THE CHOCOLATE TOUCH

chocolate_touch_web

La vie en Chocolat

 Dominique Richard’s reputation says it all—wild past, wilder flavors, black leather and smoldering heat. Jaime Corey is hardly the first woman to be drawn to all that dark, delicious danger. Sitting in Dom’s opulent chocolaterie in Paris day after day, she lets his decadent creations restore her weary body and spirit, understanding that the man himself is entirely beyond her grasp.

Until he touches her

Chocolate, Dominique understands—from the biting tang of lime-caramel to the most complex infusions of jasmine, lemon-thyme, and cayenne. But this shy, freckled American who sits alone in his salon, quietly sampling his exquisite confections as if she can’t get enough of them—enough of him—is something else. She has secrets too, he can tell. Of course if she really knew him, she would run.

Yet once you have spotted your heart’s true craving, simply looking is no longer enough…

Excerpt - Chapter 1

“She’s back.”

Dom straightened from the enormous block of chocolate he was creating, gave his maîtresse de salle, Guillemette, a disgruntled look for having realized he would want to know that, and slipped around to the spot in the glass walls where he could get the best view of the salle below. He curled his fingers into his palms so he wouldn’t press his chocolaty hands to the glass and leave a stain like a kid outside a candy shop.

She sat alone as she always did, at one of the small tables. For a week now, she had come twice a day. Once in the morning, once in the afternoon. She was probably a tourist, soaking up as much French artisanal chocolate as she could in her short stay in Paris, as they liked to do. But even he admitted it was strange that her soaking up should be only of him. Most wandered: him in the morning, Philippe Lyonnais in the afternoon, Sylvain Marquis the next day. Tourists read guidebooks and visited the top ten; they didn’t have the informed taste to know that Sylvain Marquis was boring and Dominique Richard was the only man a woman’s tongue could get truly excited about.

This woman—looked hard to excite. She seemed so pulled in on herself, so utterly quiet and contained. She had a wide, soft poet’s mouth and long-lashed eyes whose color he couldn’t tell from that far away. Hair that was always hidden by a hood, or occasionally a fashionable hat and a loosely tied scarf, like Audrey Hepburn. High cheekbones that needed more flesh on them. A dust-powder of freckles covered her face, so many they blurred together.

The first day, she had looked all skin and bones. Like a model, but she was too small and too freckled, so maybe just another city anorexic. When she had ordered a cup of chocolat chaud and a chocolate éclair, he had expected to see her dashing to the toilettes soon after, to throw it up before the binge of calories could infect her, and it had pissed him off, because he loathed having his chocolate treated that way.

But she had just sat there, her eyes half closed, her hands curling around the hot cup of chocolate caressingly. She had sat there a long time, working her way through both éclair and chocolat chaud bit by little bit. And never once had she pulled out a journal or a phone or done anything except sit quite still, absorbing.

When she had left, he had been surprised to feel part of himself walk out with her. From the long casement windows, he had watched her disappear down the street, walking carefully, as if the sidewalk might rise up and bite her if she didn’t.

That afternoon, she was back, her hands curling once again around a cup of his chocolat chaud, and this time she tried a slice of his most famousgâteau. Taking slow, tiny mouthfuls, absorbing everything around her.

Absorbing him. Everything in this place was him. The rough, revealed stone of the archways and three of the walls. The heavy red velvet curtains that satisfied a hunger in him with their rich, passionate opulence. The rosebud-embossed white wall that formed a backdrop to her, although no one could understand what part of him it came from. The gleaming, severe, cutting-edge displays. The flats of minuscule square chocolates, dark and rich and printed with whimsical elusive designs, displayed in frames of metal; the select collection of pastries, his gâteaux au chocolat, his éclairs, his tartes; clear columns of his caramels. Even the people around her at other tables were his. While they were in his shop, he owned them, although they thought they were buying him.

The third afternoon, when the waiter came upstairs with her order, Dom shook his head suddenly. “Give her this.” He handed Thierry the lemon-thyme-chocolate éclair he had been inventing that morning.

He watched the waiter murmur to her when he brought it, watched her head lift as she looked around. But she didn’t know to look up for him and maybe didn’t know what he looked like, even if she did catch sight of him.

When she left, Thierry, the waiter, brought him the receipt she had left on the table. On the back she had written, Merci beaucoup, and signed it with a scrawled initial. L? J? S? It could be anything.

A sudden dread seized him that Merci meant Adieu and he wouldn’t see her again, her flight was leaving, she was packing her bags full of souvenirs. She had even left with a box of his chocolates. For the plane ride. It left a hole in him all night, the thought of how his salon would be without her.

But the next morning, she was back, sitting quietly, as if being there brought repose to her very soul.

He felt hard-edged just looking at her restfulness, the bones showing in her wrists. He felt if he got too close to her, he would bump into her and break her. What the hell business did he have to stand up there and look at her? She needed to be in Sylvain’s place, somewhere glossy and sweet, not in his, where his chocolate was so dark you felt the edge of it on your tongue.

She needed, almost certainly, a prince, not someone who had spent the first six years of his working life, from twelve to eighteen, in a ghastly abattoir, hacking great bloody hunks of meat off bones with hands that had grown massive and ugly from the work, his soul that had grown ugly from it, too. He had mastered the dark space in his life, but he most surely did not need to let her anywhere near it. He did not like to think what might happen if he ever let it slip its leash.

“She certainly has a thing for you, doesn’t she?” his short, spiky-haired chocolatier Célie said, squeezing her boss into the corner so she could get a better look. Dom sent a dark glance down at the tufted brown head. He didn’t know why his team persisted in treating him like their big brother or perhaps even their indulgent father, when he was only a few years older than they were and would be lousy at both roles. No other top chef in the whole city had a team that treated him that way. Maybe he had a knack for hiring idiots.

Maybe he needed to train them to be in abject terror of him or at least respect him, instead of just training them how to do a damn good job. He only liked his equals to be terrified of him, though. The thought of someone vulnerable to him being terrified made him sick to his stomach.

“She must be in a hotel nearby,” he said. That was all. Right?

“Well, she’s not eating much else in Paris, not as thin as she is.” Célie wasn’t fat by any means, but she was slightly more rounded than the Parisian ideal, and judgmental of women who starved themselves for fashion. “She’s stuck on you.”

Dom struggled manfully to subdue a flush. He couldn’t say why, but he liked, quite extraordinarily, the idea of Freckled Would-be Audrey Hepburn being stuck on him.

“You haven’t seen her run throw anything up?” Célie checked doubtfully.

No, she doesn’t—non. She likes having me inside her.”

Célie made an odd gurgling sound and looked up at him with her eyes alight, and Dom replayed what he had just said. “Will you get out of my space? Don’t you have work to do?”

“Probably about as much as you.” Célie grinned smugly, not budging.

