Read The Chocolate Thief Online

Authors: Laura Florand

The Chocolate Thief (7 page)

Chapter 8
C
ade thought if her heart beat any faster or more blood rushed to her cheeks, she might pass out. To cool herself down, she drew up an image of Chantal,
la Parisienne parfaite,
and tried to mentally paste it to the inside of her forehead.
“This is one of my favorite moments,” Sylvain murmured to her, his voice a brush of sound, too low to interfere with Pascal’s lesson, too low for anyone but her. “The chocolate is untouched, virgin.”
Chocolat,
he said. Not that clumsy, cute English word
chok-lat
but a caress, a mystery,
sho-co-la.
“I choose it. It is beautiful as it is, perfect; anyone could eat it forever. Yet I bring something else to it, blend it with another flavor that makes people encounter it in a new way, a richer way.”
His voice burred over her skin. All the fine hairs on her arms rose to that voice and to the words that seemed to talk about more than chocolate. Made her want to
be
his chocolate.
“I pour it into another form worthy of it, something as beautiful as its essence, so that just looking at it fills people with desire.”
She realized her lips had parted, her breath had grown shallow. She kept her lashes lowered, her gaze focused on that dark block in his hand. On his strong, square palms, on the long, adept fingers.
“Tenez.”
He handed it to her.
She did everything she could to take it without touching him, but he shifted his hand at the last second, and his fingers brushed hers. She sank her teeth into the inside of her lower lip.
“We have here
criollo
—do you know it?”
“I probably produced it,” Cade told him in a clipped voice. It was arrogant to say “I” and not “we,” but he was provoking. Did she
know
one of the four major types of cacao? True, they didn’t really use it in Corey Bars—too expensive for their market—but she knew what it was.
“No,” he said definitely. “No, part of this came from a small grower in Venezuela. I liked their crop this year,
épicé et voluptueux.

Spicy, voluptuous.
Oh, God. Why were even those words dissolving her?
“The rest came from Madagascar, and perhaps some of that may have been from one of your plantations.” His brow knitted. “It’s strange that a company capable of encouraging such a quality primary production could end up with . . . what you end up with.”
Cade thought of the poor, maligned Corey Bar in her purse hanging in the entryway. Millions of people were biting into a Corey Bar right this minute, and it was making all of them very happy. Only one or two people were biting into one of his chocolates, she reminded herself. And they almost certainly had at least six-figure incomes. They could find other things to make them happy.
“In what percentages did you combine them?” she asked. “What kind of conch did you use, and how long and how hard?”
His lips curved in a very male smile that took her technical question in a completely different direction.
She tried to ignore that, but she could feel all her erogenous zones flushing with heat. “How much cocoa butter did you add?”
He laughed and shook his head. “You might be able to flirt that information out of Dominique Richard, but I think I can hold out a little longer.”
Her skin burned. Had that been yet another contemptuous dismissal? This time implying that her flirting was not effective?
Why was he accusing
her
of flirting? She was standing there in humiliating Goth eye makeup, a sweatshirt, and an enormous pastry-chef jacket. He was the one talking about
virgin
chocolate with which he could do anything he wanted.
“Now . . . what do you want to make of this
chocolat
?”
“Anything you tell me to,” Cade said, trying to be flip, to remind him that she was taking lessons and had to do what the instructor said. But it didn’t come out quite right. Her tone was too low, too absorbed.
“Anything?” Sylvain gave her a little smile that made her feel like the teacher’s pet.
“Vraiment.”
Utensils had been laid out on each counter, waiting for the students. He picked up a great butcher knife, its blade as sharp as a stage whisper. His chef’s jacket, of course, fit him perfectly, made for him, so that his straight shoulders and lean waist were clearly defined. Elbow-length sleeves revealed lean, corded forearms, the muscles of his profession.
“Veuillez m’aider à hacher ce chocolat, mademoiselle.”
There was only one knife. How was she supposed to help cut with it? She looked around for another one.
“Tenez.”
He physically took her hand and put it over the handle of the knife. His hand on hers.
Her skin felt sunburned, as if she needed to douse it in aloe and cold water.
“Do you know how to hold a knife,
mademoiselle
?”
Yes. She had taken artisan chocolate workshops before, just not in Paris. And she liked to cook. At least once a month, she cooked. She always made it an elaborate, gourmet affair. But she kept silent, while his long, warm, agile fingers positioned hers, open, on handle and blade, so that she could shave off bits of chocolate without cutting off her fingers.
The blade looked wickedly sharp. In her currently rattled state, she probably
would
cut off her fingers if she tried to manipulate it solo. But his hands stayed strong on hers, linking with her fingers to keep them lifted away from the blade. Together, his deftness overpowering her clumsiness, they shaved chocolate off a corner of the dark block. It curled and crumpled and fell to pieces against the cold marble, piling on top of itself.
His arms brushed against hers, his biceps pressing against her shoulder. She could feel his lean, strong body. She could feel him taming himself for her, the speed and energy pent up and kept under control. He did not usually shave off his chocolate carefully, stroke by stroke, she knew. His knife would fly through it, thoughtlessly, as automatic as breathing; his muscles, used to this work, would barely be conscious of its resistance, its hardness under the knife.
He lifted a shaving on one finger and brought it to her lips.
“Goûtez,”
he said. “Tell me what you taste.”
“Could you show
me
how to cut the chocolate?” one of the American women asked Pascal hopefully, eyeing them from across the table. “I think I might need some . . . help.”
Pascal Guyot gave Sylvain Marquis a look of deeply tried patience. Sylvain didn’t even notice it, focused on Cade.
The chocolate was melting already on her parted lips. She took it, perforce, her lips closing just barely, just briefly, on his finger.
His lashes lowered to hide some expression.
She tasted . . . She didn’t think she should tell him what she tasted. It went beyond the chocolate, which was bitter, bitter on her tongue but extraordinarily smooth.
A little sigh ran through him. “Let us make something you would like,” he told her, with heat in his eyes and a little, very male curve lingering around his mouth, as if he was playing a game he very much enjoyed.
She was his game, Cade told herself. Was that it?
Was he hers?
“What do you like in your
chocolat, mademoiselle
?”
He poured white cream into a small pot as he spoke to her and added inverted sugar. He had taken her lesson in a different direction from the rest of the workshop. Pascal was still showing the others how to cut their chocolate and trying to stay patient with the woman who was being particularly helpless and demanding of hands-on instruction.
“Cinnamon,” she said.
“Cannelle?”
He gave her a little smile, as if she had charmed him.
Charmed him how? Like a quaint child whose hair he wanted to ruffle?
“Vous aimez la tradition,”
he said.
Yes, she supposed she did love tradition. Corey prided itself on being the chocolate of generations of Americans, and it had never once changed its original milk chocolate bar. So that was tradition. And the only way she wanted to break that Corey tradition was by sinking into a realm of chocolate that had been exquisite even before her country was born.
“Then we shall make you something with cinnamon.” He moved away to the shelves where the brown bottles were, grabbing a handful of cinnamon sticks. On his way back to her, he picked up a brick of butter that had been set out to soften. “Say it again in English?”
“Cinnamon,” she repeated helplessly.
Heat leaped in his eyes. “It has a
je ne sais quoi
to it in English,
cinnamon.
More mystery, more exotic, than in French.”
“Because it starts with
sin,
” she tried to say. Only she couldn’t think of
sin
in French.
“Pêche?”
Supple black eyebrows crinkled. “Cinnamon and peaches? With your chocolate? I don’t think . . .”
He paused, clearly unable to reject any combination of flavors out of hand without giving it serious analysis.
“No,” she said. “No peaches. Just cinnamon.”

