Hi Michelle and welcome to HJ! We’re so excited to chat with you about your new release, True Gold!
Please summarize the book for the readers here:
When they were just 16 years old, Connor Garrett and Delilah Campbell gained notoriety in True, Alaska when they managed to do what many seasoned treasure hunter before them had failed to: they found the ninth of ten pallets of missing gold bars lost years earlier in hijacking.
That was twelve years ago, and Connor and Delilah are no longer on speaking terms. The tenth and final pallet still hasn’t been found, but now it’s not the only thing missing. Delilah’s mother, an Alaskan bush pilot vanishes without a trace.
Delilah’s mom called her the day she disappeared, and though the connection was terrible Delilah did catch one word very clearly. Connor.
She also heard her say “don’t come home” and “don’t trust anyone”.
Headstrong Delilah immediately hops on a plane back to Alaska. She’s well aware that she’s been gone too long to go off halfcocked, and that she’s going to need help. She’s heard that Connor’s back from the army and is working as a wilderness guide. Choking down her pride long enough to call him, she’s furious when he flat out refuses.
A few hours later, Connor shows up at Delilah’s mother’s house, having cleared his schedule. Reader’s solve the mystery with Con and Lie, learning along the way why the former high school sweethearts broke up and haven’t spoken to each other in years. They follow the angsty pair down a twisty path of small town secrets, eventually discovering what happened to Delilah’s mother and if it’s somehow related to the missing gold.
Please share the opening lines of this book:
“Come and get it, ya pain in my ass.” I whistle, and after snapping at one last trout, my Alaskan malamute, Runt, bounds along the wood planks of the floating dock, crossing the overgrown lawn. He pauses at the base of the porch steps, waiting for a second invitation. I make kissing sounds, and he lumbers up, sniffing at the remains of my meal.
Please share a few Fun facts about this book…
- Working title was True North, and I actually have a version of the cover with that title on it. There are just too many books by that name.
- I’ve been a fan of Jason Momoa since he was in Stargate Atlantis, and wanted to write a role for him. I don’t write screenplays, so Connor was the next best thing. I also wanted to write about floatplanes, because I’m a frequent flyer and have always been fascinated by them. I debated about making Connor a pilot, but since I can’t stand an ingénue and wanted a tough as nails leading lady, I decided Delilah should take after her mother and be the pilot instead.
- I’ve never been to Alaska, so I did extensive mapping and internet research on the setting, plotting out a location for my invented town of True. I watched a lot of footage on float planes and bush pilots, as well as a great deal of reality TV/documentaries about the setting. One of my trusted early readers lives in Anchorage, so she was able to help a lot. I also interviewed 4 friends who are army vets about basic training and military life, and one of them (who is actually a Green Beret, like Connor) read the book for authenticity.
Please tell us a little about the characters in your book. As you wrote your protagonist was there anything about them that surprised you?
Connor was an outgoing kid, very social and smart enough to skip a grade. The son of an officer, he always knew he wanted to be a paratrooper, and he’d enlist right after graduation. His dad kicked his older brother Quinn out of the house when he announced that he was gay, and Connor’s parents divorced shortly thereafter. Though Connor was most decidedly a momma’s boy, he never stopped striving for his abusive dad’s approval. Growing up, all the girls liked Connor, and he made his rounds. Delilah was always like the sister he never had (their mother’s had been friends since the third grade), but when puberty hit, he finally had to admit to himself that no other girl around did it for him like Delilah did. Convincing her of this would be a battle royale until after they found the gold. They actually became an item their senior year of high school.
Delilah feels most people aren’t worth talking to, but that never stopped her from saying exactly what she thought. She wanted to be a pilot like her mother since her earliest memory of landing on the water, and she got her license to fly the moment she was legally old enough to test. With a workaholic mother and an absent, alcoholic father, Delilah was left to fend for herself and her younger sister Andi, as well as their unofficial brother Boone, a mute boy who her mother took after finding him digging in a dumpster for food. When things went south with Connor and he ran off at basic training, Delilah couldn’t stand to look at Alaska, since everything reminded her of him. Being the bold woman she is, she moved to Las Vegas all by herself to work for a small airline that ran tours to the Grand Canyon. She’s been there ever since.
