Read The Chocolate Thief Online

Authors: Laura Florand

The Chocolate Thief (9 page)

Why was she letting him? he wondered suddenly. Why hadn’t she drawn the line, reclaimed her personal space? She was letting him get away with everything.
She really hadn’t struck him as the type to let anyone take her over very easily.
Was she, in fact, manipulating him? he wondered, as he showed her how to use a
guitare
to cut the chocolate into little bites. How big a fool was he making of himself?
He had had a tendency to do that over women like Cade Corey for a while. He had thought he had grown out of it, but last night, Chantal had made it clear he was making a fool of himself again. He remembered the friendly, pitying look in her eyes, the warning shake of her head.
He winced. Cade Corey didn’t even know or care where he lived, only where his workshop was. She had said it herself.
He had had a lot of experience with being used. He knew that the women who were doing the using seldom even realized that was what they were doing.
So if Cade Corey was doing it on purpose, that was, in its way, refreshing.
That still didn’t excuse him for being an idiot, though.
A hopeless, romantic, gangly teenager could be excused for being an idiot when he learned how to get the prettiest, classiest girls to look at him briefly by seducing them with chocolate.
Even someone in his early twenties could be excused for being an idiot, when things shifted somehow, and suddenly he seemed to be attracting women right and left. It had taken him a few years to adjust to that, and another few years to stop getting his heart broken repeatedly as he learned that just because a woman had glittered from a distance didn’t mean she was gold now that he could touch her up close.
Many of those women who seemed so beautiful and classy were regretting husbands they still had and neglected to mention; some were unable really to think about anyone or anything but themselves; some were so needy, he felt as if he were being sucked into a black hole. In short, just because women fell for him easily now didn’t mean they weren’t using him.
Only in the past couple of years had he felt he had reached a degree of intelligence in his relationships, a certain centeredness that he hadn’t had before. He had stopped falling for everything that glittered, had stopped handing his heart over on a silver platter. He had learned that if he wanted to find a treasure, he was going to have to hunt for it and be very, very careful as he did.
He hated it, though, being so careful. It was not his nature. He wanted to find that one person and just give her all of him, his heart, his head, his body. He wanted the sound and scent of her in their apartment, he wanted to be cooking with her in the kitchen, he wanted babies eventually, waking them up every two hours and leaving toys for him to trip over.
He wanted the true prize.
And he wasn’t going to find it by falling for a billionaire who made no attempt to hide the fact that she just wanted to buy him and everything he had accomplished in life.
The class was breaking for lunch. He took a last breath of the scent of her hair and then did one of the hardest things he had done since he first opened the doors of his own
chocolaterie,
years ago. He stepped back from Cade Corey.
He didn’t know whether it was to save himself—
idiot
—or to punish her for being so exclusively interested in his chocolate and not him, but he even managed to smile at her. “
Merci,
Mademoiselle Corey, for joining us this morning. I’m afraid I won’t be able to let you stay for the afternoon session, as we will be covering things we don’t want to share with a larger public.”
She looked at him as if he had hit her. Or, worse, stripped her naked in a pretense of seduction and then smirked and turned her around to see a thousand ridiculing eyes.
She stared at him, something rising in her with a powerful force. His pulse quickened as he prepared for anything, anything—
She turned abruptly and strode toward the entryway. Without a word. Without letting him find out what that powerful force rising inside her
was
.
He found himself following, hoping she
would
say a word. He was kicking himself already. He hadn’t really wanted her to
leave.
He just . . . thought it would be in his own best interest to make sure she did.
“I believe you still have our coat, mademoiselle,” he mentioned as she reached for the doorknob, trying to pry that word he wanted out of her.
Her flush deepened further, her jaw as tense as it was possible for her to hold it. Her hands trembled so much on the buttons, she couldn’t get them undone.
“Tenez,”
he said, troubled, his own hands lifting. He
was
an idiot. There was more than one way to be an idiot, and he had just proven it. He had just cut off his own nose to spite his face. “May I help?”
“Don’t. You. Touch. Me.” So much anger vibrated through her voice that he dropped his hands, that fourteen-year-old teenager waking in him, the kind girls didn’t want to be touched by.
So he stood there as she struggled with button after button, making her slow, miserable way down the coat, everyone watching them, her cheeks deeply red now. He wondered why she didn’t just destroy it—rip it off, pop the buttons, drop it on the floor, and maybe drop a few bills on it to cover the damage as she stalked out. It seemed like something an American billionaire would do.
At last she got it off, to reveal the most ridiculous enormous sweatshirt. He started to smile despite himself. “What are you wearing? Did you come to my workshop in your
pajamas
?”
Americans.
All the money in the world and not a gram of taste.
She gave him a look like a slap, thrust the coat at him, and strode out.
He stood there holding it, staring after her. He had just let cowardice make him an
imbécile
. You couldn’t fake blushes.
Plus, not having her there to drive crazy, when he knew he could have, ruined the whole rest of his day.
And he only had her secretary’s phone number. What if she didn’t come back?
Chapter 9
I
t was going to be his own fault, Cade decided, once embarrassment and something very close to heartbreak had subsided and she could nurture a proper sense of vengeance to take its place. He would have no one but himself to blame.
In the Halles, pigeons, tourists, lovers, and a diverse collection of ne’er-do-wells gathered around a great tower of a fountain that curlicued up and fell into a wide pool. Most of the shops were closed for Sunday, making the area even sketchier than it was on weekdays. Several men began making crude suggestions as she approached. Cade tried to ignore them as she sought the shop she had Googled earlier. She was relieved to find that its owner did, as advertised, take advantage of the loosening of restrictions on Sunday openings, and she stepped inside just before her hecklers could find the energy to stand up and pursue her.
Inside, an array of high-tech paraphernalia filled walls and display cases.
“I need to buy a pair of twins,” Cade said as confidently as anyone could say something like that in a foreign language. That was what it said in the dictionary. “Female twins,” she corrected herself. Apparently males didn’t work as binoculars.
“Bien sûr,”
said the salesman, moving to a display case of binoculars. “What type do you want?”
“Just the smallest, most powerful thing you have,” she said. Wait, how long did she want to stand there staring at Sylvain’s door? Even his door was going to look smug and gloating through binoculars. “And a camera.” That way, she could record the security panel without spending her entire day obsessed with Sylvain Marquis, and she would be able to rewind as often as necessary to get the exact code down. “With a good”—Now how in the world did she say
zoom
?
 
