Breathtakingly beautiful, the City of Light seduces the senses, its cobbled streets thrumming with possibility. For American Cade Corey, it’s a dream come true, if only she can get one infuriating French chocolatier to sign on the dotted line …
Melting, yielding yet firm, exotic, its secrets are intimately known to Sylvain Marquis. But turn them over to a brash American waving a fistful of dollars? Jamais. Not unless there is something much more delectable on the table …
Whether confections taken from a locked shop or kisses in the dark, is there anything sweeter?
Sylvain Marquis knew what women desired—chocolate. And so he had learned as he grew into adulthood how to master a woman’s desire.
Outside, November had turned the Paris streets cold and gray. But in his laboratoire, he brought his chocolate to the temperature he wanted it. Smooth and luxurious, he spread it out across his marble counter. With a deft flick of his hand, he stroked it up and spread it out again, glowing and dark.
In the shop, an elegant blonde whose every movement spoke of wealth and privilege was buying a box of his chocolates, unable to resist biting into one before she left the shop. He could see her through the glass window that allowed visitors a glimpse of the way artisan chocolate was made. He saw her perfect teeth sink into the thumbnail size chocolate and knew exactly the way the shell yielded with a delicate resistance, the way the ganache inside melted on her tongue, the pleasure that ran through her body.
He smiled a little, bending his head to focus on his chocolate again. He did not see the next woman as she entered his shop.
But as it turned out, she wasn’t about to let him miss her.
* * * *
The scent of chocolate snuck out onto the rainy street. Boot heels broke their rapid rhythm as passersby, bundled in long black coats, glanced toward the source and hesitated. Some stopped. Some went on. Cade’s momentum carried her inside.
Theobromine wrapped around her like a warm blanket against the chill. Cacao flooded her senses.
She hugged herself. The odor brought her home, belying her own eyes, which told her she couldn’t be farther from the steel vats of the factory, the streams of chocolate ejecting without break in tempo from spouts into molds, and the billions of perfectly identical bars and bold-printed wrappings which had formed her life.
Something, some tension she carried with her, unknit in her shoulder muscles, and the shiver from its release rippled all the way through her body.
Someone had molded chocolate into giant cacao bean halves which graced the display windows and added drama to the corners of the shop. She could imagine the hand that shaped it—a man’s hand, strong, square, long-fingered, capable of the most delicate precision. She had a photo of that hand as her laptop wallpaper.
On the surface of each bean, he had painted a scene from a different country that produced cacao. And on the surface of the horizontal “beans”, he had placed thumbnail-size chocolates, exactly where he wanted them.
She looked around. Tucked in corners here and there, black brands on shipping crates spoke of distant lands. Real cacao beans spilled from the crates, reminding customers that chocolate was an exotic thing, brought from another world. Cade had seen those lands. The black brands brought their scents and sights back to her mind, the people she had met there, the sounds of machetes on cacao trees, the scent of fermenting cacao husks.
He had scattered cocoa nibs here and there, as a master chef might decorate a plate with a few drops of sauce. He had spilled vanilla beans and cinnamon bark on multiple surfaces, wantonly, a débauche of raw luxury.
Every single element of this decor emphasized the raw, beautiful nature of chocolate and thus the triumph of its ultimate refinement: the minuscule squares, the chocolats worth one hundred fifty dollars a pound, from the hand of Sylvain Marquis.
Sylvain Marquis. Some said he was the top chocolatier in Paris. He did, too, she thought. She knew he had that confidence. She knew it from that picture of his hand she carried on her laptop.
His boxes were the color of raw wood and tied with shipping string. The name stamped on them—SYLVAIN MARQUIS—dominated them, the color of dark chocolate, the font a bare, bold statement.
Cade breathed in, seeking courage from the scents and sights. Heady excitement gripped her, but also, in strange counterpoint, fear, as if she was about to walk naked onto a stage in front of a hundred people. She shouldn’t feel this way. Chocolate was her business, her heritage. Her dad often joked her veins ran with the stuff. A significant portion of the global economy actually did run off the chocolate her family produced. She could offer Sylvain Marquis incredible opportunity.
And yet she felt so scared to try she could barely swallow.
