The Ides of Matt:
A previously unpublished free short story,
every month from the 14th-20th.
WHERE DREAMS TASTE LIKE CHOCOLATE
by M.L. Buchman
-an Angelo’s Hearth romance story-
“Madonna Mother of God!” Tony Bosco would have had the crown of his head smacked with a wooden spoon by Grandma for saying it, but he couldn’t help himself.
His cousin Vic looked up from where he’d been sliding the latest tray of dark chocolate orange truffles into the display case. Together they stared out the large plate-glass window that faced onto the Madison Street sidewalk, at the east edge of Seattle.
“Oh, yes. She is something, isn’t she?”
Something? Tony couldn’t even speak. He hadn’t prayed in years but he wanted to drop to his knees on the linoleum and beg God himself to make her turn in at their chocolate shop’s door. He’d been back in Seattle for only three hours and he had just seen a goddess—unlike any woman he’d found in his entire five years in Europe.
When she did indeed turn toward him, he considered maybe Grandma was right and he should start going back to church.
With a bright tinkle of the bells on the back of the door, she breezed in. Five-ten of statuesque redhead in a flirty dress—the shade of beaten copper that clung to her like a dusting of sugar—strolled into the shop. The calf-high boots and accompanying short hem on the dress didn’t imply a thing; the combo shouted, “Amazing legs!”
“I need two of your finest, Vic. It’s a beautiful Friday.”
Tony couldn’t have said it better himself.
Vic already had a pair of his ginger caramel dark chocolates in a tiny sack. He exchanged them for the six dollars she already had out in her hand, her long graceful hand.
With a cheery, “Ciao!” she was gone out the door and Tony was left listening to the ringing bell rather than that silky voice, American English, but seasoned with Italian. Gone so fast he didn’t even have an eye color for her, though an impression of bright blue existed somewhere in his head.
“What the hell was that?” He still didn’t have his breath back.
Vic laughed, “Don’t worry. You’ll never get used to her. But every Friday, if she’s had a good week, she comes and buys two dark chocolate ginger caramels. Won’t buy anything else, so I make sure to never run out on a Friday.”
“And if she’s had a bad week?”
“Don’t see her, but thankfully that doesn’t happen so much. I do so look forward to these days.”
“Couldn’t you have like slowed her down for a moment?” Tony knew he hadn’t blinked, and still there hadn’t been a chance to look at her clearly. Too many first impressions and too little time to sort through them. He sniffed the air, but could find not one hint of her. Only the rich smell of fine chocolate remained in the shop.
“Can’t be done.”
“Because you haven’t tried.”
“Tried plenty, Cuz. Not happening.”
Tony rolled his eyes at his cousin. Vic had always been a lame-ass when it came to meeting girls. Actually, he’d been stellar at it, as long as Tony wasn’t around. Tony always managed first choice, which he never complained about and only lorded over his cousin at every other opportunity, not wanting to be too obnoxious.
His cousin laughed at him, “Okay, Mr. Hotshot European Chocolatier. Next week, I’ll keep my big mouth shut, you go ahead and try. Not a thing on this planet is gonna slow that woman down.”
He didn’t want her to slow down, he certainly never did that himself. He just wanted to move down the same path for a length or two, long enough for a wild affair. Tony turned back to the chocolate-making work counter and looked down at what Vic had given him on his return to the States just hours before.
His cousin had taken over the shop and the family recipes when their shared grandparents had retired and gone RVing. He’d never thought they were the sort, impossible to imagine them not in this shop. But they were off to tour every scenic byway in the country.
He’d never really thought he’d be back here. He’d worked in some of Europe’s premier chocolateries, been trained by master chefs, but the old shop felt comfortable. It was the right size. A cozy front area for customers to stare into the large glass display cases, small enough for a friendly jostling of elbows as they picked and chose, but not cramped or crowded. The kitchen behind, with no door to hide it away from the curious who wanted to peek over the cabinets. Light streamed in, bright through the front glass, dappled by trees through the high, kitchen windows in back.
This shop is where the two boys had spent every summer as kids. Once Vic had taken over, he’d increased business to the point where he could either manage the shop or make the chocolates, but not both. Seattle loved chocolate treats, and had plenty of companies catering to that craving. But even with competition, Granddad’s recipes were making a name for The Chocolaterie Bosco.
Tony had been at his usual loose ends when Vic called. He’d been hanging in Milan where his latest girlfriend had dumped him. Normally it worked the other way, but when the captain of the winning Italian team of the Tour de France swept her up, he knew he’d been totally outclassed. They’d been close to done anyway.
Il Cioccolato Bello only needed him for pick up work. He’d learned all he was going to at Oui Chocolat in Chartres outside of Paris. He’d plumbed the depths of Die Schokolade Maestro in Hamburg. And even thinking of the head chocolatiers at Kāko in New Zealand or Callebaut in Belgium made him exhausted, he was so not excited about “going back to school.”
