January is human trafficking awareness month. Rather than being a political or racial issue, this is a global concern that affects people no matter their social status, finances, race, political belief, or religious (or non-religious) origins. Women and children make up more than 80% of all human traffickers, which is why I'm comfortable addressing my audience of romance readers—we are the instruments for change.
There are more slaves in the world today than ever before in human history. Think about that. More slaves today than ever before in human history. Let that sink in. Women, children, young boys sold into the sex trade, forced into labor, and sometimes made into suicide bombers (children as young as 7 years old can be sold for approximately $14,000 US Dollars to become suicide bombers).
I write about romantic suspense that sometimes gets a bit dark, but in no way does this glorify the crimes. I write from the stance of an empowered woman who is in control of how I live my life. I have the freedom to express myself while many women across the world aren't even allowed an education much less a choice in how they live day-to-day.
We--those of us with the choice to read whatever we want, to speak out against injustice, and go about our business without threat of being beaten (hopefully)--have a responsibility to those in the world without a voice. When we unite and become informed, we become powerful.
I wish I could say that this issue is a world away, but the reality is that it is right here in the United States. Slave auctions are known to be held near almost every major international airport. There is a lot of money behind this practice and it could be happening near you.
The human trafficking industry is very lucrative-but the victims of it are shown no mercy. Once they've been used up, they are discarded like trash. Be aware. Get involved. Our humanity transcends boundaries. Yes, women are the primary victims—but we are also the primary activists leading the way to bring this topic from the shadows and into the light.
Human trafficking is the insidious suspense plot of my novel, Reckless Endangerment. Whenever artists such as novelists, screenwriters, singers, or painters use their craft to discuss a serious "real world" issue, awareness is spread in a way that doesn't smack someone in the face. It's a powerful force.
Below is a snippet of Reckless Endangerment followed by the blurb.
Sometimes heroes fall and take their loved ones down with them. Colonel Michael Cedars and reporter Hope Shane fell in love in a war zone, but then the world blew up and splintered their lives in two.
Coming home again isn't always easy. A Marine accustomed to giving orders, Michael struggles to find his role in civilian life. Wounded, he faces new battles as he learns to walk again, struggles with wartime ghosts, and questions his abilities as a husband.
Hope doesn't give up—not on the man she loves and not on her pursuit of justice. An investigative reporter, she's hot on the trail of a human trafficking ring. Danger intensifies as she gets closer to the truth, but the human traffickers know her weakness. Will Michael become her Achilles Heel? Is he still the hero she married or has he become a liability that could get them both killed?
“I have no idea why I’m here,” she muttered, still pacing. “I should have known it was too good to be true, that you would end up throwing me under the bus when it came down to the wire. You really are fucked up. Do you even remember coming to my place last night? Or are you on some weird medication that makes you act human for only a few hours a day?”
“Do you know what happened? Byron Gannon was just here—”
“Who?” She froze. “Who was just here?”
“Callie’s husband, Byron Gannon. He said he knows about us, that he thinks it’s suspicious that we keep our marriage a secret, that your reckless behavior won’t win you mom of the year.”
“He said that he knows we’re married? Bryon Gannon of Gannon Construction, that guy? “ She stood over him, face devoid of emotion.
“Yes, that guy. He’s here dropping off some kind of court order for my medical records, said you should get a less dangerous job if I want them to back off the custody fight.” He gulped his drink, shook his head at the unexpected kick from the ouzo, before looking at her again. “Will you please take off those damn sunglasses?”
She paced, fingers tapping against her chin. “He said I should get a different job, huh? Interesting. Did he say it like a threat, wanted to make sure I got it? What else did he say?”
“That I’m not fit to take care of myself let alone Dalton.”
“He’s here right now?” She stepped toward the door and looked down the hallway. Nervous energy zapped off of her like a live wire.
“Do you know this guy?” He squinted, thinking she was acting more hyped up than usual.
Energy swirled around her even though she looked like she was about to fall down. Not a good energy, though...he’d seen this same behavior that week she’d been hell bent on interviewing Marishka despite the risks. Definitely not positive.
“I need to get you out of here, take you back to my place. Right now. This isn’t safe, not with random people strolling in and out. My place is secure. I was going to wait...but...that’s not a good idea if Gannon is involved here, too. Damn it, this gets more complicated by the second.” She stared at the ground, hands on hips and tapped her foot. “Yeah, that’s what we need to do. I came here to tell you that we needed to wait, hold off until my story wraps, but Gannon being here changes things. He’s sending me a message...letting me know he can get to you. Who told him about us, that’s what I want to know...who do we have in common? Think.”
