Read The Chocolate Thief Online

Authors: Laura Florand

The Chocolate Thief (25 page)

He began laughing so hard, he had to clutch his ribs. “So you pushed him into the water? Seriously?
C’est bien fait pour sa gueule, alors.
I wish I could have seen it.”
“It probably wouldn’t have happened if you could have seen it,” she pointed out dryly. “I notice they only go for women by themselves.”
Sylvain muttered, giving the man in the distance, who had returned to his bench, a dark look. “But it still would have been something to see.”
“He grabbed my laptop for balance and took it in with him,” she said, still annoyed about that. “Do you know how hard it is to set up a new laptop in French?”
“Ah . . . non,”
he said, amused. “Do you need help?”
“I got Corey’s technical services to overnight me a new one,” she admitted.
He raised an eyebrow at her.
“I can’t just let the guy in the store set up my computer, you know,” she said defensively. “Company security.”
“I could have helped you. You couldn’t possibly think I would try to steal any of your secrets.”
He didn’t say that as if it was a question of his honesty, but a question of some more important honor—Corey Chocolate didn’t have any secrets Sylvain Marquis thought worth stealing.
Not even, apparently, the secret to how to make serious money.
She shook her head ruefully. She didn’t doubt him. But helping set up her computer sounded like something someone in another life, a life without a horde of assistants, might have a boyfriend do.
She slid him a glance. Chantal seemed very far away right now; it was inconceivable that she could be his girlfriend. But inconceivable also that Cade would ask him about Chantal and risk spoiling this moment.
“So why are you by yourself?” he asked suddenly. “Speaking of security. Shouldn’t you have a bodyguard?” He gave the man on the bench another dark glance as they passed him. The man never noticed, eyeing a woman on the opposite side of the street with casual avarice.
“Not in Paris. There are a lot of wealthy people in Paris. And I’m not recognizable. I always thought Paris Hilton was nuts to go that route. Do you know that she actually could have had a private life?” Cade shook her hand in wonder at other people’s choices.
“I don’t think there are
many people here as wealthy as you,” Sylvain said dryly.
“I bet if you calculated it, Paris has a higher percentage of the rich or famous than anywhere else in the world. Some of those Dubai princes who have apartments here probably think I’m middle-class. And you’re pretty well-off yourself, from one perspective, and more famous than I am, I think.”
“Well . . . I don’t know about
.” Sylvain completely failed in his attempt at pretend modesty. He shook his head incredulously. “And to think I grew up
en banlieue
What was that non sequitur about? He had mentioned it before. “So did I, I guess. Corey is not a very big town, really. It’s all suburbs, in a way.”
Sylvain gave her a very dry look. “If you grew up in a
it was one like St-Germain-des-prés, which doesn’t even properly deserve the name. I grew up in Créteil.”
“And what was Créteil like?” Cade asked carefully, because obviously she was missing something.
He shrugged. “
L’exemple classique
. Bad schools, drugs, violence, no jobs, no prospects, no money, no way out; people burned cars pretty regularly. But the thing was, it wasn’t everyone. You just had to work your way through that image people had of your life and become something else. That’s what I try to remind Malik.”
Cade stared at him. She would never have imagined this lean, elegant man, with his hands that could turn raw ingredients into something beautiful, with his unshakable arrogance when it came to his art, with his beautiful, perfect French that made her accent seem so embarrassingly awkward and American, with his passion, with his discreet but clear sense of style, with the way he kept such civilized control of his expression most of the time . . . she would never have imagined him as coming from anywhere but a cultivated, elegant milieu.
“You don’t know how strange it sounds,” he said, “to hear you say that someone would consider you middle-class.”
Okay, maybe she had exaggerated. Cade felt herself flushing as she realized how that must have come across.
“But you have money now,” she pointed out. “Surely.” She saw the people lining up at his store, and she could do the math on one hundred euros a kilo. She was good at profit-margin math.
“Of course I do. I have all I need. But it’s not the same class of income at all. You don’t become a multimillionaire with chocolate, you know.”
Cade stared at him until it became obvious that she was going to have to spell it out. Preferably by pounding the letters into his head with a large hammer. “No, I don’t know that,” she said instead with what she thought was commendable mildness.
