting a good deal outta this.”

The beating of my heart roars in my ears.

Their staggered breaths become louder at my back, and I cover my ears. I try to escape into a happy memory.

My mind draws a giant blank.





1





Alexa




Hands clasped together on the table and one knee dancing beneath my pencil skirt, I desperately try to control the hummingbird that has taken residence inside my ribcage as I wait for the secure prison door to open. Despite a small air-conditioning unit humming from the ceiling, the small, sterile room is considerably warm and stuffy as the state of Florida doesn’t find it necessary to cool the rest of the facility. As trickles of sweat roll through the valley of my breasts beneath my blouse, I begin to question my sanity with bile rising in my throat.

This isn’t my first time representing an inmate on an appeal. And I’ve dealt with low-life criminals since birth. However, this is the first time I’ll be face-to-face with a murderer.

Alleged murderer, I correct myself firmly.

When I glance at the file I brought along, recalling the facts of the case that I’ve reviewed dozens of times, coldness seeps into my bones. The victim was stabbed to death in his sleep. And repeatedly stabbed more than a dozen times post-mortem. Although they never found the murder weapon, my client’s hair was found on the victim, and he couldn’t produce any reliable witnesses to substantiate his weak alibi.

It clearly wasn’t only a murder, it was an act of uncontrollable rage. If my client is truly guilty, he’s undeniably dangerous. But even if he didn’t commit this murder, he still possesses an extensive criminal history of considerably violent crimes. As the enforcer for a notoriously dangerous biker club, his reputation can’t afford to be anything less than savage.

Once again, I question myself for requesting this case. Aside from my legitimate reasons, a part of me worries that my best friend Tatum is right. Maybe I really do spend too much time trying to prove that I’m not a worthless foster care case unworthy of adoption, or that I’m nothing like my parents who were too strung out on heroine to raise a child. Or maybe I’ve finally lost my shit.

My eyes drift over to Officer Smith, the stout guard who brought me back to the private room. He stands rigid at the doorway with an assault rifle held firm in his hands. Although not much taller than my five foot nine inches, his big-boned frame swallows up any resemblance of a neck. Aside from the slight graying at his temples, he looks to be considerably young and slightly naive, possibly due to a pudgy baby face. Thankfully he’s the only one witnessing my bout of insecurity since security cameras aren’t allowed in attorney-client rooms. When he catches me studying him, his thin lips bend with a tight-lipped smile.