London, 1812. When the unconventional Gemma 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 Gemma 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.
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.50(d)|
Read an Excerpt
One Step Behind
By Brianna Labuskes, Candace Havens
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2016 Brianna Labuskes
All rights reserved.
Gemma Lancaster held her breath and stood perfectly still as if that would make her invisible. It wasn't a good strategy. She knew this. But the only other option was gathering enough courage to pry one of her eyelids open to see who had come into the room.
It took her a few seconds, but when she did she regretted it immediately. Of all people, it had to be him.
"Bloody Hell," Lucas Stone, Earl of Winchester, muttered into the quiet of the darkened library.
A similar, though slightly more lady-like, sentiment was about to slip from her own lips but it died at the sound of laughter right outside the door. More company. Brilliant. Exactly what she needed.
This time, though, Gemma kept her wits about her and dashed toward the heavy curtains that flanked a large window behind the desk. Her triumph was doused by alarm when she turned to find Lord Winchester a half-step behind her.
"Find your own spot!" she whispered, swatting ineffectively at his shoulders.
"Too late," he said as he pulled the thick velvet curtain around them. Gemma sucked in air as every inch of her body pressed up against his, but she had to admit he was right when the door swung open mere seconds later. At least it wasn't the owner of the room who had discovered her. She was not quite sure that an excuse of getting lost on her way to the ladies' withdrawing room would have sufficed if it had been their host, Lord Howard, who had pulled back the curtain.
She closed her eyes and tried not to think about the strong, muscled legs now imprisoning her own as indecipherable whispers and groans filled the air around them. From the sounds coming from the other side of the curtain, an amorous couple had entered the library for an intimate interlude. Gemma hoped they would not be long, and she tried to shift her body so that less of her was against so much of him.
"If you wish to make this less embarrassing for both of us, you will want to stop squirming," the earl murmured, his warm breath tickling her ear. She immediately froze as warmth rushed to her face.
Gemma cursed the fates that had landed her in her current predicament. Of course it was Lord Winchester who now pressed her back into the wall. Of course it was the devilishly handsome gentleman whom she had not been able to shake for the past two weeks, ever since they'd met at the Dorchester ball. Of course it was the one person of the ton who saw past the disguise of dowdy gowns, spectacles, and boring conversation she had cultivated so carefully. To the rest of the glittering butterflies that flitted through society, she was a mousey nobody. But with those piercing eyes, he seemed to see beyond the facade.
She was not sure what had captured his attention. She was not the type to attract suitors under the best of circumstances. Her unfashionable, unruly red hair alone was enough to deter any eligible gentleman. She had also long ago given up the hope that she was a late bloomer, and she was coming to — not terms with, perhaps, but maybe acceptance of — her boyish figure. She was well aware that she was never going to be the type of woman to turn heads when she walked into a ballroom.
No, she did not know why she had piqued the interest of one of the ton's most eligible gentlemen, but she did know she was growing to resent the very sight of him. When he was watching her, it was difficult to sneak off without notice, which was a crucial element of her plan and instrumental to its success.
She had so carefully planned every detail. When the darkness of grief had threatened like an angry thundercloud, she had researched. When she'd become discouraged by the lack of clues, she'd made lists. When her rational side insisted she was mad for pursuing vengeance, whispering that it could only bring ruin, she'd mapped out the finances she would need to be successful. She had planned every detail. But she hadn't planned on him.
None of that mattered now, though. What mattered was not being discovered in this compromising position, and finding out exactly why he had intruded upon her hiding space.
Why couldn't he be like the other dandies who frequented the balls and society affairs? Why did he have to be a constant distraction from her plan? So much so that she now stood hidden, literally between a wall and a hard place. She now had firsthand knowledge that he did not need the padding the other young bucks used to build up their frame.
He was all muscle, a fact of which she was uncomfortably aware with his arms wrapped like steel bands around her. His black-as-night hair was overgrown, but she could tell it was not for fashion's sake. A lock of it fell over into his sharp green eyes, and she itched to push it back behind his ear. It was not just his looks that drew her, though. It was something more than that. Something she had not quite been able to put her finger on since she'd first seen him that night of Lord Dorchester's ball.
