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…
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 famous gâteau. 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 own laboratoire—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 salle below.
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.
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.
This is fast-becoming one of my favorite and most-anticipated series . . . a very adorable, well-done romance.
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.
Scrumptious, beautiful, and magnificent.
So sexy, so romantic, and so much fun being in Paris surrounded by chocolate. Another winner from Laura Florand. Highly recommend.
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.
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.
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.
A wonderful story of love, seeing in someone else what you think in lacking in yourself, and coming to terms with your past. . . . amazing.
An indulging, delicious read The Chocolate Touch is my choice for book of the year!
The gold standard of what a romance should be.
Hands down my favorite contemporary romance so far of 2013.
Laura Florand has again bewitched me with this powerful romance! It knocked me over and swept me under.
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.
Delectable . . . decadent . . . mouth-watering . . .
A stay-up-until-my-eyes-burn-with-sleep kind of read.
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.