Some crushes aren’t meant to be
When her older brother’s best friend left to join the Foreign Legion, eighteen-year-old Célie moved on to make a life for herself as a Paris chocolatier. Now, five years later, the last thing she needs is another man to mess up her happiness.
Let alone the same man.
But five years in the Foreign Legion is a long time for a man to grow up, and a long time to be away from the woman he loves.
Especially when he did it all for her.
Half strangers, more than friends, and maybe, if Joss Castel has his way, a second chance…
Paris, near République
Célie worked in heaven. Every day she ran up the stairs to it, into the light that reached down to her, shining through the great casement windows as she came into the laboratoire, gleaming in soft dark tones off the marble counters. She hung up her helmet and black leather jacket and pulled on her black chef’s jacket instead and ran her fingers through her hair to perk it back out into its current wild pixie cut. She washed her hands and stroked one palm all down the length of one long marble counter as she headed to check on her chocolates from the day before.
Oh, the beauties. There they were, the flat, perfect squares with their little prints, subtle but adamant, the way her boss liked them. Perfect. There were the ganaches and the pralinés setting up in their metal frames. Day three on the mint ganache. Time to slice it into squares with the guitare and send them to the enrober.
She called teasing hellos to everyone. “What, you here already, Amand? I didn’t expect you until noon.” Totally unfair to the hardworking caramellier, but he had slept in once, after a birthday bash, arriving to work so late and so horrified at himself that no one had ever let him forget it.
“Dom, when’s the wedding again?” Dominique Richard, their boss, was diligently trying to resist marrying his girlfriend until he had given her enough time to figure out what a bad bet he was, and the only way to handle that was tease him. Otherwise Célie’s heart might squeeze too much in this warm, fuzzy, mushy urge to give the man a big hug—and then a very hard shove into the arms of his happiness.
Guys who screwed over a woman’s chance at happiness because they were so convinced they weren’t good enough did not earn any points in her book.
“Can somebody work around here besides me?” Dom asked in complete exasperation, totally unmerited, just because the guy had no idea how to deal with all the teasing that came his way. It was why they couldn’t resist. He was so big, and he got all ruffled and grouchy and adorable.
“I want to have time to pick out my dress!” Célie protested, hauling down the guitare. “I know exactly what you two are going to do. You’ll put it off until all of a sudden you wander in some Monday with a stunned, scared look on your face, and we’ll find out you eloped over the weekend to some village in Papua New Guinea. And we’ll have missed the whole thing!”
Dom growled desperately, like a persecuted bear, and bent his head over his éclairs.
Célie grinned and started slicing her mint ganache into squares, the guitar wires cutting through it effortlessly. There you go. She tasted one. Soft, dissolving in her mouth, delicately infused with fresh mint. Mmm. Perfect. Time to get it all dressed up. Enrobing time.
She got to spend her days like this. In one of the top chocolate laboratoires in Paris. Okay, the top, but some people over in the Sixth like a certain Sylvain Marquis persisted in disputing that point. Whatever. He was such a classicist. Boring. And everyone knew that cinnamon did not marry well with dark chocolate, so that latest Cade Marquis bar of his was just ridiculous.
And she didn’t even want to think about Simon Casset with his stupid sculptures. So he could do fancy sculptures. Was that real chocolate? Did people eat that stuff? No. So. She did important chocolate. Chocolate that adventured. Chocolate people wanted to sink their teeth into. Chocolate that opened a whole world up in front of a person, right there in her mouth.
Chocolate that was so much beyond anything she had ever dreamed her life would be as a teenager. God, she loved her day. She stretched out her arms, nearly bopped their apprentice Zoe who was carrying a bowl of chocolate to the scale, grinned at her in apology, and carried her mint ganaches over to the enrober.
She’d been loving her day for a little over three hours and was getting kind of ready to take a little break from doing so and let her back muscles relax for fifteen minutes when Guillemette showed up at the top of the stairs. Célie cocked her eyebrows at the other woman hopefully. Time for a little not-smoke break, perhaps? Were things quiet enough downstairs? Célie didn’t smoke anymore, not since some stupid guy she once knew made her quit and she found out how many flavors there were out there when they weren’t being hidden by tobacco. But sometimes she’d give just about anything to be able to hold a cigarette between her fingers and blow smoke out with a sexy purse of her lips and truly believe that was all it took to make her cool.
Because the double ear piercings and the spiky pixie hair were a lot less expensive over the long-term, but they could be misinterpreted as bravado, whereas—
A teenager slouching against a wall and blowing smoke from her mouth was always clearly genuine coolness, no bravado about it, of course. Célie rolled her eyes at herself, and Guillemette, instead of gesturing for her to come join her for the not-smoke break, instead came up to her counter where she was working and stole a little chocolate. “There’s a guy here to see you,” Guillemette said a little doubtfully. “And we’re getting low on the Arabica.”
Célie glanced at the trolley full of trays where the Arabica chocolates had finished and were ready to be transferred to metal flats. “I’ll bring some down with me. Who’s the guy?” Maybe that guy she had met Saturday, Danny and Tiare’s friend? She tried to figure out if she felt any excitement about that, but adrenaline ran pretty high in her on a normal day in the laboratoire, so it was hard to tell.
“He didn’t say.”
And Guillemette hadn’t asked? Maybe there had been several customers at once or something.
“I’ll be down in a second,” Célie said, and Guillemette headed back while Célie loaded up a couple of the metal flats they used in the display cases with the Arabica, with its subtle texture, no prints on this one. Dark and exotic and touched with coffee.
