Read The Chocolate Thief Online

Authors: Laura Florand

The Chocolate Thief (4 page)

She swallowed. She rarely ate alone in public. Meals on the road were usually packed with people and work. But surely she had the self-confidence for this. Even in Paris.
It just felt so horribly, awkwardly lonely. She smiled brightly at the waiter, who looked alarmed. She bent her head and focused on the menu he brought.
A couple in their early fifties came in and sat at a nearby table, speaking English all the while.
Great.
In her attempts to embrace Paris on her own, had she come straight to a tourist spot?
She ordered the full
prix fixe,
three courses, determined not to shrink into a quick dinner and a flight back to the semi-safety of her little apartment. She was here to enjoy Paris. All three courses of it.
She played with the silverware as she waited for her wine, thought longingly of her BlackBerry, and resolutely pulled out the little leather-bound journal she had bought specifically for her trip to Paris.
A couple came in, the man tall and dark. Her heart froze even before she had lifted her head to get a better look. The waiter greeted Sylvain Marquis with friendly familiarity, he said something back, and the finger-sized, perfectly coiffed blonde with him laughed.
Cade closed her eyes against fate.
How could this be happening to her? How incredibly hideous that
he
should come in with his perfect little date to the very restaurant where she was sitting out her lonely meal.
He turned away from the waiter and stilled. She opened her eyes to stare at him defiantly.
“Do you have spies on me?” Sylvain Marquis asked incredulously.
“That would be a waste of company resources,” she said icily. Really, who did he think he was? The, uh . . .
one
of the acknowledged best chocolatiers in the world? Talking to a part-owner of one of the biggest mass producers of chocolate on the planet?
It was, admittedly, eccentric of her
not
to have spies on him at this point, or bodyguards and lawyers and assistants on
her
.
“Spies?” the little blonde asked with a laugh.
Sylvain Marquis made a dismissive gesture.
“Ce n’est pas important.”
Cade burned.
“The mezzanine?” the waiter asked him. Apparently that rule about waiting until the downstairs filled up before seating the upstairs only applied to people with an American accent.
“Non,”
Sylvain said, ignoring the blonde’s disappointed look. “Downstairs is fine.”
There were only the five tables downstairs, and two of them were already taken. The waiter seated Sylvain and his friend two tiny tables away from her. Cade pressed the point of her silver pen into her journal until it broke through the paper, as she longed to shrivel into an old, dried mushroom that could be lost on the floor.
At least now she knew she had picked a good restaurant, she thought bitterly. She would bet Sylvain Marquis only put delicious things into his mouth.
Probably he thought that blonde was delicious. Her pen drove through another layer of paper.
The air around her seemed to hold scents just from the chocolatier’s passing—cacao and cinnamon, citrus and vanilla. Of course. He would be imbued with those scents at the end of the day. It was possible he might never be able to completely wash them out of his clothes and off his skin.
She closed her eyes against a vision of water sluicing off his skin, failing to wash away the chocolate essence of him.
Cacao was so oddly reassuring to her, as if the very scent of it made all right with her world, returned her to her comfort zone. But she didn’t need that vision of his naked skin to tell her that any sense of a comfort zone where he was concerned was completely false.
She bent her head, trying desperately to think of something to write in her journal, to make herself look busy and indifferent to his presence. And
not
lonely. She found herself writing
Paris
over and over just so her pen would be moving. Her name. The name of the restaurant.
Syl
—She slammed the leather cover closed.
She tapped it, not knowing what to do with herself. And finally opened it again. Being very careful to keep it half-closed so that he couldn’t glimpse a thing.
“What are you writing?” Sylvain Marquis asked from his table only three feet away. “Memories of Paris? Chantal, have I introduced you? This is Cade Corey. She’s in the chocolate field,” he added, with a tone of great kindness, as if he was saying the custodian at a lab was in microbiology.
“Corey?” Chantal said. “Do you make those—?” Belatedly, she apparently realized her face was curling into a sneer, for she quickly smoothed it out. “How nice. Have you come to France to learn more about chocolate?”
Cade wondered what would happen if she hauled off and decked both of them. Surely it wouldn’t be the first time an American in Paris had been provoked to violence by French “politeness,” as her grandfather had called it. She
had
come to France to learn more about chocolate, but it didn’t sound at all the same when
she
said it.
And who was Chantal, anyway? She noticed his Marquis-ness hadn’t introduced her. Maybe she was so much a part of his life, he assumed everyone already knew.
Cade was never leaving her apartment without her BlackBerry again. At least she could have whipped it out and looked . . . probably even more pathetic. As if, even sitting in the middle of Paris, she had no other aspect to her life than Corey Chocolate.
Exactly what she was trying to make
not
true.
“Don’t you know anyone in Paris?” Sylvain asked.
Cade turned her head and stared at him. Was it her imagination, or had he sounded a touch concerned? Was he about to include her in his party out of social pity?
Chantal looked worried about that, too.
“I know people,” Cade said. At least, quite a few people here would like to know her. That list of her father’s.
Sylvain looked doubtful. Cade had just made up her mind to stand up and walk out—pretend she had only stopped for a glass of wine—when the waiter appeared with a small white dish of ravioli swimming in a bath of basil cream and pine nuts. It smelled like heaven—and looked like the door locking her in to a long prison of an evening. She felt a little sick to her stomach.