So, Vic had given him an excuse to move once more half around the world and come make chocolate for a small but enthusiastic clientele. Just the two of them and a part-time clerk on the weekend, closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
He leaned on the work-counter and stared down at the dozens of hand-scribed index cards laid out across the cool marble slab. Vic had set them out for him. Granddad’s sloppy handwriting was faded on some to near illegibility, partially lost behind chocolate smears on others, but there was a voice here. A voice Tony had seen and loved, but perhaps never really heard.
He picked up one that he thought might entice la belle signora.
“I’ll start here,” he held up the card.
“Courvoisier-brandied cherry,” Vic nodded his approval. They shared a smile. They both remembered the trouble they’d earned for dropping a pair of them down the back of Vic’s older sister’s dress one summer then smacking them so that they burst, just moments before her date arrived. The long red stains had never come out and they’d both learned an appreciation—over many, many tedious unpaid hours of manual labor at the shop—just how much fine girl clothes cost.
Raquel Wells sat in Madison Park, counting an extra blessing that her favorite bench was open. It sat at the edge of the park, under the shade of a tall maple tree and faced Lake Washington. As she opened the paper bag she looked out at the lake: twenty miles long and three wide, it had halted the eastward expansion of Seattle a century before. Most of the park was fronted by a sandy beach and a very popular swimming area. Her favorite stretch was perched above a rocky rip-rap and nestled under friendly maple trees close by the shore.
From here, downtown Seattle was a comforting four miles behind her and the broad lake masked any thoughts of Bellevue on the far shore. Here is where she did her best thinking. Here is where she ate the best chocolate she’d ever found.
Vic Bosco’s Ginger Caramel, the dark chocolate sheen ever so lightly dusted with sea salt, slayed her every time. This is what heaven was like: a sunny day, a beautiful view, and a multi-layered treat for her palate.
As an extra treat today, her outfit had totally gob-smacked Vic’s new assistant. The guy looked as if he’d been paralyzed. Having an outfit that actually made a man’s jaw drop, well, that was a definite bonus. He was six foot of terribly handsome and appeared to be one of those guys completely willing to wield it as a woman-slayer. Absolutely not her type.
Her dress was just one of the many benefits of working at Perrin’s Glorious Garb. Four years ago she’d taken over as store manager on a wing, a prayer, and at the sharp prodding of two of Perrin’s best friends. Perrin had been barely scraping by and Raquel had been doing no better as an underling in the corporate mayhem of Seattle. Perrin had offered her straight commission and a ten percent share in the company if it survived.
Many times it had been close, but Perrin’s talent couldn’t be stopped. Now, with Perrin’s recent successes and Melanie Harper signing aboard as CEO, the company had gained global attention.
Raquel had kept the operation going, taken night classes for an MBA (Stage One of her Personal Life Plan), and scrabbled like a madwoman for four years. And at a very fine luncheon this afternoon, Perrin and Melanie had presented her with a brand new business card; it read “CFO.” There had been champagne, there had been tears, and there had been many smiles of well-deserved satisfaction. Soon, if the five-year business plan that she herself had written came even close to being accurate, they were all going to be very wealthy women.
That was completely worthy of two of Vic Bosco’s ginger caramels.
She’d promoted her clerk to store manager and was now free to focus on the on-line retail side of the business. Part of it was straightforward; Perrin’s unusual designs built to stock. But Perrin’s trademark was custom clothing matched to the individual. Turning that into an electronic platform was proving to be a fun challenge and a potentially lucrative one.
It was all running smoothly, or as smoothly as such things did. A lot of hard work lay ahead for all of them. But thankfully it was no longer about survival, rather it was about creating a stable success. That was Stage Two.
So, now it was time to focus on the next Stage Three of her Personal Life Plan: find a suitable partner. That too promised to be a great deal of fun and, if all went well, that too would have life-changing results.
She bit into sweet, salt, and ginger and let her eyes drift shut to fully appreciate the chocolate flavors.
The very first thing that Tony changed was how Vic was making the chocolate itself.
“Only the Criollo beans, buddy. Forastero is for wimps and Trinitario is only for wannabes and second raters.”
“Deal with it. Sell your stock off to some other shop. I won’t be using it.”
They had always mixed and ground their own nibs. The process of separating the cocoa solids and the cocoa butter was slow but worth the quality control it provided. Then they remixed them in precise portions with sugar, milk for the milk chocolate, and sometimes other flavorings. Granddad had always taught them to conch the chocolate for a full twenty-four hours. Chocolate was tenaciously gritty until it was ground with metal beads to break it down. Tony jumped the twenty-four hours to three full days—for mouthfeel, a trade secret he’d learned while sleeping with a pretty little Swedish chocolatier named Rosalie.
He forced Vic to buy a second conching machine so that they could run dark and milk chocolate batches at the same time. Vic went totally lame and bought a small machine without consulting him.