“What’s going on? Is your story involved with Gannon? Are you the reason why I could lose my son?”
Foot increased its tapping against the floor before she looked him in the eye. “Yes. Apparently so. But I didn’t know, I swear. This is a human trafficking story. They’re enslaving people right here in the US--here in Denver. They’re killing women with neglect and abuse, leaving—”
“Stop it. Let me think.” He couldn’t believe her story and this custody threat were linked. He couldn’t lose his son because of some story.
“I had no idea that Gannon was married to Dalton’s mother. You never married her, never mentioned her except to tell me that she’d surrendered her parental rights. I didn’t know until a few minutes ago that my story affected Dalton.”
“Let someone else have the story this time. Let it go.” He stared at her profile almost concealed by the fall of hair. Dread thumped in his heart, twisted it, bled him dry. “Do it for me, for us. You need to let this one go.”
She dabbed a tissue at the fresh blood on her split lip without looking at him. “I can’t do that, Michael, and you know it.”
“Like hell you can’t. Come on.” He needed her to cooperate this time. He needed her to bend. He moved close enough to touch her. “Don’t do this again. This is Dalton who’s at stake. Are you willing to risk my son for your story? Your nephews?”
“You know that’s not what this is about.” She crumpled the tissue in her bandaged palm. “Damn it, don’t say it. I know what you’re going to say and I can’t hear it anymore. Just stop right now. Please. We’re making progress, you and me. Don’t say it. We’re so close to making a life together. So close.”
“You sacrificed Peter for a story, but I can’t let you do this to Dalton. Let this one go. I’m sure you’re in trouble with the feds after this morning, although I can only guess about the details.” He reached out and snagged her hand in his. “Hope. Look at me. The last time you didn’t listen to me, Peter died...Sarah was gang raped...now dead. How many more casualties do you need before you start listening?”
“You’re such a bastard. Why do I love you? It makes no sense at this point.” She tilted her head back and looked at the ceiling before saying anything. “Why did you have to say it? Why did you need to go there? This is not the same. I can fix it.”
“Yes, you can fix it.” He tugged on her hand until she looked at him. “Drop the story. Give your information to the FBI, let them run with it and stop risking everything you say you love.”
“I cannot believe you of all people is saying this to me.”
“Something’s gotta give, babe. I’m a mess, that’s not a secret. I don’t know how to be a civilian, let alone one who doesn’t know if he’ll ever walk again, but I do know I want to be a father to my son.”
“And you’re saying that you might not get that chance because you’re married to me?” She pulled her hand free of his and stepped back. “You’re a real son of a bitch, do you realize that? I’ve put up with a lot from you, but I’ve had enough. You don’t get to insult me anymore.”
“I’m not trying to insult you, that’s not what I mean. If it weren’t for this damn custody threat, I’d back you up on this story and you know it.”
“It’s all bogus, that’s what I’m betting. Callie doesn’t want Dalton. Why now? It’s because somehow---and I have no idea how---they found out you were married to me and want me to back off. That’s it. You’re my Achilles Heel.” She closed the door to his room. Without breaking stride, she grabbed an envelope from her messenger bag and tossed it onto his lap. “Open it.”
“Nothing in here is going to change my mind.”
“Of course not because you’re a pig-headed fool.” She opened it and held up the photos of people piled into the back of a van, young women with hollow eyes locked in filth, children dead and cast off like trash. “This is happening in our country. I can get places the authorities can’t, break some rules, talk to people who would never talk to a cop. I will not sacrifice Dalton. I will not sacrifice my nephews. I will not sacrifice you. But I will get this story.”
She held up a picture of naked women, obviously beaten and malnourished, sitting on a rotted mattress lying on a filthy floor. Her entire body shook as she held it in front of his face. “You think you have problems because you’ve got a wife who gives a damn about you, because maybe you’ll walk or maybe you won’t, because you’ve got a nice home to go back to, because you’ve got nothing but possibility in front of you if only you’d reach out and take it? Well, this girl’s only got me right now. Me, Devon, Marshall and a woman I call Angel who risked her life escaping this hell hole."
“Whoa, Hope, you’re overreacting.” He hadn’t expected this from her, this intensity. “Dalton is not your problem. Forget I said anything.”
“Not my problem,” she muttered, hands on hips as she paced. “This is my problem. You,” she motioned toward him without looking at him, “are my problem.”
