Read The Chocolate Thief Online

Authors: Laura Florand

The Chocolate Thief (3 page)

She would be damned if she would copy him.
She didn’t know the name for any of the others, meaning she would have to look ignorant again. “Um . . . that one.” She pointed at random and found her finger indicating a delicate little tart entirely covered with fresh raspberries.
Good choice.
She needed some more fruit in her diet with this cold weather.
“Pour le petit-déjeuner?”
Sylvain Marquis asked, astonished.
“Did I ask you what I should have for breakfast?” she snapped. The baker gave her a minatory look. What, were they best friends? Great. Now for her whole stay here she would wonder if her baguettes and pastries had been spat on and dropped on the floor. Maybe she should look for another apartment.
One with a shower curtain.
One several
arrondissements
away from Sylvain Marquis.
“Américains,”
Sylvain Marquis said incredulously, shaking that beautiful mass of black hair of his. “You’ll eat anything anytime, won’t you?”
She curled her bared hand into a fist in the shadow of her coat sleeve, embarrassed once again. She purely hated him. Thank goodness she had learned how much so before she signed a contract with him that let him make millions off her blind idealization of Parisian chocolatiers.
“What are you doing here?” the chocolatier asked, apparently oblivious to the fact that his behavior hadn’t left them on speaking terms. “My shop doesn’t open until later. Did you come to steal my recipes?”
Had he been reading her family history? Those accusations of recipe stealing against her great-grandfather had never been proven. Primarily because those Swiss factories had been so hypervigilant about their security that he hadn’t gotten the chance and had had to reinvent the chocolate wheel the hard way: lots of experiments, a couple of boiler explosions, and once a burned-down barn.
“I’m on my way to talk to Dominique Richard,” she said coolly, accepting her beautiful tiny concoction of raspberries from the baker. “Why? Did you think you were the
only
‘best chocolatier in Paris’?”
His eyebrows flexed. That had gotten under his skin, hadn’t it?
Good.
She strolled past him out of the shop and down the street, exiting fast so she could savor at least one point won in this encounter. She willed her back to try to do a better job at scorn this time.
She still waited until she had turned the corner at the end of the street and was out of sight before she bit into her raspberry
tartelette,
though.
It was so good. Not too sweet, fresh and full of flavor, with a thin layer of gently sweetened custard. What was wrong with eating something like that for breakfast? It was healthier than his
croissant aux amandes,
she would have him know.
Only she wouldn’t have him know, because to do so she would have to turn around and walk back down the street and tell him.
And giving him that much attention would put the win definitively in his camp.
Chapter 3
S
ylvain felt uneasy about that
gonflée
piece of capitalist arrogance hovering outside his
chocolaterie
at seven in the morning as if it was her next acquisition, but he tried to brush it away. At least she hadn’t had the nerve to try to talk him into selling his name to her again.
Which was pretty annoying, actually. She could be a little greedier for him, couldn’t she? Plus, there was nothing like an argument with a cute female who had a weakness for raspberries to brighten a gray day.
She
had
looked
mignonne
with her raspberries, too. It was a ridiculous breakfast, but he liked that she had chosen it, nevertheless.
Savor the flavors you want to in life
—that’s what he thought. Plus, he could imagine her teeth sinking into the delicate, thin layer of custard, her lips closing over the perfect red raspberries, and the wind blowing her hair all over her face at the same time, driving her crazy.
He could imagine saving her from herself, laughing and pushing her hair back with his fingers, so that she could finish her bite.
Bordel.
His imagination was going to get him into trouble again. He hoped the wind drove her
really
crazy. Dominique Richard? Dominique Richard might just murder her when she suggested buying him, for one. And . . .
bordel
. Dominique Richard? Was she trying to imply that Dominique Richard was as good as he was? Or even nearly as good?
Imbécile de capitaliste américaine. Putain de
nerve. As if Dominique Richard wasn’t cocky enough already without some idiot running to feed his ego. . . .
His anger eased a little as he let himself into his
laboratoire,
as his moods always did. Theobromine. Drug of the gods.
His
theobromine, his chocolate, his masterpieces that people lined the sidewalk to pay a fortune for.
It was a long way to come for a boy who had grown up
en banlieue,
whose rural parents had wanted him to apprentice to a farmer. Watching women who looked like a million dollars—women like the American capitalist, in fact—sink pretty little expensive teeth into a thumbnail-sized chocolate of his making was a long way to come, too. He had been a gangly, awkward adolescent with shaggy hair, so it was a good thing he had discovered very early in his teenage years What Women Wanted.
