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MARLON HAD LEARNED AN IMPORTANT LESSON over the past three years: Camilla liked chocolate.
No, that wasn’t quite right.
Camilla was feral for chocolate. She tried to pretend she wasn’t, that she enjoyed almost all types of desserts, but there was a special little sigh she made when a good piece of chocolate melted on her tongue that told Marlon the truth. Chocolate was special.
She made that same sigh only one other place: their bed, usually after Marlon had exhausted himself in her honor.
Once, when he’d taken her to a fancy restaurant on Valentine’s Day, she’d tasted some of the chocolates the waiter had left with the bill and clicked her tongue. She’d told him about tempering, launching into a long, complicated explanation about sugar crystals and melting points, and finally concluded that the chocolate was badly tempered. She’d said it was a shame, but she understood. She’d never been able to get the hang of it in culinary school either.
But she still ate the badly tempered chocolate hearts. And she still sighed.
So when her birthday rolled around just a few days after their second wedding anniversary, Marlon knew exactly what to get her.
Camilla squirmed in the passenger seat, touching the edge of her blindfold. “Where are we?”
“That’s not an answer,” she grumbled.
“Sure it is.” A smile teased over his lips, but he tried to keep it out of his voice.
Camilla folded her arms over her chest and grimaced. Marlon’s smile widened.
He guided the car into a parking spot directly in front of the artisanal chocolate shop, waving to the woman inside. Camilla huffed but didn’t touch the blindfold.
“I’ll get your door for you,” he told her. He paused with his hand on the door handle. “Don’t you dare touch that blindfold, sweetheart.”
She bared her teeth at him. “This better be worth it.”
He laughed, darting around the car to her side. He helped her out, guiding her over the curb and onto the sidewalk. The woman from the chocolate shop had opened the door, her mouth curved into a wide smile.
Marlon put his hands on her shoulders and squeezed. “Ready?”
“You’re killing me,” she said.
A laugh fell from his lips, and he finally unknotted the blindfold. Camilla blinked, frowning, and looked at the smiling woman. Her gaze lifted to the sign above the door.
“Welcome to Maude’s,” the woman said. “I’m Maude. I’ll be showing you around today.”
Camilla straightened. She looked at Marlon, then at Maude. “Showing me around?”
“I called Maude a few weeks ago to organize this,” Marlon explained. “Maude’s does everything in-house, from sorting cacao beans to roasting to grinding to flavoring. She’d been kind enough to give us a tour.”
“Oh, it’s more than a tour,” Maude said, leading them inside. She grabbed two aprons from the glass counter. “You’re going to be getting messy.”
Camilla’s eyes were wide. Marlon was so in love with her.
She gripped his arm, following Maude with her eyes as the other woman ducked behind the counter and grabbed something from a lower shelf.
“To keep us going,” Maude said, producing a tray displaying a few chocolates. “The first is our most popular milk chocolate, made with single-source Ecuadorian beans. The chocolate is remarkably smooth, with complex flavors…”
Camilla sighed as soon as the chocolate touched her tongue. Marlon watched her lids flutter closed and heard nothing that Maude was saying.
She opened her eyes, swallowed, and smiled at him. “Thank you,” she whispered.
“Now. Shall I show you the cacao beans?” Maude swept an arm toward the back, and they entered another world.
The shop extended back way farther than Marlon would have guessed. He was surrounded by stainless steel shelves, countertops, and complicated-looking machinery. The whole place smelled of chocolate and sugar and coffee-like aromas. Camilla inhaled deeply, her lips curved into a wide smile.
“I almost failed the chocolate modules in culinary school,” she admitted to Maude.
Maude laughed. “It’s not easy. Here. Where it all starts.”
Camilla listened, rapt, as Maude told them about beans. She showed them the machines that roasted them, ground them, and sorted the husks from the nibs. Marlon heard less than a third, because almost all his attention was on Camilla.
He watched the way she leaned forward to watch what Maude showed them. She laughed with delight and frowned in concentration. When presented with a bitter cacao nib to taste, she nodded and said it almost tasted like an espresso bean.
When they began working with chocolate—rich, silky chocolate, when the nibs had been ground and mixed with sugar and cocoa butter—Camilla let out a big, happy sigh.
Marlon felt like a conquering hero who’d just won the war. His chest puffed, and he’d never been more proud.
Maude showed them the machine they used for tempering, and Camilla was delighted. When it came time to flavor and shape bars, she worked with deft, confident movements while Marlon felt like an oaf with too-big hands. When he’d spilled the tray of warm chocolate and made a mess for the third time, Camilla laughed until her eyes leaked.