Tony dug into his savings and bought a large capacity machine for the dark chocolate. He’d never been a fan of white chocolate, so the small machine that Vic had bought got demoted to that role. Granddad’s old homebuilt could run the milk chocolate.
“It’s Friday, buddy. You ready, mi cugino?” Vic elbowed him sharply enough in the ribs to knock the air out of him.
“Not an idiot, my cousin,” Tony waited until Vic’s guard was down and slipped an ice cube down the back of his shirt. He’d been thinking about the Madonna Lady all week. How was it that his idiot cousin hadn’t even learned her name.
It was a beautiful June day. What would she be wearing on this bright, breezy day by the lake?
The answer once again took his breath away. Parisians so proud of their fashion sense didn’t have an inch of advantage on this woman. She breezed into the shop. A matching diaphanous lavender skirt that swirled about her knees and a matching leather vest, one of the sleeveless ones never intended to close, simply to enhance—a duty it performed admirably well because after all, it had a lot to work with. The luminous blue of her blouse matched her sapphire eyes.
She was looking at him with a single arched eyebrow, six dollars already in her fine-fingered hands.
Speak! Tony shouted at himself. “Greetings, Madonna Lady. How may I help you?”
Tony cut Vic off with a scathing look. He knew what she wanted, that wasn’t the point. The point was to get her talking.
Vic winced. His cousin knew he’d botched the play.
Raquel was smiling at him. Okay, he’d have to kill Vic later for making him look a fool, even if it had been his own fault.
“Two of your dark chocolate ginger caramels.”
He offered her a small sample plate of chocolates, “Would you like to try my granddad’s brandied cherries?”
“No thank you. Just my two dark caramels.”
In moments the door was closing with its cheery bell and six dollars rested beside the register.
“Gone…” he couldn’t believe that she’d slipped away so easily. Not correcting his “Madonna Lady.” Not offering her name in its stead. And turning down the chocolate he’d made especially for her, as good a treat as Granddad had ever concocted.
“Told ya. No slowing her down.” Vic slapped him on the back hard enough to really sting and turned to greet a mother-daughter pair who entered the shop.
Her departing wave had been offhand, too perfectly casual. Tony knew when the gauntlet had been thrown down and he wasn’t a man to leave that challenge unanswered.
Raquel sat on her park bench and bit into the caramel. The chocolate slid over her tongue. It didn’t simply melt in her mouth, it hesitated to play there a while, thick with teasing flavors she’d never noticed before. She tilted her head to one side, watching a sailboat skim along the lake while appreciating. The cocoa taste built and lasted, like a sweet, pure chord from a harp.
Perhaps she was extra sensitive today because she was launching Stage Three of her Personal Life Plan tonight. In two hours she’d be having dinner with Steven Tu. He was one of the partners of the law firm that Perrin used when her friend Jo was too busy. He was hugely successful and quite handsome. They’d met at business functions a few times. His sense of humor was a little weak, but his intelligence and taste more than compensated.
Raquel had always worked hard, unlike either of her parents. They came from money and were well on their way to losing it all through benign neglect. She was going the opposite direction and had been since she was seven. Her net worth had always been known to the penny and ruthlessly budgeted. She had started with hand sewing doll dresses for sale at Saturday markets; even working by flashlight under the covers until her fingers were poked to bleeding. Making clothes for junior high and high school friends, at least the ones who cared more about looks than designer labels, had given her a good training. She’d also learned that while she’d never be a designer, she could copy a name brand and knew how to reshape it to a body. She’d put herself through college working three jobs and still had been doing that when she’d joined Perrin.
Now after two decades, she was twenty-seven and all of that work was paying off. Raquel Wells was about to collect her rewards. Not that achieving her goals had ever slowed her down; she’d just set new ones and continue charging upward. Financially stable at twenty-seven. Next on the list was happily married by thirty. She’d allotted three years to make sure it was the right man for her, though she only expected to use six months of that time. True financial success and solid personal stability by thirty-two, plenty of time for a child at thirty-five.
When Raquel began considering which man she might choose to build that future with, Steven Tu’s gentle manners and impeccable taste came easily to mind.
She had come up with a list of three initial candidates and hoped that one of them would be the answer she was looking for.
Another rustle of the bag, and the second caramel was gone before she managed to slow herself down enough to assess what was actually occurring.
The chocolate was different.
She didn’t like that. Vic Bosco’s chocolate was comfortable, familiar, it fit into her life. For the last year, since she first felt she could afford the splurge, it had been both exceptional and completely consistent. You could plan on exactly what you were going to get there.
This must be the doing of the one playing games at the counter, the one fishing for her name with “Madonna Lady.”
She should go back and tell Vic to change it back, or get rid of the new man. But then Raquel realized that she was still tasting other aspects of the chocolate, though the treat was long gone. The flavors were different, but they were also lusher and richer. They continued to open and unfold despite how greedily she’d eaten both candies.
