Read The Chocolate Thief Online

Authors: Laura Florand

The Chocolate Thief (17 page)

Chapter 16
T
hat key drove her completely crazy during her evening out with the students.
The evening was great. Going out with real Parisians who had no idea who Cade Corey was, people her own age who seemed to have few responsibilities beyond enjoying their student life while they could. They went from a bar to dancing at some party full of people in their twenties who acted like teenagers. Or rather, they gave a whole new perspective on what other people in their twenties got to act like. It was a lot of fun.
And it was
Paris
. And she was part of it.
But she kept thinking about that key question. She kept wondering if he was waiting for her in a dark shadow in his
laboratoire.
Or breaking into
her
apartment, with plans to ravish her in her bed.
The possibility lurked in her all night, calling her away from the partying, pulling at her darkly.
She tried to ignore it. She tried to focus on the fun evening that was much healthier and better for her than any stupid obsession.
But the possibility drove her mad. She spent the whole evening aroused, on edge, trying not to show it. Her nipples kept peaking against her silk top, as thoughts of darkness and skin would sweep through her, their continual arousal confusing one of the students who started trolling to see if she was interested in him.
She wasn’t. She couldn’t even spare a thought to him.
When a taxi dropped her off at four in the morning, she was all one maddened, thwarted longing as she climbed the stairs to her apartment. She kicked her boots off her throbbing feet and fell into bed in her smoke-filled clothes and told herself firmly that she had made the right choice for her evening.
But she felt like a drug addict making the choice to spend one evening straight.
Which was ridiculous, because surely you couldn’t get addicted to anything on just one dose.
 
Sylvain had it all planned. He would make her one of those chocolates that fascinated her so much. He would guide her step by step through simmering, melting, stroking, spreading, touching, tasting, shivering with the pleasure of a flavor. He would seduce her so slowly, tormenting them both deliciously with the slowness, his fingers on hers as they stirred melting chocolate, his body brushing hers from behind, his hands stroking up her ribs, down to her belly, up to her breasts as he gave her own hands something to stir, teased her by blending her chocolate obsession with the feel of his hands.
And he wouldn’t forget the tempering this time.
He had thought of the scents he wanted her to smell, the flavors he wanted her to taste, as he seduced her. He had the jars and
pistoles
and bags of them strewn across the marble counter.
But she never came.
He was there all night. He kept trying to give up, to admit she wasn’t coming and go back home. But then a doubt would seize him. What if he missed her? What if five minutes after he left, she finally came?
And he would take his jacket back off and wait.
But she never came.
Chapter 17
“Y
ou were here all night?” Pascal asked incredulously. He looked around at the dirty pots, the strewn materials, the new chocolates gleaming in the form of great near-black drops, not yet cooled. The autumn-morning light came through the high windows and sparkled above them on the walls. “What were you, inspired?”
“I don’t really want to talk to anyone about anything today,” Sylvain said. “I’m sorry.”
Pascal gave him a searching look and opened his mouth, probably to ask if he was all right, but Sylvain held up a hand. “About anything.
Pardon
.”
Another searching look, but Pascal gave him the respect a
maître
chocolatier deserved in his own lair and didn’t push it. He left him alone and nodded the others away when they came in. He even intercepted Francine when she tried to tell him there were more calls for interviews.
Sylvain finished cooling the chocolates he had made at the end of the night, when he had to have something to do besides failed waiting. He went back among
les petites dames blanches,
taking one of the small bags they used to package individual chocolates for dinner parties or weddings. He tied the bag with his trademark twine and went out to the front of the shop to intercept one of the clerks who was handling the lines.
Yes, lines already, first thing in the morning. They did love that Chocolate Thief story.
He pulled the clerk out of hearing. “Could you take this across the street and leave it at a door? It’s on the sixth floor. I’m not sure of the apartment number, but it will be the apartment facing this way. Here’s the entry code.”
 