A grunt followed a loud thud, bringing Gemma back to her current predicament. She imagined that the unseen pair had knocked the heavy crystal decanter she'd seen earlier onto the thick Persian rug.
"Is that it?" An outraged female's voice sounded in a sharp staccato against the sudden silence. "Really, Reginald, I could have had a better go at it with my coachman. I cannot believe I wasted my time with this. You are no better than a rutting schoolboy."
"But Sylvie ..."
"No." There was a rustle of skirts then the muffled tread of footsteps. "We're through here."
Gemma listened for the man to leave, but he was still uttering oaths about his departed partner.
After what seemed like an eternity, but which was probably only a minute or two, the man collected himself enough to storm out of the library, a rush of noise from the ballroom tumbling into the room before growing dim again.
Gemma waited a beat in the renewed hush and then placed her hands on Lord Winchester and gave him her best shove. He didn't budge, just squinted down at her fingers, which were now resting on his chest, then back at her. Heat radiated into her fingertips, and she struggled not to blush again, having done so more in the past ten minutes than in all her life previously. But since he did seem to be remaining cautious rather than deliberately torturing her, she picked a spot above his shoulder and stared at it as his scent drifted over her.
"I believe they are gone for good," he said, finally stepping out from their hiding place. He glanced around, as though confirming his statement, before turning back to her. He clasped his hands behind his back and towered over her. He was trying to intimidate her, she was certain. Well, he clearly did not realize with whom he was dealing.
"Now," he said, the epitome of an arrogant, demanding lord. "Explain yourself."
What? She'd been here first. If anyone had any explaining to do, it was he. After all, he'd disrupted her search of the library.
* * *
"Excuse me?" uttered the little creature in front of Lucas. She was the picture of disgruntlement, her eyes blazing and cheeks flushed. She all but stomped her foot on the ground.
Lucas ignored the question, not quite sure what to make of the evening, only knowing that when he'd opened the door to the library and seen her there, part of him hadn't been surprised. He'd known Gemma Lancaster had secrets.
A sudden thought struck him, however, and for a reason he could not quite name, it did not settle easily in his mind. "Should we be expecting other company?" he asked, watching her face in the semi-darkness. "Were you meeting someone here?"
A tiny gasp escaped her rosy lips. If possible, she looked even more outraged than she had a moment ago. Her reaction answered at least one question: she was not using the library as a quiet place for a lovers' tryst.
He admitted to himself why it mattered when the memory of her small, soft body snug up against him made his tighten. He had fought the overwhelming urge to bury his face in her hair when her subtle scent had perfumed the air around them. It was nothing like those expensive fragrances many of the ladies chose to douse themselves in. She smelled of soap and fresh air. Looking down at her animated face now, he wanted to pull her to him and kiss the vexation from her pursed lips.
Lilting notes from the ballroom permeated through the heavy door, and he remembered why he was in a dark library with Gemma Lancaster.
Not the time for fantasies. No matter how tempting.
"Never mind." He turned abruptly from her. She might be annoyed with his manners, or lack thereof, but she would be a trifle more than that if they were discovered together. And so would he. He would not endure the kind of forced marriage that had destroyed his parents. He went back to scanning Howard's library. It was well used, not one of the more fashionable, decorative libraries favored by the dandies of the ton. Dark, leather-bound books filled every space on the mahogany shelves.
He pulled up an image of Lord Howard in his mind and tried to picture him as the blackmailer he sought. It didn't fit. Howard was a stocky, balding man in his early fifties. He mostly concerned himself with his books and his hounds. Lucas couldn't remember a conversation with the man that hadn't revolved around the latest agricultural techniques. Still, appearances could be deceiving, he thought with an amused glance at Gemma. He switched his attention from the books to the paintings. There were three in the limited blank spaces on the walls.
Two strides brought him to the first, an innocuous landscape of Cornwall. He tipped the frame gently. Just a wall, nothing behind it. He repeated the move on the second one. Nothing. That left the hounds behind Howard's desk.
He eyed the gold frame as he walked closer. Heavy, but not impossible. He gripped the edges and lifted it to the ground.