Chocolat
. If you wanted to lure a woman who wouldn’t otherwise have looked twice at you, good chocolate was better than a love potion. As an awkward teenager, he hadn’t necessarily managed to turn those beautiful-friends-lured-by-chocolate into
girlfriends,
but he had at least earned the right to be in their orbit and torture himself with their nearness, and from there he had slowly learned a certain process. He seduced them with chocolate, and, in return, occasionally one of them seduced him. A fling, usually. A consolation prize for her when her real boyfriend was mean to her, before she went straight back to
le bâtard
. He was twenty before he broke out of that particular hopeless rut.
It hadn’t hurt that the intensely physical apprenticeships in
chocolaterie
had taught him control and power and strength, or that he had filled in to his height, but the real key had been his mastery of chocolate, and he knew it. The way to a woman’s body was through what she delighted in putting into her mouth. When a woman let his chocolate melt on her tongue, he thought of it as her letting a little bit of him melt there.
He smiled suddenly. So, how many of those five boxes of his chocolates had Cade Corey eaten? How much of him had she taken into her? And then he stood still, with his hand on the cold marble countertop, alone in his
laboratoire
in the early morning while heat blushed through him.
Chapter 4
L
eaves blew across the gravel in the Luxembourg Gardens. Cade let the wind blow Sylvain Marquis out of her mind and tossed her chin up into it, thrilling to the fact that she was walking here. Ripples formed on the perfect circle of the pool in front of the seventeenth-century palace, but no little children’s boats floated there today as they always did in pictures. Sun sifted softly through the clouds, light against gray behind the trees and the palace.
The park was nearly empty. The few people crossing it seemed to be using it as a shortcut, leading with their chin as they walked, hands in coat pockets, in a hurry to get somewhere early. A couple of joggers circled the periphery, looking starkly out of place in that classical landscape and rather awkward about their athletic endeavor.
Here she was, Cade thought, stopping in front of the pool to gaze around her. Her hands curled in her pockets in a little squeeze of the moment, milking it for its preciousness.
Paris.
She dismissed Sylvain Marquis’s refusal, a temporary setback. Her world would hold this city in it now, once she succeeded with this line. Her life would hold in it a
laboratoire,
a workshop full of handcrafted chocolate alchemy and fussy, passionate masters of their craft producing something superb. Both would become part of her.
Her soul seemed to grow up and out of her as she thought about it, bigger and bigger, richer and richer, to become as large as this largest of small cities and all it had ever held, as rich as a dark chocolate ganache gently infused with some new flavor she didn’t know, being stirred over the lowest heat.
Her eyes stung, maybe from the cold wind or maybe from the sudden beauty of the moment. She might have lingered in it, except the odor of urine invaded her space. An unshaven man in stained clothes wavered toward her, mumbling something, his hand cradled near his body, palm up.
She gave him twenty euros and, on a whim, her talisman Corey Bar. She had a big box of them she could restock from back in her rented apartment, and she liked to give a Corey Bar with any money she gave out in the street. She always imagined it brought the recipient a little spark of pleasure.
She strolled on, feeling stronger, braver, freer, Sylvain Marquis’s outrage and chocolaty superiority retreating to the back of her mind. Happiness surged through her, even when she had to dodge a man dropping a cigarette butt onto the sidewalk while his dog finished pooping in the middle of it.
Paris. She was in Paris. This city was hers.
Chapter 5
D
ominique Richard didn’t like the idea, either. He wasn’t quite as unpleasant about it as Sylvain Marquis—or, rather, he wasn’t as intensely attractive, he didn’t make her fantasize she was the chocolate laid out on his counter being tempered by his hand, and he didn’t have that same gift for minimalism in his initial dismissal of her, as if she wasn’t worth a sneer. Dominique was rough, aggressive, his refusal brusque, although he looked her over while he gave it. As if she might not be worth the respect of considering her proposal, but he might be willing to have sex in his office with her if she was interested.
That type of insult was, somehow, easier to deal with than Sylvain’s. It didn’t settle under her skin and burn there like a fire she couldn’t put out.
But on the other hand, it was the second rejection of her brilliant idea in less than twenty-four hours. She had started toying with this dream as early as her high school days, had kept playing with it through college, and had held it close to her heart for the four years since, while she built up respect for her ideas and her work in the company before she tried to take it “haring off into some new line,” as her father liked to put it. Ten years at least she had been hoping for this.
She had always thought the only things that stood in the way of her dream were her family, their company, and herself. It had never occurred to her that the dream itself might reject her.
And Parisians had a way of saying no that was really discouraging. Couldn’t they at least smile and pretend they were sorry to turn her down? They didn’t have to act as if she had acquired some kind of odor just from asking the question.
She strode back through the Luxembourg Gardens, hands thrust deeply into her coat pockets, trying to keep her head and her courage up, trying to focus on the beauty of the gardens, on the pleasure of people-watching. A woman tried to keep her toddler from climbing into the great round pond, while the chilly breeze blew ripples across its surface. A couple stopped another passerby just in front of her to get him to take their picture.
