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Dark chocolate for a white wedding.
The juxtaposition brought a smile to Maya LeBlanc's lips as she stood at the worktable in the kitchen of Maya's Chocolaterie, threading the last sterling-silver heart charm onto the final strand of white satin ribbon. Savoring the scent of roasted cocoa beans, cinnamon and dried rose petals that lingered in the air, she tied a bow on the last box of wedding favors and placed it on the baker's rack with the other 349 she had already put together. Each small package contained a quartet of handmade trufflesan exclusive recipe she had concocted specifically for the Coopersmith/Harris wedding, which would take place at the end of the week across the Atlantic Ocean in Celebration, Texas.
Nothing that came out of Maya's kitchen was mass-produced. In fact, all of the chocolates she made were as exclusive as the occasions and clients for whom she designed them.
However, she wasn't accustomed to producing her sweets on this large of a scale: fourteen hundred truffles in three days. The wedding chocolatein addition to what she needed to sustain her shop's daily businesswas a tall order that took more manpower than Maya, in her tiny St. Michel shop, possessed. She had put in a lot of extra hours this week after she had turned over the Shop Closed sign. Now that she was finished and staring at the mountainous pile of white boxes, she wasn't sure she would ever take on another task of such epic proportions. But she blinked away the thought, feeling like a first-time marathon runner who had just crossed the finish line and was already contemplating her next race.
Maya had done this order as a favor for her friend Caroline Coopersmith, the sister of the bride. Despite the fact that Maya had never met Caroline's sister, Claudia, she couldn't say no after hearing the desperation in Caroline's voice. Apparently, Claudia was more aptly described as Bridezilla on the rampage than blushing bride to be. The Texas-based chocolatier originally procured to provide the truffles for Claudia's wedding had gone out of business, disappearing lock, stock and bridal favors into the night with Claudia's depositone week before the wedding.
While individual boxes of truffles for the guests would not make or break the wedding, Bridezilla was breathing fire and Caroline had called Maya, desperate for her to work her magic: produce an exclusive confection for the occasion and ship it to the States in a matter of days.
"It wouldn't hurt if you sent a special box made with ingredients that will calm my sister's nerves," Caroline had joked.
Hmmm not a bad idea. Some chamomile and lavender in white chocolate. That was a good start, and Maya had been stewing on it as she finished up the large order.
She glanced at her watch. It was nearly two in the morning, which made it just before eight o'clock in the evening in Texas. She picked up the telephone and dialed Caroline's cell phone number.
Caroline picked up on the third ring. "Hello?"
"Bonjour! It's Maya." She settled into a chair, trying not to let the fatigue that suddenly weighed on her like an anchor show in her voice. "Fait accompli. Tell your sister to rest assured that the order will arrive in plenty of time for the wedding. I will package the truffles in foam coolers and ship them to you tomorrow. Tout de suite!"
"You're wonderful! And you must be a mind reader, because not ten minutes ago Claudia called asking for an update on the chocolate. I told her I'd call you tomorrow since it was late in St. Michel. I hope this job hasn't cost you too much sleep."
"Sleep is overrated. How are your sister's wedding plans progressing?"
As Caroline sighed, Maya sensed that her friend was even more exhausted than she was.
"At the risk of sounding like a terrible sister, I will be so glad when Saturday arrives and the wedding is over. The world will stop revolving around Claudia and we will all be able to reclaim our lives. I'm happy for her, really, I am. But just when I think she can't possibly drain one more ounce out of the bridal party, she manages to draw blood."
Caroline sighed again. "I'm sorry, Maya. I must sound like a miserable person."
A note in Caroline's Texan drawl made Maya think that perhaps the weariness was the product of more than physical exhaustion. Hmmm a box of something special for Caroline was in order, too.
"No, you don't sound like a miserable person. You're a fabulous sister for doing all that you have for her. Do you have a date for the wedding?" Ever the matchmaker, Maya couldn't resist asking.
"Are you kidding? Between work at the accounting firm, baking for the catering company and my maid-of-honor duties, I barely have time to sleep. There are no men on my horizon."
Ahh that explained it. Being maid of honor in a wedding when you had no love of your own was like being trapped inside a candy store and not being allowed to taste the sweets. Seeing the possibilities and imagining what it might be like, but that's where it ended.
Alas, Caroline deserved more.
An idea swelled up inside of Maya, like a perfect chocolate souffle rising in the oven.
Yes, it's Caroline's turn for love.
And Maya knew just the thing to set the wheels of love in motion.
Caroline Coopersmith helped herself to a large piece of wedding cake and carried it to the empty bridal-party table. All of the other attendants were on the dance floor. Here Caroline was, getting cozy with a plate of fat and sugar. She decided she might as well have another glass of champagne, too.
She waved over a waiter, grabbed a flute and then slipped her feet out of the four-inch stilettos that were so painful they should have carried a warning label. For the first time that eveningactually, for the first time in months Caroline was able to inhale a full, deep breath and relax.
Her sister, Claudia, was married.
At long last.
The relief Caroline felt did not solely have to do with the fact that her aching feet had been mercifully freed from bondage. It was more to do with everyone making it through the wedding unscathed. No one had killed Claudia. Nor did the more plausible threat of Claudia killing or maiming her come to fruition.
