Read The Chocolate Thief Online

Authors: Laura Florand

The Chocolate Thief (16 page)

“Sylvain,” his mother said sorrowfully.
What the hell?
Did everyone have to start grieving for him
in advance
? “Aren’t you
ever
going to learn?”
 
It was the kind of morning when Cade would have liked to take a very long shower before facing any more of it. But when she tried, she mostly just showered the wallpaper and froze herself. She finally ended up filling the bathtub and sinking into it until only her nose was exposed to breathe. She hadn’t taken a bath in years, and it lacked something, as far as bracing effect went. Plus, she was pretty sure it was 60 degrees in this apartment.
She dressed with as much care as it was possible for a woman to put into her appearance—the perfect eye shadow, the perfect subtle mascara, a very, very long debate over the perfect lipstick. Quite a drawn out struggle over the perfect pair of pants that were both sexy and professional and would not even remotely make anyone think of black leather. She almost went with chocolate brown, and then the whole fact that they were called “chocolate” infuriated her, and she switched to a short gray pencil skirt with high black boots and gray pin-striped tights instead. A very deep burgundy sweater. A black pearl pendant.
And over that whole outfit, she had to pull on a long wool coat. It was too cold to go out without a coat.
But if that coat ever came off for any reason, she wanted the next layer down to look good. She chose the red wool coat defiantly.
There was a line out the door of the chocolate shop, and Cade thought briefly about using her stolen code in broad daylight and going in the back way. But she was pretty sure that was a journalist staked out over there with a camera. Either that or one of those damn food bloggers.
Instead, she adapted local custom and broke through the line with complete authority, striding into the shop. Okay,
trying
to stride into the shop. In practice, that turned out to be a lot of wiggling and squeezing through a packed crowd leaning avidly over glass display cases.
She grasped the door to the
laboratoire.
“Madame!”
exclaimed one of the women in brown aprons stamped
SYLVAIN MARQUIS.
“Vous ne pouvez pas . . .”
“Vous êtes Cade Co-ree?”
she heard a man exclaim happily.
She ignored both of them, although her stomach flinched at her name being called aloud in that shop. Particularly her last name. Thank God their parent company was privately held stock.
Sylvain and Pascal leaned together over a battered brown binder, both in paper toques, Sylvain’s slightly higher than Pascal’s. Sylvain straightened immediately when he saw her and closed the book.
Energy seemed to surge through him, and he smiled at her, but warily.
She narrowed her eyes at him. “May I talk to—” She broke off, realizing that French left her with a really awkward choice right now. She could either talk to
vous,
perfectly formal and professional, or
tu,
a sudden switch to intimacy that would be like stripping naked in front of everyone who could hear her. To hell with pronouns. She pretended she was back in French 101 and couldn’t remember to use them. “May I talk in private a moment?”
A beat too late, she realized she had asked almost exactly the same question the first time she had ended up scorned out of his
laboratoire
. If he raised his eyebrows in refusal and said, “This is important,” she might very well burn the entire contents of that binder. And just where did he keep that thing when he wasn’t looking at it? She had searched everywhere.
“Bien sûr,”
he said. “May I come listen?”
She bristled, wishing she had some kind of riding crop to whip against her leg in a menacing way or something. He had caught her ducking that all-important
tu/vous
choice and pushed her on it. She noticed he had adroitly avoided any stand on the second person himself.
He had used
tu
last night. She couldn’t remember what she had used.
“Par ici, Mademoiselle Corey.”
Sylvain took her elbow. Despite her coat and sweater, a jolt of electricity ran through her. “I don’t believe you’ve been in my office before,” he said with a certain ironic showmanship, since they both knew she had broken into it several nights in a row. And he used
vous
.
She swallowed that cold pill.
Sylvain guided her into his office and shut the door. He let go of her to lean back against his desk and smile at her.
“Bonjour.”
He pulled off his paper toque and tossed it onto the desk, his black hair sliding free to caress his chin.
She hadn’t even touched his hair last night. It had all happened so fast. Her fingers twitched now, regretting that lost opportunity to discover if it was as silky as it looked. She bet, if she just stripped off her gloves, she could sink her hands into that hair and . . .
“Let me explain something about blackmail to you,” she said through her teeth. “If you want to blackmail someone with a secret, you can’t tell the world about the secret first.”
