Title This Is Your Life
Author Jennifer Ann Shore
Genre Contemporary Romance
Gabe King is as famous as they come.
I wouldn’t know.
It’s by chance that we run into each other, and all I can do is gawk at his icy blue eyes and model-worthy stature. He’s immediately dismissive of me, thinking I’m some crazed fan, and I’m left in confusion as to why the gorgeous stranger with arrogance the size of Manhattan just told me off in a public park.
With the help of his foul-mouthed, chain-smoking sister and adorable dog, we’re given a second chance, and soon I’m swept up by his charm and drawn to something deeper and darker that he hides from the world.
The more time we spend together, the more I’m certain I absolutely want to find out who the real Gabe King is. But with fame, there’s a price to be paid—and I’m not sure I can afford the admission.
“Hey, Julianna,” a deep voice says, startling me.
For the second time today, Gabe catches me completely off guard.
I glance up at him, pleased to see that he looks entirely devoid of the skepticism and anger he felt toward me so recently.
“Hey,” I say lightly.
He adjusts the hat on his head, attempting to cover more of the blond hair that sticks out on the edges.
My gaze is drawn to the flexing of his forearms and how the muscles are accentuated by the rolled-up sleeves of his shirt.
For the average passerby, I’m sure he looks like any other attractive and successful guy, but when he faces me full-on, I nearly drown in the depth of his blue eyes.
“Can I sit with you?” Gabe asks, gesturing beside me.
“Sure,” I say, sliding over and mentally scolding myself for gawking so obviously at him.
When he sits down beside me, he’s close enough that I can smell the spearmint gum as he crackles it between his teeth.
Gabe rests his elbows on his knees and keeps his gaze outward toward the water.
Normally, I’m perfectly content to sit in silence, but something about his presence overwhelms me into nervousness, and I rack my brain for how to fill the void.
“Did you know that some people think Roosevelt Island is haunted?” I ask him, gesturing to the two miles of land across the water.
“I didn’t,” he admits.
“That building right there—” I point to the octagonal shape of the entrance. “—was once an insane asylum, but now it’s luxury condos. And down toward the other end of the island, there’s a crumbling building that was once a smallpox hospital. I’ve never been, but the pictures online make it look pretty creepy.”
He gives me a sideways glance. “I thought your thesis was on transportation’s impact on the middle class over the past two hundred years?”
My heart flutters at his retention of my earlier conversation with Zoe.
“It was,” I say, impressed. “But I spend a lot of time in this park...and I got curious one day, so I looked it up. It’s kind of...”
He shakes his head. “I disagree.”
I chew on my bottom lip and stare out at the water again, trying to come off as relaxed and cool, not the fidgeting mess that I currently am deep down.
Gabe clears his throat. “Anyway, I was hoping you’d be here because I wanted to apologize. I’m sorry about earlier.”
“Just earlier?” I retort, surprising myself with my boldness.
He chuckles and leans back. “And last week, too. I promise I’m not always an asshole. It was just a bad day. Well, I guess it’s a bad week, actually.”
“I get it,” I say.
His eyebrow ticks up like he doesn’t believe me.
And he shouldn’t.
“Well, I don’t really,” I admit, running a hand through my hair. “But I’m trying to empathize with you.”
He nods. “I’ll accept your empathy if you accept my apology.”
“Done,” I say immediately. “But I should also clarify something.”
I pull out my phone and tilt it toward him, showing the pictures I’ve taken recently.
“I really didn’t know who you were when we first met or that you were around while I was taking photos for Angela.”
Gabe shrugs. “I’m familiar with having a very enthusiastic sister.”
“Well, at least you have one who doesn’t require a swath of pictures every time I hit up my bagel shop.”
A smile tugs at the corner of Gabe’s mouth, making me even more aware of his perfectly shaped lips and incredibly white teeth. “Don’t you mean my coffee shop?”
I chuckle. “Maybe we should let Carl decide,” I suggest. “After all, I’ve been going there religiously every Friday since I moved here, and you…”
“Try to go there as much as I can whenever I’m in New York.”
“Well, not to brag, but Mary insists on keeping blueberry bagels on the menu partly because I like them.”
Gabe’s eyebrows pull together, and his mouth contorts in disgust. “What kind of person eats blueberry bagels?”
“The same kind of person who had no idea who you were until I saw your picture on an ad after we met, I guess,” I say simply.
That makes him smile genuinely.
It’s not lost on me what is happening right now.
In fact, as we banter back and forth, my inner self is screaming at the surrealness of the situation, but I stay grounded in the surfacing reminder that even though he has a massive fanbase and a recognizable face, at his core, he’s just a guy.
