Genres: Historical Romance
Vengeance never dies …
London, 1812. When the unconventional Imogen Lancaster embarked on a mission to infiltrate high society and avenge her beloved cousin’s murder she never would have guessed she’d end up in the arms of a thief. At least, that’s what she assumes when she discovers Lucas Stone breaking into a private safe.
Lucas Stone, the Earl of Winchester, has a reputation for arrogance and a soft-spot for his sister, which is how he ends up in the predicament of hiding behind a curtain at midnight with the dreadfully dull Miss Imogen Lancaster. But he soon discovers appearances can be deceiving when the country mouse turns into a spitfire in front of his eyes and she makes it clear she wants nothing to do with him.
Though one is chasing a blackmailer and the other a murderer, they quickly realize they are on the hunt for the same villain. Now they must work together, which would be fine, if they could decide if they’d rather fall in love or kill one another.
One Step Behind was a delightful regency romance! I loved Gemma. She was a bit of an odd duck: raised by an uncle then given to the care of an aunt when the uncle died, she had no desire to be a part of the ton and find a good husband. She wanted to solve her beloved cousin’s murder, then live out her life in the country, alone. Lucas was an interesting character as well. Being blackmailed for his sister’s indiscretion, he wants to find the person responsible and save his sister’s reputation. When Gemma and Lucas’ paths cross, they realize they are likely looking for the same person. In order to work together, they agree to a fake engagement. Yep, we all know how that will end.
The mystery of the story in One Step Behind is the major plot line of the book and guides everyones actions and interactions. There is murder, scandal, and more! It really is a well written mystery, even though I had guessed who the culprit was and why. The push/pull between Lucas and Gemma was tension building for sure, but I wanted to shake them both repeatedly because they were never fully honest. Gemma felt like Lucas was ‘trapped’ into a relationship with her. He never really did anything to make her feel differently and that was frustrating. I just wanted him to be honest with her!!! That was my only frustration with the book.
Overall, if you like regency romance, mystery, and scandal, One Step Behind is a perfect choice! I certainly plan to continue to read more from Labuskes!
- POV: 3rd
- Tears: no
- Trope: fake engagement/relationship
- Triggers: none
- Series/Standalone: stand alone
- Cliffhanger: View Spoiler »no « Hide Spoiler
- HEA: View Spoiler »Eventually Lucas and Gemma admit their feelings and get married for real! « Hide Spoiler
A Scot in the Dark by Sarah MacLean, Cold Hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas, Luck is no Lady by Amy Sandas…then you will probably like One Step Behind!
From One Step Behind:
Gemma was buzzing by the time they arrived at Vauxhall. They had taken a boat across the river to get to the pleasure gardens, and she had never felt more exotic. She’d wanted to draw a lazy hand through the river, even though she knew that would not have been a smart idea.
But it wasn’t just the excitement of the adventure that was making her blood hum and her pulse skitter. It was him. She hadn’t even tried to deny it or justify it to herself. She just let her eyes have free rein over his features. Something pulsed deep within her when a lock of dark hair fell over his eyes. The feeling was so new to her that she could barely put a name to it. But in the quiet of the night she recognized it for what it was.
They joined the mass of people streaming into the pleasure gardens. Some were masked; others were decked out in marvelous gowns. The excitement of the crowd shot through the air like lightning.
She was determined to enjoy the night and put the investigation out of her thoughts as they strolled toward the brightly colored tents. Music and laughter floated by. It was similar to a ball, Gemma thought, but she preferred the gardens. Being outside under the blanket of stars and inky night sky felt somehow magical, like anything could happen here,and did. A small child dashed by,a lolly inh and, giggling wildly; an older man helped his wife onto a bench to wait for the fireworks; a group of young men guffawed and punched each other’s arms, putting on a show for the ladies who had just walked by with their chaperones. And underneath it all was an undercurrent of wildness—a sense of inevitability since they were all free from many of society’s strict rules.
“Do you come here often when you are in town, my lord?” she asked, nodding to an acquaintance she recognized. “Almost never, actually. My parents brought us when we were children, of course. But I have only been back a time or two since then,” he answered.
“Why did you want to bring me here tonight?” she asked, curious.
It was as if he were courting her.
The fanciful notion was captivating but dangerous for her heart to believe. They were partners on a case, nothing more—regardless of the desire that sparked across her skin when he touched her, or the feeling that blossomed in the pit of her stomach when he turned those emerald eyes on her.
He was quiet for so long she thought he might not answer. “One of the last times I came here I had just finished my education. I was about to take on all the responsibilities of an earl’s heir. I knew all my life that was what I was destined to do—run our estates, take care of the family name.” He paused. “I am not resentful of it, but at the time I was feeling…a bit stifled, as young men can. I was unaware of all the privilege I was afforded, and instead focused on all that I would not be able to do.”