“With real chocolate,” he corrected himself.
She gritted her teeth. “Have you ever given serious thought to how much money multiple millions
?” Because maybe if he gave it some proper thought, she could talk him into accepting them for the right to create a chocolate line in his name. She would bet
would gain her a foothold in Europe. And she could run the European division, from Paris....
“Not really,” he said. “I can’t really imagine anything I could buy that would make my life better.”
was all she could think. He said that so calmly, so easily, as if he really had made his life that good, good enough that he spent no time envying someone else’s greater wealth or possessions. That was so rare in life.
He hesitated, opened his mouth, then closed it again.
“Imagine something?” she said dryly.
“I—don’t think I could buy it,” he said slowly. Then he grinned suddenly, a small, quick grin that flashed through her like lightning, leaving silver traces of pleasure on her emotions. “Or if I could, it’s with something I have plenty of.”
Meaning—what? He wanted something that could be bought with chocolate?
A weird hope stirred deep within her, and she immediately started smacking it out as hard as she could. Because
could be bought with chocolate, or at least strongly tempted. But she hardly thought she was what he had in mind.
They kept walking, strolling through centuries of history, between the Palais du Louvre and the old railway station of the Musée d’Orsay, past the gilt and glamour of the Pont Alexandre III, with its golden statues and ornate lamps that made Cade feel as if she should be wearing bustle and button boots and stepping out of a carriage at the opera. Twin-gos and Smarts and Porsches passed them, lights slicing through the dimness. A biker went by, serious, equipped, his head bent low, expensive orange gear protecting him from the cold.
They walked through quiet, as the activity in the streets pulled back from the Seine and shifted a few streets over to the Champs-Élysées. Although it was still early, it felt like true night by the time they reached the Trocadéro opposite the Seine from the Eiffel Tower. Cade’s booted feet were killing her, but she never mentioned it.
Sylvain tugged her hand, leading her up to the esplanade above the extraordinary Varsovie fountain. From that vantage point, the fountain cascaded over steps and played in great jets below the gleaming iron symbol of romance and civilization that dominated their view.
“So why chocolate?” she asked.
It seemed like a silly question. Why did everybody else in the world not choose chocolate as a life path: that was the more logical question. How could they resist it?
“I’ve always loved it. I love working with it.” He gave her a teasing look. “Women can’t resist it.”
He said that as if to make her laugh, but it didn’t make her feel like laughing. “The way to a woman’s heart?” she said dryly, trying not to show how much it bothered her to be just one of many women whose hearts were reached so easily.
His hand flexed on hers through their gloves. He studied his city’s glowing tower. “Women’s hearts are a little more complicated than their senses. So, no. I can’t say I’ve figured out the way to a woman’s heart.”
“Have you tried?”
He didn’t answer. He gazed across the water at the Tour Eiffel and glanced down once at her and didn’t say anything.
A clean, elegant jaw in profile softly lit by a street lamp, dark eyes darker in the night, and black hair being stirred in the breeze—maybe that was a poetic enough response all by itself.
It didn’t give her a clue, though.
Chapter 24
hey stopped to eat in a bistro neither of them knew. Warm light and noise spilled out of it into the street, its small space stuffed full of people who looked happy.
It bore no resemblance to the formal dining experience she had imagined taking him out for. It was better. There was no quiet, no elegance in this bistro. The food ran to
pavés de boeuf, frites,
sauces au Roquefort
. It was a little over-warm, and people’s butts kept bumping them every time someone had to squeeze in or out of a table nearby. The wall past Sylvain’s head looked as if someone had started to paint a scene on it once, ten years ago, gotten distracted halfway through the first leg of the Eiffel Tower, and never gotten back to it. The wine the waiter brought to their table had no visible dust on it and was only a few years old, not the usual type of bottle brought to Cade’s table.
It was perfect. She couldn’t remember ever feeling so perfect.
They lingered for hours. Sylvain took the check absently, not making sure she would notice, not even really caring, and then they finally could linger no longer in the warmth, amid the tables of laughing, happy, well-fed people, and stepped out again into the cold. Cade shivered violently at the first impact of it, and Sylvain smiled and tucked her scarf up to her chin.
