Authors: A. Gardner
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CHOCOLATE MACAROONS AND A DEAD GROOM
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Copyright © 2015 by A. Gardner
Cover design by Yocla Designs
Gemma Halliday Publishing
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
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A stranger spilling coffee down my blouse is not the way I pictured my first morning in Paris. The worst part is that my blouse is white. Now I look like your typical
American hussy with a see-through shirt, tight skirt, and high heels. Jean Pierre is either going to hate me or love me when we meet for the first time.
Next time, button your jacket.
"Oh, I'm so very sorry," the stranger apologizes. He stops and hands me a napkin. While walking to Le Croissant, the place where I'm interning for the next month, all I've heard is French. Words I can't make sense of besides the usual
. I look at the man in front of me and raise my eyebrows, surprised to see a dark gray suit, silver cuff links, and wavy, chestnut hair.
"You're not French," I comment.
"English," the man responds. He reaches for my hand. "My name is Sam."
"Nice to meet you." I quickly wipe away the warm liquid dripping down my clothes and smooth a strand of my hair.
"First time in Paris?" he guesses.
"Yeah." I glance up the street at Le Croissant, my new culinary home. I would have already been in the kitchen hours ago, but Michel, the general manager, gave me the morning to sleep off the jet lag. Georgia is six hours behind Paris time. Michel said he would show me around and get my uniform sorted once I arrived. "I'm interning for Jean Pierre Gautier."
Jean Pierre?" He nods, looking impressed. "Well done." He readjusts the leather side bag hanging on his shoulder. "Please, I must get your name in case you become famous someday."
"So you can brag to all your friends?
Hey, I once spilled coffee on that woman
." I try to laugh off the fact that my new coworkers might see more of me than they were expecting to.
"Exactly," Sam jokes.
"Poppy," he repeats. "Poppy the American. Dually noted." He nods, and glances at the giant stain down my front. I clear my throat and hold the fabric away from skin, attempting to air it dry.
"Sam the British guy," I respond. "Thanks for making my first morning in Paris a memorable one."
sorry about that." He checks his watch—shiny with a glittery gem on the face.
"I should get going. Don't want to be late for my first day. First impressions are everything, right?" I briefly look down the crowded street from where I came. Due to the frequency of interns and visitors from all around the globe, Le Croissant owns a tiny little studio apartment only streets away from the bakery. And when I say tiny, I mean
My bed folds up into the wall so there's enough room for me to get dressed, and through the razor thin walls I can hear my neighbor sneeze.
"Of course." Sam slightly bows as if it was an honor to spill coffee on me. "Welcome to Paris, Poppy." He winks, casually running his fingers through chestnut locks.
I continue airing out my top as best I can while speed-walking the rest of the way to Le Croissant. After I finished my semester at Calle Pastry Academy, the school's president, Mr. Dixon, approved my Parisian internship. Back in the states, my friends Bree and Cole are enjoying some time off before classes resume. When I return to Georgia, our group will advance to the next level of pastry school. Our final level. The basics are over. And when I complete this internship with Jean Pierre, I hope to go home a pastry master. I'll give Georgina, the class tart, a run for her money.
That is her official title amongst Bree, Cole, and I.
Le Croissant serves pastries, coffee, and select brunch items such as quiche Lorraine and brioche. The front of the store is decent sized, but the line of people waiting out the door makes it look smaller than it actually is. Like my bite-size apartment, I'm amazed at how many bodies can fit inside the building. And as expected, the closer I get to the bakery, the louder the French chatter swirls around in my head.
There are café tables outside the door on the cobblestone walkway and giant wooden beams frame the front double doors. The scent that escapes onto the street matches the display of baked goods in the window—assorted French macarons, colorful cakes, fruit-filled choux, and croissants galore. Both tempt you to come a little closer. My eyes widen when I observe the trays of breads, pastries, and tarts that are being served today. I will be making at least one batch of each, and then some. My stomach churns just thinking about it. I don't know if I'm overexcited or about to have a minor panic attack. Jean Pierre expects perfection, and I'm just a retired ballerina turned baker from Portland.
Yelling breaks out from inside at the register when a customer drops his chocolate petit gâteau on his shiny loafers. It reminds me of when my brother Mark used to invite his friends over to watch the Oregon Ducks play football. One time Mark got so worked up that he overturned the coffee table. Not his proudest moment. I was still finding popcorn kernels weeks later.
Even after my coffee mishap, I'm still craving a cup of my own.
I step past the crowd of people blocking the entrance. The dark wood floor tiles alternate between various shades of brown, creating a pattern that matches the ceiling. I look up and marvel at a custom oval-shaped light fixture that brightens the entire room. The long line of customers snakes back and forth until it reaches the register, forcing them all to wait next to counters loaded with sweets. If I were in line, I'd be staring through the glass drooling.
Walking into Le Croissant is like jumping back through time. The wood. The designs etched into the crown molding. The attention to detail on the floor tiles. The men and women clad in dresses and slick suits waiting impatiently for espressos and the macaron of the day. I feel like I'm about to start work in a living antique.
At the counter, baristas are scrambling to fill orders. A girl in an apron sporting the Le Croissant logo rushes to the end of the long, marble counter and picks out two mini cakes heavily stacked on top with glazed strawberries and crushed pistachios. She then quickly moves to another tray and carefully grabs a chocolate éclair. The first in a long line of options including caramel, vanilla custard, and red fruits.
"There you are." Michel Rolph, the bakery's general manager is waiting for me near the back door. I met him once before back in Georgia. He was a guest judge at Calle Pastry Academy's annual dessert contest. He's part of the reason I'm here.