Now, Caroline was free. And she had cake and champagne .
What more could a girl want?
Caroline's gaze searched the room for best man Drew Montgomery. Before she could find him, something else caught her eye.
Claudia waved from the center of the crowded dance floor, motioning her to join in a group dance to the Black Eyed Peas's "I Gotta Feeling." Caroline's gaze swept the dance floor, searching. When she still did not see Drew among the revelers, any motivation she might have mustered to drag herself into the fray evaporated. Living up to his job description, Drew certainly was the best man here. And probably the only thing more tempting than the wedding cake.
She and Drew had met for the first time yesterday at the rehearsal. Since he was best man to her maid of honor, the two had been paired up at the rehearsal dinner last night. It had been nice meeting him and spending time with him.
Caroline smiled but shook her head, raising her glass to her sister in a "go ahead without me" toast.
Claudia flashed a quick okay sign and turned back to her groom, Kyle, who pulled her close, folding her into their own private slow dance to the fast song. They kissed and looked so in love, as if they had not a care in the world.
And they didn't, really. Caroline sighed and ate a bite of cake as she watched them. At least right now they didn't have a care. The wedding had gone off without a hitch. All that was left was the bridal bouquet toss and the send-off. After that her sister and new brother-in-law would ride off into their future, and Caroline would be free to retreat to her hotel suite and enjoy a long, hot soak in the pond-sized marble Jacuzzi tub.
In the meantime, she had carrot cake with cognac-spiked hazelnut marzipan creme filling. She closed her lips around another generous bite and closed her eyes, savoring the delectable combination of flavors.
Hazelnuts cloves nutmeg.
If she had made this wedding cake herself, she would've added a dash more cinnamon and maybe a hint of orange zest to the fillinga secret something to lend a certain je ne sais quois .
Baking was her hobby, the happy place she went to when she needed to ground herself. Given the stressful nature of her job with Coopersmith & Bales, the accounting firm her great-grandfather had founded, she found herself retreating more and more into the sweet goodness of her confectionary sanctuary. Because baking was the only thing that kept her sane. It was a wonder she did not weigh five hundred pounds.
Still, even without the flavors Caroline would add, the cake was heavenly. She opened her eyes to fork up another bite. On the dance floor, Kyle dipped Claudia and the guests cheered. The surprised delight on her sister's face made Caroline smile, too. Claudia looked so beautiful and in love.
Yes, all was right with the world. How could it not be when there was a living, breathing example of true love right in front of her?
Watching the love between her sister and brother-in-law renewed her faith in true love, even though her own romantic future did not seem very bright. She had had plenty of boyfriends over the years but never a serious relationship.
Why? Because Caroline was so very guarded. It was one of her flaws, and she readily admitted it. Still, it also happened that most of the men she had datedthe ones who might have had the potential to work outalways seemed to be unavailable, preoccupied or headed somewhere: off to college or internships or jobs. Or some of them just weren't in a good place for a relationship. There always seemed to be an obstacle that stood in the way. Real or imagined, it was Caroline's justification for keeping up the walls of self-protection.
This weekend, though, she thought she had felt a spark of mutual attraction between Drew and herself, but he'd been scarce since the wedding party and family dances had ended.
That was fine. Disappointing, but, really, what had she expected?
Well, at one point, she had actually admitted to herself that if she were the type of woman who had one-night stands, Drew Montgomery was exactly the kind of guy she would choose. He was a classictall, dark and handsome, with broad shoulders and a hint of irreverent bad boy that added to his allure.
It was crazy that she had even considered something so out of character. But she was a grown womanthirty-three years old, for God's sake. She had no prospects in sight and no time in her busy schedule to think about going out on a manhunt. And again, was it so wrong to want a taste of romance for herself no matter how fleeting?
With all eyes on Claudia and Kyle this weekend, and delicious Drew at her side well, it had been a tempting daydream.
Thank God, he was nowhere to be found in the dangerous hour when their wedding duties were done and the champagne was flowing like an endless river.
Wistful, Caroline turned her attention back to her plate, scraping up the last traces of icing. It was so good. She just might treat herself to seconds. There was nothing to feel guilty about, as long as she didn't consider the calories in the small box of Maya's truffles she had already consumed before the wedding had even started.
Along with the shipment of chocolate party favors, Maya had sent special boxes of truffles to Caroline and Claudia. She had called the treats "wedding survival kits." She had claimed that Claudia's chocolates contained calming herbs to help rid her of bridal jitters; observing how calm and carefree her sister seemed right now, they'd obviously worked their magic.
Caroline's box, Maya had said, was a reward for seeing Claudia through the wedding stress. Maya's note to Caroline had read: Eat these on the day of the wedding, and remember, my sweet, a gracious maid of honor always gets her reward. L'amourl
L'amour? Wouldn't that be a nice reward?
Again, her gaze scanned the dance floor for Drew. Coming up empty, she found herself back at square one, contemplating the crumbs on her clean cake plate. The only l 'amour coming her way was another piece of cake.
She was in the process of sliding her feet back into her shoesthe price she had to pay for in-dulgencewhen a deep voice startled her out of her reverie.
"This seat taken?"
Drew Montgomery did not wait for an answer. He was already folding himself into the chair next to Caroline. Of course, given the fact that the table was empty, his question was probably rhetorical.