Desert Isle Keeper
The Chocolate Thief
Romance lovers, I’ve solved the mystery of “whatever happened to Judith Ivory” – she changed her name and doctored her author photo so she could write fanciful contemporary romances about chocolatiers. Seriously, I thought of Ivory long before our hero and heroine got crazy on the stairs; the quality of writing in this story is something I associate with the most interesting and original historical romances, and I don’t think I’ve ever encountered it in a contemporary romance before. Laura Florand may not actually be Judith Ivory, but she is certainly a stylistic heir.
What captured me was partially the quirky characterizations, partially the vulnerability of the hero, partially the evocative writing. Sure, writing sensually about love, sex, and chocolate would seem like shooting fish in a barrel, but Florand’s take makes every other food romance seem like… a supermarket chocolate bar. A set-up I initially thought ridiculous – chocolate executive Cade
Hershey Corey tries with increasing desperation to persuade Parisian chocolatier Sylvain Marquis to let her use his name on mass-produced upscale chocolates, eventually going so far as to break into his laboratoire – is molded into the stuff of unexpected, delicious romance.
Sylvain, who fought his way out of poverty to become a world famous chocolatier, has a weakness for upperclass, unconsciously privileged women; his imagination is instantly captured by the idea of Cade as the one who’s been breaking into his shop:
“…a thief who stole chocolate but not his laptop? He might have to marry her. He could feel himself falling in love just at the idea. He hoped she had worn black leather pants.”
Meanwhile, Cade’s nightly visits to the shop are much less about discovering Sylvain’s chocolate making secrets than about tasting and cooking and discovering the sensual pleasures awaiting there… and half expecting a new one. “While she worked, she kept looking up into the corners, expecting to find the sorcerer of chocolate waiting there, his eyes gleaming like fires in the dark as he closed the trap on her in his lair.” And since she leaves evidence of her presence behind at every visit, it isn’t too long before the trap does spring.
I would love to quote this entire scene. Cade’s increasing nervousness as she goes through the shop, fearing to see the man she’s been subconsciously inviting. Her intense arousal when he finally comes to her out of the shadows.
He did not speak. Not one word. His hands closed around her hips, and she gasped and shivered, flooded mercilessly with desire. His fingers flexed into her leather-clad bottom, and he lifted her as her might lift a fifty-pound cauldron of chocolate and set her on the counter.
He stared down at her, the counter bringing her almost to his height. His eyes glittered. He had caught her, and the thrill of it had taken her over until she couldn’t think, only breathe, long, clean last breaths that lifted her chest and filled her lungs with scents of cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, chocolate, and human.
‘So, you thought you could steal me?’ Layer upon layer of dark menace in his voice, a bite and a melt of it. And the sudden intimacy of tu, the abrupt abandoning of all the vous and mademoiselle with which he had so correctly kept her distant, even while he played with her in his workshop.
‘Are you stealing from anyone else?’ he demanded.
No, she started to say, but thought better of it. ‘From Dominique Richard,’ she told him provocatively.
He kissed her for punishment.” It only gets better when we get to Sylvain’s point of view:
“She had placed her chocolate thumbprint on his papers like some wordless signature on a contract with his body. She had lit a fire in his laboratoire to taunt him when he did not catch her fast enough, and made something with what was his, and did not even leave him a taste.
He could not think beyond what it would feel like to melt on her tongue.
I’m fascinated by how Florand brings an aura of the erotically forbidden and dangerous to completely consensual, relatively subtle sex. All the sex scenes in the story are emotionally significant, as well as burning, exquisite, and utterly delightful. Sylvain and Cade both remain in some confusion as to the nature of their relationship for most of the story, neither really understanding the other’s heart, and so they continue to seduce each other with double entendres and teasing, and the lure of the unexpected. But all the while the emotional connections between them are growing, and it never feels as if sex is the only basis for their attachment.
I finished this torn between wanting to instantly read Florand’s next book in this series and wanting to wait so that I could stretch out my immersion in her sensual, charming, adorable Paris, a world in the senses rule, in which Cade gives a homeless man some money and a Corey chocolate bar and he tells her, “Do you think that just because I’m homeless, I’ll eat anything?”
Perhaps I’ll compromise and just read this one all over again.