She kept seeing her family’s most famous bar, milk chocolate wrapped in foil and paper and stamped with her name—33 cents on sale at Wal-Mart. Those 33-cent bars had put more money in her family’s bank accounts than most people could imagine. Certainly more than he could imagine. And yet her soul shriveled at the thought of taking the one in her purse out and displaying it in these surroundings.
“Bonjour,” she said to the nearest clerk, and excitement rushed to her head again, driving out everything else it contained. She’d done it. She’d spoken her first word of French to an actual Parisian, in pursuit of her goal. She had studied Spanish and French off and on for most of her life, so that she could easily communicate when she visited their cacao plantations. For the past year, she had also paid native French speakers to tutor her toward her purpose, an hour a day and homework every night, focusing on the words she had come here today to use—samples, marketing, product lines. And chocolat.
And now, finally, here she was. Speaking. About to put la cerise sur le gâteau of the whole new line she was planning for the company. The cherry on the cake…maybe they could do something with La Cerise as one of the new line’s products…
“Je m’appelle Cade Corey. I’ll take five samples of everything here, one of each kind per box, please.” Only one of those boxes was for her. The others were to send back to Corey Chocolate headquarters in Corey, Maryland. “And while you are boxing that up, I have a meeting with Sylvain Marquis.”
Her French sounded so beautiful, she couldn’t restrain a tiny smile of pride. It just came tripping off her tongue, with only the merest stutter getting started. All that work had paid off.
“Yes, Madame,” the crisply attired young man answered in English, as coolly and precisely as a pin.
She blinked, her balloon of happiness shriveling, humiliated by one word in her own language.
“M. Marquis is with the chocolates, Madame,” he said, still in English, setting her back teeth. Her French was much better than his English, thank you. Or merci.
A young woman began to fill boxes with Cade’s chocolates while the snobbish young man guided her through a door in the back of the shop.
She stepped into a magical world and almost managed to forget that slap of English in her face as her happiness balloon swelled right up again. In one corner, a lean man in glasses with the fine face of a poet or a nerd, poured generous ladles of white chocolate over molds. In another, a woman with her hair covered by a transparent plastic brimmed cap, used a paintbrush to touch up chocolate owls. Two more women were filling boxes with small chocolates. More women still were laying finely decorated sheets of plastic over chocolates grouped by the dozen and tamping down on each chocolate gently, transferring the decoration.
At the central table of rose-colored marble, a man took a large whisk to something in a bain marie that looked as if it must by itself weigh forty pounds, a faint white powder rising in the air around him. Across from him, another lean man, this one with a tiny dark beard on his chin, squeezed chocolate from a pastry bag into a mold from which lollipop handles protruded. His wedding ring glinted in a ray of light from the windows.
They were all lean, in fact. Surprisingly so, for people who worked all day with chocolate only a bite away. Only one man, tall and burly, stood out for his paunch, and he seemed entirely cheerful with his weight. Everyone wore white, and everyone had a paper cap, styles differing according to role. It was a world with a hierarchy, clearly defined for all to see.
Over the sinks hung brushes, spatulas, whisks. On the marble counter stood a large electric scale and an enormous mixer. On a counter to one side were all sizes of containers and bowls. Filled with raisins, candied oranges, sugar, they surrounded those working at the great marble island.
Everyone glanced up at her entry, but most focused on their work again. Only one man, expertly stroking chocolate over marble, spared her a lingering gaze that held greater authority and perhaps more dismissal.
Tall and lean, he had black hair that fell in slightly wavy locks to his chin. He had tucked it carelessly behind his ear on one side, clearly exposing his strong, even features. A white paper toque minimized the risk of any of the rest of it falling into some client’s chocolate. Chocolate smeared the front of the white chef’s jacket he wore.
He was beautiful.
She swallowed, her mouth feeling dry. All the scents, the activity, the realization that the best chocolatier in Paris was, in person, even more attractive than in his photos, it all swirled around in her and surging up in ever-heightened excitement. She was here. In her dream. This was going to be so much fun.
And Sylvain Marquis was hot.
Maybe she was over-excited. He wasn’t that great, was he? Okay, he had looked sexy in his photos, and that shot of his hand had filled her dreams for nights on end, but she had tried to take all that with a grain of salt.