A half hour later, she stood at her apartment window, trying to find a way to angle the camera,
zoomer
it in to an exact reading of the security panel, and keep it from being too obvious from the outside.
Her phone rang. “So, how is it going?” her father asked.
“Ah . . . great.” Cade hid her spy camera behind her back as if he could see it over the telephone.
“Really? Have you found a good partner for this line of yours?”
“I’ve—talked to several possibilities,” Cade said. “I haven’t come to a final decision yet. I want this to be perfect, you know.”
“Ye-es. Now, don’t promise anyone the moon, sweetheart. You know we’ll have to give it a limited test-marketing first. We’ve been Everyman’s chocolate for so long. I don’t know how a foray into Parisian gourmet will be received.”
“Doesn’t Everyman deserve some gourmet options, too?” she said stubbornly.
“Maybe. I’m not saying it wouldn’t work. But I’m starting to wonder if we might need our cash reserves for other things.”
Cade’s heart sank. She pressed her forehead against the cold window, gazing dismally at the street where people resolutely refused to go tap in the code to Sylvain’s door so that she could film it.
She had spent years cultivating this chance, working up to the opportunity to develop this line. Paris seemed to stretch before her just out of reach, as if this window were of unbreakable glass. “You’re having second thoughts?”
Merde,
what did it even matter when she couldn’t talk a single chocolatier into even listening to her?
“The thing is, honey, I know we’ve talked about this before. If we really want to strengthen our foothold in Europe, the best way to do it is to buy someone out, like Valrhona or something. Not create a new line. And if we want to strengthen our sales in the premium chocolate lines in the US, we don’t need some Parisian’s name to do it. We just need some good marketing, maybe some fancy French words, but something people can recognize, like
Chocolat.
You know this.”
But neither of those solutions got her outside the Corey factory doors. Neither let her live and breathe Paris, with all its rain and cold and cobblestone streets, its poop on the sidewalks and its impossible elegance in the store windows, its tense, rich culture and the warm luxury of fresh bread scenting every street.
Neither let her stand in the heart of a
laboratoire,
making chocolate out of sounds and scents from every corner of the globe. Making it with her own hands. Better, watching Sylvain Marquis make it and tasting what he made.
“Dad, didn’t you agree to this?” She kept peering out the window, feeling like a hawk that was too hungry to blink—a bunny might get away.
“You’ve been wanting it for years, honey.”
So, what did that mean? If he didn’t think it was good business, what did it matter if she wanted it?
“Speaking of Everyman, tell me, is it normal you would be dropping $15,000 on clothes today? Your assistant said your credit card company called to check.”
What was her assistant doing, talking about her private expenditures to her father?
Fifteen thousand dollars? Maggie Saunders hadn’t been kidding about Christian Dior.
“Did she tell them to stop authorizing charges by any chance?”
“No, she said it was true you were in Paris.”
Darn.
“But I thought I would check. Since I thought you were busy working, not shopping.”
“I took a little break,” she lied. Better shopping than getting caught lying and bribing her way into a workshop any day. If her father knew how slim this chance for a gourmet line was, he would definitely pull the plug. “This is Paris, Dad. I have to shop while I’m here.”
“Huh. I guess you never know how that city is going to affect people,” he said judiciously.
Someone approached the rear door to the
laboratoire.
“Excuse me, Dad, got to go.” She clicked off her phone and grabbed her camera.
 