“That seems natural,” Gemma said, pulling him to a stop at the edge of a small crowd. A vibrant canary and crimson canvas was sprawled on the ground, attached to a large woven basket. A small man with a large gray mustache and very little hair under his tall top hat was gesturing frenetically at the contraption.
“You can kiss the sky!” His voice boomed over the crowd as he bounced and danced around. “Fly with the angels, sing with the birds, look down on your fellow man as if they were the smallest of creatures!”
“I would think you would want to avoid flying with angels, as that would mean you have been called to your reward a bit early,” Lucas said under his breath.
Gemma laughed. “Oh, hush. It does look amazing, does it not? I have always wanted to go up in a hot air balloon. Perhaps we could share the experience with someone a bit saner, though, yes? He seems like he is about to turn cartwheels.”
Lucas smirked, and they continued on.
“Please, my lord, finish your thoughts from earlier,” Gemma prompted.
“Yes, right. Well, I came here one night with some chaps from school, I don’t even remember who anymore. But when I got here…” He trailed off, seeming hesitant. “It was a different world. Dock workers, dandies, whores, families. It was like traveling to a different country, to an exotic land— England felt continents away. It made me want to travel.” He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. “And by that I mean travel, nothing more. I wanted to see the world. I thought you would like to experience that. As you are committed to staying in London until we solve this case, I wanted to give you a taste of adventure.”
She cleared her throat, shaken. “Well, you have given me that. And I will always remember it.”
“Perhaps you are right for now, my dear,” he finally said. “Did you enjoy Vauxhall before that incident?”
“It was more than I could have imagined,” she assured him. “I’m only disappointed that it was cut short.”
“What else would you have liked to have seen?” His voice was low and husky, and it stoked the small fire that had been burning in her all night long.
The situation was precarious. It was true that as far as the world was concerned they were engaged. But they weren’t. And even if they were, the situation was still not quite on the right side of proper.
It didn’t feel wrong, though. It felt safe.
Their embrace in the carriage flashed into her mind, and she longed to feel his lips against hers once more. If they were going to risk their reputations by flirting so recklessly with the boundaries of propriety, shouldn’t she at least get another kiss out of it?
One brow slid up, and she realized she was staring. Heat stung at her cheeks, but she didn’t look away. She’d made her decision. “Have you heard of the dark walks?”
His eyes took on a seductive glint, but his lips tipped up in a smile. “I think the better question is, how have you heard of the dark walks, my dear?”
She cleared her throat. “I’ve done my research.”
Research. Very alluring, Gemma. Might as well talk farming techniques next.
“Not first-hand, I trust.” He was teasing her, she knew, but there was a sudden air of alertness around him that was a sharp contrast to his lazy pose only moments earlier.
She peeped at him under her lashes like she’d seen other ladies do when they wanted to flirt with their partners, and hoped she didn’t look as foolish as she felt. “I was hoping tonight I would be able to augment my education with a trip along the walks.”
“What has your research told you about them?” The amusement had died from his voice, only to be replaced by something she couldn’t name. Something sensuous.
“Oh they sound magical.” Her own voice turned dreamy as she pictured strolling with Lucas under the stars, through a maze of lush green walls. The scent of flowers and the thrill of expectation would make the air thick around them. “Almost like another world, where you can lose yourself in the beauty of the night without thought to consequence.”
“There are always consequences,” he cut in, dousing her fantasy.
“But imagine for a moment, if you will, that you could pretend there were not.” This was not quite going as she had scripted it in her head. They would have already kissed by now if had been. And then she would have sweet memory to tuck against her in the dark of the night when she tried not to think about death and warnings and blackmail.
“That’s a dangerous proposition, Gemma,” he said quietly. “That’s not real life.”
“That’s what the dark walks are for,” she countered. “We’re not in Vauxhall, though, are we?”
She lost her patience with subtlety. She didn’t know why she tried it in the first place—it clearly wasn’t her strong suit. “But what if we were. Would you embrace the magic? Or would you continue to talk at me about consequences?”
He narrowed his eyes then deliberately set his glass on the small table beside him before crossing over to her. The look in his eyes made her question her sanity for provoking him. He drew her up until she was standing in front of him.
She’d wanted him to kiss her, but she hadn’t been prepared for the heat that burned in her belly, in the air between them, in his eyes.
“Magic,” he murmured, stroking the pad of his thumb along her jaw. Sparks followed in its wake, sending shivers along her skin. “I choose magic.”
One Step Behind by Brianna Labuskes
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