Maybe she wouldn’t be complaining to Vic. Somehow it felt disloyal to Vic to even think that. But it was…better.
Rising from her bench, she smoothed the chocolatier’s bag, folded it in half, and slipped it into her skirt pocket. Time to go change for Steven.
Tony was losing his mind.
Three weeks. No joy.
She’d refused a Habañero Mango Crème. She’d scoffed at his Pear Brandy Truffle. And now she’d even turned down his taste of Christmas in Summertime Strawberry Eggnog with just a hint of nutmeg.
He’d tried slipping the treat into the bag with her invariant ginger caramels, but she’d caught him the first time.
The second time, he had placed it into the bag before she came in. She had actually brought that bag back after she was done eating her two caramels.
Placing the bag on the top of the glass display case, she’d simply said, “I didn’t pay for this.” And then shot him a wicked smile. With a swirl of red hair and a jingle of the door’s bell, she was back out of the store. The shop was far too busy with a Seattle Chocolate Tour for him to respond. Vic had one thing right, the woman apparently never slowed down.
After that last failure to entice her, he didn’t even try to put a third candy in the bag.
The Madonna Lady didn’t even open it to check. Instead she raised it a few times as if weighing the bag, smiled at him, then paid and departed. He’d been left to watch the effect of designer slacks on mile-long legs and a well-toned behind. A fine view, but not what he was really hankering for.
Clearly she had a plan: to make him totally insane.
Just as clearly, he needed a plan. The problem with a plan was that it required thinking ahead. Even without his cousin’s constant ribbing, he knew that wasn’t his strongest suit. Vic had always been the thinker and Tony had always gone with flow. He was only ever serious about one thing: chocolate.
Like it was yesterday, he still remembered the first time that he’d watched, really watched, his grandfather forming a chilled ganache into a perfect ball, swirling it in melted chocolate to coat it, then giving it a quick roll in cocoa powder and coconut. Granddad had popped it into Tony’s mouth, still cold in the center, the chocolate coating still warm beneath the cocoa and coconut. In that moment he knew what he wanted to do. He wanted to awe someone the way Granddad had just awed him.
And there was the problem.
The beautiful redhead wasn’t even giving him a chance to impress her. So why was this one woman so important that she was making him doubt his skills as a chocolatier?
Answer that one, boy, and you could conquer the world. Granddad’s standard reply to so many of Tony’s questions wasn’t comforting, but at least it was familiar.
“Vic, I gotta go for a swim.”
“Yeah, you look like you need to soak your head.”
Tony punched Vic’s upper arm hard, with a knuckle extended to ping the nerve cluster, and then headed to the apartment they shared above the shop to change.
“Oh my god!”
Raquel looked up from her second caramel to see the Vic’s assistant halted in mid-stride mere steps from her bench. She had to blink. Not wearing a chef’s coat and slacks, he was almost unrecognizable. He wore an old pair of cut-off shorts that revealed powerful legs, a t-shirt that clung to his frame, and a towel around his neck. He was a very handsome man in his chef’s suit. But out of it? Wow!
She primarily sold women’s clothes, but Perrin occasionally did menswear and Raquel knew enough about the male physique to see that he had a swimmer’s build. Not as a mere occasional workout; he obviously swam a lot to earn such conditioning.
“Madonna Lady,” he breathed it out on a gasp of disbelief.
“That’s not my name.”
“So, what is your name?” he growled in frustration.
“Raquel Wells. And if you make one single joke about Raquel Welch and fur bikinis, you’re a dead man.” She’d heard that way too many times. That was one of the reasons she liked Steven Tu, he hadn’t gone there once in their month of dating, without prompting. The man presently standing by “her” bench she knew she had to warn off, a fact confirmed by his smile though he asked a different question.
“Why didn’t you tell my your name before?”
“You didn’t ask.”
He stared down at his flip-flops and then up at the leaves of the overhanging maple tree before shaking his head sadly and laughing.
“You’re right, I didn’t.”
And as simple as that Steven Tu was crossed off her list. This hadn’t been much of a joke, but the man had laughed at it nonetheless. Steven had not even a shadow of a sense of humor. She’d thought they’d been compatible enough on other fronts—both business people, both very forthright—for it to be a possibility. But the chocolatier’s simple laugh had disproven that.
“May I join you?” he waved to the empty end of the bench.
Manners were appreciated, even from a man she could never be interested in, so she nodded her assent. “And what is your name?”
“Oh, I’m not nearly so easy.”
“I could ask Vic.” She wasn’t easy either, but she wasn’t above being sneaky.
“You could. My cousin is a complete and total pushover around beautiful women.”
“Whereas you are…”
“…much further into the complete idiot category. You can call me Tony.”
“But that’s not your name?”
His shrug was eloquent.
