Please introduce yourself for those who haven’t met you in your author’s other books.
I’m Rissa Dix (that’s pronounced Deece, as you know if you read the other Outer Rim books). I run a tavern in Astron Colony on Galeria 7. I mean Galeriana. The Powers That Be decided to give our planet an official name. I’m still not used to it. Anyway, my tavern caters to space crews and miners. Two companies mine the valuable minerals up in the nearby mountains. Thank the Matriarch they all don’t come at the same time.
Tell us about your family.
What family? My father is/was (I have no idea if he’s still alive) an itinerate preacher. He dragged my mother and me from colony to colony until she had enough and went back to our home planet. I was 12 and wanted to go with her. My father insisted I stay with him, until the day he abandoned me in the worst outpost on the hind end of the universe. How could he preach morality when accompanied by his unmarried pregnant daughter?
How did your upbringing influence who you are today?
I vowed nobody would make me leave my child behind. I’d protect her with all my might. Or so I thought until traffickers stole her <swallows hard> from the sitter while I was at work. I’ve been searching for her ever since.
What was your first thought when you met the hero?
He was a kid. Tall, gangly, bony shoulders that hinted at what he’d look like as an adult. He and his friends—rich kids from the Central Planets who had too many credits, no supervision, and fast starships—came to Astron to rock climb. They were reckless, thrill-seeking fools. To be honest, Dillan was different from the other boys. Instead of hitting the pleasure house across the street with his friends, he hung around my tavern. He helped me a lot, serving thirsty miners and even cleaning up the place after close. I tried shooing him away, but he always came back. I could see he was infatuated with me, the older fem. He was 16, I was 24. For 10 years, I tried to discourage him.
Why did you fall for him?
Who says I did? When he returned after a 6-year absence, I didn’t even recognize him as he helped my friends and I rescue a bunch of kids from a slave ship. Whoa, had he ever changed. He wasn’t a kid anymore. He was a 32-year-old man. I’m a big fem, tall and strong. I have to be to survive on the Frontier. But he’s taller with broad shoulders and a real presence. His sense of humor is irritating but makes me smile. A little. His dogged insistence that we belong together despite our 8-year age difference drives me crazy. I wasn’t going to succumb to his cute smile or the desire lurking in his eyes. Or his kisses. Well, you know what they say about the road to Lexol being paved with good intentions.
Why did you choose your occupation?
It sort of happened. What kind of a job is there for fems with little formal education on the Frontier? I sure wasn’t going to be a pleasure provider. Not that there’s anything wrong with that life if a fem chooses it. Owning a tavern isn’t for the weak. Morning to night, it’s work, work, work. But it’s worth it. I’m my own boss. I take care of what’s mine.
What is the biggest hurdle you had to overcome?
<swallows a sob> Losing my baby daughter to traffickers. I spent years searching for her, worrying about her, praying that she was safe. Did they sell her to a good family? Or was she raised to be a prosti? When worry made me so sick I almost died, I knew I had to close off that part of my life. I never stopped looking for her, but I can’t be around babies. Too much pain knowing I’ll never see my child again.
Do you have any hobbies?
Who has time for hobbies? I’m up at dawn to make bread and stew for the customers. Even though I close the tavern at Mid-Night, I still have work to do, tallying receipts, cleaning and preparing for the next day. I don’t even have time to read. That’s why I gave my reader to a girl I rescued. It’s uncanny how much she looks like me at 15. Now she imitates my walk, my mannerisms, even wears her dark hair in one long braid the way I do. I’ve grown quite attached to her. She’s the daughter of my heart.
How would you spend a free day?
Sleep. Actually, Dillan wouldn’t let me. He’d bully me into doing something fun with him, like the time he made me go on vacation with him to a rainforest. He took me up into the canopy. A fantastic sight! When I had to traverse the space between platforms, I was scared to death. He made me go anyway. What a thrill. But the best part was sliding down to the ground. I finally understood what Dillan felt all those years ago. Thrills and excitement like I’d never experienced. I wouldn’t have enjoyed it so much if I’d know what was to come.
After tavern owner Rissa Dix rescues two girls from a slave ship, she must rally the townsfolk to prevent traffickers from raiding the frontier colony. She’s met with apathy and disbelief. Because she lost her own baby to traffickers, she’s determined that no other mother will suffer the same heartache. Industrialist heir Dillan Rusteran aids her in rescuing more children. Little do they know they’re about to tangle with a trafficking ring that puts Rissa in danger. Dillan’s loved her for years despite her claim she’s too old for him. As they fight the traffickers, will she finally see him in a new light?
When she heard the rustle, Rissa stopped in the middle of the sanitary. “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 just delivered 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.
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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Books by Diane Burton:
The Pilot: An Outer Rim Novel
The Chameleon: An Outer Rim Novel
The Protector: An Outer Rim Novel
One Red Shoe
The Case of the Bygone Brother: An Alex O’Hara Novel
How I Met My Husband (contributor)