Hardly. Nobody worked as hard as the owner. What the hell did Sylvain Marquis and Philippe Lyonnais do with employees who persisted in walking all over them? How did this happen to him? He was the biggest, ugliest customer in the whole world of Parisian chocolate, and yet in his ownlaboratoire—this was what he had to put up with.

Célie waggled her eyebrows at him. “So what’s wrong with you? Are you sick? Why haven’t you gone up with your—” She braced her shoulders and swung them back and forth, apparently trying to look macho and aggressive. She looked ridiculous. “We could cover for you for a couple of hours.”

She tried to treat it like a joke, the way Dom could walk up to a woman, his aggression coming off him in hard edges all over the place, and have that woman get up and disappear with him for a couple of hours. But a profound disapproval lurked in her brown eyes.

Dom set his jaw. His sex life was really nobody’s business, even if it was infamous, and, well—“No. Go start on the pralinés before I make you come in at three a.m. tomorrow to do them.

For a wonder, Célie actually started to move. She got three steps away before she turned back. “You haven’t had sex with her already, have you? Finally broken someone’s heart, and now she’s lurking here like a ghost, snatching at your crumbs?”

Dominique stared at her. “Broken her—ghost—crumbs—what the hell do you guys make up about me when I’m not in earshot?” He never had sex with women who had hearts. Not ones that beat for him, anyway.

“Nothing. We contemplate possible outcomes of your actions, chef, but I think we’re pretty realistic about it.” Célie gave him her puckish grin and strolled a couple more paces away. Naturally, his breath of relief was premature, and she turned back for one last shot. “Now if we were creative, we might have come up with this scenario.” She waved a hand at Dom, wedged in a corner between glass and stone, gazing down into his sallebelow.

Whatever the hell that meant.

He blocked Célie’s face from the edge of his vision with a shift of one muscled shoulder and focused back on the freckled inconnue’s table.

Putain, she had left.

* * * *

Cancer, he thought that night, with a chill of fear. Maybe that explained the hats or hoods or scarves that always hid her hair. Maybe that explained the thinness, and the way she seemed able to just sit still forever, soaking up his life.

He started preparing her plates himself, arranging whatever she had ordered to his satisfaction and then adding in little surprise presents: a miniature tower of three of his square bonbons, for example, fresh from the ganache room where trays of them were scattered on wire shelves, waiting to replenish the displays below.

He went to his secret spot, in the corner of the glass walls above the salle, to see her reaction. She didn’t smile. But she bit into them slowly, taking her time, eating the tiny morsels in two, sometimes even three bites, as if she wanted to savor every aspect of his flavor. The texture of him on her tongue.

And when she was done with him—with them, with the chocolates—she always left. Rising. Brushing crumbs off her lap if she had had one of his famous chocolate mille-feuilles. Laying down cash, never once paying with a card so he could know her name.

Was it just his imagination, or was her boniness softening, from the week of absorbing him?

The sixth day, he broke cover, moving suddenly out of his observation post when he saw her rise. His feet sounded too loud, too violent on the polished metal spiral that descended into the room. He was only halfway down by the time she reached the door. She didn’t look back toward the sound. She stood as the glass doors slid open for her, and her shoulders shifted in a sigh. And then she was gone, out on the street.

Guillemette and both waiters were eyeing him, eyebrows raised. He turned abruptly on his heel and went back up into his laboratoire.

The seventh day, he almost wanted to open the shop, even though they never opened on Monday, because—what would she do? Where would she go without him?

He resisted his own foolishness and then spent the entire day off roaming restlessly around Paris, sometimes on his motorcycle, sometimes on foot, visiting all the tourist spots, which was ridiculous. Sure, a man should take the time to appreciate his city and not leave it all to tourists, but the odds of spotting someone in the Louvre when you didn’t even know if she was there were . . . pretty nearly none. Standing looking up at La Victoire de Samothrace, as she soared above the crowds in the Richelieu wing of the Louvre inspired him, though, made flavors and textures shift and flow in his mind, tease his palate, as he tried to think of a chocolate that he could call Victoire.

He liked La Victoire de Samothrace. The flowing, exultant winged marble would have represented the essence of his soul, if only he could purify it of all its darkness and make it that beautiful.

After the Louvre, he even went up the Eiffel Tower, which he hadn’t done since a school trip at age ten. He climbed the first two floors on foot, up and up, taking pleasure in the eventual protest of his thighs, and looked down from it at the whole of Paris. His city. He may once have been this city’s outcast, but he had made Paris his.

He liked the Eiffel Tower. All those years it had been shining over his city, and he had never until now realized that. He liked the impossible, fantastical strength of it, the way the metal seemed so massive up close. He liked the fact that it had risen above all the complaints and criticism that surrounded its birth and stamped its power not only over the city but the world. He pulled out the little moleskin journal he always carried with him and stood for a long time sketching the curves and angles of the bolts and metal plates, thinking of designs for the surface of his chocolates.

From the railing, he eyed the tiny figures milling around the Champ de Mars wistfully. He didn’t know why he was looking for her. She was too thin and too fragile for him, although something about her conversely exuded strength. He didn’t even know what color her hair was, and—her features were quite lovely, with the blue eyes and over-full, wide mouth, too full for her thin face; the thick pale dust of freckles entirely charmed him. But . . . there were any number of women with lovely features in his chocolaterie at any one time. There was no reason for her to stand out at all, except the way she sat there, too thin, so quiet, hidden in hoods and draping spring sweaters, pulling all the essence of him into her body as if it was the only thing she wanted to do with her life.

The eighth morning, she didn’t come.

His heart congealed. Everything lost its flavor. He looked at his elegant, luscious displays and wanted to throw them all out for their worthless, desperate pretense that he was something other than a twelve-year-old sent by his own father to hack meat off bones for a living. The desperate pretense that the truth of life was not there, in that bloody, stinking, cold place while his father at home kept warm with alcohol.

Something moody and bitter rose up in him, the thing that leaked into his chocolates, made them “dark and cruel,” as one critic in Le Figaro had called them, apparently in approval, because Parisians eager to prove their sado-masochistic relationship to chocolate had rushed to his salon the next day.

When she continued not to come, he couldn’t stand himself anymore and flung himself on his motorcycle and cut through the streets, dodging traffic with a lethal disregard for life and limb, over to the Île Saint-Louis. Pretending he needed to see Philippe to talk to him about the Chocolatiers’ Expo in a couple of weeks.

This type of event forced him and the other top chocolatiers and pâtissiers to cooperate, not their favorite thing to do. Dom was well aware that he cooperated worse than any of them. He couldn’t stand his rivals. Being around them made him want to start a fight, and pummel and batter his way to the top of the heap of them and grin in bloody, bruised victory. Yes. I can beat anyone.

