Read The Chocolate Thief Online

Authors: Laura Florand

The Chocolate Thief (2 page)

Rage.
“You want to put
my
name on
your
product?”
he repeated, trying hard to keep control of his voice, his expression, but his eyes were practically incandescent. “
My
name?” He flung out a hand to where box after enticing box stamped with that name was being filled, closed, and tied a couple of counters away. “Sylvain Marquis?”
“I—”
“On
Corey Bars
?”
Thirty-three cents at Walmart. She flushed down to her toes and thrust her hand into her purse to close it around a rectangle in gaudy gold and brown wrapping, using it as her talisman-strength and hiding its shame all at the same time. “It would be a different line. A gourmet line—”
“Mademoiselle . . .” His mouth hardened, freezing her fizzing Coke bottle so fast, she could feel an explosion building up. “You are wasting my time. And I am wasting yours. I will never agree to work with
Corey Bars
.”
“But just list—”
“Au revoir.”
He didn’t move. He didn’t stalk off. He stood over his half-tempered chocolate and pinned her with eyes the color of cocoa nibs and
made her,
just by the look, the words, his mastery of his own domain, made her turn around and walk out.
She was trembling with embarrassment and rage by the time she got five steps back toward the door into the shop and realized she had
let
him. She had let him keep control of his world and drive her out of it. She wasn’t the kind of person who got dominated. She should have stayed put and stood up for what she wanted.
She tried to get herself to turn around and brave that humiliation again, but the door was only three steps away. She closed her hand hard around the Corey Bar in her purse and tried to make those three steps scornful. But you couldn’t be scornful in retreat. Nobody was fooled by a scornful back.
To hell with you, Sylvain Marquis. There are other chocolatiers in Paris and probably better than you. You’re just the fad of the moment. You’ll regret it.
She let the door between the
laboratoire
and the shop slam behind her, garnering multiple disapproving looks from clients and employees alike, all of whom expressed their opinion of barbaric Americans by a subtle downturn of their lips.
America could buy and sell them any day of the week.
Damn it.
If only they would put a price sticker on themselves and take the money.
She strode toward the glass door onto the street.
“Madame,” said a young woman near it, a large sack the color of raw wood sitting beside her cash register, stamped with
SYLVAIN MARQUIS.
Her expression—neutrality buoyed up by an underlying conviction of superiority—made Cade want to smack her. “Your chocolates.”
Cade hesitated. Her credit card might as well have been barbed wire, it galled her so much to pull it out and hand it to the clerk.
Glancing back, she saw Sylvain Marquis watching her through the glass window, one corner of those supple, thin lips of his twisting in amusement, annoyance, dismissal.
She pressed her teeth together so hard, she was surprised they didn’t break. He returned to his work, forgetting her.
Her own rage went white-hot.
She signed off on a credit card payment into his bank account of nearly a thousand dollars for five measly boxes of chocolate and strode out into the street.
She desperately wished to sweep dramatically into a limousine or at least stride off into a Parisian sunset. Instead, she walked ten paces across the street, through a dark green door, and into an elevator so tiny, she finally understood the
real
reason French women didn’t get fat. Claustrophobia.
Her bag of chocolates squashed against her legs. The elevator creaked to a halt six floors up. She let herself into an apartment less than half the size of her bedroom back home, threw her bag of chocolates onto the bed, and glared down at Sylvain Marquis’s shop below. She had been so excited to find this little apartment for rent right above his
chocolaterie
. It had seemed so much more real, so much more what she wanted to do, than a luxury hotel off the Champs-Élysées. It might come with some sacrifices, like the fact that she was going to have to figure out how to use a Laundromat, but that had seemed a reasonable price to pay.
Until now. Now here she was, stuck just above the
chocolaterie
of a real jerk.
She could still go to a hotel, she supposed. But then, what was the point of her being here, if she just went to a hotel like she did on all her business trips?
She snuck a glance at the bag of chocolates on the bed.
No
, she told herself firmly.
She went back to scowling down at the
SYLVAIN MARQUIS
sign below.
The scent of chocolate reached her from the boxes. Her hometown smelled of chocolate all the time. Not this kind of chocolate, though. Not this exquisite quality, the work of one person’s imagination and hands.
Maybe she would try just one. To prove how overrated he was.
As flavor pure as sin burst in her mouth, and her whole body melted in response, she pressed her forehead helplessly against her window, trying to keep her mouth in a scowl. Which was hard to do around melting chocolate.
He was so delicious.
How unfortunate that he was such a jerk.
Chapter 2
S
he was
gonflée
, Sylvain thought, with a dismissive move of his lips, dumping all his chocolate back into the bain-marie and reheating it.
Complètement gonflée
. In fact, her opinion of herself was
so
swollen, he itched for a pin. He hoped the way he had looked at her had
been
a pin. He had grown up practicing the kind of look that could deflate somebody’s ego. It had been honed in his country for centuries.
He poured a third of this batch of chocolate out onto the cold marble, running a long, supple spatula under it to scrape it up, fold it over, and smooth it out again, tempering it deftly. He was annoyed he was having to redo this stage. It wasn’t like him to let a minor distraction like an arrogant billionaire make him mess up chocolate.
For no reason, as he stroked the chocolate, he imagined his visitor’s shoulder stripped of the coat and cashmere and his hand running over it, tempering it deftly.
He flushed a little. He used to blush crimson, back in his early teens, when at the most inopportune times he first started to imagine women naked. A few memories of blushes while talking to female teachers or pretty friends were still residually mortifying. But by now he had embraced the way his mind worked. For one thing, it seemed as if most men’s minds worked that way.
Strange and truly unfortunate that women’s minds didn’t work that way—tangentially sexual and direct all at once, all the time.
His American visitor, for example, probably hadn’t imagined him naked. She had just imagined buying all his life’s work and achievements as if they were a nice pair of shoes in a shop window, and she could take them home as a souvenir of her Paris jaunt.
He gritted his teeth on a surge of fury.
What
did
they teach people in that country?
 