I knew very early on that I wanted two characters with such monumental passion for each other that we as readers were watching them dance on the line between love and hate from page one. I also wanted to toy with characters who grew up together, literally fist fighting as kids. Toying with how that relationship would develop and change over the years and how two such determined people with clear visions and goals would deal with the inevitable parting of ways intrigued me.
If your book was optioned for a movie, what scene would you use for the audition of the main characters and why?
I try the knob and I’m not surprised to find it unlocked. She still has more guts than good sense. Lilah doesn’t turn around, even when a board creaks beneath my boot. I catch the gleam of her white earbuds just before she whips her head in my direction.
Her face goes stone cold, and I can tell her hackles are up. Complete calm settles over her features, but she rips the earbuds unceremoniously from their rightful place, and based on her stance, she’s ready for a fight. I step into the room, and her expression shifts. Her eyes darken, and the air grows turgid and charged around us, like the gulf before a tempest rolls in off the water. I can tell by the rise and fall of Delilah’s chest that she feels it too.
“Connor.” Her golden eyes dart over the scar splitting my eyebrow, and the thick beard and long hair I’d grown out since last we met. “You scared the shit out of me.”
“Sorry.” I’m not and she knows it.
“Since when do you move so quietly?” Her raspy voice has a serrated edge. She hates being caught off guard, and I’m delighted to have thrown a wrench into her evening.
“Since Special Forces training.” I take another step toward her, my eyes roving over her as if they have a mind of their own. “If you’re going to walk around dressed like that you should really lock the door.”
Her frown deepens and she reflexively backs against the sink. Despite our last ugly encounter after Mom died, I’m surprised by this. Ashamed, too. I stuff my hands in my pockets, holding my ground.
“Are you camouflaging your face?” Her tone is just this side of bitchy as her eyes sweep over my long beard again.
“Making up for all those army-mandated barber visits,” I joke, unable to suppress a smirk. Always with an opinion, this one.
“You look…” The tilt of her delicate chin lets me know she’s deliberating.
I feel my lips twitch, anticipating an insult. “What?”
Her face remains impossibly neutral. Predictably unpredictable. “You don’t look like you.”
I shrug and my shaking hands remain in my pockets. “You look…”
Her spine goes board straight, her chin up. She’s bracing for me to insult her. I’d like to, since jabbing her ego might release venom from my festering wounds. The truth is, she looks amazing. I stick to the simplest observation and spare us both more awkwardness.
“Tired,” I finish. She releases a breath and nods curtly.
“Being back here is harder than I thought.”
“I’m sorry,” I say. It’s automatic, a pointless platitude. She looks at the floor as if gathering strength from the scuffed wood planks beneath her feet. “You know how I felt about LuAnn.”
“How you feel about LuAnn.” Her penetrating eyes are a caution sign that I’m careening forward at one hundred miles per hour.
I tilt my head. “Lie…”
“Pilots walk out of the bush all the time,” she declares.
I nod, but I’m sure she sees how skeptical I am. While pilots have turned up weeks after vanishing due to mechanical failures or emergency landings, it isn’t the norm. “If anyone could, it’d be Lu.”
The silence that hangs between us is sadly familiar, and I want desperately to fill it.
“I cleared my schedule for the week.” I arrange my face into a neutral mask. “So if you still need a guide…”
She tucks a strand of hair behind her ear and turns back to the sink. Reaching for her lotion, she flips her long curls over one shoulder. As she slathers on the sweet concoction, I notice a tattoo on her right shoulder blade.
I move a little closer, curious.
“This is new.” I reach out to brush her tiny strap aside for a better look at the ink. The tattoo is an antique compass rose, the figure that displays the orientation of the cardinal directions on old maps. The design is actually really nice; a couple of roses and some leaves give the outer circle a wreath-like quality.
“Not really. I got it a long time ago.” Her voice is husky as my fingertip glides across her silky skin. Gooseflesh appears on her upper arm, and that gives me a thrill. “When I was like…twenty… maybe twenty-one.”