He did like Philippe’s little fiancée, Magalie, though. Quite a lot. He liked her smallness and those boots of hers and that impervious center to her, as if she couldn’t be touched, and he liked the idea of cutting Philippe out, just hard-edged muscling between them. Mostly he liked the rush of violence in the air whenever he thought about it, liked the fact that it was real and dangerous, that Philippe would genuinely try to kill him, and they could fight with fists and bodies and not just with pastries and chocolate.

He didn’t because . . . well, it sure as hell wasn’t because he liked or respected Philippe. Bordel. It made him gun his motor and cut far too close in front of a car just thinking about that as a possible motivation.

He didn’t because . . . putain. He didn’t because he put a wall of embossed rosebuds in his salle. He didn’t because, no matter how the temptation might whisper at him sometimes, he could choose not to be a man who went around destroying other people’s happiness. He could choose to be a man who created happiness, even “dark and cruel” happiness, instead.        Still, it was perhaps just as well in his mood that it wasn’t Magalie he found hanging out with Philippe but Sylvain Marquis’s fiancée, Cade Corey. Who looked at a man as if fighting was such a boring and juvenile thing to do that it kind of took all the fun out of it. She was talking with Philippe when Dom walked into the Lyonnais laboratoire, still in his motorcycle leathers. Philippe was doing the gâteaux and pièces montées for Cade and Sylvain’s wedding, which had been postponed already once due to some issue in Cade’s family—somebody who had been in the hospital, maybe? Dom couldn’t care less, but naturally, if there was gossiping to be done, his team was on it. Sometimes their chatter even penetrated his concentration while he worked.

Sylvain Marquis would drown himself in his own chocolate before he would ask Dominique Richard to do his wedding, of course.

“Dominique,” Philippe said brusquely, not looking particularly thrilled to see him.

“Philippe.” Dom didn’t try to shake Philippe’s hand, which was covered with powdered sugar. “Cade.” He kissed the slim, brown-haired woman on each cheek. Cade had once come into his laboratoire to try to buy his soul with a few of her millions, and he might have been tempted if he didn’t find Corey Bars as vile as he did. After all, he had sold his soul several times before, and the thing had been remarkably stubborn about surviving the treatment. In the end, the poor little rich girl had settled for Sylvain, and Dom always felt guilty when he saw her, for having forced her to stoop so low.

Dom had flirted with her on principle when she was negotiating for his soul but remained fundamentally indifferent to her. That dark, mean part of him woke up often enough, with the beautiful privileged women who came into his shop, and he took advantage of their eagerness to be used by him. There was something intensely satisfying about being begged for more rough sex by a woman who would have thought him worthless scum ten years ago.

But Cade had never shown the least desire to be used by him, and beyond the satisfaction of sex with them, princesses didn’t do much for him. Their lives were too facile, too privileged. Plus, for God’s sake, Corey Chocolate. He wasn’t Sylvain; he had standards. How could Sylvain even hold up that arrogant head of his, marrying the heir to a multibillion-dollar corporation that produced such mass-market pap?

He frowned at Cade Corey, wondering what the hell Sylvain saw in her.

“What?” she asked dryly, and he gave her a look of surprised approval. The first time he had met her, she had wanted something from him, and thus had tried to be conciliating. He liked her better today, when she couldn’t care less what he thought of her.

Straight brown hair that was relentlessly silky, blue eyes, a steady I-own-the-world look. Odd, he kept feeling as if there was something different about her he should notice. “Nothing.” He shrugged and turned to Philippe. “So are you doing the Chocolatiers’ Expo? Cade, do you know who will be there?”

“Corey will have a strong representation.” She pointed a finger at herself, which, being Cade, might mean that she thought she, by herself, was the strong representation. “Devon Candy. Caillebaut, Kraft, Firenze . . .”

Dominique exchanged a look of mutual confusion with Philippe. “I meant the important people.”

Cade made a little growling noise of frustration.

“Me, you, Simon, Sylvain, I think those are the biggest names,” Philippe said. “Are you going yourself or sending some of your team?”

“Myself.” Simon Casset would probably do one of his exquisite, impossible flights of chocolate and jewel-toned sugar. Philippe favored displays that allowed him to showcase multiple gâteaux in some elegant effect. Sylvain . . . “What’s Sylvain doing?” he asked Cade, since, being new to the Paris chocolatier scene, she might be naive enough to tell him.

She smiled sweetly at him. “Working. Why aren’t you? Is business slow?”

Seriously, if Cade got any more annoying, he might actually end up liking her. Or at least respecting her. She handled herself all right for someone who had originally dropped into the ultra-competitive Parisian chocolate scene acting as if she thought she could buy it up and stuff it in her pocket.

Instead of responding, he studied Philippe’s current work-in-progress. All roses and pink and cream. A peek into some other, fairy-tale world. How did the man manage it? Was it that privileged Lyonnais past of his? Philippe was one of the few men as big as he was, but Dominique always felt bigger near him, oversized and clumsy. As if all his own edges were too hard and would break anything he ran into. His hands were far too big for his métier. Giant, hard laborer’s hands. They belonged to his first métier, the one his father had thought he deserved, that of a man who hacked meat off bones.

He compared notes about the upcoming event, but it started getting embarrassingly obvious that he was just restless and had no real purpose in being here, so he strode out, looking for other places to invade and be obnoxious.

He came out of the kitchens into Philippe’s Beauty and the Beast palace of a salon de thé, with its well-dressed crowd sitting among marble pillars under embossed lions’ heads and painted ceilings. And stopped.

There she was. The woman who had not come that morning. She was sitting in Philippe’s salon de thé, with one of those rosy, airy, fairy-tale concoctions in front of her.

He felt stabbed through the heart. Standing there, oversized for this froth of a place, in his black motorcycle leathers, with his shaggy hair and his stupidly shaved face. He, who shaved at best once every four days, had shaved every single damn morning for the past week. Why? For what stupid reason?

She put a spoon to her lips, enjoying Philippe on her tongue. She looked as if she belonged there, probably more than in the rough stone surroundings of his salon, despite his stupid embossed rosebuds and velvet curtains. She set the spoon down and gazed at her dessert a moment, her face a little sad, tired.

He shifted, accusingly, and she glanced up. Her gaze flicked over him, his size, his leathers, his hard stare. Her face closed entirely, and she looked back at him just as aggressively, until he half expected her to pull out Mace if he walked too close to her table.

Fuck her, he thought, so bitterly and insanely wounded, anyone would think he had just discovered his virgin bride in the arms of another man on their wedding night. He strode out of the salon, and did not bump into anything or break it, but probably mostly because people and even things just seemed to shrink out of his way.

It was a pure wonder he didn’t have an accident as he headed off into the Paris streets again. People kept shrinking out of his way there, too.