“I told you it was a barbaric country,” Cade’s grandfather, James Corey, better known as Grandpa Jack, said over the phone. “Did I ever tell you about the time I tried to get hired by Lindt so I could learn how they were making those little balls of theirs? Couldn’t even get hired. There I was, running the biggest chocolate company in America—not that I told them that, of course; I paid some local boy to help me make up a good résumé—and I couldn’t even get hired to roast cocoa nibs over there. Swiss snobs,” he said with relish, anti-Swissness being a pleasurable hobby of his.
“I remember,” Cade said. They had celebrated her grandfather’s eightieth birthday two years ago, a huge celebration that had become a month-long cross between a chocolate festival and a country fair in their town of Corey. At eighty-two, he was still going strong, but he had taken to repeating stories. And her father had pretty much dedicated a corner of the factory to the weird flavor experiments Grandpa Jack had started lately. He had been trying to combine spinach with chocolate just before Cade left. Because their factory employees had a peculiar sense of humor, they had not warned her about this when she walked in hunting for him, and she had had to taste it.
Her mouth still flinched at the memory.
“I ended up having to bribe one of the employees already there for the secrets instead,” her grandfather lamented. “But . . .” he sighed. “I would have loved to have been in there myself. Just to
set foot
inside one of those Swiss factories. Not one of those stupid formal tours where they hide all their secrets, but really inside. Almost managed to buy out one of the little ones one time, but Lindt got wind of it and white-knighted me just to be ornery.”
“Yes, but—”
“And my
daddy
—your great-granddaddy, Corey honey—the things he went through to try to get the secret of that milk chocolate. Disguises, bribes, blackmail—you didn’t hear about that blackmail from me, Cadey—infiltration. It was a time, I’ll tell you.”
“But this is different, Grandpa. I’m working with small chocolatiers now. I’m offering one of them a deal worth millions.”
She could practically hear her grandfather wince. “Now, don’t go throwing millions around like it was spare change, Cadey. You kids. I always did have trouble teaching you to appreciate the value of a dollar.”
“Grandpa! You harassed Daddy into only letting us earn ten cents a day for keeping our rooms clean. A long way that went at prep school, let me tell you.”
“Spoiled,” her grandfather said affectionately. “It did you and your sister both a world of good, let
me
tell
you.