People didn’t enter that
laboratoire
nearly often enough in the afternoon, she decided a boring hour later. And managing to catch a code entry in the one second it took them to enter it, while shoulders and arms blocked her vision, was a lot harder than she had expected. Maybe she needed to put into practice that plan about not standing there obsessing over Sylvain’s smug door all day and leave the camera to do the work.
She stiffened. She recognized that person who had approached the glass panes of the shop and was now peering in. Gone was the purple pantsuit, but the feathered ensemble in burgundy stood out in its own way.
She kept the camera on its tripod fixed on the security panel, recording, in case someone with a code happened by, but she flew out of the apartment and down the stairs.
Five flights of stairs approximately two inches deep. In heels. She was pretty sure she was only alive at the bottom because God was on the side of Corey Chocolate in this battle.
“Just came to pick up my passport,” Maggie Saunders chirped. The belt around her waist was broad, leather, and had a buckle in the classic Dior D. Did it just
look
as if it was made out of platinum, or was it the actual metal?
“Fifteen thousand dollars?” Cade said. “You didn’t have a single qualm charging fifteen thousand dollars to my credit card to cover a day in a two-thousand-dollar workshop?”
Maggie shrugged and withdrew Cade’s credit card from her purse. “You got to be me for a day. I don’t see why I shouldn’t get to be you. You wouldn’t have had any qualms about buying whatever you wanted.”
“I’m not Paris Hilton.” Cade snatched her card back. She had met Paris, but the two of them had had nothing in common besides money. Which wasn’t as much a common denominator as people might think. “And fifteen thousand dollars is a lot for one chocolate workshop.”
“I think this watch might have cost more than that.” Maggie eyed a diamond-studded piece on her arm, its band of white leather. “The exchange rate is just not that good, you know. But I bought it later in the day. It might not have shown up on your charges yet.”
Cade stared at her. To think she hadn’t stopped that card because of moral qualms about reneging on a bargain. “And you think that’s a
fair
trade?”
Maggie shrugged again, looking supremely happy. “You have money. I had the forethought to enroll in the workshop when it first opened so I could get a space. You agreed to the trade, I’ll have you know.”
Cade ground her teeth. “I didn’t even get to stay in that workshop the full day. And I can’t even keep your place. You can go back tomorrow.” Tomorrow, the
laboratoire
would be in full swing again, and all the workshop participants would be able to watch it. But not her. Sylvain Marquis had cast her into exile.
“Really?” Maggie beamed. “You know what? I’ve been so down in the dumps since my husband left me, but I
knew
I was right to come to Paris! I
thought
God was telling me to come here. My pastor wasn’t sure, but I could just feel it. And He sent me you.”
Funny, every time someone thanked God for her it was because they had gotten great sums of money out of her. Usually, of course, the great sum of money was for a worthy charity. A little of her annoyance started to ease out of her, though, because—what if God
had
sent her there to help this one woman in her purple pantsuit find a new direction in life? What if her own desire to learn Parisian chocolate making had all been to set her on the road to help this woman?
Wouldn’t that be lousy?
“Plus, you’re almost as good as alimony!” Maggie Saunders said happily.
“Oh, for . . .” Cade spun around and headed back toward her building.
At least you’ve done a good deed, even if it cost you close to $20,000,
she told herself
. You’ve helped someone recover from a divorce.
“You’re welcome!” Maggie shouted after her.
Cade refrained from banging her head against something and just let the door slam behind her as she limped back up the stairs. Her knees hurt after that downward slalom to catch her credit card.
Sylvain Marquis had a lot to answer for. This really was all his fault.
 

Thirty
thousand dollars?” Cade said over the phone, keeping one eye on the
laboratoire
door across the street below as she talked. “You got thirty thousand dollars in charges to my card in one morning, and it didn’t occur to you to stop authorizing the charges?”
“But, Ms. Corey, we knew you were in Paris! Of course you would be spending money at Dior and Hermès.”
Of course.
Cade wondered if she was normal. Or if anybody in her family was. She did want to do the whole Faubourg Saint-Honoré thing eventually. She just hadn’t gotten around to it yet. “Have I
ever
spent thirty thousand dollars in one morning?”
That blond woman coming down the street—was that Sylvain’s date from the night before? Cade’s stomach knotted, with hope and reluctance. Would she have the code?
“No, but you’re in
Paris,
” the woman said, longing in her voice.
The same longing Cade had always felt. Paris, the universal symbol of a more romantic life.
“Do you want to refuse the charges?” the woman asked, as politely as if this wasn’t a headache for them at all.
Cade sighed. “I’ll accept them. Someone I know took my card.”
A neutral silence suggested that the friends of the rich were something indeed.
“But can you stop this card now and FedEx me a new one?”
“Of course,” the woman said, professionally neutral even in the face of ecstatic relief at not having $30,000 in charges refused by someone the company would hate to offend. “It will be there tomorrow morning.”
“Great.” Cade dropped the phone and whipped up her binoculars.
The blond Chantal had stopped in front of the
laboratoire
door. Cade steeled herself to not let her binoculars droop as the answer became obvious: Chantal did, indeed, have the code.
A perfect, beautiful, chic
Parisienne
had the open-sesame to the sorcerer’s lair.
Sylvain Marquis
had
been toying with Cade.
Or worse, was not even conscious of his effect.

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