Cade slept very late. She woke still reeking of the smoke from the party and feeling stale and deeply let down.
Showered and dressed, she spent some time trying to get her new laptop’s e-mail to work. In French, because she couldn’t figure out how to switch the default language on the computer. She normally had tech staff to do this kind of thing.
She finally handled the bulk of the messages via her phone, including one message telling her tech staff to overnight her a new, English-speaking computer.
Hunger drove her out of her apartment in the end. Even she couldn’t live on chocolate forever. She had started to make herself sick.
Inspired by the student party and the fact that a Chocolate Thief should have a certain dress code, she pulled on patterned lace leggings and a clinging gray knit tunic dress shorter than the leather jacket she shrugged on over it. High leather boots and large, dramatic earrings in lapis lazuli completed the ensemble, her hair up on top of her head to show those earrings off.
As she shut the apartment door behind her, her fingers closed around something. A little bag hung from the doorknob, tied with twine and stamped with a miniature version of the
SYLVAIN MARQUIS
brand.
Her heart jumped. Her breath grew short, her thighs clenched, and sensation rushed to all her erogenous zones, as if she had just discovered him standing there in person.
She took the bag and held it a long time in her hand before she opened it, very carefully. The chocolate was, of course, beautiful. The form was new, nothing she had seen among his chocolates before. It was round but not perfectly so, a ripple and a flip at the top giving it that sense of an artist’s work and not a machine’s. The outside was perfectly black, or so close to black as made no difference in the poor lighting on the landing.
She stared at it a long moment. Maybe it was poisoned. Death by Sylvain Marquis’s chocolate.
She brought it to her mouth, lips brushing smoothness, teeth meeting the faintest resistance of the exterior.
It was bitter. Good Lord, it was bitter. Dark, dark, dark, with almost no hint of sugar. But it was quality bitter. Her teeth bit through the delicate crunch of the
robe
to the softest, silkiest, smoothest bitter that could ever melt across a tongue. It left just a trace, just a hint of cinnamon, an elusive promise of sweetness, as it melted. Quickly overwhelmed by the bitterness, that melting, smooth bitterness. She had never in her life thought anything that bitter could be that luscious on her tongue.
She pulled the other half away and stared at the mark of her teeth against the ganache, which was as dark inside as out.
 
