Read The Chocolate Thief Online

Authors: Laura Florand

The Chocolate Thief (10 page)

Chapter 10
O
utside, Paris put on darkness the way her women dressed for excitement—a black dress sliding over skin, something glittering in its threads. Paris pulled black net stockings over her elegant lines, added high-heeled black boots to click against pavement. Buildings lit in strings of jewels—an earring here, a bracelet there, and a shimmer of something over the skin, a dusting of glitter.
Cade stood at the window, watching that glittering, promising night through that cursed pane of glass. She watched it until it got tired of itself, until the jewels started to come back off, tossed carelessly onto a bedside table—lights in apartments going out, heels stripped off, sore feet tucked under the covers.
She watched it until only the lamps still glowed on the street below and the last insomniac put out his light. The cars stopped passing. Long after the last person had gone by on foot, one more person stumbled by drunk, and then the street was quiet. Loneliness built in her; the later it got, the less likely she was to get up the courage to go out into the evening.
Here she was, spending another night in that romantic dream of Paris all by herself, this time in her room, too intimidated to go eat alone in a restaurant again or walk around under the Eiffel Tower at midnight.
Here she was, scared to step out into the Paris night and take what she wanted.
She hugged herself as she stared out the window at the street below, so frustrated at herself that she was sitting there lonely and doing nothing this night in Paris, that—
She stood up and headed toward the elevator.
The copy she had made of the key fit the door to Sylvain’s
laboratoire.
It took her four tries to get the code right, from what she had pieced together from her camera and binoculars, but the fourth try was the charm.
She hesitated a long moment, the door pulled open just a crack, wondering if she was really insane enough to do this. She could feel the adrenaline racing through her. Her chest felt tight.
The darkness inside the
laboratoire
called her, with all its possibilities. When she breathed in, short, raw breaths, she could smell chocolate sifting out through the crack in the door.
She went in and pulled the door closed behind her.
Inside the
laboratoire,
silence. Her heart beat so fast, she had to press her hands against her stomach and force deep breaths. It would be a bad idea to faint right now, hit her head on a marble counter, and be discovered in the morning. For one thing, it would be a really lousy time to die from a fall, and for another, the scandal didn’t even bear imagining.
Chocolate flooded her body with each breath, so strong she might as well have been sniffing a drug. A drug to which she had been addicted since she was in her mother’s womb: theobromine. Natural antidepressant.
True, her father said her mother had had to spend much of her pregnancy with Cade at their beach house, because the sweet, acrid scent of cocoa in the air at Corey had made her so nauseated. Odd, given how much Cade had loved chocolate from her first breath. Her first three written words had been
Cade, Corey,
and
chocolate.
Her dad had framed the sheets of paper she had first written them on and hung them up in his office.
She wondered how long it would be before she saw her father if she got jailed for breaking and entering.
She pressed her palms hard into her belly and reminded Sylvain Marquis that this was all his fault.
Reminded him in her head, of course. Clearly his physical presence would have been unfortunate right at that moment. French prisons. She really didn’t want to end up in a French prison.
Plus, Sylvain Marquis’s actual physical presence tended to throw her off stride. The moment she got near him, she forgot pretty much everything, and that made her sound like an idiot. And
blush.
And just be humiliated. She was tired of being reduced to a forlorn American barbarian longing for a crumb of French civilization.
No, he was much more manageable in her head. Also, less likely to throw her into jail.
In her head, as if to disprove her attempt to make him manageable, he sneered at her with that sexy, subtle mouth of his. He didn’t sneer at her in any dramatic way that she could caricature and render ridiculous.
No, with just a little quick once-over, head to foot, the tiniest tightening around the corners of his chocolate eyes and at one corner of his mouth, he dismissed her entire existence as worthless.
The way he had dismissed her from his workshop, for example. As if all that morning brushing up against her, holding chocolate to her lips, was
worthless.
That was what was the most infuriating about that sneer, how subtle it was. How calm. She didn’t even inspire passion in his disdain.
Dismissal complete, he tucked one of those silky, chin-length locks of black hair behind his ear and concentrated on his luscious, submissive chocolate again, putting the fact that she marred his planet out of his mind.
She made sure he left an imaginary streak of chocolate across his face while tucking that hair away.
But it lacked something, as imagined vengeances went. She kept wanting to wipe it off. And then lick her finger.
She found herself, in fact, sucking on her actual physical finger. She blinked, jerked it out of her mouth, wiped it on her jeans, and glared around her.
She slipped the original key into the pastry-chef jacket she had borrowed, still hanging on its peg, and moved past the entryway, a copy of the key tucked in her back pocket.
In the heart of the
laboratoire,
she managed to forget Sylvain Marquis. No, that wasn’t true. It was impossible to forget him, when she was melting in the heart of him. Say, rather, he retreated like a sorcerer into the shadows in the depths of her mind, his eyes glinting from time to time to show he was still there, the maker of all that lay before her.
All
that surrounded her. By some magic like that in an old fairy tale, he had crafted here his heart, and she had stepped inside it.
She had been around chocolate all her life, and until she had stepped into Sylvain Marquis’s workshop, she had never seen anything like this.
This place was so exactly as the world should have been, it overwhelmed her with its reality. Her heart started beating too hard, and it thumped up into her throat, and parts of it almost wanted to leak like tears through her eyes. She felt like a child who had dreamed of wonders but never seen them, suddenly in the middle of an Enchanted Forest.