She turns around, and her hip brushes against the front of my zipper. I’d say the contact made me hard, but I was halfway there watching her from outside. She looks up at me, and though she’s had to crane her neck to meet my eyes since we were in middle school, it’s always felt as if she were the one looking down on me.
“I was dating the tattoo artist. I guess you could call it ‘dating.’” Her tiny eye roll implies it wasn’t one of her finer moments.
I tilt my head, my blood pumping something fierce between my jealousy at the idea that anyone else has ever touched her and her sheer nearness in this moment. “Oh yeah?”
She nods, and a macabre smile flits across her face. “He was tall. And a major know-it-all. Totally my type.”
I feel an appreciative smile working at my lips.
“Why didn’t you marry him?” It’s a bold and weighty statement and her mouth drops open. She searches me, and for a rare, candid moment, I allow it.
“He was mean.” I see something flicker behind those liquid amber eyes.
“Sounds like a match made in heaven.” My voice is gruff, but I’m glad I spoke the truth. I’m even gladder for how solidly the blow lands, based on the way her perfect bow of a mouth turns down at the edges. In a surprising move, she lifts herself easily onto the counter so she’s sitting on it, and I struggle to keep my eyes off of her well-defined arms and that gravity-defying chest. “This doesn’t have to be ugly, Connor. Let’s have a beer. Catch up. Talk about old times.”
I say nothing, and her lips form a slanted smile. “We did have some good times, didn’t we?”
That’s for fucking sure.
I could step between her legs right now. Slip her panties aside and bury myself in her tight, wet heat. It would be as easy as breathing, and three-quarters of me is ready to take the easy route. I move to the far cabinets away from her, putting temptation at arm’s length. From there, I have an even better view, so I force myself to look away, grabbing a beer from the fridge. “No.”
“No we didn’t have good times, or no we can’t talk about them?” She sounds entertained.
I crack my beer and lock eyes with her. “We’re not talking about us.”
She’s completely unreadable now, and that puts me on edge. “Why not?”
I lean against the cabinet, sipping from my beer. “Because I’m not done being mad at you.”
What do you want people to take away from reading this book?
That we can root for the happiness of flawed people with a past, and that forgiveness is always on the table.
What are you currently working on? What other releases do you have planned?
I have a dark fantasy short story called Knights on the Round Table coming out in a villains themed anthology titled Something Wicked, which releases in September.
I’m working on a rom com with USA Today Bestseller J.L. Mac, and I have two other suspense romance stand alones I’m writing, as well as in talks with Tule [Publishing] about writing a follow up to True Gold.
Thanks for blogging at HJ!
Giveaway: Copy of True Gold by Michelle Pace ebook
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Excerpt from True Gold:
I know Connor’s talking. I can see his lips moving behind that monstrosity he calls a beard. I remember all too well what’s concealed beneath, and those recollections make it hard for me to focus. His strong, squared jaw. His full lips, the gatekeepers of a beautiful smile and a sharp and talented tongue. I force myself to meet his eyes and nod absently at whatever he’s just said. Mesmerized by the scar that slices his left eyebrow, I recall how raw it looked at his mother’s funeral, when it was still fresh. Retreating from that arduous memory, my eyes drop again to his powerfully distracting mouth.
My plan had been for us to have breakfast at a nearby diner, figuring neutral ground was our best bet to keep things congenial. Then he came into the kitchen looking like the hero of some Viking movie, and I was derailed, stumbling over my words. I finally managed to string the suggestion together, but he was already wearing his bemused smirk. Connor’s resting face looks like he’s up to no good. His new lumbersexual image just makes it more pronounced.
“With everyone in town listening in on us?” His naturally arched eyebrows elevate, and his point hits home. Lilah Campbell and Connor Garrett doing breakfast would be front-page news in Podunk True. Our reunion is destined to be difficult and awkward enough without an audience. Connor brushes his long hair out of his face with both hands, putting the top half back in a knot.
“Let’s just eat here,” I suggest. He shrugs.
“I called some contacts on the way up last night. I just checked my email and I have some of the search details.”