She nodded at the homeless man from earlier, who was halfway through the Corey Bar.
“C’est de la merde,”
he informed her conversationally. “Do you think that just because I’m homeless, I’ll eat anything?”
She hurried on, her hand clenching on nothing, since she had given away her talisman just so a Frenchman who didn’t even have a roof over his head could look down his nose at it. Her eyes stung desperately. She focused on getting back to her apartment, on regrouping—on hiding—on getting back to her laptop, where she could lay out a list of the third- to tenth-best chocolatiers in Paris and make a plan.
Warmth closed around her as soon as she squeezed into the elevator. The place was barely heated, but it was out of the wind. Amid the ancient, flowered wallpaper in her tiny apartment, the giant box of Corey Bars that often followed her on her travels sat on the laminate counter of the tiny kitchenette.
She pulled an armful out of the box and sat down on her little bed near the window, letting the bars spill all around her as she started to cry.
Her phone interrupted her tears. “Cade,” her father said abruptly, while she struggled mightily to make sure not a single sniffle escaped. “Could you look over the memos from Jennie and Russell that I sent you? Check your e-mail. I don’t have all the background information on the discussions you’ve been having with the convenience stores, and I’m not sure they’re making a good decision.”
“They can’t handle it? This should be good training for them.”
“Yes, but . . . we’d all feel better if you would give us your assessment. You might have a couple of other forwards in your in-box, too. I’d appreciate it if you would look them over. How are you doing anyway, honey? Having fun?”
“Yes!” she lied enthusiastically. “It’s fascinating to make contact with these little artisan chocolatiers. There’s so much we could learn here.”
“Mmm,” said her father, considerably more tepid about opening a new gourmet line than she was. “The city is beautiful, isn’t it? Your mother and I had our first honeymoon there.”
Julie Corey,
née
Julie Cade, and Mack Corey had taken a “honeymoon” every year on their anniversary until Cade’s mother died.
“Yes,” Cade said.
“She always liked it. You remember when we took you with us sometimes as kids? She liked to just walk all over the city. She really never saw a cobblestone street or an old building she didn’t like.”
Cade smiled, thinking about her mom. That was so true of her.
“Well, we miss you over here, sweetie. I can’t wait to have you back. Don’t you go staying at the end of the world like your sister wants to. But you enjoy every minute while you’re there, all right?”
“Yes,” Cade said definitely. “I will.” Especially since those moments were numbered. Her younger sister, Jaime, seemed determined to throw off all her family responsibilities in favor of saving the world, so Cade couldn’t really do the same. She would be heading back to Corey, Maryland, soon.
 
Twenty minutes later she was back on her feet, restoring her hair and makeup to Paris-worthiness and plotting which chocolatiers to try next.
She eyed the heels of her boots doubtfully, because her feet already felt a little sore from the morning’s walk. But her first full day in the city was not the moment to cave and put on flats. If Parisian women could do it, she could do it.
She walked and walked and walked.
The walking part was really nice.
Except for how badly her feet hurt.
And the time she stepped in dog poop.
And the time another pedestrian reached out suddenly and grabbed her breasts.
And the time she brushed too close to someone else on the sidewalk, and the cigarette he was carrying low by his side burned the back of her hand. At least
he
didn’t smirk at her but reached out to steady her, apologizing in a quick, sincere rush. She glanced after him as he continued on, wondering if it was a sign of overabuse by Paris that she wanted to grab him and ask him out on a date just because he had been nice enough not to sneer at her when he burned her.
She sat down at the nearest café, defeated, flexing her aching toes, and ordered a cup of hot chocolate. The drink proved surprisingly dark and intense, not at all like the ritual Corey cocoa of her childhood, with its cute little snowman marshmallows. A thin cylinder of sugar lay on the saucer beside it, but was she supposed to dump that into her chocolate? Or would that make her look like a tourist? Maybe the waiter had given it to her because he’d already guessed she was a tourist. He would probably start speaking to her in English at any minute. Everybody started speaking to her in English. She had studied French all through middle school, high school, and college, and paid for years of private French lessons, and they all insisted on speaking to her in very bad English.
Scattered pairs of people talked here and there at tables, waving cigarettes over half-empty cups and glasses. Maybe they should sell fake cigarettes in a package with Parisian guidebooks so tourists could have a prayer of fitting in. Wasn’t it supposed to be against the law to smoke in cafés now in Paris? She laid her coat and gloves on the seat beside her and cradled the chocolate cup in her hands, soaking up the warmth, her feet aching even more as she took the pressure off them.
Exhaustion pressed on her. Was this how defeat felt? She had never really tasted that feeling before and wasn’t willing to admit she was tasting it now. She was just regrouping, that was all.