Excerpt - Chapter 2

Magalie was enchanting children with morsels of her dark-chocolate house two weeks later when the bearer of bad news burst in.

In this case, it was the toy seller from the quixotic shop four doors down.  “Have you heard who’s coming to the island?” Claire-Lucy gasped.

Magalie retained her calm, continuing to break off house pieces to pass around to the children.  Even if Superman himself was stopping by to sign autographs, the island in the heart of Paris and Magalie’s place in it would stay the same.  And that was what mattered.

The aunts claimed a share of the credit for the chocolate house, but Magalie was the one who had designed September’s display.  It was pure dark chocolate, of course.  They didn’t really do milk chocolate at La Maison des Sorcières.  But Magalie had fitted out the window frames with long strips of candied lime peel, and the roof was thatched with candied orange peel.  Up the walls of it, she had twined such delicacies as flowering vines made from crystallized mint leaves and violet petals, both personally candied by Aunt Aja, a delicate, tricky business that involved the brushing of egg whites and sugar onto hundreds and hundreds of mint leaves and fragile violet petals with a tiny paintbrush.  Over and over.  Only Aunt Aja could do it.  Geneviève and Magalie soon started throwing things.

Feeding these works of deliciousness to impressionable young children was one of Magalie’s favorite moments of each month.  Aunt Aja had confessed that the first few times she and Geneviève had concocted elaborate window displays such as this one, they had been young and refused to destroy their work, leaving it to time itself to decay it with the pale brown bloom on the chocolate.  At which point, it was no longer even remotely as delicious as it once could have been.  The lesson, according to Aunt Aja, was one of recognizing transience.  But Magalie hated transience, so she put it into other terms:  one must always know when to yield magic into the hands of the children who wanted to eat it up.

So they made their displays fresh every few weeks, and from all over the Île Saint-Louis and the further hinterlands of Paris, children showed up on the first Wednesday of every month—Wednesday was the day children got off school early—dragging parents or nannies by the hand, to eat the witches’ candy.

In front of September’s witch house,  lost in a forest of dark-chocolate tree trunks, a tiny black hen pecked in a little garden.  The black hen had been formed in one of Aunt Geneviève’s extensive collection of heavy, nineteenth-century molds, gleaned from a lifetime of dedicated flea-marketing.  Deep among the chocolate tree trunks was also a chocolate rider on a white-chocolate horse, a prince approaching, perhaps to ride down the black hen and be cursed, perhaps to beg a boon.  Magalie and her aunts never told the story; they only started their visitors dreaming.

She gave three-year-old Coco a violet-trimmed bit of vine that the child had begged for and studied their bearer of bad news. La Maison des Sorcères’ eat-the-witches’-display-day was Claire-Lucy’s biggest-business day of the month.

“You haven’t heard who’s going in where Olives was?” Claire-Lucy insisted.  Her soft mouth was round with horror, her chestnut hair frizzing with its usual touchable fuzz all around her head.  “It’s Lyonnais!”  She stared at the aunts and Magalie, waiting for them to shatter at the reverberation of the name.

Lyonnais.

Magalie’s cozy tea-shop world was not crystalline or fragile,, so it didn’t exactly shatter on its own.  It was more as if a great, Champagne-glossed boot came down and kicked it all open to merciless sunshine.

Magalie had been wrong.  So wrong.  Perhaps Superman could come through and leave her world untouched.  But Lyonnais . . .

She looked at her aunts in horror.  They looked back at her, eyebrows flexing in puzzlement as they saw her consternation.

“Lyonnais,” she said, as if the name had reached out and tried to strangle her heart.  She stared at Aunt Geneviève.  Aunt Geneviève was strong and rough-voiced and practical in her way.  She knew how to fix a constantly running toilet without calling a plumber.  She was tough-minded.  But she didn’t seem to get it, her eyebrows rising as the intensity of Magalie’s dismay seemed to build rather than diminish.

“Lyonnais!” Magalie said forcefully, looking at her Aunt Aja.

Aunt Aja was as soft-voiced and supple as a slender shaft of tempered steel.  Her dimpled fingers could press the nastiest kink right out of a back.  Wrong-mindedness had no quarter around her.  Her gentle strength seemed to squeeze it out of existence, not by specifically seeking to crush it but by expanding until foolishness had no room left.  Her head was on so straight, the worst malevolence couldn’t twist it.  But she looked at Magalie now with a steady concern that crinkled the red bindi in the middle of her forehead.  Concerned not because Philippe Lyonnais was opening a new shop just down the street but because she didn’t understand Magalie’s reaction to it.

“Philippe Lyonnais!” Magalie said even more loudly, as if she could force comprehension.  “The most famous pastry chef in the world!  The one they call le Prince des Pâtissiers!”  Was it ringing any bells at all?

Aunt Geneviève tapped her index finger against her chin, a light coming on.  “That young man who has been stirring things up with his macarons?”

She spoke the word macarons lovingly, the way any Parisian would.  Bearing no resemblance to the chewy, coconut-filled American macaroon, the heavenly sandwiches of air and lusciousness that were the Parisian macaron were the test of a pastry chef’s quality.  And, according to all reports, Philippe Lyonnais did them better than anyone else in the world.

“The one who stopped by here the other week?”  Aunt Geneviève continued.

What?

“Weren’t you around when he came in, Magalie?” she asked.  “He seemed a bit rude to me, acting as if he didn’t have time for us.  And he certainly takes up a lot of room in a place,” she added, not entirely with disapproval but not with any intention of yielding her own space, either.  “Still, he’s quite cute.  If he can improve his manners, you might like him.”

She gazed at her niece speculatively.  Geneviève had originally been confused to learn that Magalie leaned toward the opposite sex in her preferences, since her vision of taking on her niece as apprentice hadn’t included any male accoutrements, but she had long since resigned herself to it.  Perhaps all the more readily because Magalie didn’t accessorize herself with males very often.

“Mmm.”  Aunt Aja made a long sound that meant she foresaw trouble where Aunt Geneviève saw fun.  “There was a lot of lion in him.  And he is a prince,” she warned Aunt Geneviève apologetically, hating to have to point it out.

“Oh.”  Geneviève looked disgruntled.

Magalie gave her a sardonic glance.  In the whole history of the known world, there had been no mention of a romantic attachment between a prince and a witch.  Lots of battles, yes, lots of arrogant royals reduced to toads, but not much love lost.

Which had suited Geneviève just fine for herself.  But, given her niece’s insistence on the male gender for her romantic attachments, it galled her that any member of that group—even a prince—might consider himself above Magalie.

Philippe Lyonnais, the most famous pastry chef in the world, is opening another branch of Lyonnais right down the street from us.”  Magalie tried spelling it out in small words to see if that helped.

Geneviève started to frown.“You know, that is kind of nervy,” she told Aja.  “He could have more respect for our territory.  wouldn’t go open a salon de thé right next to him.”