As he pulls his computer from its bag and plugs it in, I scramble to get a meal together. I’m jittery. I haven’t cooked for anyone since I used to keep Boone and Andi alive with ramen noodles and PB and J, I want to be out there now looking, but I’m not stupid. Tempting as it is, we can’t run off half-cocked. Distracted, I wreck the eggs, which Connor prefers sunny side up. He gets them half scrambled, and the toast a little overdone because Mom’s toaster is evidently set on cremation mode.
I set his plate down beside him, careful to avoid his computer. He glances up from the screen, and his eyes are level with my chest. After a discernible pause, he drags his gaze to mine. He’s brimming with anger and a light dusting of lust. For a second, I think he’ll grab me, and clear the table with one sweep of his powerful arm. The air between us practically crackles, but he turns away and picks up his plate.
“Sorry, it’s nothing fancy. It’s all Mom had that doesn’t need to thaw.” My hardening nipples humiliate me, and I’m thankful for Connor’s dismissiveness.
“This isn’t a social call.” His gruff response stings like a slap, but it’s the truth, so I hurry away gripping the handle of the coffeepot.
“Cream and sugar?”
“I’d better not.” His eyes wander over me more thoroughly, as if I’d just invited him to my room for a nightcap. He wears a distasteful frown and I suspect he’s judging me for using cream and sugar when I’m still carrying ten extra pounds.
Turning my back on him, I pour my own cupful, dumping plenty of half-and-half and sugar into it with flourish.
His disapproving “she’s let herself go” expression infuriates me. It shouldn’t matter, but there was a time that Connor couldn’t take his eyes off of me. Breathing deeply, I put the half-and-half back in the fridge door and gather my wits. Silently, I give myself some tough love.
How many times are you going to let this man hurt you?
Squaring my shoulders, I return to the table. I slide his cup of black coffee over to him, deciding to skip breakfast.
Seated at the same table where we’d planned our childhood adventures, we sip in uncomfortable silence. So many topics are off-limits that filling said silence is completely impossible. Connor’s broody expression and the uncomfortable way he shifts in his seat tells me he’s having similar thoughts.
Luckily coffee fills the gaping crevasse in our conversation. Finally, Connor nudges past the elephant in the room and pulls up the maps of the search grids. I come around to read over his shoulder, standing close enough to smell him, and the musky scent of his cologne unleashes a memory so vivid that tears spring to my eyes.
Prom night. The two of us, pulled over in the middle of nowhere, bickering. His lips on my neck as he untied the straps of my gown. My face burns, and I thrust the memory aside through sheer willpower.
Connor doesn’t seem remotely fazed by my nearness, and soon we’re too immersed in the data for me to care. “What’s with these holes in the search grid?” Pointing out three small gaps, I frown. “Who’s in charge of the air search? Do you know?”
“I’m not sure.” Connor keeps clicking through screens until he finds scanned lists of volunteers. “Half the town showed up for the ground search.”
“Well, Mom’s a pillar of the community, just ask her.” That earns me a reluctant grin from Connor, and it’s disarming to see he’s still capable of one. I place my fingers on my temples, trying to ignore the throb starting there.
“Looks like Reece Warren is in charge.” Connor sounds amused, and I suppress an eye roll. “You ought to be able to get what information your little heart desires out of him.”
Leaning over Connor’s shoulder, I whip out my cell phone and dial Reece’s number, which he’d scrawled so boldly on the sign-up sheet. Reece picks up on the second ring.
“Reece. It’s Delilah.”
“Lilah!” I can hear his smile over the phone.
I glanced at the clock and grimace. “Oh my God, it’s only six a.m. I’m so sorry.”
He chuckles dismissively. “I can’t think of a better way to wake up. You back in Anchorage? Do you need me to come pick you up?”
After the shade Connor’s thrown my way, Reece’s sweetness is like an electric blanket on a January night.
Such a nice guy.
Connor’s kicked back in his chair, his long legs resting where I’d been sitting a few minutes before. He lifts his mug to his lips, unwarranted accusation written all over him.
Too bad nice guys don’t do anything for me.
“Thanks, but I’m already in True.”
“I’m so sorry about all this stuff with your mom.”
His words land like a punch in the gut. “Me too.”
“I just saw her that morning. She told me you and your husband are separated.”
Well, now. That’s quite the non-sequitur.
And an inaccurate one.