“We couldn’t even afford to buy snacks, Grandpa!”
“You should have brought Corey Bars from home,” he said implacably. “No granddaughter of mine needs to be buying Mars junk out of a snack machine.”
She rolled her eyes. She had tried all the Mars products at some point during her life, but purely for research purposes. She still felt a certain wistfulness when she saw M&M’s in snack machines and knew she could never allow herself to buy them. (The one time she had cracked during a solo business trip was her little secret.) She had had maybe a dozen M&M’s in her whole childhood. Even her friends couldn’t have them at birthday parties because their parents were afraid it would be rude to her.
“All I’m saying is, for millions, you’d think he could have been a little more polite to me.”
“Oh, no.” Her grandfather sounded alarmed. “You don’t want a Frenchman to go and start being polite to you, honey. It will curdle your soul. You might never recover. The Swiss, they’re clumsy with it—they can be all polite, and you never even notice. But the French—they’re
good
at it. You finish with a Frenchman being ‘polite’ to you, and you’re about ready to jump off that tower of theirs.”
Cade knuckled her forehead in frustration. “I just—I just want to
be here,
Grandpa. You know? I want to learn how to do what they do. I want to
belong in Paris
. I want to have their chocolates.”
“Oh, I know.” Her grandfather sighed. “I guess it’s our fatal flaw. I sure wish I could talk you out of wasting your energy on those snobs, though. They’re just going to hurt your feelings and make you feel bad about yourself.”
“I’m
not
going to let him hurt my feelings,” Cade lied.
“Hmm. Just remember something, honey: they can act as snobby as they like, but back in ’45, those were
our
chocolate bars our soldiers were handing out to
them,
and they were grateful to get them, too.”
Cade had to grin. They had reproduced a big batch of those old chocolate ration bars as part of the D-day anniversary events, and they weren’t exactly the best-tasting thing ever to come off the line—the military had insisted on too many nutritional components. “Maybe the source of their snobbery?”
Not to mention the source of her grandfather’s obsession with getting spinach into chocolate bars.
Her grandfather huffed. “Well, they weren’t too proud for it then.”
Cade tried to embrace this old American World War II pep talk:
they weren’t so superior back
then,
were they
? But she kept seeing that incredulous dismissal on Sylvain Marquis’s face, and her shoulders just shriveled into a slump again. Somehow she didn’t think she was going to be able to take credit for something that had happened nearly seventy years before in order to change his dismissal into the enthusiastic acceptance she had dreamed of finding.
Bastard. Self-absorbed, arrogant jerk.
 