Now it was her turn to laugh. There was a scream of five-year old giggles that rippled over from the nearby beach. She took the last bite of the caramel that had been melting in her fingers. “That’s so good. How do you do that?” She licked her fingers clean.
“Family secret. I could tell you, but then…” he shrugged negligently.
“You’d have to kill me.”
He nodded, “Sadly true. That or marry you. Then you’d be family. What do you say, is that secret worth being married to me forever and ever?”
Not a chance. “Maybe I’ll marry Victor instead. That way I’d be family and you’d have to tell me.” Tony didn’t look even a little like a forever and ever sort of guy.
“It’s Vicenzo. And if you marry Vic, then I’d definitely have to kill him,” again the deep snarl sounded though it was belied by an easy smile. “I know fratricide is frowned upon, but you can’t really get in trouble for killing a first cousin, can you? I mean if he goes off and marries the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen, he deserves what he gets.”
“He does.” She felt another laugh bubbling up inside her. He was quick, this chocolatier perhaps named Tony. And charming. Raquel generally enjoyed her power over men. But she was looking for someone who: 1) saw past her beauty and, 2) had more to offer than charm. She’d estimate a poor rate of return on a bet that Tony could manage either one.
She rose lightly to her feet, “I really must go. I have a date.”
“A date?” Tony slapped a hand to his chest, slouched in the bench and groaned. “Is it serious? Can you be cured?”
“Yes. No. And yes.” She was actually going to go and break her date with Steven, no point in wasting more time there when she knew it wasn’t going to work out in the long term.
Tony started to look hopeful, but kept his hand on his heart as if in precaution.
“But not for you, my bucko.”
He collapsed onto the bench as if dead and she laughed.
Then she turned for home. With Steven crossed off her list, it was time to call Gary Thomas. Perrin’s husband worked at Emerald City Opera and had introduced her to the new head of accounting there. A single father with a cute five-year-old girl. She’d met them both at Opera events and they were so charming together. In addition to their shared business backgrounds, Gary was clearly a sweet man with a big heart. Instant family could be both efficient and lovingly secure.
It was while he was getting in an hour’s swim on Lake Washington, the bracing water knocking some sense into him, that Tony figured out that he’d literally stumbled onto his plan. The next Friday he was ready.
Raquel breezed into the shop with her six dollars and ever-present smile. He took her money, handed over her pre-filled bag, then lifted one of his own and sent her a questioning glance.
Her smile quirked up on one side and lit her eyes. Damn! And he’d thought she was a knock-out before. That’s when he understood that a regular smile was her default state. But it was only when it went sideways that he’d really tickled her funny bone.
She tipped her head to the side, causing her hair to cascade down over one shoulder in thick waves that just begged to be gentle brushed back from her face. Then with a nod, she turned for the door.
Tony held up a hand palm out toward his cousin.
Vic automatically raised his hand, not really sure why. Tony slapped it with a hard high-five. This time it was Vic’s jaw that was down.
Tony shed his jacket, grabbed his bag of chocolates, and bolted for the door so as not to lose Raquel. She didn’t slow down a moment and he had to jog to catch up with those long legs.
Her bench was taken so they strolled along the pathways of Madison Park, past playgrounds loud with pre-dinnertime mobs of kids, along the winding walkway above the equally popular beach, and under the small section of quieter trees. It wasn’t a big park, so the view was constantly changing. The cluster of shops at the end of Madison Street, a beach full of kids, a pretty little garden of rose bushes, shade trees, and from everywhere the sun sparkling off the surface of the lake.
As they walked, they talked of what she did for a living. At first he thought she just sold clothes, but as CFO of a rising clothier she was way more. A bit daunting, in fact, because even he’d heard of Perrin’s Glorious Garb. The only thing about clothes that he usually paid attention to was how to take them off a willing woman. But Raquel was part of a powerhouse company that had commanded the cover and a major spread in the latest SI swimsuit issue. The fabulous Melanie claiming her fifth cover.
One the other hand, he was an assistant in his cousin’s chocolate shop. His only stake in the business was a shared heritage and a conching machine. It rapidly became clear that she was a very focused gal. She clearly ate, slept, and breathed the fashion business. He just didn’t rate.
But as they strolled by the water and talked, he began to feel less overwhelmed. She wasn’t some accounting nerd; she was as passionate for the business of clothing as he was for chocolate. It appeared to rise from that same deep core, reaching back into childhood and superseding all else.
That was a passion he could appreciate.
As summer drifted toward fall, they continued to walk or sit together on the bench each Friday. He’d never spent so much time with a woman he wasn’t sleeping with, but it was hard to complain as he was so enjoying their weekly afternoons together.
Though she still refused to taste his chocolates, though he brought a different one each week. It had become a thing between them: he would plumb the depths of another of Granddad’s recipes, and she would politely insist that she was happy with ones she knew.