A very, very, very attractive guy.
“So, you were telling my sister this morning about how you always wanted to live in New York?” Gabe recalls.
I nod. “I don’t even know what started it, but for as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with the idea of living here. It’s kind of stupid, given that my other passion, history, doesn’t exactly make it an affordable place, but I don’t think I could ever picture myself trying to be, like, some sort of Wall Street finance bro.”
“Do you want to work at a museum or something?” Gabe asks.
I shake my head. “I’m not really interested in it, and aside from that, it’s really competitive, especially here. I’d be up against a lot more qualified art history majors who have likely spent years interning at relevant companies.”
I stop, realizing I’ve been rambling, but he seems interested, so I continue.
“I think I could do really well as a research assistant for a publishing house, or maybe even a guest lecturer. I really should have had this more figured out before I spent years of my life in graduate school, then moved to a completely new place.”
“No, it’s kind of...refreshing, actually,” Gabe admits. “I’ve met so many people over the years who have very specific goals and are really rigid about attaining them. Being driven is a good thing, but sacrificing all flexibility to go after a singular goal can be exhausting to the point of sacrificing enjoying your life.”
“I like the way you put it,” I tell him. “Do you think you can explain it to my parents for me?”
He shakes his head. “I barely convinced my own father that acting could be a career.”
“But it worked out okay, right?”
“It looks that way now, but there were so many years of struggling to get to this point,” he admits. “My mom was always my biggest cheerleader, though.”
I see the heaviness make its way back into his features, like a weight dragging him down again.
“Zoe mentioned this morning that...it has been a year, right, since she passed? As of last week?” And then it hits me. “Oh.”
I have immediate clarity on Gabe’s attitude—well, not even that, but a little bit of an explanation on his mental state—and despite Zoe’s insistence earlier, pity surfaces inside me.
He nods. “She loved this city. So it’s good to be back here again, but—” He cuts himself off.
For some reason, Gabe’s face is the pinnacle of regret, along with what I think is a little bit of shame. “I’m sorry.”
“What are you sorry for?”
He runs a hand over his stubbled cheeks. “I have probably given you emotional whiplash.”
“I think I’m surviving it just fine,” I quip.
His chiseled features are jarring enough when he’s closed off, but when he renews his gaze on me, there’s no trepidation in sight, like he’s cracked an opening into who he really is—and it’s as terrifying as it is alluring.
It’s not difficult to understand why he has such a cult following or why he protects himself so fiercely, but now that I’ve seen a glimpse of the layers buried beneath his exterior, my thoughts are consumed with how I can break down all the barriers.
I want to find the pieces of him that he doesn’t share with anyone else.
“Gabe—” I start, not really sure what I even want to say, but I’m saved by his phone ringing.
He shifts slightly closer to me so he can retrieve it from his pocket, and I hold my breath, not wanting to be even more enticed by the spearmint scent.
“It’s Zoe,” he says as if he needs to explain why he’s answering the call.
I try my best to shove down the deep desire that makes me want to pounce on him on this park bench—something that’s incredibly out of character for me and surely an absolute no-no for someone who regularly has paparazzi following his every move—but it doesn’t help that he doesn’t retreat back to his side of the bench once he answers.
“Hey...no, I’m not home yet…because I’m not...I’m not being coy...I’m with Julianna at the park...yeah...okay, I will.”
He turns to me while keeping the phone up to his ear, unaware that the metal arm of the bench digs into my side as I try to distance myself from him.
“My lovely sister forgot to invite you to a party that she is, apparently, throwing at my place tomorrow. Can you come?”
It’s barely been twelve hours since I ran into Zoe in this very same park, and since then, I swear, I’ve felt every single emotion humanly possible.
Quickly, though, I realize that’s a lie because for the first time since moving here, I’ve felt desire and longing in a way that I didn’t even know was possible for me.
Still, I try to play it cool, pretending I have to think it over, like I have some sort of packed social calendar, but for once, I actually don’t think that Amanda and Peter have roped me into staying in with Will.
I offer Gabe my slyest smile. “I think I can make it work.”
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Runs April 1 - 30 and is open internationally for most prizes. Winners will be drawn on May 3, 2021.
Jennifer Ann Shore is the award-winning and bestselling author of several fiction books, including "Metallic Red," "The Stillness Before the Start," and "The Extended Summer of Anna and Jeremy."
In her decade of working in journalism, marketing, and book publishing, she has gained recognition for her work from companies such as Hearst and SIIA.
Be sure to visit her website (https://www.jenniferannshore.com) and follow her on Twitter (@JenniferAShore), Instagram (@shorely), or your preferred social media channel to stay in touch.
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