"Ah, lovely," he whispered as he stared at the safe tucked into the wall. He was in luck; he knew the type. The designer was a good friend from Eton and a fellow gentleman in the service of his country. They had practiced many a night on just this type of safe.
"Are you a thief?" Miss Lancaster's crisp voice broke his concentration. He'd forgotten she was there for a moment. He had always been able to focus in even the most distracting circumstances. He turned to look at her. Distracting, indeed.
He found it interesting that her tone had not been accusatory, merely curious. She did not even appear overanxious as she observed him. There were plenty of ladies of his acquaintance who would be clutching for their smelling salts after the events of the evening thus far.
"What would you do if I answered in the affirmative?" He was partly deflecting and partly curious. If she had known him well, he would be insulted at her question, but considering he was about to break into the library safe of a lord of the realm, he didn't have much ground to stand on. However, she was unmarried and skulking about in a darkened room with a gentleman. She didn't have the higher ground, either.
"Well ..." She bit her lip. Squaring her shoulders, she said, "Could you look for an item for me? I don't want to steal it ... I just need to know."
"Ah," he said, a few missing pieces clicking into place. Maybe that's why she was always slipping out of ballrooms and musicales. He had noticed but had not wanted to dwell on the reason for it. "You are expecting to find a particular item, then?"
"Perhaps. It's a pocket watch. Gold, inscribed. Are you able to get into the safe?" She slipped closer to him, peering over his shoulder at the formidable door.
He threw her a curt nod. "How were you planning on perusing the contents if I had not come along and been so obliging?"
"I have my ways."
No, she was not near fainting. He wanted to pursue the line of inquiry, but first he had to get them out of here as quickly as possible. He turned his attention back to the lovely puzzle in front of him and stroked the door with one hand as he removed the tools from his coat pockets with the other.
"A thief who comes prepared," Gemma commented.
"Of course. You never know when you'll need to come to a lady's aid and break into a safe," he said without looking at her. "Ah, that's it," he murmured as he slipped his tools into the lock. He continued his soft coaxing until he felt a pull of satisfaction as the final tumbler gave way, and the safe relinquished her secrets.
"Well, it clearly is not your first time. Impressive, my lord," she said as he popped open the door.
"I've heard that before," he said, amused at her quiet intake of breath.
But that humor was quickly doused by disappointment: save for a few baubles and a stack of pound notes, the safe was empty. Not unexpected, but frustrating nonetheless.
"Oh." Her face fell for a brief moment when he turned with outstretched hands to show her what he'd discovered. Lucas braced himself for tears, but she simply nodded once and composed herself. Curiosity, tinged with a bit of admiration he couldn't deny, tugged at him.
He would get answers from her before the night was out, but for now it was time to remove them both from the library. He replaced the items and the painting in their rightful places. After a cursory search of the desk, he felt satisfied that he could mark Howard off his list. He took Gemma's arm, ignoring her dissent, and guided her to the door that would lead her back to the ballroom.
Speaking over her protests, he said, "Here is what we will do. You'll make your way back to the ballroom, and after a few moments issue your excuses. You came with your aunt, yes?" He didn't need it confirmed. He'd noticed them when they had made their appearance, the vivacious Rosalind, Lady Andrews, and her dowdy niece of a cousin twice removed. He was never quite able to lock down the exact connection when he asked, but he always noted when they arrived. "You have a headache, so you'll take her carriage home and send it back for her."
He didn't wait for her answer, just nudged her out the door, closed it in her face, and then walked to the exit that would take him outside to the terrace. He would skirt the house and be waiting in Lady Andrews's carriage, with the coachman none the wiser. He was rusty when it came to this stealth game, but some skills he would never lose.
* * *
"Rude, insufferable man," Gemma muttered at the door in her face. She glared as though she could see the earl in all of his arrogance standing just beyond the wood.
She could not blame him entirely for her foul mood, but it felt better to focus on the anger instead of the disappointment. This whole night had been one unpredictable mess after another. At least she could cross one more off her dwindling list of suspects. She had not had much hope, anyway, but no lead was too obscure to rule out at this point. Because they were all obscure.