She reached the street to find him in jeans and jacket before the door of his
laboratoire,
giving what seemed to be an impromptu interview to several people with high-end cameras, microphones, and recorders. “. . . desperate.” He shrugged. “I can understand her desperation for good chocolate.”
As usual, whatever her thoughts and emotions on seeking him out, finding him managed to put her in an instant rage.
He looked a pretty pathetic victim for that rage right now, hair mussed, unshaven, his eyes red in that distinctive lack-of-sleep way she recognized from many an all-nighter over an urgent Corey Chocolate problem. Sexy still, though. She bet he showed up well in the newspaper photos, haggard from the attacks on him by the nasty multinational corporation but still upholding the ideal of French sex appeal.
She tried to think quickly of anything she could do to improve her own image in those photographs but knew she was pretty much screwed. Whether she looked good, bad, strong, or weak, she was going to be the villain in the piece. She tried to slip back into her building before the journalists spotted her, but the door had locked behind her.
It would take her a few seconds to enter the code. If they caught her slipping back into her apartment and cornered her there, she didn’t know how long she would have to hole up. It seemed the ultimate in failure, to be cornered in her apartment in Paris, afraid to go out, slowly maintaining life by eating her way through Corey Bars.
She headed briskly toward the nearest corner, hoping no one would spot her. How well would they have studied photographs of her, anyway? She wasn’t someone people recognized on sight, typically, and her looks were pretty neutral—straight, light brown hair, blue eyes, even features.
Of course, Sylvain Marquis recognized her instantly. His face closed, his gaze pinning her.
She could still taste the bitter chocolate on her tongue. She might have a dark print of it on her fingers.
“She’s like the poor little rich girl of chocolate, when you think about it,” Sylvain said, pitching his voice clearly.
Making her what, his charity case? Was he trying to imply to her that he had had sex with her out of pity for her clear desperation?
She stopped walking and pivoted, burning.
Before she could do something really suicidal, like challenge him before all these journalists still oblivious to her presence, someone grabbed her elbow. A man of medium height, with dark, curly hair, smiled down at her with delight.
“Mademoiselle Co-ree,”
the man said, very low, pitched not to carry across the street at all.
“Je peux vous offrir un café?”
She supposed she would have to talk to the media sometime. And there was something wonderfully Parisian about doing it over a cup of coffee. Plus, it might marginally improve her odds of being portrayed in a positive light.
“If you can keep blocking the view of me from your colleagues, yes, you can,” she said.
“If that would make me an aider and an abettor, I would be such a happy man.” He sighed longingly and kept his body between hers and the journalists as he escorted her around the corner. She kept wanting to turn back to see Sylvain’s expression, but with the help of that hand on her elbow, she managed to restrain herself. Mostly because her journalist-captor kept too firm a grip to let her twist so far, as if he was afraid she would try to get away.
In the café that formed the corner, they moved past the
tabac
with its wall of cigarette packs and a man scratching lottery tickets, to a table by the great glass windows that looked out on the other street.
Her semi-captor ordered coffee, and she asked for a glass of milk, because her stomach was growling at that point. She had been living on chocolate lately. A glass of cold, pure milk sounded wonderful.
The waiter stared at her as if she was just off a spaceship from Mars. “This is a café. We don’t have milk.”
The unknown man looked discreetly the other way, as one might when forced to witness a friend losing face.
“You have milk somewhere for the coffee, right?” she said. “I’ll pay whatever you want for it.”
“We don’t sell milk,” the waiter said.
“Would you sell it for twenty euros? Thirty euros?”
“There’s an
épicerie
down the street,” he said politely. “If you want to get milk.”
“Maybe a
chocolat
?” the curly-haired man suggested diplomatically. “Or some juice?”
Cade thought of the
chocolat chaud
Sylvain had made for her. “Juice. This is a really strange country to be wealthy in.”
“How so?” the curly-haired man asked, confused.
She gestured. “I can’t buy anything.”
“Well . . . not milk in a café,” he said as if she had tried to buy fruit in a jewelry store or something.
“He has milk. He could make an exorbitant profit off it. It just—what?—goes against his principles to sell it to me?”
“I think he probably just doesn’t want to give Americans ideas. You people are always asking for milk in cafés, and once you let someone get away with something like that, who knows where it might lead?”
“Into another profitable product on the menu?” Cade asked dryly. Hunger was putting her in a bad mood. Plus, she kept seeing Sylvain Marquis’s closed face, tasting his bitter chocolate on her tongue, hearing him say, “desperate.”
The curly-haired man brushed all this away before it could spoil their conversation. “Speaking of getting away with something, you’re my hero.” He grinned at her. “I’m Christophe. Christophe, le gourmand.”
For a moment, she thought only in France could someone’s last name be Gourmand. Then she realized: “Of the food blog,
Le Gourmand
? You’re the one who started this whole Chocolate Thief story!”
“I have to admit, I liked the idea better when I thought it was some poor, impoverished, would-be food blogger breaking in to steal secrets,
mais ça va
. That story Sylvain was spinning about the poor little rich girl of chocolate has a nice ring to it.”
Cade pressed her teeth together and tried to remind herself that snapping at this man would not improve her image as the villain of the piece. She was pretty sure Corey Chocolate would rather she came across as the villain than the poor little rich girl of chocolate, though. The entire executive bodies at Mars and Cadbury must be smirking their heads off.
“So, tell me, how did you do it?” he asked eagerly. “Did it involve any rappeling in leather from one of those high windows of his? Please tell me it did.”
“How did I do what?”
“That’s right, of course you can’t admit it. We wouldn’t want you to end up in jail.” He lowered his voice to a hush. “Do you . . . do you happen to have one of the stolen chocolates on you?” He glanced around to make sure no one was in earshot. “I won’t tell anybody, I promise. But just to see it . . .”
The door to the café opened, and a very familiar male form entered.
“I give all of Sylvain Marquis’s chocolates away to the homeless people in the gardens,” she stated clearly. Well, as of yesterday afternoon, that was her official policy. She was not going to mention the number of boxes she had eaten before she had decided to disavow the man. “Not that any of those were stolen, of course.”
“Oh-laaaa.”
Christophe clutched his chest. “I think you just put a knife into me. You
steal chocolates to give them to the poor
? Seriously, I think I might hyperventilate. Can I rename my blog after you?”
Cade blinked. “I—”
“Promise me you eat at least a couple on the way out, in the dark, hanging from your rappeling cord, when no one can see. Before you steel your heart to give all the others away, for the sake of those who suffer.”
“No, I eat Dominique Richard’s,” Cade said as Sylvain reached them. “I can’t steel myself to give those away.”
Sylvain pressed his lips together, looking down at them. “No rappeling cords, Christophe.”
“How do you know? Have you seen her?” Christophe exclaimed enviously. His eyes gleamed. “Caught her in the act?”
“It’s
my laboratoire,
” Sylvain reminded him, but with a peculiar emphasis, as if he wanted to drive the fact that it was his
and not anybody else’s
into a really thick head.
Her head, presumably. “Why don’t you go get some sleep and leave us alone? You look as if you need it,” Cade said.
He gave her a look as bitter as the chocolate he had left at her door.
She swallowed. Even the darkness of that look made her breath shorten, made her insides stir and melt.

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