“I’m divorced,” I correct him. “Hey, listen. Connor and I were just reviewing the search grids and he mentioned that you were in charge—”
“You’re with Connor.” I can practically hear him deflating. Reece made a play for me after Connor and I broke up shortly before senior prom. He obviously remembers how calamitous the results of that play were. Connor watches me over his tipped coffee cup, and I can see he’s on the same trip down memory lane. I haven’t had enough caffeine yet to juggle both their egos, so I take my mug out onto the back deck.
“I saw a few holes in the air search and need to know what ground you’ve already covered,” I say into the phone, skating any further discussion of Connor entirely.
“It should all be on the grids. I made a couple of passes up by Willow. It was a long shot, but I figured it couldn’t hurt. I helped with traffic control the day Lu’s plane went missing. A storm rolled in while she was out on her daily runs and I advised her to wait things out up there. She said it wasn’t bad enough to divert. I thought once she’d had a taste of the downdrafts…” He trails off.
The name Willow jolts me, and I remember Mom’s call. She might have mentioned Willow.
She definitely mentioned Connor.
And goddam Aurora.
Mom cringed and left the room every time Connor and I talked about Aurora. Dad said it was because her friend, Hank, had been flying the hijacked plane. Hank Brown killed himself a few weeks after the incident.
The one time Connor and I did get Mom talking about Hank Brown was the day that redefined our search strategy. I mentioned Hank’s suicide, and she went ballistic, ranting about how Aurora smeared Hank’s name in the press, since he stuck to his story that they had only one double pallet on the plane, instead of the two they listed on their original manifest. He’d called them out for over reporting to their insurance company, so they painted him like a pill-popping drunk in the court of public opinion. Mom’s conviction that Hank was telling the truth made us focus on his version of the story, and eventually that approach led us to Aurora 9.
“Lilah? Are you there?” Reece’s soothing voice lures me back into the here and now.
“I have a favor to ask.” I stare out at the water, but I’m not really seeing it. If Mom’s disappearance has anything to do with Aurora, I’m going to lose what is left of my mind.
“Anything.” He means it, and I’m grateful to have someone to rely on.
“I need to rent a plane. Know where I can get one?” In my peripheral vision, I see something large moving down on the lawn. I spin, worried that it might be a wolf or a bear heading my way. I squint against the glare off of the water and realize an Alaskan malamute is bounding toward me.
“Runt?” The puppy I’d spent weeks bottle-feeding and nursing to health has grown into a cheerful drooling monster. I’d never have believed it possible that this was the same dog, but his malformed ear and parti-colored eyes are a dead giveaway. The slobbering mongrel doesn’t slow his approach when he jumps up on me.
“Ahhh!” My phone skitters away from me and lukewarm coffee flies everywhere. Runt shakes off the coffee that landed on him onto me with unbridled enthusiasm.
“Lilah? Is everything all right?” Reece’s concerned tone emanates from the tiny speaker of my phone.
“Yeah.” I snatch up my unharmed smartphone, scrunching my face as the dog licks at the coffee I’m wearing on my cheek. “Just getting reacquainted with an old friend.”
“Why don’t you just come down to the airport and use your plane?” he suggests.
“What?” My voice sounds flat.
“Your floatplane. Your mom still stores it here at the airport.”
“Cherry?” I huff out the word, gently pushing Runt’s face away from mine.
“Well, yeah.” Reece laughs and, delirious with joy, I want to jump through the phone and hug him. “I thought you knew.”
I’m speechless, trying to make sense of the information. Cherry’s the floatplane I’d bought with my reward money from Aurora 9. I love her like most kids love their first car. After I got engaged to Josh, I told Mom to sell her. It’d damn near killed me, but I’d finally made peace with the fact that I was never moving back to Alaska, and it seemed like the sensible thing to do.
“I let my float rating lapse, Reece.” I’m practically pouting. “Think you can get me something with wheels?”
“I can re-certify you. Come on down. We’ll take her out for a spin.”
A massive smile overtakes me. “When?”
“How about tomorrow at 0900? I assume you’ll be at the ground search today, since Connor’s around.”