Raquel finally gave in and tasted the chocolate from Tony’s bag after an entire summer of Fridays. Their maple tree was starting to change colors, and maybe that too was part of the reason she gave in. She hadn’t refused because she was stuck in her ways, as he’d jokingly accused her. Nor that she was a one-track gal, which she was, but not about chocolate. It was that she’d found what she wanted and that’s what she ordered each week.
But mostly, he’d finally looked so pitiful, that she’d broken down. How was she supposed to deny those sad, puppy dog eyes on six-one of pouting chocolatier male.
But this she hadn’t expected. Liquid coconut trapped in a dark, dark chocolate.
“Oh my god!”
“Madonna Lady likes?” he’d insisted on continuing to call her that.
She could only close her eyes and nod. It didn’t have the comfort of her ginger caramel, but it was so very good. It revealed exactly how skilled he was.
This chocolate didn’t indicate a level of mere competence, it revealed mastery. The coconut didn’t overwhelm, it whorled with and enhanced the perfectly smooth chocolate coating. All of his years studying in Europe had definitely not been as idle as he’d made them sound; this small confection could only be the result of years of remarkably focused training.
She sighed again as she finished the treat. This time it was a sad sigh, so she kept it to herself. She was jolted out of her small ennui by Tony.
“So, how’s this next guy on your list working out?”
Gary Thomas was sweet, thoughtful, and a good businessman. After three months together, they’d even begun talking about when it might be time for her to meet his daughter as girlfriend rather than friend. They both agreed that it was too soon, but they were talking about it.
The problem with Gary was that he was merely a good businessman, not a great one, and definitely not a driven one. There was competence, but no passion. No mastery like Tony’s chocolate nor the desire to achieve it.
Raquel had worked her fair share of nights and weekends, both while attending night school for her MBA and since for the growth of Perrin’s Glorious Garb.
Gary had taken the job at Emerald City Opera as a downshift from a Microsoft job. His wife, a software engineer, hadn’t wanted the downshift which had ultimately caused the breakdown of the marriage. The only time she took off work was to spend time with her daughter; something Raquel easily understood, but Gary didn’t.
Raquel was a long way from ready to slow down. She was just picking up speed.
So. That left only one more man on her first-tier list. Marco Mancini was a division manager at Ferragamo Milan and he was all about speed.
“Milan?” Tony looked at her cross-eyed. “Why would you go to Milan for a date?”
She hadn’t really meant to talk about her love life with the likes of Tony Bosco, but somehow it had become a natural part of their conversation.
For three months he’d listened and offered no comment, other than the one time clutching his heart. After she’d walked away from that first meeting at the bench, a final glance back had revealed him lying on the bench, hands crossed on his chest holding up his swimming towel as if it was a lily. She’d left him with her laughter.
Sometimes their Friday walks had become Friday meals; the edges of Madison Park boasted several nice restaurants. He never pushed any intimacy, said he never poached on another man’s ground, he never even asked to come in when he walked her the few blocks to home on the warm evenings.
He kept it light. Sometimes he made her wonder if she was losing her powers, then she’d catch him watching her at unexpected moments. No, the interest continued, but the decency stopped him, as she was seeing another man. But now Marco Mancini was next on her Stage Three list.
She and Marco had met at New York Fashion Week last February. The heat between them had been instantaneous. Their affair had been wild, crammed in between runway shows and designer meetings. Their postcoital conversations had been purely business and marketing—which had been fun; sometimes even during sex—which had been perhaps a bit much. His focus was incredible and his skill as a lover was amazing. He had made it very clear in several very suggestive e-mails quite how happy he would be to see her again. She would suggest a week’s visit to start, and see where that led them.
“Milan?” Tony asked the darkness above his bed.
“Milan?” he asked the bathroom mirror a couple of hours later, still unable to sleep.
He jumped out of bed in frustration. It was the middle of the goddamn night.
“Milan?” he muttered to the chocolate conching machine grinding its way to a finish of the latest batch of dark chocolate.
He flipped through the battered wooden box of Granddad’s recipes. He stopped at the one with a small heart drawn in the upper-right corner. It was the chocolate he’d made sixty years ago for the woman he’d been courting. So simple it was laughable, so pure that the least mistake would ruin it. Chocolate-covered blueberries. This one card was covered a dozen tiny corrections. He’d clearly worked and reworked this recipe until he had it perfect.
But that was his grandfather and grandmother’s story. He didn’t want to give Raquel anything more of Granddad’s, he wanted…
He didn’t know what. He wasn’t used to wanting more. Not when it came to women.
But he’d start by closing the old box.
The kitchen had filled with the fall morning’s light by the time Vic wandered into the kitchen, “It’s time to open up. What are you working on?”
Tony ignored him and threw his latest attempt into the trash.
At some point Vic set a sandwich and a soda beside his marble work table. Tony could hear the noise of customers out front, of the Saturday crowd as it swelled, then later faded away. The windows were dark by the time he finished his creation.