His gaze was drifting over her red coat. A tiny delay followed before he seemed to realize she had stopped talking. He looked back at her face. “What?”
“If you want to blackmail someone over something, you have to keep the something secret.”
He was gazing at her chest as if trying to penetrate the heavy coat. “I’m sorry, what?”
“Are you listening to me at all?”
“I’m trying,” he admitted. One corner of his mouth kicked up. “But I didn’t get much sleep last night. And I’m thinking about the reasons.”
Thank God for the coat.
At least he couldn’t see her nipples tighten or her thighs clench.
“I
thought
you said you were going to blackmail me. I was counting on that!”
The curve of his mouth deepened. His eyes darkened. “So you liked that idea? Are you wearing pajamas again under that coat, or what—”
He caught himself and tried to focus.
He had dropped into
tu
again, she noticed. Was he trying to drive her mad? She had no idea where she stood with him.
Well, two could play that game. No one here even seemed to entirely accept that she spoke French. She could mash
tu
and
vous
together within one sentence and act as if it was all in complete innocence. “I liked it a lot better than being called a thief in the
New York Times
. Maybe you should have given that some thought before you told them.”
His eyebrows rose. “You think
I
told them? Do you think I am an
imbécile
?”
“You turned down a contract worth millions and then decided to blackmail me instead. I’m still trying to decide how smart you are.”
His eyes narrowed. “I wasn’t born the best chocolatier in Paris, so I must have had some brains to get here. I believe you were born to own Corey Chocolate?”
That was both infuriating and cruel. People thought that all the time about her, that she had inherited billions, and those hereditary billions made
her
worthless. But she worked her butt off for Corey, and the fact that she had been born to own it was true in more ways than one. Running the family firm had been her life’s purpose from the moment she was enough of a presence in her mother’s womb to make her start throwing up from the smell of cacao.
This stupid effort to own a little dark chocolate chunk of Paris was one of the first choices concerning her destiny she had ever managed to make.
Before she could speak, he stopped her. “Wait. What does blackmail have to do with that ridiculous contract idea of yours? Did you think I was going to blackmail you for
money
?”
She hesitated.
Outrage smoldered in his eyes. “Last night—when I said—you thought it was all about
money
?” He shoved away from the desk abruptly, which brought him only a foot from her in the small office. “And you think I’m the one who isn’t very smart? Is that because you define intelligence as the ability to keep track of six zeros after a number?”
Nine zeros,
she thought. She did manage to bite her tongue before correcting him, though. “And how do you define
intelligence
?”
“The ability to recognize something of value when you see it,” he said promptly. “Or taste it. Or touch it.”
She began to blush. Was he talking about a general life philosophy or her? Was she something of value? In a nonfinancial sense?
Then again . . . she had certainly tasted and touched him. Her blush deepened almost to the shade of her sweater as she remembered his taste, his feel. Maybe he meant
he
was the something of value
she
should be recognizing by taste and touch.
That would be just like his arrogance, wouldn’t it? “I do recognize value,” she said, her words clipped. “That’s why I’ve been breaking in here trying to steal your recipes for chocolate.”
For chocolate. Not for you.
Whatever she’d meant to accomplish with that sentence, she was going to count it a failure, because he almost visibly pulled all his emotions back from her. They just seemed to retreat back into him.
“Or get Dominique Richard to sell me his,” she added perversely, driving the wedge in deeper.
His mouth set. “So, tell me something. Would you have sex with Dominique Richard for his chocolate, too?”
No.
Because Dominique Richard was only good-looking, in a rough, wham-bam way. She didn’t lose all capacity for thought when she looked at his hands. Or his mouth. He wasn’t
beautiful
, his every movement perfect.
But she wasn’t going to tell Sylvain Marquis that. Especially not as his insult sank in and her blush fled, leaving her white and cold and sick. “I don’t want your chocolate. I don’t want you.”
Yes, I do, yes, I do
, she shouted to herself inside.
Shut up, shut up.
“I withdraw the contract offer.” She could barely remember how to say that in French. It had shown up in one of the business-language textbooks her tutor liked, but she hadn’t paid much attention to it. She hadn’t entertained the possibility that she might need to use it.
