Home > The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris(10)

The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris(10)
Jenny Colgan

This chap, on the other hand, was different. He had a spark of mischief in his eyes that he couldn’t hide.

“I didn’t mean it,” she said, hiding her mouth with her hand so he wouldn’t see her smirking.

“OH! An English woman!” he said immediately, standing back as if in amazement. “Enchanté, mademoiselle! Thank you so much for bestowing a visit on our little backwater town here.”

“You are teasing me,” said Claire, trying to match his humorous tone.

“That is not possible, mademoiselle! I am French and therefore of course have no sense of humor.”

“What have you got on your mustache?” she said, noticing a smudge.

He made a comical face trying to see it.

“I don’t know. Is it a sense of humor?”

“It’s brown.”

“Ah, well, of course…that is my job.”

This made no sense to Claire, just as the host of the party turned around and noticed him standing there. Delighted, he marched up and bustled him away, introducing him to everyone, who were, it seemed, far more delighted to make his acquaintance than they had been when introduced to the LeGuardes’ new au pair.

“Who is that?” she asked Mme. LeGuarde in a whisper.

“Oh, the talk of the town, Thierry Girard,” said Mme. LeGuarde, eyeing him affectionately. “They say he is the most gifted chocolatier since Persion.”

Claire was amazed that this was news of any kind or that that was so important. On the other hand, it explained what was on his mustache, which was a good thing at least.

“Is he going to be a big success?” she asked casually.

Mme. LeGuarde watched him talk to a top food critic, charming him effortlessly by insisting on drawing out his latest recipe.

“Oh, I think so,” she said. “He studied in Switzerland and Bruges. I think he’s going to be really terribly good.”

After touring the room and accepting a second glass of the delicious, icy champagne, Claire, back in observational mode, realized he was the focus of attention and laughter in the room. People just seemed to flock to him. As someone who people tended to simply not notice—the curse of being quiet—Claire was transfixed. His big, shaggy bear face was not at all handsome, but it was so cheerful and animated, it was hard not to enjoy looking at it or wish that its sunshiny beam of attention might come near you. She spotted several of the beautiful women, who had been so sulky and superior before, suddenly start laughing and fluttering about in front of him. Claire bit her lip. She would have liked another glass of the amazing, freezing cold champagne—she’d never had it before—but suspected, rightly, that Mme. LeGuarde would disapprove. In fact, even now they looked like they were getting ready to leave. She glanced around for her coat before remembering that it had been taken by a maid at the door.

“You are not leaving,” came a growly voice. She turned around, her heart suddenly jumping. Thierry was standing there, his face crestfallen. “Where are you going?”

“I have to work tomorrow,” she stuttered. “And Mme. LeGuarde…she is taking me home. I have to go with her.”

He waggled his eyebrows. “Ah, mam’zelle, I did not realize you were a child.”

“I’m not a child,” she said emphatically, realizing immediately as she did so what a child she sounded.

“Alors, then I will take you home.”

“You shall not,” said Mme. LeGuarde, who had suddenly materialized out of nowhere and was giving him a freezing stare.

“Enchanté,” said Thierry, not in the least perturbed. He bent and kissed her hand.

“This is your sister?”

Mme. LeGuarde rolled her eyes.

“This is my au pair, and while she is here, my ward,” she said crisply. “Claire, it is time to go.”

“Claire,” said Thierry, rolling the name around his mouth as if he were savoring it. “Of course, you will visit my new shop?”

Claire realized immediately that was difficult for Madame. Obviously all of Paris would have to try the new shop, otherwise how to admit it at the next soirée? She cut a sideways glimpse at Claire. Claire thought, and always would, that she was trying to think of ways to keep her apart from this fascinating person.

In fact, she couldn’t have been further from the truth.

Marie-Noelle LeGuarde was a woman of the world and thought Claire had been ridiculously protected and cosseted at home, completely stifled in the English bourgeois fashion. If she didn’t open her eyes soon, she’d end up buried in some ghastly English tomb like her mother and never have a day’s proper fun and experience in her life. She had just rather hoped it would be one of the charming, well-educated sons of her friends who would take her in hand, let her live a little, and send her home with wonderful memories of Paris and a horizon broader than her local church flower-arranging society. Not this hoofing peasant from Lot-et-Garonne. She sensed a hidden spirit in the young girl and felt it her responsibility, as a woman of the world, to give it wings, both for her and for her wonderful spirited mother, who had married the charismatic up-and-coming young churchman and lived to rue the day. But with someone suitable, and careful. She didn’t want to send her back knocked up by a fat cook.

“Bien sûr, of course,” she said swiftly to Thierry, simultaneously signaling to the maid to bring their coats. Extinguishing a cigarette, they left into the still-crisp spring evening. Claire, looking behind from the back window of the taxi cab, glimpsed the huge French windows of the apartment, flung open to the night, exuding a glow and the noise of music and chatter and cigar smoke drifting upward into the hazy night.

Dad never came up to my room, not since I was about twelve or so. It was my sanctum, my escape from the boys. Also, he just isn’t the kind of dad that goes in for long chats. He’s the kind of dad that makes really awful jokes to your friends and makes sure your bike chain is oiled up and gets a bit pink in the face at Christmas and doesn’t remove his party hat all day. I doubt he’s said “I love you” in his entire life, not even to Mum. I know he does, though, so it totally doesn’t matter. He also spends his life calling the boys buggers, but I knew he was proud of me when I got promoted at Braders.

Anyway, my mum had been rabbiting on about what I was going to do and what I was up to and what my future was going to be, and even hearing it was so exhausting—I’d lost two toes. I wasn’t paralyzed or in a wheelchair; I didn’t even qualify for a blue parking badge for my dad’s car (much to Mum’s evident disappointment, seriously).

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