“Shall we catch a taxi?” she asked reluctantly. It was a long walk back and must be after eleven, and her feet were throbbing angrily, bitter about her attempts to imitate Parisian women with her high-heeled boots. But she did hate for this evening to end.
Near the bistro was a row of heavy, awkward-looking, plated bikes, all lodged safely in their rental stations, all with handlebar baskets and marked with
and the logo of Paris. Cade had seen these before, in her discovery of Paris, the bicycles the city made available free to anyone who wanted. These particular ones were sporting pink latex seat-covers and the sign,
? And you, what do you do to protect yourself?
“A group of AIDS activists has been here, I think,” Sylvain said at her confused look. He nodded at the handlebars, which sported a different sign. “An anti-hunger association has passed, too, I see.” He paused before the pseudo-condom seats and suddenly smiled and caught her eye. “Do you know how to ride a bike?”
She wasn’t really dressed for it, with her long coat and her boots, but by dint of much bundling of the coat under her butt and around her legs, she managed an uncomfortable seat on what must be the world’s heaviest bike. She left the pink latex on it. If she had started running into bicycle seats wearing condoms, odds were good God was trying to tell her something about sex and stupidity. “These things must weigh over ten kilos!”
He nodded. “To make sure no one wants to steal them.”
It was freezing cold with the wind chill on the bike, even with her nose buried as far as possible in her scarf. But it was crazy fun. She kept laughing, and he kept glancing over at her and breaking into a grin of pure delight.
They dropped the bikes off at a station near his apartment and fled the November night into warmth.
“Oh, my God, that’s cold,” she kept saying in his apartment, unable to stop shivering as the warmth hit her frozen skin. “That’s cold, that’s cold, that’s cold.”
He stripped off her clothes over her protests and bundled her into the bed, still laughing. He buried her under the heavy down comforter, dropped his own clothes onto the floor, and joined her under there, wrapping her up in his body until she went from shivering to melting.
He sure did know how to control the temperature of things, she thought later as she fell asleep, nestled in the curve of his arm, perfectly warm, perfectly content.
Chapter 25
have good news and bad news,” Sylvain said the next morning.
Her heart lurched. She had known he would let her know he was just playing with her eventually. He was simply too sexy for any one woman. “What’s the bad news?”
He hesitated. “Maybe I should just tell you the news, and you figure out which part you think is horrible and which part sounds like fun.”
She braced warily over her yogurt. Her barely sweetened yogurt. The first time in ten days that she tried to be healthy for breakfast, and he chose that moment to break mixed-up news to her. That was just wrong.
“We’re invited to a birthday party.”
She looked even more suspicious. “By whom? What do you mean ‘we’?”
His lips pressed together. “Okay, so I’m invited to a birthday party. Typically, I can bring someone with me. Is that a problem? You would rather not come?”
She didn’t really date much. She hadn’t in a long time. This sounded like a date. No, this sounded like introducing a girlfriend to a group of friends.
Maybe they did that kind of thing casually in France?
“Whose party?”
“My cousin Thierry, who’s turning fifty.”
Introducing a girlfriend to
. She felt as if she had been driving along on a rather twisty road and suddenly found the bottom dropping out of the world and realized she was on a roller coaster.
She didn’t really do family meetings. She had avoided them assiduously since her high school years, because the pure, avaricious pressure of a date’s family could be so ghastly. She didn’t really do any kind of thing, actually—neither dating, nor meeting friends and family, nor even sex—since swearing off hook-ups when she got out of college.
Until . . . whatever she was doing now, of course. Maybe if she were more normal, she would
what she was doing.
“Who will be there?”
He waved a hand vaguely. “Oh,
tout le monde
“What do you mean,
“The whole family. Friends. It’s his fiftieth birthday.”
“Is your mother coming up from Provence?”
“It’s his fiftieth birthday!”
“She is.” Cade wrapped her arms around herself protectively. “Does she know who I am?”
“Cade, everybody knows who you are. My mother has a Google Alert on my name. If you don’t want to become notorious, you need to think twice before you start breaking into someone’s business and trying to steal his chocolate.”
Cade blinked a few times. “I actually was wondering if she knew my alternate identity. Not the Chocolate Thief one.”
“Tu as une identité alternative?”
Sylvain looked confused.
