Read The Chocolate Thief Online

Authors: Laura Florand

The Chocolate Thief (13 page)

Having grown up in a town she owned, she hadn’t been hit on by random strangers all that often. First, very few people were strangers. And second, if they were hitting on her, they had a multibillion-dollar agenda. She and her sister, Jaime, both knew there were very few people they could marry who couldn’t later take them for alimony that would carve a slice out of Corey Chocolate and put it into the hands of a hostile man who had once screwed her into believing he liked her.
It was a nasty bit of knowledge, but that was just the way it was. There were only so many things money could protect you from, and, unfortunately, falling in love with a man who just wanted to use you was not one of them. Quite the reverse, in fact.
In fact, falling in love with a man who just wanted to
sexually
use her and not her bank account would be romantic as hell by comparison. Just not somebody who looked as slimy as this guy.
An image of Sylvain Marquis flashed through her mind. He didn’t show any consistent interest in using her sexually, the jerk. But it was pretty safe to say he wasn’t interested in using her for money. In fact, she imagined his face if there was ever even any suggestion that he might marry her for money, and she choked on laughter.
You—you want to put
my
name—on
you
? For money?
The slimy man grinned at her laugh and stepped toward her.
“I’d better go, Grandpa,” she said, because if he heard her trying to defend herself from some random loser on the Seine, he would be on the next flight out to protect her.
Any excuse to start breaking into chocolate factories with her—that was her Grandpa.
She slipped the phone back into her leather satchel, which the man apparently took as further encouragement.
Delighted, he sat down so close to her that his weight pinched her thigh. Cheap cologne and body odor assaulted her, mixed with the smell of lanolin from something glistening in his hair.
She jumped away, closing her laptop as she did so. Words failed her. It was hard to think how to say, “Get the fuck away from me!” in another language when she didn’t have time to look it up in a dictionary. “Get the fuck,” for example. How did you say that? She was fairly sure any attempt would have disastrous unintended meanings.
“Chérie, ne sois pas comme ça.”
He came up closer to her, reaching for her shoulders.
She twisted to the other side of him, rather than falling into the Seine. “When he takes me in his arms, he speaks to me so softly,” serenaded speakers from a passing tourist boat.
“Quand il me prend dans ses bras, il me parle tout bas. . . . ”
“I’ll take you in my arms,” said the man and in fact tried to do that, grabbing for her waist. “That’s what you’re here for, isn’t it?”
Cade slammed her laptop with both hands into his chest and shoved as hard as she could.
Apparently he didn’t expect her to have any strength at all, because he fell back a step. Only there wasn’t any step. His eyes opened wide, his foot sought frantically for purchase in midair, and he grabbed at the laptop for balance.
The laptop jerked from her hands. Water splashed back up from the surface of the river and splattered her in the face as man and computer went under.
Merde
. Cade tried to remember exactly when she had last backed up her data.
Not since before she left for Paris. So the past week of cramming Corey work into days she wanted to fill only with Paris had just gone down into the Seine in the hands of a pig.
From behind her on the quays above came loud clapping and cheers. Three clearly Parisian women and a couple of guys stood in the gap between two green bookstalls, pumping fists into the air and giving her the thumbs-up.
She grinned.
The man resurfaced, the current pulling him downstream from her. No laptop was visible.
Not that it would have survived a dousing in the river anyway. The man cursed and coughed, and she gave him the finger and headed upstream to climb back to the upper quays. She arrived at the top of the stairs at the same time as the group that had cheered her. They were all grinning at her. A slim brunette with that sleek Parisian look, put together from black pants, high boots, a gray scarf, and the perfect touch of a silver bracelet, said,
“Sérieux, on peut t’offrir un verre?”
“Can we buy you a drink?”
Cade glanced back at her assailant, who had finally managed to grab one of those iron rings on the edge of the quay, about a quarter mile down, and was hauling himself out. “I—sure.”