As she made her way toward the noise of people and music, she thought of all that Rosalind had told her about Lord Winchester. Standoffish. Rarely in town for the Season. Intelligent. Arrogant. She scoffed. She could tell all of that within a minute of meeting the man, and nothing in their conversations since had changed her mind. Rich as Midas came to mind. Which made her pause and reevaluate her lord-thief assumption. But many in the town were not what they appeared, she had come to realize. In her snooping, she'd found many a seemingly well-to-do family on the edge of financial ruin. He'd put the jewels back, though, without much of a glance. She did not think she'd been the reason for him not taking them — he was the type to do what he wanted, regardless of her opinion.
She reached the edges of the crowd and scanned the gathering. It was a crush, and she imagined Lady Howard was preening over the turnout. Her aunt, though, was no fading wallflower, and Gemma spotted her bright chartreuse gown and followed the unladylike — but completely delightful and infectious — laugh. Rosalind was not the type to mask her enjoyment with ennui, as was so fashionable. And thus, she was always the life of the party.
Gemma made what she hoped was a delicate gesture to get Rosalind's attention, though she probably failed miserably. Uncle Artie had taught her many things, but the artful ways of society had not been one of them.
Excerpted from One Step Behind by Brianna Labuskes, Candace Havens. Copyright © 2016 Brianna Labuskes. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I really enjoyed Imogen and Lucas's story! They meet in an unlikely spot and end up working together to find a murderer/blackmailer. They pose as an engaged couple to hide the fact that they are spending so much time together. But then it turns into so much more. I was really impressed with Labuskes debut book and can't wait to read more!
Shes cleaning the fireplace
4.5 Stars! I, for one, love a little intrigue mixed in with my romance fix. When I read the summary for One Step Behind, I knew I would be in for a treat. I got so much more than I ever imagined. This debut from author Brianna Labuskes hits all the best elements of a romantic mystery. We have the dashing Earl of Winchester, Lucas Stone. He has a huge heart and a smile that would melt wax in two seconds flat. Of course we have his match, Miss Gemma Lancaster. She’s beauty and brains behind her dull facade. Together, they take on an enemy only they are looking for, a blackmailer and a murderer. I am one of those pesky readers who seems to figure out the who-done-it early on in a novel. Sometimes, I’m just too good at reading the small clues. In this case, I was stumped until almost the very end. The way the duo goes about solving the case with the help of Winchester’s man of affairs, Mr. Harrington, and Winchester’s sister, Beatrice, was a surprise to me. At first, I thought Labuskes was just setting Harrington and Beatrice up to fall for each other. In the end, they were actually vital to the investigation. Each member of the team brought their own experience and made the investigation work. If one had been left out, the case }\very well might not’ve been solved. As for the romantic aspects of the novel, Labuskes does not spare us one ounce of heat. From the moment Lucas and Gemma are pressed up together, hiding in a darkened library, the sexual tension is thick. Throw in a ruse of an engagement and the heat goes volcanic! The story flows fast, yet every aspect is well developed from the first touch to the last kiss. For a fantastic journey into mystery and romance set in 1812 London, One Step Behind should be the next ride in your reading adventures. I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
•Murderer—Blackmailer This story is set in London in 1812, when women were wallflowers that attended parties and balls waiting for suitors to as for their hand in marriage. It will have you smiling from the get go, as well as being a love story full of mystery. I thoroughly enjoyed it. This is my first Brianna Labuskes story, but it won't be my last, I enjoyed her writing style and well rounded story! Gemma Lancaster is looking for whoever murdered her cousin Nigel, who was more like her brother. As a young lady or rather a spinster of twenty-five, her aunt Rosalind and her have a scheme: to make sure as few people as possible paid attention to her while they attend as many parties as they can, Gemma assumes the role of a wallflower with the ton. By wearing dowdy gowns, spectacles, and carrying on boring conversation—that she cultivated to one or two word replies, to keep anyone from noticing her compared to the rest of the glittering butterflies that flitted through society, she was a mousey nobody. But with those piercing eyes, Lord Winchester seemed to see beyond the facade, but with her unruly fire red hair she was never going to be the type of woman to turn heads when she walked into a ballroom. Except Lord Winchester, he definitely spelled trouble, he's the type to do what he wanted, regardless of her opinion and being one of the ton’s most eligible gentlemen, using an engagement to her is the perfect ruse for them to spend more time together to collaborate and find the blackmailer-murderer together. After they do, Gemma will "cry off" and return to the country alone as she planned, because she refuses to ever be a burden to someone she loved again. Lucas Stone is a wealthy man who is searching for the blackmailer that is after his sister, or are they actually after him and using his sister's diary information as leverage? While working with Gemma under the ruse of them being engaged as a cover to search for clues and information during house parties/balls, he has to fight his instantaneous attraction to the little spitfire. She is not like other women who drown in expensive perfume to make themselves be noticed. He thinks Gemma is fire and light, smart with a sharp humor he admires, courageous to hunt a potential murderer, but shy in society, and a riddle on one hand, an open book in the other... Uniquely Gemma, something about her pulled at him. What happens between Lucas and Gemma? Will they fall in love or kill each other? You'll have to read ONE STEP BEHIND to find out, but it'll be worth it! It's a funny but witty, mysterious historical romance story set in the early 1800's. I received an ARC copy via IndieSage in exchange for a blog tour review. FAVORITE PASSAGES~ “Timing has never been our strong suit, has it?” The appearance of a panther holding deceptively still during a hunt.