Cade drummed her fingers and tried for patience, without much success. “You know, I wasn’t best known as a Chocolate Thief until a couple of days ago.”
He studied her the way a psychologist might study a very perplexing patient. “You consider Cade Corey and the Chocolate Thief as two separate identities?”
“Can you just answer the question? Does your mother know how much money I have?”
“C’est possible,”
Sylvain admitted. “Is it public record? Could she find it on the Internet?”
In other words, yes. Cade slumped. “I didn’t mean an exact figure.”
There was a moment of silence. “Are you surviving?” Sylvain asked acerbically. “Because I haven’t even gotten to the part
thought you might think was bad news yet.”
She put her hands on the edge of the table and pushed herself back against the chair, bracingly.
“The party is at their
in Champagne, which is about an hour’s drive—”
“A castle?” she interrupted. “Weren’t you telling me about your
expensive in the US or something? You could buy about six of them for what this Paris apartment cost. Good luck with the upkeep, though. Anyway, Thierry PACSed with a CEO.”
“He did what with a CEO?”
Pax Romana?
“PACS. It’s a legal ceremony,” Sylvain added at her blank look. “Between two people who don’t quite want to go as far as marriage or, in their case, aren’t allowed to by law. They’re gay.”
Cade rubbed the ridge between her eyebrows, trying to find her footing. “I’m still waiting for what you think is the bad news.”
“Ah.” He took a breath. “Brace yourself. We have to go disguised as farmers.”
Cade couldn’t stop laughing. They had stopped at a big store off the Paris
and found the most hideous green waterproof ensembles that enclosed them ankle to wrist,
en vrai paysan,
as Sylvain had said. On top of that, they had added old-fashioned little brimmed caps. Over their feet, they had pulled on rain boots in vivid yellow. Under it all, they wore normal, attractive, comfortable clothes, which Sylvain said they should be able to unveil eventually. He didn’t say when.
“Why do we have to wear these things again?”
“I believe I may be the only person in my family to not be a complete show-off at every opportunity,” Sylvain said darkly, making Cade burble with laughter again.
“What?” he asked blankly.
“You think you don’t show off?” She tried to make her snorts of amusement come out halfway delicate and refined. The yellow rain boots were affecting her risibility, she decided. It would be damaging to the morale to keep a straight face while wearing those.
“I was very shy as a teenager,” he said loftily.
Cade thought of the showmanship with which he worked chocolate. She thought of the completely unabashed way in which he had seduced her that morning she had gate-crashed his workshop. “It must have been a very brief phase.”
He gave her a puzzled look, making her wonder if she was missing something important about him. “I’m still shy.”
She burst out laughing, unable to help herself. “
are shy?”
He shrugged and focused on the road again, not trying to argue her into believing him.
she missing? Why did he think he was shy? Was he being shy with her in some way? “So what does showing off have to do with wearing these ghastly outfits?”
“They like to dress up. Last New Year, my mother and sister made the three of us all wear cow costumes. Complete with udders.” He sounded completely put-upon, but she felt quite certain no one could make him do anything he didn’t want to do.
Cade tried to imagine the elegant, passionate Sylvain Marquis in a cow costume with udders. It was surprisingly easy to do. In her image, he was having the time of his life, grinning at the dark-haired sister she had seen in his photo album.
Something about the image made her body clench on a sense of free fall, as if suddenly discovering her heart had been yanked right out of it.
“And for Papa’s retirement, we had to do a skit that required me to act out the roles of a gangster, a cowboy, and a brown spotted mongrel—Papa’s first dog—in the space of five minutes. All my sister’s fault, I promise you.”
Yeah, right.
She would bet he had come up with half those roles himself. So
did he think he was shy? “You should see the skit my sister and I did for my grandfather’s eightieth birthday. If you get me drunk enough, I might show you the video.”
He raised those demonically expressive eyebrows at her. “You think I have to resort to liquor to get what I want out of you?”
She pretended to hit him. But they were both smiling.
“The farmer aspect of the showing off is because my cousin has always dreamed of having goats.”
Cade blinked a few minutes, trying to imagine dreaming of having goats. Then she tried to layer that onto previous imaginings of the French castle they were driving to. Either way, her imagination quite failed at the goats.