Within half an hour, they had adopted her. All five were students, even though they were close to her age. They seemed so much younger and freer than she felt that envy licked through her.
“You’re here to see Paris?” the brunette, Nicole, said. “We’ll show you the real Paris. Come out with us tonight.”
“No, not tonight,” Marc said. Funny, how he seemed so sophisticated and yet so young to her. “I’ve got a presentation for my Proust class tomorrow.”
A presentation. On some guy who wrote about madeleines. She had to give her father feedback tomorrow on a decision about candy that could affect the entire global economy and directly impact the livelihood of tens of thousands of people. Maybe
that
was what had happened to her sense of youth.
“Bon, demain,”
said the others. “Tomorrow night?
D’accord?

“D’accord,”
Cade said, thrilled.
They were befriending her, and they didn’t even know who she was. Maybe it had been a good idea to come to Paris after all.
It was too bad Marc had that presentation for the next day, though, because that left her with another night free to get into trouble.
Chapter 13
S
he could feel him lurking, even as she stepped into the workshop. Feel his eyes gleaming from the shadows.
The sense of him prickled over her skin, tightening it, making it long for a touch, as she moved through his domain. She searched the
laboratoire
for him, wishing he
could
see her, wishing he had a security camera set up that he was watching even now.
But wait, that shadow, there . . . no, those were pots and the gleam of copper.
That shadow . . . was an enormous mold in the shape of an egg, maybe five feet tall. Those shadows were a stack of crates from Sri Lanka.
She took a long, deep breath, stretching out her arms to let her chest expand, taking in the scents all around her. The whole world and all that was most magical about it seemed to be held in here, scents and flavors taken from everywhere and distilled into pleasure.
Tonight she wanted to make . . . hot chocolate. Spanish hot chocolate, like they drank in Madrid, or the hot chocolate French nobles had once used as a love potion.
Du chocolat chaud
. It was cold outside and cold in the
laboratoire,
where the temperature had been set lower for the nighttime hours.
Her skin kept prickling with excitement as she tasted
pistoles
to decide which chocolate she wished to use. Odd, that he would let her get away with this three times.
A colder fear seized her, and she scanned the
laboratoire
again, eyes higher up. Maybe he
had
installed a security camera. Maybe he was collecting evidence right now to hang her. Maybe the police would be waiting outside.
Was she nuts? She could go to
jail
. She could cause major damage to her family’s company, in the form of a reactionary stock drop among their subsidiaries. She could lose all the privilege to which she had been so lucky to be born. She could find herself stripped down to nothing but her physical person in a prison cell with no way out.
Would he do that? A man who had flirted with her all one morning and then kicked her out into the cold again?
She didn’t really know what he would do, did she? She just liked to imagine....
Heat coursed through her, like and not like the heat she sought from her hot chocolate. She went to the shelves of spices, shadows upon shadows in the dark. She did her work in the thin light that came through the windows from a city night, the City of Lights that was never entirely dark. She did not want to turn on a light inside.
The spice jars felt cold and round under her hand. Hot chocolate should have a touch of vanilla, fresh from Tahiti. A stick of cinnamon from Sri Lanka. Nutmeg from . . . Zanzibar?
She hoped it was. In her opinion, every life should have something in it that came from Zanzibar.
Now what was the French word for
nutmeg
? She opened jars as she hunted, fingers sliding over peeling paper labels, releasing spice after spice into the air—whole cloves, anise, mace. And here at last the small football-shaped nutmeg. She pulled one out and began searching for a grater.
Her skin would not stop prickling. It was as if the spices themselves were arousing her, or the danger and insanity of what she was doing. Or the pleasure. She felt aware of him in every fiber. She kept fumbling things, as one did when too conscious of eyes watching. She looked through the shadows and saw nothing and tucked her hair back behind one ear and flushed.