And there was another thing she had never learned how to say in French, so she switched to English and bared her teeth at him: “Fuck you, Sylvain Marquis.”
She turned around and strode out.
Chapter 15
“M
erde,”
Sylvain said aloud in his office.
“Putain de bordel de merde.”
She was right, he was an
imbécile
. Why was he so stupid specifically around her? Every time he told himself to be careful, reminded himself of the rules of seduction, he turned around and did something worse.
She had come to see him,
non
? She hadn’t hidden. She had come in fighting, but she had come; she had sought him out again.
Why had he let that comment about valuing his chocolate get to him? He
knew
that was the way it worked.
But something had rebelled inside him. Something had said,
Wait, if the chocolate is the only thing that matters, why did you have sex with me?
Dominique Richard had been
meilleur chocolatier de Paris
last year. True, that had been an error in judgment on the part of the mayor, who happened to be from Dominique’s neighborhood. But . . . surely there was something else she saw to distinguish him from some of the other top Parisian chocolatiers besides how well they made chocolate.
He had yielded to a sudden, furious desire to make her admit it—to herself, at least, even if she wouldn’t admit it out loud.
And what he had accomplished was just like a child in a temper tantrum destroying the beautiful model airplane he had had the good luck to receive for Noël and had just spent days building, all because he couldn’t get some decal to fit on it right.
He went back into the
laboratoire
but found himself completely unable to concentrate on his recipes.
“I’ll decide,” Pascal said finally, frustrated. “You’re useless today.”
Useless, indeed. He thought of the way that deep, inexplicable blush on Cade Corey’s face had paled and paled, until there was nothing left of it, and only her eyes glittered with color.
“I’m going to take a walk.”
He stripped off his
tablier
and chef’s jacket in the room off the entrance and pulled on the leather coat he had worn that day in honor of his Chocolate Thief. He went to the Jardins du Luxembourg. The November wind stirred branches stripped of leaves and chilled his cheeks. His feet crunched on gravel.
The gardens were mostly empty, compared to the spring and summer flocks that filled them, but even in the cold there were always people who sought refuge here. They took pictures of the large perfect octagonal pond before the Palais, tourists in Paris even in November, or they huddled and brooded on chairs or stairs, or they just walked.
A homeless man had pulled eight chairs together to make a kind of bed and installed himself there with worn blankets and a brand-new jacket picked up somewhere. Blissfully happy, he was scarfing down something from a very familiar-looking box.
Sylvain’s jaw dropped as he realized the man was eating from a box marked with his own name. And not only that, he had a large bag marked with Sylvain’s name, and it was filled with at least eight more boxes of chocolates.
“Where did you get that?” he asked tightly, although already, even as he was asking the question, he was starting to guess. Fury simmered up, despite all his reminders of self-control.
“Une femme.”
The man waved vaguely down one of the paths. “She gave me some
chocolat de merde
the other day, and I told her what I thought about that. She must have felt guilty, because she gave me a box of the good stuff the other day. Sylvain Marquis,” the man said appreciatively. “Never thought I would be eating Sylvain Marquis.”
“That’s more than a box,” Sylvain said. A part of him felt guilty, too, at seeing a homeless man so grateful to eat his chocolates. He needed to do something about that. But another part was rising to a boil. She wasn’t eating his chocolates herself? She wasn’t up there in her apartment savoring bite after bite of him insatiably?
The man closed his hand protectively over the sack, imagining a threat. “
Ouais,
she just handed me this a few minutes ago. She must have a real complex over that Corey Bar she gave me the first time. Gave me this jacket, too.” He hugged it around him possessively, clearly reveling in its warmth. And then he sniffed. “It’s too bad she’s so interfering and bossy. She tried to convince me to go to a shelter, when I have this whole beautiful garden to myself.”
She had broken into his
laboratoire,
stolen his chocolates, then given them away casually to a homeless man in the gardens? What was she, Robin Hood
du Chocolat
?
Sylvain gave the man ten euros and strode in the direction the man had vaguely indicated, soon spotting a red coat. Cade Corey walked between chestnut trees and empty green benches, past white statues of French queens. She had a long stride for someone her size. The wind tugged at her hair, and she walked with her hands in her coat pockets, her head down. Once or twice, he saw her pull her chin up, but inexorably it would sink again.