She had walked all day. Past gorgeous fountains, glimpses of hidden courtyards, store windows that were works of art. The buildings, the streets, the cobblestones that had ripped up her boot heels, they were all so, so . . .
Paris.
She had walked along the Seine, and it had been cold and brown and
gorgeous.
And there had been Notre-Dame rising up above it, and, and—
—she would arrive at the next chocolatier on her list. And she would brace herself—and brace harder each time—and she would go in. And the scent and sight of chocolate would wrap around her, so elegant and fabulous and extraordinary, and—
—the chocolatier would say no. Simon Casset flicked one quick, penetrating, steel-blue look over her and recommended she talk with Sylvain Marquis. However, the tiny twitch of those stern lips of his had made it clear he was saying that just to give Sylvain a hard time and
not
from any sincere effort to help her in her quest. Philippe Lyonnais had stared at her with eyes that quickly went as dark blue as a stormy sea, and he’d actually
growled
at her. Aslan-roared. Her ears had still been ringing when she left the shop.
Sometimes one said no kindly, as if she was a naïve young thing who couldn’t possibly understand any better. Sometimes they turned her down with a baffled look, as if wondering where Americans got their wild ideas. Sometimes they were impatient, as if pretty fed up with Americans and their wild ideas. One rejected her offer flirtatiously, as if she might be able to talk him into it if she took the right route.
She had kept the flirting chocolatier on her list of possibles. He had been sixty, and she was pretty sure he was just leading her on, but she had to keep somebody on her roll.
She couldn’t understand why they all said no. Sure, they had their principles about the art form of their chocolate making. That was what had drawn her here; that was the world she so passionately longed to own.
But how could they not be willing to sell it to her? They acted as if the sale would destroy it somehow. Like some little stubborn old lady in a historic cottage with her beloved garden, refusing to sell to the major construction conglomerate that wanted to bulldoze over it. That wasn’t what Cade was trying to do
at all
.
Maybe she had gone about this all wrong. Maybe she should have come in with her cadre of lawyers and executives and assistants and overwhelmed them.
Would that have worked? A vision of Sylvain Marquis’s stubborn, sexy, arrogant face rose up before her, and she had a suspicion its reaction to lawyers would still be indifferent dismissal.
And anyway, she hadn’t wanted to bring any of those people. She had wanted this to be her adventure in Paris. She had wanted to be all alone, to go in and talk to people as one person to another, to . . . live a dream. This premium chocolate line was the only way she had found to fit the dream into her life and not betray a structure built by generations.
But it was Saturday afternoon, and she didn’t have dinner planned in some superb Parisian restaurant with a passionate chocolatier so that they could talk about their plans excitedly while he told her what the best items on the menu were and they tried something chocolate for dessert. She was staring into another evening all alone. She couldn’t remember the last time she had spent two whole days and nights alone. Solitary evenings were usually a choice, a relief from her busy, people-filled days. But she hadn’t made this choice, and she didn’t feel relieved. She felt like a failure, lonely and rejected by a dream.
Back in her apartment, she closed the refrigerator door on the boxes in brown, beige, and one turquoise that filled it, all stamped with the name and logo of the second- to tenth-best chocolatiers in the city. She wasn’t going to stay in her apartment eating chocolates tonight.
She hesitated over her BlackBerry and then set it down firmly. She wasn’t going to call any of the list of wealthy contacts her father had given her, people who would be glad to go out with her for the business opportunity. This was her adventure, her chance. She didn’t want it to become just another day in her life, only in a foreign city.
No, she was going to go out to eat by herself. And then she was going to go to the Eiffel Tower and see the sparkling view everyone talked about. And then she would catch one of the famous
Bateaux-Mouches
that steamed along the Seine, providing tourists with yet more glimpses of the city. And then maybe she would walk along the river and watch the dancers and the drummers she had read about in her guidebook.
 
She deliberately limped several streets away, over the protests of her feet, to avoid running into Sylvain Marquis again. She left her BlackBerry and her laptop behind and went without the guidebook. She was in Paris. She could find her own good restaurant.
As if by magic she found herself on a street with no traffic, cobblestoned, full of unhurried people congregating before bars and restaurants and posted menus, people who all seemed happy to be there. Some people didn’t even glance at the menus scrawled on chalkboards out on the sidewalk, instead entering their favorite restaurant as they might step into their own front door.
Cade stopped at a restaurant with a front of green and floors of old, smooth, burnt-red tile. Bottles of vinegars and oils climbed up its walls. Five tables crowded the small space downstairs, and black metal stairs led to a mezzanine above. The slim waiter in black pants and black T-shirt shook his head when she asked about the mezzanine; it was too early to start seating there.
He didn’t look thrilled with the fact that she was dining alone, either, but maybe that was her own self-consciousness. He was kind enough to give her the window table for two, where she could sit watching the street.

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