Pêches confites,
perhaps,” he murmured.
Candied peaches.
“But I don’t have any on hand, and it’s the wrong season to find them. I could perhaps order some from Nice. There’s a market where you can find them in the autumn.”
And did he do that? she wondered suddenly. Wander through markets, absorbing all the sights and flavors, his mind all the time spinning new spells of chocolate out of what he saw?
It made her want to take him to Morocco, to India, if he had not already been. It made her wish he would take her to Nice, to all the markets that he knew. They could walk through them, hand in hand, showing each other flavors.
What was happening to her head?
It could not possibly be healthy for all her dreams of Paris to be crystallizing around this one person.
He disdained her. And he had been out last night with a beautiful blonde.
“Tenez.”
He handed her the cinnamon sticks and nodded to the pot of cream. She dropped them into it, watching white drops splash over the brown of the sticks. “À
feu doux.”
He caught her eyes just for a second. “One must start
à feu doux.

With a gentle flame.
If this was gentle, she didn’t know whether to crave high heat or be terrified of it.
Terror and craving made a very powerful combination of flavors.
She set the pot on the burner nearest her, her gaze as she moved scanning the room, going over those great burlap sacks whose contents she did not know, those brown bottles, the doors to walk-in storage. Who knew what riches hid behind them? What word would unlock those doors?
“Open, cacao”?
She tried to figure out what was a gentle flame according to French temperatures and how to work the controls of the stove. Let’s see, she knew this. If the ideal storage temperature of chocolate was 17 degrees Celsius, then—
Sylvain’s hand reached over hers, brushing it and half enclosing it, and pushed a couple of buttons.
Warmth ran through her. On its heels, wariness finally raised its head, and anger. What an absolute bastard he was. An arrogant absolute bastard. To be so sure of his attractiveness that he could use it to punish her.
That had to be his motivation. Why else would he be doing this?
For a wild instant, she thought about trying to turn the tables on him. Drive him crazy with
her
attractiveness. But she was wearing a sweatshirt and an enormous pastry chef’s jacket, and she was currently made up like someone in an old silent film. And her magic talisman was a Corey Bar, which made his sorcerer’s lip curl in disdain.
“Is this the same way Dominique Richard does it?” she asked instead in a breathless voice, trying to convey the impression that she was just using him to get nearer the true rock star around this town.
She didn’t need quite that much breathiness to convey that impression, but that brush of his hand made it hard to keep steady.
The hand withdrew a fraction. When she snuck a glance, he looked very annoyed.
“I can’t say I’ve studied the way he pours cream into a pan,” he said dryly. “But it can’t be that different.”
She bet it could. Sylvain had a way of pouring cream into a pan that made her feel like a cat. “No, I meant—all of this.” She waved a hand to encompass the whole workshop and process.
“I don’t know,” Sylvain said, increasingly acerbic. “Maybe you should be stalking
him
if you would rather know his way of doing things.”
Her lips snapped together, and she flushed at the hit. She was
not
. . . well, she was indeed stalking Sylvain, but it was obnoxious of him to say it out loud like that. “The restaurant was completely accidental.” Did he think she would make herself that miserable on purpose?

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