Did you know . . .
· there are more slaves in the world today than ever before in history?
· 75-80% of human trafficking is for sex?
· Human trafficking not only involves sex and labor, but people are also trafficked for organ harvesting.
While writing my newest science fiction romance THE PROTECTOR (An Outer Rim Novel), I learned more about human trafficking than I imagined. Yes, I knew there was such a thing, even here in West Michigan, but I thought it had more to do with slavery. Bring young people (mostly girls) into a strange country where they know no one and don’t know the language and use them in sweatshops or as domestics. I’m appalled than at any other time in history.
On the positive side for traffickers, what a source of income. When you add in children sold for sex, the income rises. I never even thought of organ harvesting. My stomach turns at that frightful statistic.
Considering such a depressing topic, including my usual wacky sense of humor was definitely a challenge. This book is much more emotional. How would you feel if your baby daughter was snatched from her crib by traffickers? That’s what my heroine Rissa experienced twenty years ago. After searching for her child for years, she’s closed herself off from children. Running a tavern on the Frontier ensures she rarely has contact with them. So what happens when she finds two teen girls who’ve run away from a slave ship? Rissa rescues them, of course. Then she goes on the offensive. Despite danger to herself, she declares war on traffickers and rallies the townsfolk to help.
Enter industrialist heir Dillan Rusteran who’s loved her for years, while she still thinks of him as the reckless kid who used to come to her little part of the universe to play. Little does she know that he’s changed. Proving that to her takes more patience than he expected. By helping her fight the traffickers, he hopes she’ll see him in a new light.
“Whoever you are, come out. Right now.”
Another rustle then the sound of feet lightly hitting the floor. The lock slid open then slowly the door moved.
“Please,” a soft voice whispered. “Don’t hurt us.”
That sounded like a young girl.
“Come out where I can see you.” Rissa, too, whispered.
A tall, dark-haired teen stepped out, followed by a smaller girl with light brown hair. They both looked terrified. Their hair was matted and dirt smudged their faces. Their clothes were filthy. The smells emanating from them contributed to the general san-fac odors. Rissa did her best not to react.
Holding the other girl behind her, the tall one stepped forward, jutting out her chin. “We are not going back.”
“O-kay. Back where?”
“You can’t make us. We’ll escape again.”
Rissa had to admire her bravado. “You escaped? From where?”
“Did they send you in here to get us?”
Since the taller one seemed to be the spokesperson, Rissa kept her eyes on her. Something about her was compelling. Rissa could be looking at herself at the same age. Then it hit her hard, like a blow to the stomach. That was what Miri would have looked like at that age. Same strong Traishan features—olive skin, dark hair and eyes. Same strong will.
Rissa took a deep breath to steady herself before locking the outer door. “Nobody sent me. You asked for help. What can I do?”
“Get us out of here before they discover we’re gone.” Despite the strength in the tall girl’s voice, she worked hard to keep her chin from wobbling.
“Who?” Rissa was afraid she knew.
“Those men. The Chellians. We can’t go back. We won’t.”
By the Matriarch, traffickers.
Her lungs seized, her heart hurt so badly Rissa clutched her chest. Be strong, she told herself. Pull yourself together. No traffickers had ever come to Astron Colony before. Or even to Galeriana. She had to help the girls get away.
She glanced at the window on the far wall.
“We couldn’t open it,” the smaller girl sobbed. “We were trying when you came in. We thought you were them.”
Since Rissa was taller, she could easily reach the window. With a shove, she got it open. “Come.” She motioned to the tall girl. “You first. You can catch your friend. She’s too small to catch you.”
She cupped her hands for the girl’s foot. “Hide outside. I’ll come around and take you somewhere safe.” At the girls’ wary looks, she added, “I promise. Now go before someone comes looking for us.”
Rissa boosted her up to the open window. The tall girl hoisted herself through, disappeared for a moment then stuck her head inside.
“The ground is higher out here. Come, Anaris.” She held out her arms.
The small girl, Anaris, gave Rissa a panicked look. “You’ll come for us?”
The door rattled. “Hey,” a male yelled. “Open up.”
Anaris gave her a panicked look.
“Gimme a min,” Rissa yelled back.
“I promise to come for you,” Rissa whispered then gave her a boost. Like the tall girl, Anaris disappeared through the window.
As Rissa reached to close it, the tall girl was there about to do the same. “Thank you.” She shut the window and ducked out of sight.
Hoping they would wait for her, Rissa walked out of the san-fac. A mech glared at her. “Whadda mean by locking the door?”
“Didn’t want you walking in on me.” She glanced over at a commotion near the freighter where she’d delivered the supplies. “What’s going?”
The pilot was yelling and his two crewmen were darting between ships, searching.
“Damn offworlder.” The mech brushed past her into the san-fac.
When the pilot saw her, he yelled, “What did you do with them?”
Rissa looked around to see who he was shouting at.
“You there.” He stormed up to her. “Where are those two girls?”
She affected a confused expression. “What girls?”
“My cargo, I mean passengers. Damn you to Lexol’s Fire. How did you get them out?”
The pilot’s slip confirmed what Rissa feared. The girls she helped escape had been cargo. The pilot and crew were slavers, bastards who trafficked in children. A primal urge swept through her. Kill them. Kill them now.
About the Author:
Diane Burton combines her love of mystery, adventure, science fiction and romance into writing romantic fiction. Besides the science fiction romance Switched and Outer Rim series, she is the author of One Red Shoe, a romantic suspense, and The Case of the Bygone Brother, a PI mystery. She is also a contributor to the anthology How I Met My Husband. Diane and her husband live in Michigan. They have two children and three grandchildren.
For more info and excerpts from her books, visit Diane’s website: http://www.dianeburton.com
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