Why . . . yes, Magalie thought.  That was a nice way of thinking of things.  “But I don’t think it took him nerve,” realism forced her to admit aloud.  “I don’t think it took him any more nerve than walking on a bug he didn’t see.”

Aja smoothed her long burnt-sienna tunic over her salwar pants.  Her eyebrows crinkled.  “Why didn’t he see us?”

Aunt Geneviève finally had the right focus, though.  She stared at Magalie in gathering outrage.  “You don’t think it took him nerve to open a shop within our territory?  You don’t think it took him courage?  You think he just did it without even noticing us?”

Magalie nodded. “I think he probably reviewed all the other shops on the island and his market base and decided there was no threat to him here.”

Geneviève’s mouth snapped closed, and within the bubble of her complete silence, Magalie could almost see her aunt’s head explode.

Aunt Aja traced the embroidery on her tunic soothingly.  “I would not, of course, threaten anyone,” she said.  “I mean him no harm.  However, it’s perhaps better for a prince to learn young that looking before one steps is basic self-preservation.”

Geneviève laughed in a way that put Boris Karloff to shame.  “I won’t ‘threaten’ him, either.  He doesn’t deserve the warning.”

Magalie took a hard breath.  Neither woman seemed to have noticed that the reason he’d treated them like a bug was because he could.  He could steal their entire market base simply by opening up shop.  He wouldn’t have to compete with them.  With five generations of pastry chefs behind him, he had been up against his own family heritage and  every other pastry chef in Paris since he was born, competing with the whole world, and he had bested all of them. “I’ll go talk to him.”

It might as well be her.  At least she had enough understanding of what was happening to be pissed off at the right thing.

Both her aunts frowned at her.  “Why would you want to warn him?  I hope you aren’t going soft, Magalie,” Geneviève said.  “It’s not because he’s cute, is it?  I can’t see any good come from letting a man—especially a prince—take advantage of you just because he’s cute.”

“And no threats, either, Magalie,” Aunt Aja said gently.  “Remember karma: the fruit you harvest grows from the seeds you plant.”

Aunt Geneviève snorted.  “If anyone tries to boomerang a threat back at Magalie, I’m sure we can make him regret it.”   Aunt Geneviève believed in karma about like she believed in bullets:  they might exist for other people, but they would most certainly bounce off her.

Aja gave her a reproachful look.

Enfin, Magalie can make him regret it,” Geneviève disavowed quickly.  “I’ll just . . . help.”

Claire-Lucy clapped her soft hands together.  “Can I watch?”

Excerpt - Chapter 3

Magalie was combing her hair in her white-on-white room high above the ground the next morning when a crow banged his head on her window.  It shook itself on the sill, glared at her accusingly through the pane, and flew off to complain to a gargoyle on the next island over..  As if she didn’t already know what kind of day it was going to be without that.  She’d have to face those very gargoyles when she crossed the bridges into the rest of Paris, too.

She drew ethereal, streaming yards of gauzy white across her windows to avoid encountering any further crows and went to dress.  The dawn she had been watching was never more than the faintest blush of yellow-pink on the horizon in Paris, anyway.  It was one of the things about the city that made her wistful for her former home.  In the South of France, morning coming up over a dew-strewn field of lavender could fill your heart with enough beauty to last through any kind of day at all.  But Provence was her mother’s place, and too scarred for Magalie.  She had needed her own place and thus had come to this tiny island in the Seine.

She put on stylishly straight black pants that caressed her butt and hugged her thighs but showed a crisp, clean line around her ankles.  She put on a teal flowing silk  top because she knew the importance of a soft detail amid the black armor she was donning.  She slid into her sleek, short black leather Perfecto jacket, which fit her torso and arms almost as closely as a knit top.  She drew on ankle boots that had a subtle “rocker” suggestion in their pattern of black-on-black and their four-inch narrow but slightly chunky heels, a broader power base than her stilettos could provide.

She started to braid her hair to put it in a chignon but took one glance into the mirror and undid it.  The look smacked of romanticism.  Going into the city proper with a streak of romance showing was like going into battle with a gap in her armor right over her belly.  She redid her hair without the braid, then deconstructed the chignon enough to make her look casually sophisticated instead of overly concerned with her appearance. She always enjoyed the irony of carefully pulling out wisps here or there to make her hair look careless—but in a perfect way.

On her way out, she stole one small chocolate witch from the shop to tide her over.

Down the cobblestones of the Île Saint-Louis, she walked with familiar confidence, no heels wobbling on the uneven pavement, ducking once or twice onto the narrow sidewalk to make room for the rare car to pass down the street—that of a wealthy islander on his way to work or a shop owner who lived off the island coming in.  Thierry, the island’s florist, was setting bouquets out in front of his door.  He waved roses at her like a maiden might a silk handkerchief at a departing warrior and promised her his most beautiful bouquet on her return.

As she left the island, a violinist standing tall at the center of the bridge serenaded her, and she dropped some euros into the young man’s hat for good luck.  Both of the places she had come from had been so much smaller than Paris. Even after five years, part of her always felt, when she left the island, that she was making a sortie onto a battlefield where her weapons might not be entirely sufficient.

She passed the flying buttresses of the cathedral and crossed the great plaza in front of it, keeping well away from Notre-Dame’s gargoyles.  It was just the sort of morning when they might drop something on her head.

Pigeons skittered around her ankles as she walked but kept enough distance to show some respect.  Her boots and her walk were still worth that much here, at least; no birds had the nerve to expect bread crumbs from her.  On a low stone wall in the plaza, the pigeon woman sat with her arms extended, covered with the birds, while people in tennis shoes took pictures and dropped inappropriate forms of currency into her hat.  Magalie nodded respectfully to her.  The woman sat quietly in a place of enormous power and let birds collect on her arms through all the flashing of cameras.  It never paid to be rude to someone like that.

Magalie held on to her uniqueness as long as she could as she crossed the Île de la Cité, the sister island, despite the increasing presence of cars and foot traffic.  She exchanged a last firm look with the green king on his horse in the middle of the great stone bridge at the end of the island, then turned left and headed across more water into the city.

The ring of her boot heels started getting lost in the ring of other boot heels before she had even finished crossing the bridge.  Trees rustling with late-autumn leaves extended along the river, forming the border between Paris and what she liked to think of as its heart, the islands in the middle of the Seine. She left the oldest bridge in the city, passing into the trees’ dappled shadows, and then cut away from the river and its islands to the busy Boulevard Saint- Germain.  She wanted to huddle into her jacket, but she didn’t.  She let it hang open, unzipped, as was proper fashion, and kept her chin up and her stride a long, powerful rhythm of heels against concrete.