She should have stayed in her room feeling sorry for herself. She should have dined on top of the Eiffel Tower.
(A sudden vision of herself dining on top of the Eiffel Tower with Sylvain Marquis flashed through her mind, just quickly enough for her to catch a glimpse of city lights, of dark sky and stars, of dark hair and a hand proffering her a taste of something delicious. She shoved the image out of her head.)
She should have taken advantage of Sylvain’s night out to break into his workshop and learn all his secrets.
Now,
there
was an idea. Her grandfather would be proud. He would be so proud, the secret would probably burst out of his lips and right into her father’s ears. Her father had a really funny attitude about corporate espionage. He thought it should be done discreetly, by people who couldn’t be linked back to the Corey family.
“Then why are you eating by yourself?” Sylvain asked.
She glared at him. From buying his secrets with millions to becoming his act of social charity was a pretty brutal step down. Of course, maybe he wasn’t concerned so much as trying to humiliate her.
“Because I don’t really like people,” she lied coldly.
There, that should shut anyone up and turn his attention back to his date. She wondered what it was like to date a man who could do what he did with chocolate and who had eyes as dark as . . .
“Vraiment?”
Sylvain said, intrigued. “Do you just see them as dollars and euros, or how does that work?”
A second before she slapped her credit card onto the table and called for the waiter, Cade realized what a victory it would be for him to drive her out of the restaurant. The same way he had driven her out of his
laboratoire
. With just a few contemptuous words and a supremely disdainful look.
She took a slow breath, focused on her ravioli in its cream sauce so faintly tinted with green, and cut into it with her fork.
“Bon appétit,”
Chantal said kindly.
Seriously, Cade hated her. She would take spite a hundred times over kindness from that beautiful Parisian blonde sitting across from an equally gorgeous sorcerer of chocolate.
The
raviole
bloomed in her mouth: just the right amount of basil, salt, and melted butter, pine nuts, cream, perfect fresh pasta with something inside she wasn’t quite sure of. All condensed into one thousand calories a bite.
She realized she had closed her eyes as she savored the pasta square, and she opened them to find Sylvain Marquis smiling a little as he watched her. As if he knew that moment, that first bite of this dish, and was enjoying it vicariously through her.
Enjoying the taste in her mouth.
She found herself blushing, a strange fever that spread through her mercilessly. She could feel it mounting to her cheeks, growing visible, and she could not for the pride of her get it to stop.
The smile slowly faded off Sylvain Marquis’s mouth as he gazed at her. The waiter came up to their table, and Chantal answered whatever he asked, but Sylvain didn’t even seem to hear him.
“Sylvain?” Chantal said. His name sounded so perfectly pronounced by her delicate French lips. The
ain
was so correct, like the breath of a whine.
He didn’t respond.
Chantal glanced from him to Cade, and she didn’t look very pleased at all. Cade turned her head to stare out the window.
“Sylvain,” Chantal said again.
“Hmm?” Sylvain’s voice sounded distracted.
“Tu as choisi, mon cher?”
“Pardon. Oui. Les ravioles,”
he told the waiter.
Heat roiled through her again.
This was pathetic and ridiculous, she told herself. Could she fake a seizure so she could get out of this restaurant?
No, a seizure would make her look bad. A heart attack? An allergic reaction to basil? That might explain the flushing. Maybe she could fake getting something in her eye and disappear to a bathroom, climb out its window, and never return to her table. She searched surreptitiously for signs of a bathroom but couldn’t find one on the ground floor. Meaning it was either belowground or upstairs. She was pretty sure she couldn’t carve a tunnel before someone came to look for her, but she wondered how much toilet paper it would take to make a rope.
For some reason, climbing out of a bathroom window on a rope of toilet paper seemed like a less humiliating plan than just paying her bill now and walking out.
“You aren’t going to eat it?” Sylvain asked her incredulously.
Couldn’t the man just talk to his date? Turn his back on her? Leave her alone?
“I’m not very hungry,” she said. She had been when she’d ordered her three-course meal just before he walked in, but now she felt as if she were trying to get her food down past a horde of butterflies.
Sylvain’s lips formed one of those tight, beautiful French
O
s but without a sound. He looked at her plate and then at her mouth. One eyebrow lifted a little in question, and he looked into her eyes again.
Just exactly what did he think he was figuring out about her? What questions were those eyes asking that were making warmth start to lurk in their depths?
“I ate too much chocolate today,” she explained quickly, without thinking.
Sylvain looked smug.
“I was at Dominique Richard’s,” she added sweetly.
This was such a good hit that Chantal’s lips parted, and she brought up a perfectly manicured hand to cover them. Cade’s hands were perfectly manicured, too, but she didn’t know how to make them cover her mouth so sexily. Did French women practice in front of a mirror, or what?
Sylvain’s own lips thinned, and anyone would have thought she had reached out and smacked him. “And did he sell himself?” he asked disdainfully.
Caught between a lie and having to admit defeat to him, Cade remembered abruptly that she was part-owner of a multinational corporation. “I can’t discuss contract negotiations,” she said, with the same gentle coolness she had used in business meetings a thousand times before.
He didn’t like that at all. He turned abruptly back to his date at last, but he was visibly simmering.
“Oh, have you been trying to buy Sylvain?” Chantal asked playfully, clearly trying to break the tension and recapture his attention and her enjoyable evening. “How much do you cost,
chéri
?”
Sylvain lanced Cade a glance like lightning. “
I’m
not for sale.”

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