She poured milk into a pot, thinking of Sylvain Marquis simmering cream. She dropped in the cinnamon stick and a vanilla bean, then grated nutmeg over it. The scents were heavenly. Or diabolic. Anyone would sin for scents like that, for the promise of life and flavor.
She ran her hand over the cold silk of the marble counter, touched a spoon to the milk and to her tongue, a tiny bit too hot, almost a burn.
And looked toward the embrasure to her left, an alcove that held more sacks and crates and molds.
A shadow moved out of it.
The jolt ran through her. She froze, her heart beating so hard, it seemed to vibrate her whole body.
The sorcerer walked out of the shadows toward the invader of his lair.
He walked straight toward her, a long, menacing stride. Dark cutting through dark and seeming to leave a glitter in his wake of all that knowledge and magic and power he held in him and was denying her.
And danger. She had placed into his hands the ability to destroy her.
He froze her to her place. Just the sight of him. The way he moved through his workshop, such utter mastery. Arousal, burning low in her for hours, even for days, filled her until she could not think. Could only see his hands. The strong, perfect, masculine hands making magic out of raw cacao.
She ached as he walked toward her.
His size and the lean economy of his movement and the darkness of his body in the darkness seemed to close around her, leave her no escape.
He did not speak. Not one word. His hands closed around her hips, and she gasped and shivered, flooded mercilessly with desire. His fingers flexed into her leather-clad bottom, and he lifted her as he might lift a fifty-pound cauldron of chocolate and set her on the counter.
He set her well away from the burner. Even then. Some part of her noted that care. Some part of her might even remember it one day.
He stared down at her, the counter bringing her almost to his height. His eyes glittered. He had caught her, and the thrill of it had taken her over until she couldn’t think, only breathe, long, clean last breaths that lifted her chest and filled her lungs with scents of cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, chocolate, and human.
“So, you thought you could steal me?” Layer upon layer of dark menace in his voice, a bite and a melt of it. And the sudden intimacy of
tu,
the abrupt abandoning of all the
vous
and
mademoiselle
with which he had so correctly kept her distant, even while he played with her in his workshop.
His face was so close to hers that she could feel every breath from his words against her lips. She was just going to lean forward. She was just going to . . .
His fingers flexed into her bottom, shattering her attention.
Oh, please, let him do that again.
“Are you stealing from anyone else?” he demanded.
No,
she started to say, but thought better of it. “From Dominique Richard,” she told him provocatively.
He kissed her for punishment. Ran one hand up her back hard, so that her body molded against his, tangled his fingers in her hair to hold her head, and kissed her.
His kiss. He was kissing her. He was
kissing
her. The glory of it poured through her. She rose to it, trying to capture every atom of his taste, his texture. Grabbing for his body, trying to pull herself in harder to him.
His wool sweater frustrated her instantly, too rough, too thick. She pushed under it, found cotton knit, and rushed past that, afraid she would lose this chance if she didn’t take it as fast as she could.
Ah, there.
Skin. Sleek, hot skin.
He shivered as if her hands were icy. Or maybe something else made him shiver.
His skin felt so warm. It shifted under her touch, as if her fingers conveyed impulses that electrified his muscles. She climbed up those lean, hard muscles, her fingers working over ribs to his chest, feeling a soft fuzz of hair. Her arms pushed up his clothes as she went so that his torso was exposed to the air.
One hand rubbed hard over her thigh. He nudged her legs wider apart with his body. Her legs yielded to him; she yielded to him. He pulled her to the edge of the counter and stepped into her so that hips pressed against hips. So he
did
want her. He wasn’t toying with her now. At least this once, right now, here, she could make him want her.
He pressed her own upper body against his, hard, rubbing her breasts against him with a force he had not shown in all his teasing games with her, that workshop morning full of bare brushes of his hands. His mouth closed over hers, all hot, all force, all silk, lips and tongue and a pull and nip of teeth with no mercy for her.