It's 1812 in London and the season where the high society gather to impress and find suitable spouses. Gemma is in London to discover what really happened to her cousin. The last thing on her mind is to find herself a husband. She doesn't dress to impress and does her best to go unnoticed. She is succeeding or so she thinks. Lucas is an Earl with an air of aloofness and arrogance. He too is on a mission. To identify his sister's blackmailer. He is not interested in finding a match but attends the balls with the sole purpose of solving this problem. Gemma goes in search of evidence and finds herself in the same room as Lucas. She thinks that he is a thief whilst he assumes that she might be meeting someone in secret. Something which is not acceptable in society. When they discover why they are there, they come to the conclusion that they might both be looking for the same culprit. They come to an agreement to work together. To avoid any scandal, they get engaged. It's only temporary until the crime is solved! Then they can both go about their lives as before. Lucas can see right through Gemma's facade and is intrigued by her projected appearance and her behaviour. They get used to working together and trust each other. They make a good team. The relationship between Gemma and Lucas gradually turns into something that neither of them really understands as it doesn't fit in with their plans. Lucas is desperate to safeguard his sister's reputation and at the same time he wants to protect Gemma. They are both stubborn but funnily enough, this strengthen their relationship. Family secrets are unearthed. Crimes that were buried and long forgotten resurface. The culprit's identity is predictable but his motives remain a mystery right to the end. I like the banters between Lucas and Gemma. The caring relationship between Lucas and his sister Beatrice is endearing. It's nice to see Beatrice getting another chance at happiness. I really enjoyed reading this well rounded story and would recommend to those who like this genre. I was kindly issued with an eARC of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
one step behind is a delightful regency romance with a little hint of mystery mixed in to spice things up. gemma lancaster and lucas stone keep tripping over each other, she is searching for her cousin's murderer and he is searching for his sister's blackmailer. when they realize their suspects overlap they join forces, using a fake engagement as a cover to comply with regency society's standards of respectability. soon they find themselves battling more than just a murderer-blackmailer, they must fight against their own issues of insecurity and fear of commitment, because the attraction between them burns too hot and they are going to get singed--either by reputation or by a broken heart--if they don't figure things out. what's great about gemma and lucas is that they are on equal ground from the first moment they meet. and while lucas does that gentlemanly thing of trying to protect gemma, he doesn't go overboard with it either, and he surrenders to the fact that they are partners pretty easily. i figured out who the villain was pretty early in the story, but i've read some other reviews of people who were surprised. but i am never generally surprised by plot twists, so this didn't upset me. i guessed it was the character, but i didn't have any idea as to his motivation, so i still found the sleuthing done by gemma and lucas, and george and beatrice to be of interest. all in all, if you like regency romances, you won't do wrong here. the characters are strong and the plot is entertaining. **one step behind is scheduled to publish on september 26, 2016. i received an advance reader copy courtesy of netgalley/entangled publishing (select historical) in exchange for my honest review.