She stopped at the edge of the Fontaine Médicis, standing at one end of the long
bassin d’eau,
staring at the dark waters and the statue of lovers surprised by a Cyclops in a grotto at the end of it. Garlands of ivy roped in trained green beauty between bare plane trees. Some late-fallen leaves trailed on the dark water.
Approaching her from behind, he saw her hand lift and wipe across her face at eye level.
Was she crying?
Putain
. His stomach clenched as if she had just hauled off and punched him.
Non,
he thought, remembering the delicate game of her strength against his the night before. It felt like a punch from someone stronger than she was.
Maybe she held a lot more power than he realized.
Maybe he needed to learn fast to tighten his stomach muscles against the next blow.
 
When an arm brushed Cade’s shoulder, she moved away automatically. Stupid, slimy lowlifes who kept hitting on her everywhere she went. She glanced at the lowlife and nearly jumped out of her skin when she saw it was Sylvain.
He turned toward her, keeping his hands in his coat pockets—was the fact that it was a leather coat some kind of mockery of her thief pants? He had been wearing wool the other day.
“Ne pleure pas.”
Don’t cry.
She gave him a furious look. “I’m not crying. It’s cold, and it’s windy.”
“Ah. Let me block the wind for you, then.” He shifted so that his torso shielded her from the worst of it, standing very close.
She pinched her lips together, determined to get her eyes and nose to stop stinging. It must take a minute to get eyes to stop watering from the wind. That was it. That was why the tearing seemed worse now that she was sheltered by his body.
There was something extraordinarily touching about having him physically place himself between her and the wind.
Bastard.
He was probably calculating that, too.
He started to speak, stopped, started again, and finally took a long breath. She could see the rise and fall of it just in front of her eyes, lifting the leather of his jacket. “Was it a bad batch of chocolates or something?” he asked, with disappointing mildness.
If she had imagined his reaction—
which she had not
—to her giving away all his chocolates to the homeless man, she would have hoped the gesture would turn him incandescent with rage. “No.” She curled her lip at him. “They were just making me sick.”
“Vraiment.”
He rocked back on his heels to study her face. She had hoped to insult him, and instead he looked as if he had gotten a very intriguing glimpse of some gaping holes in her armor.
She turned her shoulder on him. “Go away.”
“Je m’excuse. Pour tout à l’heure.”
He was apologizing?
Complete and utter bastard.
She clenched her fists in her pockets, head bent, fighting against that cold wind stinging her eyes.
“But you wouldn’t, would you?” he asked.
“Give away your chocolate? I would give a piece to everybody in the world, if I could.”
One hand left his coat pocket to make a quick, brushing gesture. “Sleep with Dominique Richard.”
She remembered, vividly, the successful dunking of the man the day before in the Seine and wondered how deep this
bassin
was. “You’re the one who is so obsessed with him. You sleep with him.”
He gave her an indignant look. She pivoted and continued on her way, not exactly sure where she was going. But he was a good head taller than she was. He had no trouble stretching his legs to fall into step beside her. “Does that mean you’re obsessed with me?”
She didn’t stop walking, but she gave him a puzzled look. He said that as if it was a joke, but . . . it seemed as if her obsession must be humiliatingly obvious at this point. She flushed, drove her hands deeper into her pockets, and focused on the gravel.
He said nothing more, but when she snuck a glance at him a moment later, he looked quite happy with his lot in life again.
Well, wasn’t that wonderful. Someone was.
He walked her back to her apartment and stood watching the numeric panel unabashedly as she entered the code for her building.
Something stirred, hot and dark, in her. What did his focus mean? That one good break-in deserved another? She was never going to be able to go to bed in comfortable cotton panties and an old sweatshirt again.
He leaned in close to her, almost the prelude to a kiss. “Do you still have the key to my shop?”
Her hand clenched around the copy she had had made of it, in her pocket. She stared up at him, silent.
He held her eyes for a moment, until the key began to burn against the palm of her hand. Her breath tightened until she started to feel that the only way she could get oxygen was through mouth-to-mouth.
He did not ask for the copied key. He turned away and hesitated.
He turned back and brushed away the lock of hair that had blown across her lips. One gloved thumb rested just a moment on the bow of her mouth.
Then he walked across the street to his
laboratoire.

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