"Mr. Rolph," I greet him.
"Come. Come." He waves his hand, beckoning me to walk even faster. I get the feeling that soon I'll be just like that girl at the counter, rushing to get everything done. The fast-paced atmosphere reminds me of my dancing days in New York City. Those were also the days I had to overdose on coffee just to get by. "Right through here."
I follow Michel through the doorway and into a hall that looks very similar to the front of the shop. Wood tiles. Wood paneling on the walls. Artwork of the Italian countryside and rustic architecture. I grin until my cheeks start to feel sore. My pastry-school roomie, Bree, would love it here.
"In here, please," Michel directs me. His office looks exactly like I thought it would. Antique. "Your
." He picks up a neatly folded white chef's jacket and hands it to me. "A couple of rules.
." He waits for me to take a seat and look up at him. He crosses his arms as I sit down.
"I'm listening," I reply.
"First, if you have questions come to me or the pastry sous chef Marta. We speak the most English." Michel's English is easier to understand than most. Probably because he has been overseas a few times to visit Calle Pastry Academy. His French accent is starting to grow on me, and the more we talk the less I notice it. "Second, I expect you to show up on time every morning."
"Will I have any time off to explore the city a little?"
"Yes," he says firmly. "But Chef Gautier has a special assignment for you this coming weekend. I will explain later. Next. This is most important. No socializing with colleagues outside of work." He wrinkles his forehead and pauses to watch my reaction. His rule seems a little unusual. I'm used to my work and my personal life intertwining. Maybe too much. I tilt my head awkwardly, waiting for a
or a wink.
"Okay," I agree, confused.
"Bien." He nods. "I will show you the kitchen now. La cuisine."
He rushes out of the office and farther down the hallway. Michel is a short man, but he's thin and wiry. His strides remind me of bouncing metal springs. The kind that always seem to break inside my mattress.
Yep, my feet will be killing me tonight.
I expect the kitchen to match the front of the bakery. I clutch my new uniform and bite my lip as Michel pushes open the doors. All I see is white and stainless steel. Not even an antique mixer on display or a stack of vintage madeleine pans. The kitchen is modern, and it's spotless. The polished counters and sparkling floor make my stomach flutter. There is no place for crumbs. Making too much of a mess while I cook is one of my weaknesses. Bree was more than happy to point that out on more than one occasion. Most recently was the breadcrumbs I left on the table at our apartment back in Georgia. Who knew a peanut butter and honey sandwich could cause such a heated debate.
I take a deep breath, relieved when a soft breeze blows through the room and caresses my warm cheeks. I glance at the trio of open windows along the back wall of the building. There isn't a view of the street. But I can see a whole lot of green.
A private garden.
"Attention," Michel announces. The kitchen quiets down. "
"Hi." I wave at my new kitchen-mates. A woman matching me in height steps forward. She wipes her floury hand and tucks a strand of auburn hair behind her ear. Her cheeks are covered in freckles, which look almost like milk chocolate sprinkles against her fair skin.
"I'm Marta, sous chef," she introduces herself. She doesn't smile. She barely even changes the expression on her face. Her handshake is firm. Marta looks me up and down and shakes her head when she gets to my long, dark hair. "Oh, dear."
"You're English too?" I blurt out.
"Nothing." I fold my arms, holding my uniform as close as possible to my stained blouse.
"Yes, I'm English," she snidely remarks. "Are you going to be as troublesome as the last American intern?" Marta isn't my mother. Not even close. But I can't help shaking my head like a small child and waiting for her approval. On my flight to Paris, I had a lot of time to think. Georgina's words echoed through my head the entire time.
After what happened to the last intern, I didn't really want that position anyway.
I know it was a backhanded way of making it seem like my prize-winning dessert wasn't that special. But I can't stop wondering why the last intern from the academy left early without an explanation.
," the guy next to her barks. "No. No, chéri." He winks as he looks at me, gently placing his hand on the counter. My eyes wander to the piercings on his earlobes and the squiggly tattoo on his knuckle. He looks younger than me. Probably fresh out of pastry school.
"This is Destin," Michel introduces me.
"Don't forget moi," another man chimes in. He is standing behind Destin, and he is easily twice his size. He has the same rounded nose and tan complexion.
"And this is Dandre," Michel says.
"Bonjour." Dandre waves. Unlike Destin's charming glance, Dandre's smile is warm and sweet. He isn't leaning against the counter sizing me up and thinking of his next line.
"Destin and Dandre are cousins," Michel informs me.
Behind the two of them, a small man steps forward. His face is wrinkly, and his expression in stern. There are streaks of gray in his hair, and his chef's jacket is slightly different that all the others. He slides his thumb and forefinger under his chin and studies me. A name is embroidered on his uniform. My heart pounds when I read
Jean Pierre Gautier.
"Oh, nice to meet you—"
"Your uniform," Jean Pierre interrupts. His voice is low and quiet, but everyone in kitchen is fixated on him like he's a fragile sugar sculpture being wheeled in on rollerblades. It makes my chest tighten. I start to feel anxious. Jean Pierre squints and looks closely at my shoes. On the streets of Paris, my high heels aren't uncommon. But in the kitchen they aren't exactly practical.
He must be laughing on the inside.
I hold up a finger and dig through my purse for my cooking flats. I bring them to all of my classes at Calle Pastry Academy. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Destin stand up straighter when he spots the coffee stain on my blouse. I can't hide it anymore. I quickly hold up my chef-worthy footwear. Jean Pierre exhales. He points to a table behind me.
"You will make macarons for me," he instructs. His French accent is the thickest of the bunch so far.