Vic sat quietly in a dark corner of the kitchen with a glass of red wine, waiting.
Tony set the finished chocolate on a cut-glass plate and delivered it to his cousin.
In silence, Vic took it, bit off a small corner and closed his eyes the way Granddad used to when analyzing a taste.
Vic took his time, finishing the piece in three small bites, taking a long time after each.
When he finished and reopened his eyes, Tony could feel the nerves coursing under his skin. He was never twitchy about making chocolate, but this one was different. This one was…
Vic rose to his feet without a word. He crossed to the office nook and returned. He set a blank index card and a pen on the table in front of Tony before returning to his seat.
“You have to write that one down. And, as Granddad always said, ‘Don’t give me any crap about it being in your head, boy.’ It’s better than anything Granddad ever did. He’s going to freak out the next time he and Grandma come through town. Christ, Antonio, it’s amazing.”
Tony wrote it down, his hand shaking with lack of sleep.
“Gone? What do you mean gone?” Tony wanted to reach through the phone and strangle the pleasant woman on the far end of the line. He didn’t have Raquel’s number, so he’d called Perrin’s Glorious Garb as soon as he’d woken up. The front desk clerk hadn’t been at all helpful about her boss’ private schedule, so he’d bucked his way up the food chain, never expecting to be handed right to the owner herself.
“She’s on vacation,” Perrin’s voice was polite and distant. “How may I help you?”
“Between Friday night and Sunday morning? She can’t be in Milan already.” Tony closed his eyes, struggling not to imagine Raquel in the arms of some hot Italian designer. His stomach twisted.
“No, she’s staying overnight with some friends in New York.” The the voice shifted as if he suddenly had the woman’s full attention. “Is this the One?”
“The one what?”
The woman on the phone sounded even merrier at his confusion. “Well, you better do something quick, Mister One. Raquel doesn’t slow down for any man.”
Where had he heard that before.
“When are you expecting her back?”
“Wrong question. Lose one turn. Ehhh!” She made a harsh penalty-buzzer noise.
He pulled the phone away from his ear and stared at it for a moment. “Then what’s the right question?”
“Ehhhhhhhh!” Perrin made a longer buzzer sound.
“Oh.” His only excuse was that he’d slept under six of the last forty-eight hours. He knew the right question now.
“She’s only staying in New York one night?”
“Give the man a kewpie doll!” It sounded oddly as if the woman on the other end of the phone was now dancing.
It was Monday afternoon by the time Raquel came off the New York-Milan flight. She felt ragged. All of the expectation she’d thought to be feeling hadn’t made the flight with her. Not even in her checked luggage. She’d slept poorly in New York and not at all on either flight. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
She must look awful. Marco was going to take one look at her after she came through customs and tell her to turn back around. Even her lack of enthusiasm had a lack of enthusiasm.
When Marco had said how excited he would be to see her any time, and Perrin had teased her about backlogged vacation time, she booked a flight and took a chance. She could keep up with the business on her tablet computer and enjoy Italy and Marco in between. Multi-tasking was her lifestyle.
Except it didn’t feel that way.
At the head of the jetway she stumbled to a halt. A beautiful man in a white dress shirt, dark slacks, and mirrored sunglasses stood just inside the terminal. The sign said, “Wells.”
Marco had said he’d meet her at the hotel. But he’d sent someone? No one should be waiting for her on this side of customs and security anyway. Then she focused her tired eyes on the rest of the card, “Fur bikinis for sale—cheap.”
She laughed. Someone had—
Finally she looked up at his face.
“Antonio Alberico Bosco at your service. That’s my full name, which oddly means ‘invaluable elf ruler of the woods’ if you can believe that.”
He had her laughing despite her confusion and exhaustion. She couldn’t make sense of it; of any of it.
“My flight made it in fourteen hours ahead of yours. I slept over there,” he pointed at a row of seats close to the gate. With an easy confidence, he took her arm and led her to a quiet corner of the terminal’s seating. The vast windows revealed the paved expanse of the airport and the city skyscrapers rising beyond.
“I’m…” she took a deep breath to steady her whirling mind, “…meeting someone.”
“Open wide or you won’t get your treat.”
She looked down. He held a small box marked with The Chocolaterie Bosco logo, gold on black. It had always looked abstract…but she now saw that it was an elf playing a trumpet beneath a tree.
“You flew all this way to feed me a piece of chocolate?”
His engaging smile had her opening her mouth against her better judgment. How ludicrous was it? She was here for a tryst with a highly successful Italian designer and now she was sitting and tasting—
Her brain switched off as she bit down on the chocolate that Tony had slipped into her mouth. The chocolate was, oh, magnificent. Impossibly smooth and luscious. There was a hint of…it took her a moment to pin it down, fresh apricot.
Then her teeth broke into the center releasing a flood of apricot liqueur, thickened into a syrup that lit up her sense of taste and smell too, and then she finally sunk her teeth into perfect texture of the candied apricot core. Triple apricot!