Yet, despite her best efforts, the farther she got from the island, the more she felt diminished.  Far from her power base, she became just another Parisian woman trying so hard to be the sleekest, the sharpest, to let her boot heels ring the crispest, but becoming one of the millions who did it as well or better, who had more money for higher fashion or longer legs, who had no idea she could make a chocolat chaud you would sell your soul for.  Really.  The aunts had a signed deed for a famous actor’s soul behind the 1920s cash register among the chocolate molds, as a souvenir of a sorcière’s power.

Around her, people moved briskly, harried out of bed by time and driven by it into work in the middle of a tense week,  walking itself an aggression.  Occasionally a tourist disturbed the flow, eager and bright-eyed and out early in the morning to soak up the city, with journals and cameras in tow.  Unlike the tourists, Magalie did not stand out.  Not in any way.

In her bathroom mirror, she had looked exquisite, perfect, exactly the effect she had wanted to produce.  On the island, rose bouquets had saluted her in affection and respect.  But here—here she was just another pair of boot heels ringing on the sidewalk.

By the time she got to Philippe Lyonnais’s Saint-Germain shop, she was only a twenty-four-year-old woman with limited funds to indulge her taste for fashion, in a big, tense, polished, sexy city.

But he—his power was everywhere.  His family name was on the Champs-Élysées, the rue Faubourg Saint-Honoré, here on Saint-Germain—all the power centers of this city.  While she and her aunts kept enticing their secrets from the heart of Paris, he stamped his supremacy down over the whole damn city and let people fawn over him.  His coat of arms was the gilt lettering on his shop awning.  The exquisite nineteenth-century lines of his storefront reflected the glories of his family history.  He came from a long line of rulers of Parisian taste buds.

His shop door proclaimed that he didn’t open until ten.  She frowned at it—and was surprised when it slid open and let her into an empty shop.  That was the kind of thing that happened when Geneviève frowned at things.

The interior was breathtaking.  Panels of glossy wood and frescos were carved with the twining rosebuds that had been part of the Lyonnais décor since the first shop opened a century and a half ago.  Lions’ heads growled in the molding at each corner of the ceiling.  Green marble pillars climbed above the gleaming glass display cases whose contents were more tempting than those of any king’s treasure room and held more colors and richness than a chest of jewels.  The tables and chairs seemed to come from a time when women wore sumptuous gowns of twenty yards of silk and men bowed over their hands.

Her skin itched.  She wanted to turn around and leave.  The presence of even one clerk might have helped, someone who could try to snub her and thus get her pride up.  But the opulent perfection was empty.

Something congealed in her stomach, thick and treacly and sickening, as she realized her folly.  Here, off her island, she was small and powerless.  Glamorous, famous Philippe Lyonnais would look at her incredulously.  He would dismiss her out of hand.  Her territory was a small cave of a salon de thé on a small island.  His rule extended over the whole city, and his influence stretched throughout the world.

She settled her shoulders firmly back and down and opened the door at the back of the salon.  And she stepped into an alien world.

It was the first time she had ever been in a professional pastry kitchen or laboratoire. The quantity of metal struck her:  the faces of cabinets and refrigerators under marble counters. Metal cooling racks. Great steel mixing machines. Shelves upon shelves, full of plastic boxes on top of boxes labeled with their contents. White-clad men and a few women bustled amid white tile walls and floors, bending intently over huge metal trays.  One woman traced a circle stencil over and over onto a piece of parchment paper fitted into a huge metal sheet pan.  Beside her, a man squeezed perfectly matching dollops of meringue out in row after row on similarly marked parchment paper.  Another woman shifted macaron shells from a tray to a rack on a counter filled with racks.

Multiple colors filled that metal background:  rich green macaron shells, peach ones, a garnet red.  Someone squeezed ganache from a pastry bag into the upturned shells.  A gangly teenager scooped out avocados with deft competence, piling the empty skins in a little tower.

Jokes and intense concentration seemed to intermingle, and someone passed with a great steaming pot, calling “Chaud, chaud, chaud!” 

            A big man with a wide lion’s grin laughed suddenly, his mane flung back, his hands completely covered with some apricot-colored cream.  A pastry bag had burst.

His laughter expanded into the whole room, his energy embracing everyone and everything in it.  And that bell in her shop rang again, pure and clear, piercing her through the heart—which hurt like hell—and holding her there, impaled for somebody else’s pleasure.

Philippe Lyonnais.  She might not have placed him in their shop, but here in his, she recognized him right away.

Even if she had never seen his face in a hundred magazine articles and television interviews, she still would have recognized the ruler of this jungle.

She stared at him, feeling small and stubborn in her silk and leather.  Defiant.  Dieu, he had hundreds of macarons spread out here, every single one perfect.  She had tried once to make macarons, spent hours in would-be perfectionism, and thrown the resulting flat, dry things into the trash.  And she had no idea what would be done with those avocados.  But she longed suddenly, intensely to try whatever it was they went into.

Her skills were rough-hewn, primitive.  She could make luscious hot chocolate.  But surely everyone could, if they bothered.  It wasn’t hard.  Pure Valrhona chocolate, milk, and cream, or sometimes water, a hint of spice . . . and that slow smile that grew in her while she stirred it . . . Not difficult at all.

It galled her to come, a humble petitioner, into such a prince’s palace.  She didn’t have that pathetic role in her to play.

Was she to beg a boon from him?  Big, vivid lord of all he surveyed.  With his deep laugh like a lion’s purr, filling the room with its vibrations.  The hair on her arms rose to that vibration.  That couldn’t be good.

Again she wanted to zip her jacket, close the leather over the thin silk of her belted tunic, protect her vulnerable spots.  But again, the gesture, the choice of self-defense over fashion, would have been an admission of her own vulnerability, and she raised her chin and refused it.

He saw her at that lift of her chin.  Caught in mid-laughter, his blue eyes sparkled merrily as they met hers.  His eyebrows went up, and he grabbed a towel to wipe off the apricot cream.  His gaze ran over her once and then focused back on her face—and  focused intently.  Alive.  She recognized the look.  She had met males who thought to pursue her before.  Quite a lot since she had moved to Paris, in fact.  It didn’t seem to mean much more than that she wasn’t hideous and was of a nubile age.

He shifted, and anyone else who had even thought about asking her business faded away.  They went back to their tasks, enticing her palate to follow them on a taste quest.  Were those gold rounds to become caramel macarons, or mango, or . . .?

“May I help you?”  By asking the question, Philippe Lyonnais established his ownership of this world, his right to allow her to pass or to drive her out.  Or to let her in and then close his forces around her, never letting her get away.

She had left her territory far behind.  He didn’t even realize it existed.  He would ride his big white stallion right over her hedges and into her garden and never even notice that he had killed her favorite black hen.