“I am not your problem.” He stiffened at the word problem.
“You are, though.” Hands on hips, she looked at him. “Don’t you see? You are my main problem. We can do this together—all of it—without anyone being hurt. I’ll move you, get you where I can protect you, don’t you see? We can do this together.”
“Without anyone getting hurt? Have you looked in a mirror?” He could barely look at her injuries without getting angry…angry with her for rushing to everyone’s rescue…angry with the bastards who did this to her…angry at himself for not being able to strangle them himself.
“Do I understand that this is dangerous? Yes, I do. Do I understand what’s at stake? Yes, I do.” Pushing her hands through her hair, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath. When she looked at him again, calm restraint stiffened her jaw. “The guy who did this to me threatened you. I couldn’t figure out who it could be until you said Byron Gannon admitted knowing we’re married. He did this to me. It had to be him. I know it. Now I need to prove it.”
He couldn’t believe what she was saying. He stared at her bruise-covered body and thought he would rip the arms off of his wheelchair. He would kill him.
“Call me a puppet master, call me a controlling bitch, whatever. I don’t care. I will fix it. Once I get the proof I need, Byron Gannon will be in jail and I doubt the custody battle will proceed. All I want is for you to trust me. That’s it. Is that really so hard? After all we’ve been through together, is it really so hard to trust me now?”
“I don’t want you to fix anything. I want to be the fixer,” he said. He wished he could pace. Instead, he smashed his glass against the floor. Glass shards scattered toward her booted toes.
“I don’t need this aggravation. Not today. Stay here then. I’m tired. I want to go home, take a fist full of melatonin and wash it down with tequila. That should knock me out for a few hours. I don’t need some man to help me sleep. Stay here.”
She grabbed her bag with too much force, spilling a multitude of contents ranging from hand lotion to a compass. She fell to her knees, bandaged hands shaking as she scooped up the items.
“I’m sorry.” He dropped his hands to the arms of the chair and stared at her bent head. “I didn’t mean it.”
He wanted to take it all back, every word.
“Maybe I need to stop trying to piece us together.” Sighing, her shoulders slumped. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe I can’t fix it.”
Seeing her looking defeated went against everything he had ever thought to be true. He had no idea when he’d lost control of this conversation.
“You’ve had a bad day...long night...saw something horrible, didn’t you? What did you see?” He wanted to crawl onto the floor, over the glass and hold her until she told him her secrets like she used to late at night in a dark room a world away.
“Don’t act like you suddenly care. I’m supposed to be some kind of badass who brushes everything off, right? Me? Have feelings? Of course not. Not me. I’m bigger than that, right? Isn’t that what you all think?” A quake rippled visibly through her body when she stood, as if she were using her last energy reserves simply to stay awake.
“I’m sorry, Hope,” he whispered. “Let’s not rehash this now, I’m sorry I brought it up. I can’t keep doing that to you. It’s not fair.”
“None of this is fair. None of this makes sense. You would rather sit in this place and deal with Gannon solo than admit to the world that I’m your wife. It’s true.” She nodded at that, eyes pinning him in place. “Are you going to throw a divorce in my face now, too? This day can’t get much worse, so lay it on me.”
“You’re wrong.” He hated that he’d been too self-centered--again--to see her pain. “I want you to take me home. Now. I’m sorry for being a bastard. I have no excuses for that. I can’t seem to control it.”
Shaking her head, she looked away from him and brushed the back of her hand over her eyes. “I’m too shallow to be the person you need, right? I’m the reason you’re losing your son? Isn’t that it? All my fault? I’m not what you need, just like Becky said.”
“Now who’s feeling sorry for whom?” she asked with a bitter twist of her mouth. He rubbed his hands over his eyes, unable to keep looking at her. “That’s not true.”
“Yes, it is. It’s my fault those people died today. Devon and I were spotted following them so the bastards blew up the van.” She stood over him, hair shielding part of her face, sunglasses hiding God-only-knew-what, and bandaged hands gripping the strap of her bag. “Let’s do the checklist...Peter, Sally, those people in the van, your custody fight and...know what else you need to add to your list since you seem to be keeping score of my damage? I was pregnant that day I went to Marishka’s...I was going to tell you that night before the world blew up in our faces...so add Baby Cedars to your list of casualties because I had a miscarriage three days later. Not that you deserve to even know that much after throwing me out like yesterday’s garbage.”
And then she was out the door, dog skipping at her side, hair stirring down her back, long legs striding, shoulders back, hips swaying, bag flapping against her side.
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