Somehow, impossibly, Tony had captured their summer’s worth of Fridays in a single bite: from the first change of the chocolate, to the lush mastery of the liquid coconut but transformed from tropical to summer, and the candied core texture that she so loved in the ginger caramel.
“It’s like a perfect kiss,” she barely managed to breath it out. She opened her eyes. Tony’s handsome face so close that she’d barely have to move to touch noses.
Then Tony’s lips brushed hers. It was a question, no more.
When she answered, he opened to her and slid his hand to cradle her cheek.
The kiss coursed through her. Men mostly just wanted to sleep with her, but against all odds, Tony had first become her friend. She knew how impressed he was by what she’d done, how deeply he understood the drive that had pushed them both every day, even if it had been down different paths.
And his kiss, oh gods she was lost. His power overwhelmed her senses until she had to push him away so that she could breathe and think and hear something other than the pounding of her heart.
“How?” How had he known to be here? The passing crowd from her flight had thinned.
“Up ‘til now I have always made Granddad’s chocolates. Enhanced them. Built on them.”
He disoriented her; he was answering a different question. He did that to her a lot. Tony Bosco the European playboy had also been the chocolate maestro. She’d watched through the summer as Chocolaterie Bosco had bloomed with him as the new chocolatier.
“I never understood how Granddad made such chocolate until I really looked at the recipe he’d used to court Grandma. He put his heart on the plate. You’ve done something to me, Raquel, and this is the best way I know how to show it.”
She made herself focus on his words and resist her desire to kiss him again. His kiss was even better than his chocolate which should be impossible, but it was true.
“Since the first moment you swooped into the shop, there has only been one woman in my thought—” Then he burst out laughing. Not at something amusing, but at something impossibly funny.
For once she couldn’t follow the joke, “What?” By the time he recovered enough to speak, she was ready to offer him a sharp jab.
“Your boss is a very smart woman.”
Perrin was, but what did she have to do with apricot chocolate and the best kiss of her life?
“She said I was ‘The One.’ I had no idea what she was talking about, but I get it now.”
Rachel tried to come up with an answer, but couldn’t find it anywhere. “Okay, I give. You need to let me in on the joke.”
His face sobered, then he brushed his fingers along her cheek. “I’m, uh, glad you liked the chocolate.”
“It was magnificent, but that was also a subject change.”
“It was,” he nodded. “For perhaps the first time, I wasn’t copying Granddad.”
“You put your heart on the plate.”
He managed a nod, but his lips were clamped tight as if he was unwilling to speak the next words.
He really had put his heart into it. No one else could have made that, could have captured their story in a confection. What had it cost him to do it? And he’d done it for her. He’d—
“You just told me how you made that incredible bite.”
“I did,” his voice was rough.
“So, having revealed your secret, now you have to kill me?”
He shook his head.
“Well, I’m certainly not going to marry your cousin in exchange for that secret.”
All of his suppressed tension exploded outward in a laugh that had heads turning in their direction.
“Thank god for that.” Then he slipped out of the chair beside her and knelt on the floor of the airport terminal without releasing her hands. “Will you marry me for it, Raquel? For I can’t imagine ever designing a chocolate for anyone else but you.”
In Raquel’s neatly ordered life, it made absolutely no sense. Yet it made perfect sense. They shared passion and determination and he had a heart that she knew would never stop giving. He’d opened up a place in her that she didn’t even know existed and filled it with light and smiles and flavors. It was so easy to picture a life with him, children with him, growing old with him.
“I guess that depends.”
He blinked at her in surprise.
“It depends on whether you were smart enough to bring more of that apricot chocolate.”
“I did. And I’ll make you as much as you ever want once we’re home.”
She leaned down to seal the deal with a kiss.
“Then let’s go home.”
Copyright © 2014 by M.L. Buchman
Published by Buchman Bookworks, Inc.
Cover and Layout copyright © 2014 by Buchman Bookworks, Inc.
Cover art copyright: Sunset at Ocean Shores, WA © Nickay3111
This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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Where Dreams Taste Like Chocolate
Raquel has managed Perrin's store through 5 Angelo's Hearth novels starting in "Where Dreams Are Born." Now she gets a love story of her own.
-an Angelo’s Hearth romance story-
Tony Bosco, itinerant chocolatier, has returned to Seattle to work in his cousin’s shop; a legacy from their past. But only when he searches for the heart behind their granddad’s recipes does he begin to discover his own gifts.
Raquel Wells has been instrumental in creating the business success of Perrin’s Glorious Garb clothiers. Her weekly treat, two pieces of Bosco chocolate. Next? Find the man to fulfill Stage Three of her Personal Life Plan, which is right on track, until her meticulous agenda is sideswiped by Tony.
Their futures await Where Dreams Taste Like Chocolate.
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: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
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