Of course he would not help her.  Fury at him, and at herself, washed through her, that she was here humiliating herself for nothing.  Before him.  The vivid life of him, filling this great, bustling space.  The discipline and intensity that drew praise from all four corners of the world.  She had thought the magazine shoots exaggerated his sex appeal, the way photo shoots did, with makeup and lighting and poses.

All those photos had been nothing in comparison to the real thing.  Pale, posed, static images.  Never once had a single photo caught him laughing.

She didn’t feel like Magalie Chaudron, a witch of the Île Saint-Louis, who held the magic of  chocolate brews in her hands.  She felt like Cinderella at the ball, conscious that her fine dress was really ash-covered rags and intense make-believe, and wanting nothing so much as to slink out before the prince saw her.

She hated that feeling.

But she was Magalie Chaudron, whatever she felt like, so, instead, she spoke.  Steady.  Calm.  A little cold, to punish him for that Cinderella effect.  “Monsieur Lyonnais?”

He held out a hand.  It took her off guard.  She hadn’t expected courtesy.  Or contact.  Especially when the contact sent little shimmers of warmth along her arm too fast for her own defenses to rally.  The shimmers went racing all through her body, and her defenses went chasing lamely after, crying stop, stop, stop in vain.

“Oui. His clasp was strong and gentle at once.  What, did she seem that small in his world that he felt he had to be gentle with her?

She looked down at her own hand after his released it.  Surely her hand had been enclosed so completely before.  Why had she never noticed it?  She could still feel the calluses of his palm against her knuckles.  The warmth seemed to linger, until her still-chilled left hand curled in jealousy.

He escorted her back to an office space minuscule in contrast to the spacious laboratoire.  Books were piled everywhere, in towers on his desk, on shelves around it— great coffee-table books full of beautiful architectural photos and tiny paperbacks stamped with names like Prévert and Apollinaire.  His laptop was pushed to one side, and across the center of the desk was spread what appeared to be a printed manuscript, a pen lying across it and little marks correcting details on the page.  Scents from the laboratoire filled the space:  strawberry, apricot, hot sugar, butter.  Her stomach crawled with hunger, that chocolate witch she had eaten reduced to nothing.

He turned, staying on the same side of the desk as she was, making the room still smaller.  Making her smaller.  Even in her four-inch heels, she barely reached his shoulder.

His broad shoulders.  He wasn’t just tall.  He was big.  Wide shoulders and strong wrists and big square hands.  His boxy chef’s jacket hid the rest of him, and she tried to pretend its looseness concealed a potbelly.  That was quite a strong, clean jaw for a man with a potbelly, though.

She suddenly wished he would unbutton his jacket.  Just so she could know for sure what was under it.  The space was so small, and he was focused on her so very intently.

She braced her booted heels and held her body proudly.  “I’m Magalie Chaudron.”

He smiled at her.  The warmth of that smile turned his eyes azure and seemed to run over her body like a cat’s tongue licking cream.  “Enchanté, Mademoiselle Chaudron.

He said that as if he really was enchanted.

“From La Maison des Sorcières,” she said.

It took him a second, but he did make the connection.  “Ah!”  Spontaneously, he thrust out his hand and shook hers again.  Her right hand flexed involuntarily in delight.  Her left hand curled sulkily against her thigh.  “So we’re going to be neighbors.”

His eyes sparkled, quite alive at that thought, and subtly flicked over her body again, just once quickly, before coming quite correctly back to her face.  But her whole body felt sensitized. A vague, burning curiosity seemed to linger most insistently in places like her nipples against the silk and, worse, the point of pressure between her sex and the seam of her pants.  What did he see when he looked at her?

“I hope not,” she said flatly, and his warm expression flickered.

Pardon?”

She just could not get that boon-begging past her lips.  Instead, she heard herself say, cool and clear  “I think you’re making a mistake in trying to move onto the island.”

He didn’t change his stance, but something ran through his body, and the whole feel of his strength in that small space changed.  The once-warm eyes flicked over her in an entirely different manner:  assessing and dismissing an insignificant challenge.

It made her burn with rage.

“You do?” he said indifferently.

Indifference.  Dismissal.  Wrath crawled up inside her hands, making them itch to fist and pound against his belief in her insignificance.  She dug her knuckles into her thighs.

“I don’t think you realize how well known we are there.  People come from all over the city—from all over the world—to our salon de thé.  It’s . . . special.”  How to make him realize how very special it was if he didn’t see that, feel that, for himself?

“What a fascinating coincidence,” he said coolly.  His head was high, that beautiful, tawny lion’s mane curling against his neck.  Arrogance clipped his words and polished them, bringing out his privileged birth.  “They do the same for me.”

Magalie’s knuckles dug harder into her thighs, as she tried to force herself to stay reasonable.  “Exactly.  That’s why it might be better for all concerned if you sought different territory.”

There.  That sounded nicely neutral, didn’t it?  Neither warning him off nor begging him not to come.  It was a tricky line to negotiate.  She didn’t want to err on the side of humility, that was for damn sure.

His eyebrows went up.  He looked so very aristocratic—His Highness, lord of the jungle.  “Are you telling me you don’t think I could succeed down the street from you?”

She wished.  “I think you will be competing for a well-established customer base.”

The sharp edges of his teeth showed just a little.  “I generally do.”

As in, once they taste me, no one else has a prayer.

Her eyes narrowed, her anger no longer blunt fists but sharp points that knew exactly where they wanted to stab.  “If you think you can move in there and try to put us out of business, I advise you to reconsider.”

He inhaled with a hiss, as if she had reached out and grabbed him somewhere arousing.  “Are you threatening me?” he asked with a little, curling, pleased smile.  A smile that said, Oh, good, the tiny  mouse was rude.  Now I get to eat it for a snack.

“No,” Magalie tried to lie.  She had promised Aunt Aja she wouldn’t threaten.  But Aunt Geneviève’s blood would out:  “You don’t deserve the warning.”

His own eyes narrowed, his pupils dilated.  He actually caught his lower lip with the edge of his teeth, as if he was tasting her there.  “Oh, really?”  The last word came out like a hungry little caress.  Tiny mouse, how kind of you to offer yourself to my bored palate.

“My aunts have been there for almost forty years,” she said, anger lashing.  “We were there first.”

He inclined his head.  He had very beautiful, sharp, white teeth.  They looked as if they could cut through almost anything.  “Then how thoughtful of you to come welcome me to the neighborhood.”

She snapped her own teeth together.  It might take her more than two bites to work her way through him, but she could eat him up, too, if she set her mind to it.  “You’re not welcome.  If you insist on coming into my territory without even a ‘by your leave, ’ I’m going to make sure you regret it.”

He took a step forward.  His eyes glittered, sweeping up and down her face and as far as her throat, which suddenly felt overexposed.  But she couldn’t bring herself to lower her chin.  In the little office, she was well within grabbing distance of those big hands.  Something in his eyes made that very clear.  “Your territory?  Are you telling me I should ask your  permission to open a shop there?”