Marlon settled for watching her in her element. She listened to Maude, she laughed, she lit up the whole space.
“I want to sell some of these in my shop,” Camilla said when she tasted a caramel-hazelnut confection. “We should work together.”
“This wasn’t supposed to be about work,” Marlon grumbled.
Camilla laughed and nudged him with a shoulder, then shut him up by stuffing another truffle in his mouth. He savored it, holding her gaze, his heart light.
This was his life now. They lived in their beautiful home—made more beautiful by Camilla’s touch—they worked, they ate, they laughed. His days were full of simple pleasures and raucous laughter. After a long day running around the county making clients happy, Marlon came home and felt peace.
Now, he got to watch his wife do a little happy wiggle as she moaned, chocolate melting on her tongue.
He’d have to buy a lot of this stuff and keep it in reserve, so he could put that look on her face every day.
By the time the tour was over, it was dark out. They walked outside as a cool breeze dug under their jackets, waving to Maude through the windows of the brightly lit shop. Marlon carried a bag filled to the brim with bars and confections and treats.
“What do you think?” he asked, wrapping his arms around the love of his life.
“I think that was the best birthday present ever,” Camilla answered. “Thank you.”
“I’m not done,” he said, touching his nose to hers. He brushed his lips against Camilla’s and relished the way she smiled.
They went out for dinner to a local Italian place, stuffed themselves full of pasta, then rolled home.
“Good call on not getting wine,” Marlon said as he unlocked the front door of their home. He held it open for Camilla, who clutched the bag from Maude’s like it was precious cargo.
She dropped the treats on the console table near the front door and unzipped her jacket. She smiled at Marlon as she took the jacket off, but there was something strange in her eyes.
“What? You wanted wine?” Marlon frowned. “Why didn’t you say? They had that Syrah you like.”
“It’s not that,” Camilla told him. She bit her lip, and Marlon’s heart began to thump. She took a step toward him and placed her hands on his chest.
Marlon wrapped her in his arms and pulled her tight to his body. “What’s going on? Did you not have a good day?”
“I had a perfect day,” Camilla answered in a hushed whisper. “So, so perfect.”
“There is no but.” Camilla gulped and lifted her gaze so Marlon could look into her eyes. She was so beautiful. So soft and kind and smart and beautiful. And she was his. “Marlon,” she said quietly. “I’m pregnant.”
The world tilted. Marlon clung to his wife, his fingers digging into the flesh of her hips. He opened his mouth. Closed it. A wave of emotion crashed into him, nearly knocking him over: joy, understanding, blind panic.
“Marlon?” Camilla’s voice was tentative. “I know we said we wanted to wait, but you know, after I got my IUD out we weren’t exactly careful, and—”
Her lips were soft and already parted when he crushed his mouth to hers. Marlon kissed Camilla like his life depended on it. He wrapped his arms around her and lifted her up, spinning in a circle, setting her down on her feet again as she laughed.
“I’m guessing that means you’re happy?”
“We’re having a baby,” he whispered, hoarse, his forehead resting against hers. “I’m going to be a father.”
Camilla smiled, her fingers resting lightly on either side of his throat. “The best father ever, Marlon.”
She yelped as he picked her up, stalking to the living room and depositing her onto what she lovingly referred to as the Sex Couch two-point-oh. She wore a fluttery dress and sheer tights, and Marlon’s hands slid up her hose-covered thighs to rest between her legs. She was hot, and Marlon knew if he dipped his hand beneath her panties, he’d find her wet.
“I love you so much,” he told her, pressing her down onto the cushions. He had one foot on the floor, one knee on the cushions between her legs, and his free hand gripping the edge of the cushion near Camilla’s head.
She circled his neck with her arms and gave him a coy smile. “Why don’t you go ahead and prove it, big guy?”
Marlon’s fingers curled into her tights. He yanked hard, tearing a hole through the gusset as Camilla gasped and laughed, swatting his shoulders with her hands.
“Not like that,” she complained, “these are new tigh—"
Her words were cut off with a gasp when he pulled her panties aside and touched her where she needed him.
“I’ll get you new tights, Camilla,” Marlon growled, his fingers already making her let out those precious little sighs, “but those ones were in my way.”
“Oh, all right then,” she gasped, laughing breathlessly.
Then the time for talking was over, and Marlon set about proving just how much he loved his wife.
He took his time, and Camilla didn’t complain.