God, he made good chocolate, though. Once she had started tasting it, she hadn’t been able to stop. She had even dreamed about it that night, the rich silk of perfect chocolate drugging her thoughts, the subtle flavors twining around her like an elusive striptease, luring her deeper and deeper into the trouble hiding behind the curtains in the back of a mysterious opium den. . . .
She yanked herself awake and jumped out of bed to shower briskly.
Unfortunately, the “brisk shower” turned into a battle with a handheld spray in a claw-foot bathtub. Who had designed this bathroom? With no shower bracket for the nozzle and no curtain, she ended up dousing the entire room and the fresh clothes she had brought in with her. She stared at the soaked, ancient, flowered wallpaper and wondered if this was some kind of setup to force her to pay for repainting the apartment in something a little more . . . plain. Classy. Maybe the tub had originally had a shower curtain, but somebody had Googled her name when she booked the apartment and seen it as an opportunity?
Splotches of water decorated her slim black sweater and elegant black pants when she pulled them on, too. She had barely started for the day, and already she looked ridiculous.
Your clothes will dry,
she told herself.
Before any Parisians see you. Let’s work on getting the makeup right.
Dramatic, lovely, subtle—that’s what she needed. This was Paris, after all. And at the end of the day, she was just an average-looking young woman with a strong sense of herself. Strong enough, usually, to carry her straight, light brown hair, her even but unremarkable features, her clear blue-gray eyes, and make them something people remembered.
Usually. Usually, she felt quite confident in her ability to do that. She had done it for so long. But now she was in Paris.
She might own her little hometown of Corey. She might own a significant chunk of world business, in fact. But she didn’t own Paris. Not yet.
Here, she had to compete with Parisians and the even more challenging
Parisiennes.
She had to stand out against the backdrop of a city so dramatic and romantic, it had kept eyes riveted on it for centuries.
She stepped out onto the sidewalk into the cold autumn air, nervous and afraid of another failure like that of the day before. A few doors down, the baker had his sign sitting out on the sidewalk, and the scent of pastries wafted to her on the cold wind. Otherwise, the street was quiet. It was early on a gray day. She had an hour to herself to walk around Paris before her meeting with the city’s second-best chocolatier.
Maybe really the
best.
Sylvain Marquis had probably just had a lucky day when the Maire de Paris gave him that
meilleur chocolatier de Paris
award. What did the mayor of Paris know, anyway?
She reached the bakery just as a man was about to step out of it, paper-wrapped pastry in hand. Her eyes met Sylvain Marquis’s, and she stiffened.
A poetically inclined wind stirred her red scarf at precisely that moment, blowing a lock of hair across her mouth. It stuck to the shimmery pale lip gloss she had just added in an effort to compete with the beautiful Parisian women.
Stuck like glue. She tried to shove it away with a gloved hand. Lip gloss rubbed off on her glove, but her hair stayed stuck and even managed to get in her teeth. She stripped off the lambskin glove, pulling at the strands with her bare fingers, while Sylvain Marquis watched her in a coolly perplexed way. All elegant. All
together
and ready to dive, with all the passion contained inside that elegant coolness, into the rich world from which he was excluding her. He would be working in chocolate’s heart all day, and she would be pounding the pavements trying to find someone who would let her do the same thing.
She could exclude him from
her
world, too, if she wanted to. The world of wealth and power.
Except it was hard to exclude someone who didn’t want to come in. She
could,
but it kind of lost the point.
“The answer is still the same today,” he told her as he stepped back inside to allow her to enter the shop.
If she strangled him, would he keep looking coolly disdainful while his face turned purple?
“I’m not asking you again today.” She brushed past him into the bakery. Through their two wool coats, two sweaters, and two shirts, the brush still sent a rush of nerves and heat through her. She focused on the baker’s selection, which should be enough to maintain anyone’s focus. Good Lord, but Parisians were lucky. How did they manage to stay so rude and brooding, when on every block they could step into a refuge of warmth and gold like this?
Golden pastries filled the cases, in spirals, crescents, circles, and puffy rectangles from which winked almonds, powdered sugar, raisins, dots of chocolate. Red berries rested on beds of soft, pale custard and golden crust, in a perfect-sized circle for someone’s hand. Slices of apple peeked delicately through something labeled
tarte normande.
Little chocolate-covered
choux
nestled on chocolate-covered cushions of larger
choux,
like fat little black-clad snowmen. Long, phallic éclairs in shades of coffee, chocolate, and pistachio stretched in rows like some nymphomaniac’s dream.
She frowned sideways at Sylvain Marquis suspiciously. Since when had she started seeing phallic symbols in good éclairs?
If Marquis wasn’t standing there with his infinite convictions of her inferiority, she could have chosen several pastries and gorged herself. Instead, she had to be embarrassed into self-restraint. What to pick? A croissant was boring and would make her look like a tourist. A
pain au chocolat
—she could get that back home. She sneaked a peek at the pastry he carried. A
croissant aux amandes
. So that was out.

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