She took a half step toward him.  She would have liked to take a bigger stride, but, given the size of the office, that was all she could do without running into him.  “That would have been better manners, certainly.  But you would have been denied.”

He gave his head a hard shake.  His gaze flashed back to her throat and then up to her eyes.  “You introduced yourself, but maybe I should have done the same.  I’m Philippe Lyonnais.

She sneered.  She couldn’t help it.  The incredulous arrogance in the way he said his name couldn’t be taken passively.  “What, am I supposed to bow now?”

Their eyes locked.  For a moment, there was nothing else in the room but the war of locked gazes and the sense that if ever either of them lost, it would be . . . delicious.  Slowly, carefully, he took a long, long breath and shook his shoulders, resettling his muscles.  “Maybe we’re getting off to a bad start.”

In the present context, that was so hilarious, half a laugh surprised its way right through her sneer.

His gaze flickered over her face, and a hint of a wry, responding grin appeared on his lips.  Abruptly, he cupped her elbow and led her out of the office.  A gentleman escorting a lady to her carriage or a bouncer kicking out a drunk? she wondered dryly. His hand turned the supple leather armor of her Perfecto jacket into a wisp of nothingness between their bodies.

He stopped beside the long marble counter at which he had been working when she came in.  The bag that had burst all over him lay there where he had abandoned it.  Apparently his employees knew that he took care of his own messes and didn’t expect someone else to do it for him.  Near it lay the macarons he had been finishing.

He loosed her elbow long enough to scoop up one of the warm peach shells and sandwich it over the bottom shell, filled already with apricot ganache, tiny bits of apricot still visible in it.  With a quick, casually deft hand, he sprinkled it with a dusting of pistachios chopped so impossibly fine as to seem like pixie dust.

“May I?”  He offered it to her on a flat palm, a treasure to a princess, with a sudden, brilliant, confident grin.  His eyes lit with pleasure in his offering, sure it would bring delight.

Who hadn’t heard of Philippe Lyonnais’s macarons?  Food critics, food bloggers, magazines, televisions hosts . . . they all raved about him constantly.  It would probably taste like she had been permitted to spend three bites of her life in heaven.  Like the essence of apricot had come down and kissed a shy pistachio, and they had decided to hang out and cuddle.

If she bit into that in front of him, she would melt into a puddle at his feet.

And he wouldn’t even notice.  If he had a streak of the child in him, he might enjoy the splash around his shoes as he strode through it.

She looked from its promise of heaven to his warm, intense eyes.

Did he think he was that good?  That all he had to do to make up for stealing three people’s lives was to offer her one of his prize pastries?

“No, thank you,” she said coldly.  Cold, cold, cold.  Drawing on all the force and warmth of her blue kitchen, far away on the island, holding its heat close and strong inside her, she gave him its opposite.  His rejection from it.

She was looking straight into his eyes when she spoke.  She saw the blink, saw his pupils contract to small points.

Why, she had found some way to have an effect on him.

He looked down at the pastry and back at her.  “You don’t . . . want it?”  He sounded as if he was having to search out words in a new language that had no meaning.

He couldn’t believe she had done it, could he?

Refused that, what he was holding in his hand.  His life’s work.

His face went stiff, her chill setting in, the dark blue eyes seeming to pale with the ice.  He set the apricot-pistachio macaron very precisely down on the parchment paper from which it had comem.  His fingers rubbed slowly together, brushing away pistachio fragments.

If he had been anyone else, she would have felt guilty for bringing that look to his face.

She held his eyes and smiled.  Then she turned her back on what was quite probably the most delicious thing she would ever encounter in her life and walked out.

And had the satisfaction of hearing her heels click, click, click into absolute silence as she did so.

REVIEWS & QUOTES
The emotionally intense third Amour et Chocolat romance stands well on its own…Both Jaime and Dom are highly complex characters, with layers of emotions, thorny pasts, and tangled relationships with family and friends. Readers will cheer for both of them to work past their issues and find their chocolaty ever after.

— Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

 

Gorgeously written, in that way that sort of creeps through my entire body and makes me shiver with delight.

Dear Author Recommended Read

 

This is fast-becoming one of my favorite and most-anticipated series . . . a very adorable, well-done romance.

USA Today

 

I am now three (or four, depending on how you slice it) books in and can categorically classify this series as bibliocrack of the highest order.

— Angieville (Bibliocrack Review)

 

Scrumptious, beautiful, and magnificent.

Romance Junkies

 

So sexy, so romantic, and so much fun being in Paris surrounded by chocolate. Another winner from Laura Florand. Highly recommend.

Smexybooks

 

This book. THIS BOOK. It just makes me want to snuggle it under my pillow and dream about my own Parisian romance. It is decadent and sensual and loving and frustrating all combined . . .I cannot recommend The Chocolate Touch highly enough... I feel like Laura Florand has permanently put her stamp on the romance genre with this story.

YA Librarian Tales

An indulging, delicious read, The Chocolate Touch is my choice for book of the year.

Night Owl Reviews, Top Pick

I cannot say enough about Ms. Florand's deft hand at setting a scene, at creating tension, and in general at pairing two so very different individuals in one of the sweetest love stories I've come across in a long time.

See Michelle Read

 

If you haven’t read any of these books, then you need to start. Each time I open a book by Ms. Florand I am transported to another world, one of food, passion, love and joy.

Fiction Vixen

 

A wonderful story of love, seeing in someone else what you think in lacking in yourself, and coming to terms with your past. . . . amazing.

Harlequin Junkie Romance Reviews

 

An indulging, delicious read The Chocolate Touch is my choice for book of the year!

Night Owl Reviews

 

The gold standard of what a romance should be.

Babbling Books

 

Hands down my favorite contemporary romance so far of 2013.

For What It’s Worth

 

Laura Florand has again bewitched me with this powerful romance! It knocked me over and swept me under.

Readers’ Den

 

I have truly savored reading The Chocolate Touch by Laura Florand. My advice to anyone starting to read this novel is to have a supply of delicious gourmet chocolates at hand to sample while enjoying the sensuous descriptions Laura Florand so vividly writes. Oh, and a few cups of hot cocoa would be a special treat to yourself as well. I say all of this because this book does what few others do – it invokes all of the senses.

Novel Shnovel

 

Delectable . . . decadent . . . mouth-watering . . .

Billie’s Pink Reviews

 

A stay-up-until-my-eyes-burn-with-sleep kind of read.

Ruby’s Reads

 

This sweet treat will leave readers hungry for more as the romance between Jaime and Dominque spices up and practically melts pages. This is definitely a story to savor!

Parkersburg News & Sentinel

 

Jamie and Dom will break your heart – and then soothe it with some chocolate.

Librarian Next Door