But here, in person, she had a sense from him of energy and control, passion and discipline. It fed into her excitement, provoking an exaggerated sensitivity on her part. She felt like a can of Coke being jostled, building up a fizz that was pressing against its limits.
“Bonjour, monsieur,” she said, as her French tutors had taught her to do, and confidently walked forward to thrust out her hand.
He proffered an elbow in return, which threw her off. She stared at it, then stared up at him.
He raised his eyebrows just enough that she felt abruptly slow on the uptake. “Hygiène,” he said. “Je travaille le chocolat. Comment puis-je vous aider, Mademoiselle Co-ree?”
She translated all that in her head, growing more and more excited as she realized that she could, that this language thing was working. Hygiene. I am working the chocolate. How can I you help, Mademoiselle Corey? He sounded so elegant she wanted to hug his voice up to her in delight. Instead, she found herself awkwardly brushing his elbow,flushing despite herself. How the heck did you shake an elbow?
It dropped away from her. He touched the back of his pinky finger to the chocolate he was tempering on the marble, concentrated. And not at all concentrated on her.
That didn’t make sense. He knew who she was. This wasn’t a surprise visit. He had to realize she could up his income by millions. How could he not concentrate on her?
Yet he seemed to consider her less important than a batch of chocolate. She braced against the presentiment that someone might try to put her fizzed-up Coke self in the freezer.
“Do you have somewhere we could talk in private?” she asked him.
He twitched his eyebrows. “This is important,” he told her. Meaning the chocolate and not her.
Did he think she was just here as a professional tourist? “I’m interested in finding someone to design a new line of chocolate products for us,” she said calmly. Now who’s important, Sylvain Marquis? She had practiced that line at least fifty times with her French tutor, and actually saying it out loud in this place and for the reason she had practiced it made her feel giddy with success. “We’re interested in going into premium chocolates and are thinking of something very elegant, very Parisian, maybe with your name on it.”
There, that had got his attention, she thought smugly, as he stared at her, long, thin spatula freezing on the chocolate. She could just see the euro signs flashing in his head. Had he just added a few 0s onto the end of his account balance?
“Pardon,” he said very slowly and carefully. “You want to put my name on one of your products?”
She nodded, pleased at finally making an impact. Excitement resurged like Old Faithful inside her. This would be her gift to her family, this gourmet line. She would be in charge of it, and it would involve all the luxuriating in high-end chocolate making and Paris she could possibly want. “Maybe. That’s what I want to discuss with you.”
His mouth opened and closed. She grinned at him triumphantly. What would his hand feel like when they shook on the deal?
Warm maybe. Strong. Sure. Full of the energy and power to turn something raw into something sensual and extraordinary.
There she went with the fizzing again. She glanced around at the small laboratoire, a miracle of intimacy and creation, so different from the chocolate factories in which she had grown up.
“Vous”—Sylvain Marquis broke off, shutting his mouth firmly again. Something was percolating up into his eyes, breaking through that cool control.
“You want to put my name on your products?” he repeated, trying hard to keep control of his voice, his expression, but his eyes practically incandescent. “My name?” He flung out a hand to where box after enticing box stamped with that name were being filled, closed, and tied a couple of counters away. “Sylvain Marquis?”
“On Corey Bars?”
Thirty-three cents at Wal-Mart. She flushed down to her toes and thrust her hand into her purse to close it around a rectangle in gaudy gold and brown wrapping, using it as her talisman-strength and hiding its shame all at the same time. “It would be a different line. A gourmet line—”
“Mademoiselle,” his mouth hardened, freezing her fizzing Coke bottle so fast she could feel an explosion building up. “You are wasting my time. And I am wasting yours. I will never agree to work with Corey Bars.”
“But just list—”
“Au revoir.” He didn’t move. He didn’t stalk off. He stood over his half-tempered chocolate and pinned her with eyes the color of cocoa nibs andmade her, just by the look, the words, his mastery of his own domain, made her turn around and walk out.
She was trembling with embarrassment and rage by the time she got five steps back toward the door into the shop and realized she had let him. She had let him keep control of his world and drive her out of it. She wasn’t the kind of person who got dominated. She should have stood there and stood up for what she wanted.