I look back through the screen door. Connor’s still in the kitchen scrolling on his smartphone. His nonchalance is such a glaring contrast to Reece’s support that I curse my younger self for being so dismissive of Reece. “Yeah. We’ll be at the ground search.”
“Be careful out there. They’ve had a couple of bear encounters already. I’ll meet you at the front desk tomorrow.” Reece sounds eager. “Maybe we can do breakfast before your check ride?”
Mentally, I’m already settled in behind Cherry’s controls. “You’ve got yourself a date.”
As I hang up, I realize I never got any hard details on the unexplained gaps in the grid. They weren’t far from Willow, so Reece probably covered them on one of his passes and hadn’t documented it. I try to text him for clarification, but the text is kicked back. Apparently I’d reached him on a landline.
Connor stands when I open the screen door. Runt pads along beside me and promptly sits obediently at Connor’s feet.
“Ready?” He ruffles Runt’s fur without looking up from his phone.
“Thanks to your old pal here, I need to change.” I yank my sweater off over my head. I have a cami on underneath, but Connor reacts like I’m a naked leper. Whipping his head away, he exhales deeply before he violently rips his laptop cord out of the wall.
“I’m checking into a hotel.” Red-faced, he refuses to look my way as he packs his stuff. “I’ll meet you at the launch point. I texted the coordinates to you.”
“You don’t need to do that.” Frowning, my hand is on his forearm without consciously deciding to touch him.
Connor makes me immediately regret it. His face goes crimson, and he yanks his arm away as if I’ve scalded him. He’s all angry skies, glaring at my upraised hand as if it’s a cobra.
He’s hostile again, and I’m clueless as to what I’ve done to set him off. I used to be great at poking his buttons, but since he joined up, I don’t know him at all. With this newly evolved Connor, the rests are often more telling than the melody. His glare is scathing as he slings his bag over his shoulder. I have no idea what to make of this sudden outburst.
“Name one hotel that allows ninety-pound dogs,” I chide, then unable to resist another jab, “Or you could just leave him with me. He is my dog, after all.”
“I should have known not to give you something that needed to be cared for.” His incredulous eyes fixate on me. I’ve seen this disquieting expression once before, after his Mom’s funeral service. Though I want to slap him unconscious and call him a hypocrite, Connor’s imposing presence magnifies in Mom’s tiny kitchen, and my instincts tell me to stay silent. Fear and desire war within me for the second time since he’s arrived, and I brace for whatever’s headed my way before I speak again.
“This is a four-bedroom house. You won’t even know I’m here.”
Connor’s acrid eyes ease up and his jaw visibly relaxes. Dropping his gaze, he gives another terse shake of his head.
“I’ll see you in the woods.” Without another word, he’s out the door, Runt trailing behind him.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Growing up in True, Alaska, the only truth I knew was that Delilah Campbell was an arrogant pain in my ass. She was also my everything, and still haunts my every waking moment.
I don’t have a single memory that doesn’t include Lie, and I can still taste her, even though Alaska’s no longer big enough for the both of us. After our savage breakup, I fled, chasing my dream and becoming a decorated Green Beret. Ten years later, one bad jump propelled me straight from Special Forces back home, guiding rich idiots into the wilderness, where I struggle to keep them from getting themselves killed. It’s not the life I planned, but at least I’m not behind a desk somewhere.
Then one night, my cell rings, shattering my peaceful existence.
“Connor,” I’d recognize her voice anywhere, and it’s like I’m sixteen again, crazy in love and cocky as hell after finding all those gold bars everyone’s been searching for since before we were even born.
I want to tell her to go to hell and throw my phone in the river, but it seems Delilah’s visceral grip on me is permanent.
“It’s mom. She’s missing. I need your help….”
Meet the Author:
Raised in small town Iowa, Michelle Pace is an international best-selling, multi-genre author. After studying theater and vocal music and directing and performing in numerous productions, Michelle went on to earn degrees in both liberal arts and nursing. Determined to avoid shoveling snow, she relocated to the Lone Star State with her husband, author L.G. Pace III. Michelle is a mother of three, and she enjoys traveling, live music, and is an enthusiastic amateur beer connoisseur. Still most at home while entertaining an audience, her mission is to write gripping fiction, not fairy tales.
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