In the depths of brown shelves and black shadows and glossy black marble, cauldrons had been stacked—tempering kettles cleaned for the next day. This day’s finished magic was stacked in boxes and boxes of chocolates on one table. Tomorrow they would be moved to display cases or shipped out cold-packed and find their way into someone’s luxurious life, changing it just for a bite or two.
She went to the shelf of extracts. Its contents were barely clearer tonight than they had been from the distance she had been forced to keep during the workshop. Darkness obscured their labels. She ran her thumb over one, squinting to make out the word
citron
in the faint light from the city outside. When she opened it, it was as if the genie of lemon escaped out of the bottle, its essence flooding the dark room, overwhelming for a second even the scent of chocolate. She capped it but in the process got a drop on her thumb that she carried with her as she moved down the shelves.
She went by aroma, as it proved easier than trying to read the words. Another jar rattled slightly and released a piquant scent. She touched her finger to the familiar small rounds of whole pepper. Another jar puzzled her for a moment with its licorice scent. She traced rough stars . . . star anise. Vanilla was easy. She picked up a bean because she could not resist it, running her finger down the glossy, wrinkled length of it, imprinting herself with the aroma. T
AHITI
claimed the crate of chef pouches, the brand so bold she could make it out even in the dark.
Trailing vanilla and lemon, she plunged her hand into a great burlap sack stamped with the word
IRAN
. Roundness slid over her hand, a curiously intense pleasure of texture. Pistachios. She closed a fist around some as she pulled her hand out and ate them, capturing the unroasted flavor inside her the way she had taken the lemon and the vanilla onto her skin.
P
ÉRIGORD
claimed a crate full of almonds. She ate one of those, too, picking up a handful, letting them slide over her palm back into the crate.
All around her, the sorcerer lurked, in every darkest shadow. He was not there, of course. Logic told her he was home asleep or maybe with Chantal and not asleep—she flinched. But logic had little to do with the feel of him. He was here. She felt him here. Watching her explore his lair. His eyes gleaming in the shadows.
She ducked away from his eyes, into the walk-in refrigerator, where she found great palettes of cream,
crème fraîche, crème fleurette,
some in cartons, others in glass bottles, as if they had come from someone’s private farm. She wanted to pour these out into a cauldron, throw something out of a brown bottle into it, see what sparks she could make fly up, what magic she could create. She looked up, almost expecting to see Sylvain Marquis standing in the doorway of the walk-in, watching her.
No. No one. But the shiver of expectation and the shot of adrenaline it had aroused stayed with her.
Great loaves of butter sat by the cream, the paper marked in French with a name she did not recognize. Even his butter came from a small, carefully chosen dairy. He could probably taste the difference in the grass those cows had eaten and ordered accordingly.
She fled from this walk-in to the next, feeling as if a sorcerer’s spell pursued her, its tendrils almost reaching her ankles. It would catch her and draw her down into his clutches, and who knew what he would do with her.
She ducked into the next walk-in, trying to shake him by the stupid act of plunging ever more deeply into him. She recognized the temperature against her skin like a wanderer recognizing home, the same temperature and scents of the vast factory storage rooms back home—55 degrees, the temperature of a wine cellar, a perfect temperature for storing chocolate.
Here, enormous loaves surrounded her. She used a tiny penlight, the beam tracing over white, dark, milk. Cases of
pistoles
were stacked by the loaves. She reached in at random and tasted one—black chocolate so bitter, it made her tongue water.
What would Sylvain Marquis do with that bitterness tomorrow? What would he turn that chocolate into, and how would the taste of it on her tongue make her whole body melt?
She moved deeper into the walk-in and stopped, hair shivering all over her body in delight. Here were the late-afternoon’s products—rows on rows of chocolate molds, left in here to cool to 17 degrees Celsius. Tomorrow, they would be popped out in exquisite perfection, placed by gloved hands one by one into boxes, and sold for $120 a pound. She had just reached out to take one, when her cell phone rang.
She almost jumped out of her skin. She looked around frantically, half expecting someone to handcuff her on the spot. The sorcerer retreated, displeased.
“Dad!” she hissed. “What? It’s after midnight!”
“I am always getting that time change switched around,” her father said ruefully. “And here I was thinking it was just after noon over there. Did I wake you up, honey?”
“No, I—” She broke off, realizing it would have been much easier to say yes.
“Really? What have you been up to? Not working this late, I hope. Or have you been out to dinner? Did you get in touch with Claude de Saint-Léger yet?”
Cade stared around at the workshop. “I, uh—as a matter of fact—”
It was too bad it wasn’t her grandfather on the phone. Grandpa Jack would have been delighted. He might actually have commandeered a plane and flown over to Paris to join her. Her father took the weight of being president of one of America’s major companies seriously and tended to be more reluctant to indulge in corporate crime, at least the kind that could get you arrested and bring about bad publicity. A little marketing skullduggery against Mars was another story entirely.
“Really? You’re still up working on a Sunday night in Paris?” Her father laughed affectionately. “That’s my daughter. Cadey-C, do have some fun while you’re there. It’s okay.” He said that as if he were also trying to convince himself that it was okay to not work sometimes.
Cade wriggled a fingernail under the edge of one of those molded chocolates and popped it out. Covering her phone with one hand so her father couldn’t hear her chew, she slipped it into her mouth.
Oh, God.
Maybe Heaven wasn’t a place but just a bite. One bite.
Adrenaline heightened her sensations of gloss and smoothness, of melting and sweetness. Her body wanted to melt, too.
How could Sylvain Marquis do this to her?
“Listen, honey, I called because I’m interested in your analysis of Devon Candy. They look so tempting right now, but we would have to leverage ourselves quite a bit to buy it.”

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