Amidst all the traveling, I finally finished The Protector, third in my science fiction romance Outer Rim series, and it was released last week. I've never written an older woman/younger man story before. Usually, I keep them close in age with him a bit older. Rissa is eight years old than Dillan. She's forty and considers herself way too old for the "kid" she met when he was sixteen. After a six-year absence, Dillan (now 32) has to convince her he isn't a kid anymore.
Besides the age difference between heroine & hero, this book has another first. I usually write light-hearted romance with action, adventure, and humor. While there are aspects of all that in The Protector, it is much more emotional than my other books, which made it more difficult to write. How can you have funny scenes in a story about human trafficking and stolen babies? There are a few to give the reader a break. In researching for this story, I learned more than I ever wanted to know about trafficking. Scary.
After tavern owner Rissa Dix rescues two girls from a slave ship, she must rally the townsfolk to prevent traffickers from returning. Mining heir Dillan Rusteran has loved her for years. Little do they know that by rescuing more children they're tangling with a trafficking ring that puts Rissa in danger.
Dillan woke up to a steady thump-thump-thump. Damn, the sublight engine was acting up again. He rolled over and almost fell out of bed.
Two things hit him at the same time. He wasn’t in the wide, comfortable bed in his quarters aboard ship and the thumping wasn’t his sublight. Thank the stars for that. Still, it had been acting a little wonky lately. He’d have to check it out.
After dressing and taking care of his needs in the small san-fac near the stairs, he ambled down carrying his boots in the event the big Zebori was still asleep. Although how anyone could sleep through all that thumping he had no idea. He followed the noise into the kitchen.
Rissa stood at the island kneading dough. Last night he remembered how much higher than normal the island was. She’d built it to accommodate her height. For a moment, he just watched her as she concentrated on the dough. Several lumps of grayish-brown dough sat on the flour-covered table waiting their turn. Even though he was a few meters away, the yeasty scent hit his nose and brought back memories of the times he’d been there before. And how much he enjoyed her company. Despite her treating him like a kid.
The dark haired teen—Pela?—worked alongside Rissa. She noticed him first. Panic crossed her strong features before she murmured to Rissa.
“Good morning, sleepyhead.” She laughed as she turned the dough she’d been punishing into a long, loaf pan. She picked up another lump and went to work on it.
Dillan yawned. “What time is it?”
“Almost Mid-Day.” When she looked up, she did a double take. “Your beard is gone.”
“It itched. When I find the barber, I’ll get my hair cut, too.” He ran his fingers across the top of his head. “It’s Mid-Day? Damn. I wanted to get an early start.”
Without stopping her kneading, she asked, “Early start on what?”
“Going into the mountains.”
“Did you come here to go climbing again?”
Grief hit Dillan the way it had for the past six years any time someone mentioned his former favorite sport. He hadn’t climbed since his best friend died in a freak rock slide. Or so he thought until a year ago.
Rissa’s dark eyes reflected guilt. She stopped working the dough. “I’m sorry, Dillan. I forgot.”
“Apparently, so did Konner.” He didn’t conceal the hurt he’d felt when he learned Konner was not only alive but had a family. “Turns out I was wrong about some things. I’ll, uh, leave you to your work.”
With her forearm, she wiped the sweat off her brow then went back to kneading. “Pela, you did fine. Turn that one into the next pan then get Dillan a cup of sheelonga tea.”
Pela eyed him with uncertainty.
“I can get it.” He sure didn’t want to upset the girl. “Mugs still next to the sink?”
Rissa looked surprised that he remembered. He remembered everything about her. She’d stayed in his mind after every trip from the time he was sixteen. Konner had teased him about being infatuated. Dillan knew it was more than infatuation. Especially after that last visit.
When Diane Burton isn’t blogging here on the 8th and 30th of each month or on her own site http://dianeburton.blogspot.com/ on Mondays, she’s writing romantic adventure stories that take place on Earth and beyond.