“So we have all joined together—to give him goats. Also a flock of ducks. He wanted a donkey, too, but his partner begged us to show reason. And in keeping with the theme, we are all dressing up as farmers.”
A crazy and enthusiastic family that lived life to the fullest.
If they never learned who she was, she could have fun. “Can you introduce me under an assumed name?”
Sylvain didn’t dignify that with an answer.
The van cut through the smooth, gently rolling countryside. Stone houses clustered in tiny villages, laundry hanging out to dry even in November. Poplars lined the road, something about their straight, endless elegance evoking a deep, soft pleasure in Cade. Sylvain had given his little Audi a wistful look but taken the shop van because it could carry the elaborate and enormous sculpture in chocolate he was bringing, a fantastical structure almost impossible to believe in. Had he been making that all afternoon while she was visiting Chacun son goût? She wished she had been in his
to see him as chocolate sculptor.
She would guarantee he would have done it intensely, with care and passion, and imagining his hands at the work sent warm sensuality curling through her.
Her phone buzzed, surprising her that there was reception.
Her grandfather burst out with no preamble: “What have you been telling your father? You’re supposed to be taking a break! Exploring! You’re not supposed to try to stay over there!”
“Grandpa, I thought you always complained that Dad didn’t let me see the world enough.” She glanced sideways at Sylvain, wondering how much English he understood.
“I’m eighty-two years old,” Grandpa Jack said petulantly. “How many times do you think I’m going to see you again if you
in Europe?”
All her life, she and her grandfather had seen each other every day. They all lived in different wings of the great white house on the hilltop above Corey. He stopped by her office at work. He barged into her room at home and woke her up to sample his latest experiment, his blue eyes gleaming with delight.
And if she moved to Paris, the times she would see him again would be countable. Plane trees flew by, blurring in front of her vision as she stared at them without tracking.
“I’m sure I would be flying back and forth all the time,” she said weakly, around what felt like a knife in her heart.
Sylvain’s hands tightened suddenly on the wheel. He glanced sideways.
“Plus, you have to come over here, right? I have to show you the trick of breaking into some of these French
. If I did stay in Europe, which . . . I’m just talking about options, right now. ”
Sylvain slid another sharp glance at her.
“Europe is full of snobs,” her grandfather said definitely.
Yes, but she liked those snobs. She studied the strong, clean line of Sylvain’s jaw, the thin, sensual mouth, the eyebrows that could be so expressive. In a collage around him, she seemed to see the faces of all the other chocolatiers she had met, and the bakers, and the
. She liked their attitude and belief in individuality and being the best.
“Who would you rather see every day?” Jack Corey asked with a wheedling tone. “A bunch of snobs or your grandfather?”
Cade felt as if her stomach had been stuck between two stones that were now slowly grinding together. “Grandpa, I just . . .” She just what? What part of this did she want to even try to articulate to herself, much less to her grandfather? “I’m just looking at options.”
Sylvain’s mouth flexed hard and grimly.
“Well, look at them in a few years! When I’m gone,” he said bluntly. “What’s your hurry?”
Oh. Those stones grinding her stomach hurt.
“Mars,” she mumbled. “Market share.” And if Sylvain . . . if Sylvain what? She glanced at him again. Damn it, she was so
-oriented sometimes, she didn’t even know how to have a casual affair with a man.
“You know, Cadey, I used to care about Mars. Turned your father into a damned workaholic over Mars. I don’t mean to bore you with the fact that I’m old enough now to be smarter than all of you, because, well—you know that already. I still want to beat Mars. But I’ll put family before market share any day.”
There was a careful silence after he disconnected, and Cade slipped her phone back into her purse.
“You’re thinking of staying in Europe?” Sylvain asked at last. His voice was very neutral.
Would it have killed him to express bright hope and delight? “I’m looking at options.”
His hands flexed around the wheel. His mouth tightened.
She pressed her forehead to the cold window and stared out at the plane trees.
To reach the
, they ducked off the highway down a tiny street between stone houses, Sylvain driving with complete confidence, despite the fact that from her vantage point it looked as if they had an inch to spare between the side mirrors and the stone walls. The street twisted for about two hundred yards, right up to a tall green gate only just wide enough to fit through.

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