She tried to get herself to turn around and brave that humiliation again, but the door was only three steps away. She closed her hand hard around the Corey Bar in her purse and tried to make those three steps scornful. But you couldn’t be scornful in retreat. Nobody was fooled by a scornful back.
To hell with you, Sylvain Marquis. There are other chocolatiers in Paris and probably better than you, you’re just the fad of the moment. You’ll regret it.
She let the door between the workshop and the shop slam behind her, garnering multiple disapproving looks from clients and employees alike, all of whom expressed their opinion of barbaric Americans by a subtle downturn of their lips.
America could buy and sell them any day of the week.
Damn it. If only they would put a price sticker on themselves and take the money.
She strode toward the glass door onto the street.
“Madame,” said a young woman near it, a large sack the color of raw wood sitting beside her cash register, stamped with SYLVAIN MARQUIS. Her expression—neutrality buoyed up by an underlying conviction of superiority—made Cade want to smack her. “Your chocolates.”
Cade hesitated. Her credit card might as well have been barbed wire, it galled her so much to pull it out and hand it to the clerk.
Glancing back, she saw Sylvain Marquis watching her through the glass window, one corner of those supple, thin lips of his twisting in amusement, annoyance, dismissal.
She pressed her teeth together so hard she was surprised they didn’t break. He returned to his work, forgetting her.
Her rage went to incandescent.
She signed off on a credit card payment into his bank account of nearly a thousand dollars for five measly boxes of chocolate and strode out into the street.
She desperately wished to sweep into a limousine dramatically or at least stride off into a Parisian sunset. Instead she walked ten paces across the street, through a dark green door, and into an elevator so tiny she finally understood the real reason French women didn’t get fat. Claustrophobia.
Her bag of chocolate squashed against her legs. The elevator creaked to a halt six floors up. She let herself into an apartment less than half the size of her bedroom back home, threw her bag of chocolate on the bed, and glared down at Sylvain Marquis’s shop below. She had been so excited to find this little apartment for rent right above his chocolaterie. It had seemed so much more real, so much more what she wanted to do, than a luxury hotel off the Champs-Elysées. It might come with some sacrifices, like the fact that she was going to have to figure out how to use a laundromat, but that had seemed a reasonable price to pay.
Until now. Now here she was, stuck just above the chocolaterie of a real jerk.
She could still go to a hotel, she supposed. But then, what was the point of her being here, if she just went to a hotel like she did on all her business trips?
She snuck a glance at the bag of chocolate on the bed. No, she told herself firmly.
She went back to scowling down at the Sylvain Marquis sign below.
The scent of chocolate reached her from the boxes. Her home town smelled of chocolate all the time. Not this kind of chocolate, though. Not this exquisite quality, the work of one person’s imagination and hands.
Maybe she would try just one. To prove how overrated he was.
As flavor pure as sin burst on her mouth, and her whole body melted in response, she pressed her forehead helplessly against her window, trying to keep her mouth in a scowl. Which was hard to do around melting chocolate.
He was so delicious.
How unfortunate that he was such a jerk.
Desert Island Keeper!
A delectable summer bonbon.
It’s like when you find that amazing piece of chocolate — you take a bite, and it sits on your tongue and melts into a pool of liquid heaven.!
— RT Book Reviews
A lovely confection of a contemporary romance...well-written, it features an absolutely delectable hero and an admirable, adorable heroine (even when she is committing theft). My one warning to readers: do not, under any circumstances, read this book when you’re hungry.
Readers will devour this frothy, fun novel.
I adored this story...Paris, chocolate, and romance, all in one hilarious package.
Best Secret Gem of the Month.
A beautiful story of love, romance, fear, and passion.
A delicious, charming and romantic story...The attention to detail was impeccable. I was in Paris, in the chocolatier, during my time with this book...Gorgeous and engaging.
A nice sweet trip.
— Recommended on Good Morning Texas, Buy the Book.
Laura Florand gives the reader a delicious romp through Paris through the eyes of an American heiress on a mission...a delightful read filled with emotional angst, hot sex and scrumptious chocolate that will please any reader.
— Single Titles, 5 stars
My hunger for more, more, more, kept my interest piqued and washed over me with a beautiful sensual combination of descriptions of Sylvain and Cady’s growing, burgeoning relationship and the beauty and art of all things chocolate.