His hands flexed into her thighs, pushing them wider still apart, pressing his hips against her, so that she had to slide her hands under his arms to his shoulders to find purchase, to hold herself against the force of his kiss, to fight into it, back at it, and not be toppled over by it.
He made a sound that thrummed through his body. She knew she made one, too, a tiny shiver of a moan.
He could do anything to her, anything he wanted.
He wrenched his mouth free and pulled his head back, staring at her, as if he couldn’t believe she was real.
She was and she wasn’t, that was the thing. That was what she liked about this Paris night and the swirl of scents and possibilities.
Some part of her knew this could not be happening, not in any life she had ever known. But it was. And she had made it happen.
Hanging on to his shoulders, arched up to him, she stared back at him, not moving. He took a hard breath and brought his mouth back to hers.
 
Sylvain had walked toward her with a certainty he had never felt in his life before. This woman was his. This night was his. Any fantasy he caught in his
laboratoire
was his to keep.
À moi,
he thought.
À moi.
She had hunted him. She had tethered herself out there like some kid goat to his Tyrannosaurus rex. She had tapped the entry code to his own
laboratoire
over and over right in front of him, telling him with every press of that perfectly manicured little finger against a metal button where she would be that night and what she would be doing.
She had placed her chocolate thumbprint on his papers like some wordless signature on a contract with his body. She had lit a fire in his
laboratoire
to taunt him when he did not catch her fast enough, and made something with what was his, and did not even leave him a taste.
She had plunged her hands into his sacks of pistachios and coffee beans and let the textures roll over her skin; she had breathed in his scents and left the traces all over her body; she had tasted his chocolates and let them melt on her tongue. And with every trace he saw of her passing each morning, she had driven him one degree crazier, until he could not think beyond what pistachios felt like against the back of a hand plunged into a sack, what his vanilla and orange peel and almond oil would smell like against her skin, the scents she stole from his workshop every night and with which she was marking herself his territory.
He could not think beyond what it would feel like to melt on her tongue. Him. Not just the chocolate he made to seduce her, but him.
It seemed as if every classy, pretty girl he had ever lusted after in high school or since had been condensed into her, with her arrogance, and her raspberry tarts for breakfast, and her brown hair flying into her lip gloss, and her blue eyes looking up at him as if defying him to reach out and touch that hair and free her mouth for other things. Her sense of her own right to own the world was so bone-deep, she didn’t even know she had it, but her attempts at masks of cold indifference toward others were so flawed, she couldn’t sit at a restaurant table by herself without making him want to scoop her up and bring her to his table, looking so determined and alone.
She lusted after everything he produced and owned so intensely and sinfully. Surely she must lust after him.
Never in his life had he felt so positive of that. And yet, driven by some old, stupid weakness of his, he had still held back far too long, just in case she wanted to escape.
But she arched up to him. Her hands gripped his shoulders with that strange, feminine strength. Nothing like his strength. Nothing even approaching his strength. And yet he was the one who could not break away.
She could. She could yet. You could never trust a woman’s desire. It was something you had to constantly seduce.
But she could have wrapped one strand of her hair around his littlest finger and held him with it.
Her
fesses
were supple and perfect under his fingers, and she was wearing black leather over them at midnight, sitting on the marble of his counter. He brought his mouth down to hers again and closed that window of opportunity for rejection and didn’t open it even a fraction of a millimeter again.
She felt so gloriously perfect against him, the silk-cashmere of her sweater sliding under his hands as he found her skin, and the way her eyes closed at his touch in more bliss even than the way they closed when she bit into a raspberry
tartelette
or
ravioles du Royan
or even . . . maybe . . . one of his chocolates.
Leather . . . silk-cashmere . . . his hands pushed her sweater up . . . a texture that felt like nothing else—not rose petals, not silk; all of these were just pale similes for the fineness and the humanness of a woman’s skin. Lace. Lace covered her breasts, a faint, raw rub between her soft fullness and his hands.

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