She ran down the spiral metal stairs with her usual happy energy, and halfway down, the face of the big man waiting with his hands in his pockets by the pastry display counter came into view, and she—
The trays flew out of her hands as her foot caught on one of the metal steps, and she grabbed after them even as they sailed away. Her knuckles knocked against one tray, and chocolates shot off it, raining down everywhere just as she started to realize she was falling, too.
Oh, fuck, that instant flashing realization of how much this was going to hurt and how much too late it was to save herself, even as she tried to grab the banister, and—
Hard hands caught her, and she oofed into them and right up against a big body, caught like a rugby ball, except it was raining chocolates during this game, and—
She gasped for breath, post impact, and pulled herself upright, staring up at the person who still held her in steadying hands.
Wary, hard, intense hazel green eyes stared back down at her. He looked caught, instead of her, his lips parted, as if maybe he had meant to say something. But, looking down at her, he didn’t say anything at all.
Strong eyebrows, strong stubborn forehead and cheekbones and chin—every single damn bone in his body stubborn—and skin so much more tanned and weathered than when she had last seen it. Brown hair cropped military-close to his head and sanded by sun.
Célie wrenched back out of his hands, her own flying to her face as she burst into tears.
Just—burst. Right there in public, with all her colleagues and their customers around her. She backed up a step and then another, tears flooding down her cheeks, chocolate crushing under her feet.
“Célie,” he said, and even his voice sounded rougher and tougher. And wary.
She turned and ran back up the staircase, dashing at her eyes to try to see the steps through the tears, and burst back up through the glass doors into the laboratoire. Dom looked up immediately, and then straightened. “Célie? What’s wrong?”
Big, bad Dom, yeah, right, with the heart of gold. He came forward while she shook her head, having nothing she could tell him, scrubbing at her eyes in vain.
The glass door behind her opened. “Célie,” that rough, half-familiar voice said. “I—”
She darted toward the other end of the laboratoire and her ganache cooling room.
“Get the fuck out of my kitchen,” Dom said behind her, flat, and she paused, half turning.
Dom Richard, big and dark, stood blocking the other man in the glass doorway. Joss locked eyes with him, these two big dangerous men, one who wanted in and one who wasn’t about to let him. Célie bit a finger, on sudden fear, and started back toward them.
Joss Castel looked past Dom to her. Their eyes held.
“Célie, go in the other room,” Dom said without turning around. And to Joss: “You. Get out.”
Joss thrust his hands in his pockets. Out of combat. Sheathing his weapons. He nodded once, a jerk of his head at Célie, and turned and made his way down the stairs.
Dom followed. Célie went to the casement window above the store’s entrance and watched as Joss left the store, crossed the street, and turned to look up at the window. She started crying again, just at that look, and when she lifted her hand to swipe her eyes, he must have caught the movement through the reflection off the glass, because his gaze focused on her.
“What was that all about?” Dom asked behind her. She turned, but she couldn’t quite get herself to leave the window. She couldn’t quite get herself to walk out of sight. “Célie, who is that guy and what did he do?”
She shook her head.
She slashed a hand through the air, wishing she could shut things down like a man could, make her hand say, This subject is closed. When Dom slashed a subject closed with one move of his hand like that, no one messed with him. Well, except for her, of course. “Just someone I knew before. Years ago. Before I worked here.”
“When you lived in Tarterets?” Their old, bad banlieue. “And he was bad? Did he hit you? Was he dealing? What was it?”
She gazed at Dom uneasily. For all that he was so big and bad and dark, always seeming to have that threat of violence in him, it was the first time she had ever seen him about to commit violence.
“No,” she said quickly. “No. He didn’t.”
“No, he really didn’t, damn it, Dom! Merde. Do you think I would let him?”
“You couldn’t have been over eighteen.”
“Yeah, well—he didn’t.”
Dom’s teeth showed, like a man who didn’t believe her and was about to reach out and rip the truth out of her. “Then what—”
“He left me! That’s all. He fucking left me there, so that he could go make himself into a better person. Yeah. So fuck you, Dom. Go marry your girlfriend instead of playing around with this I-need-to-be-good-enough shit and leave me alone!”
And she sank down on her butt, right there in the cooling room, between the trolleys full of chocolate and the marble island, in the slanting light from the casement window, and cried.
Just cried and cried and cried.
It sure as hell put a damper on chocolate production for a while, but for as long as she needed it, people did leave her alone.
The tension crackles between them, sending sparks far and wide, as Célie and Joss spar their way to eventual understanding with wit, humor, and a welcome helping of chocolates so beautifully described that you can taste them melting on your tongue….Delicious and romantic.
This extremely moving and romantic novel sets the pace for a new series that is guaranteed to become a contemporary romance fan favorite. This tale will prompt readers to giggle, tear up, and crave chocolate. Florand’s writing is smooth and decadent.... Score! This most-perfect beach read will melt your heart.
— RT Book Reviews Top Pick!
Florand captures the essence of Paris and the tactile sensation of the finest chocolate delights in this captivating romance….Full of passion and emotion.
– Publishers Weekly
The emotional payoff gave me warm fuzzies for days. I seriously wish I could just live in a Florand novel. If you’re a fan of her writing, I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Reading this book was nothing short of epic happiness….It’s hot and funny and swoony…. a 5++++ giddy major WIN for me.
If you love romance, Alpha heroes with a growly exterior and shy side then we have a swoony, smexy treat for you! Laura Florand's new La Vie en Rose series is off to a 5 STAR start with ONCE UPON A ROSE and we can't wait to see what's next for this series!
I loved this romance…a fascinating narrative about perfection, objectification, aspiration, fantasy and reality.
I love these books. I could read them all day. The combination of the chocolate, the romance and the angst, it hits all my buttons….a total win for me.
So much angst and so much sexy in one succinct chocolate-filled soupçon of a delightful novel.