Ellen can make magic with chocolate. Can she make magic with the love of her life?
When Ellen had first met Trey, she was certain that their relationship embodied perfection. She had been sure that he was “the one,” the person she wanted to be with forever. They had been together for two years when they hit a rough patch that made Ellen question everything. The combination of her grandfather’s death, Trey’s new job, and her role as co-owner of Sweet Nothings—her grandfather’s chocolate shop—had led to a six-month period of stress and a great reduction in the romantic gesture department. Ellen wasn’t ready to give up on their relationship, but she did want to find some of their old magic.
The night before Valentine’s Day, Ellen finished up as early as she could given the preparation for the next morning. It was always one of their busiest days, since they offered not only fine chocolates and candies but a romantic atmosphere in which to share them. Knowing she had a full, long day ahead, Ellen had asked Trey if they could have dinner together the night before. She had plans for sprinkling her own brand of pixie dust back into their lives. Trey had agreed, saying only that he had already picked out a gift for her.
Ellen’s mother, Nan, was closing up for the night. Nan had a great sense for business, but she had little skill or interest in chocolate-making. She kept the books and made sure everything was organized, but she left all the sugar-coated kitchen fun to her team of experts—including Ellen. Ellen had been making chocolates with her grandfather since before she was big enough to read a recipe; now she was the head of the staff. Meanwhile, Nan’s wife Jennifer ran the registers and kept the regular customers happy with her warm smile and her endless stream of chatter.
While Nan finished going over the closing checklist, Ellen tidied up the kitchen. Trey had come to pick her up for their late dinner; he leaned casually against the sink, arms folded and ankles crossed. Naturally he’s not going to pitch in, Ellen thought. She turned her back to him so he wouldn’t see her roll her eyes.
“I’m locking up!” Nan called from the front.
“All right. We’re leaving in a few minutes.”
“Set the alarm, will you?”
Ellen finished wiping down the counter and carried a plate of white and strawberry-flavored chocolate roses out to the shop to put them under the glass. Trey followed her.
“It would go a little faster if you helped,” Ellen suggested.
Trey shrugged. “What do you want me to do?”
“Bring in those other plates of chocolate, please.”
He obliged, setting them on the countertop. Ellen followed him back into the kitchen to retrieve the last two plates. Just as she was about to return to the front, she felt a rush of air. Panicking, she called out to Trey, “Don’t shut the—”
It was too late. The door between the kitchen and the shop slammed shut. Ellen stood there with the plates in her hands, her mouth still open. Quickly she replaced the plates on the kitchen counter before she dropped them. She glared at Trey.
“Why did you shut the door?”
Trey frowned. “I didn’t.”
“Oh? Who was it then, the elves? It didn’t shut by itself.”
“Well, I didn’t shut it. What’s the problem, anyway? It’s not like we can’t just open it back up.”
Ellen glared at him. “Actually, we can’t. The door is broken and it only opens from the outside.”
“Oops? You’ve just shut us in here, and all you can say is, ‘Oops’?”
“I already told you I didn’t close it. Anyway, this is the twenty-first century. You have your phone, right?”
Ellen was seething. “No, I do not have my phone. It’s in my mother’s office—on the other side of the damn door!” She stopped. “Wait…don’t you have your phone?”
“I left it in the car.”
Ellen sagged against the counter. “This is just great. So we’re basically stuck in here until Mom or Jennifer comes back tomorrow.”
“It could be worse.”
“Please tell me how.”
“You could be here alone?”
Ellen looked at Trey. His face was pleading, and she realized that she might have implied that she would rather not be stuck with him all night. She sighed and ran a hand through her hair. “I’m sorry. I’m just tired and hungry, and the last thing I wanted was to have our date ruined by something so stupid.”
Trey crossed the room and put his hands on her shoulders. “It’s okay. Hey, if it comes to it, we can always eat the chocolate.”
Ellen smiled faintly. “Only if you plan to help me make more.”
“Yeah, probably not. Don’t you have any other food here?”
“Maybe some strawberries. For obvious reasons, we don’t keep much regular food around.” She thought for a moment. “Hold on, that’s not true.” Ellen retreated into the storage room.
She pulled up a step-stool and peered at the contents on the upper shelves of an old storage unit. “Let’s see…there’s a jar of pickles, a package of crackers, and some bottled water.”
“Sounds divine. Bring it out.”
Ellen grabbed the few items she had scrounged. When she reached her hand in to see if she had gotten everything, her fingers brushed against something. She grasped it and pulled it out.
It was a small, metal box which contained perhaps fifty small note cards, each one carefully labeled in her grandfather’s neat printing. Ellen had to laugh when she saw the titles of the recipes. They weren’t named ordinary things such as “chocolate fudge” or “lemon cremes.” There was one called “Best damn peanut brickle you’ll ever eat” and another called “Make this if you run out of strawberries.” Ellen read through the first few and decided there might be some worth trying. She brought the box out with the rest of the makeshift dinner.
Meanwhile, Trey had taken the liberty of spreading several aprons down to form a picnic blanket. He sat down and patted the floor next to him. Ellen set out the less-than-romantic dinner and continued to rifle through the recipes while they ate, laughing at the ridiculous titles her grandfather had used.
In the middle of the stack, one particular recipe caught Ellen’s eye. It was something called “Mystery of love.” Underneath the title, the card said, “Prepare according to instructions.” Ellen put that one aside, figuring that if she had to be stuck in the kitchen all night, it was as good a time as any to try out the recipe. Besides, it would give her something new for Valentine’s Day. She refiled the rest of the recipes and set the box among the other ones she already had.
The recipe turned out to be champagne truffles. It took some coaxing, but Ellen convinced Trey to give her a hand making the candy. She glanced at the ingredient list and bustled about the kitchen gathering everything they would need. She spread it out on the countertop and put the recipe in a stand so she could see it as she worked. She handed Trey a knife and told him to start chopping the butter into smaller pieces while she measured out the liquids into different containers.
Ellen had to stifle a giggle when she read the steps. The first two were:
- Place the chopped chocolate pieces in a heat-proof bowl.
- Take a moment to enjoy a passionate kiss with the one you love. (This is why you need the heat-proof bowl.)
When Trey had finished his task, he peered over Ellen’s shoulder at the recipe. Ellen knew he’d read the first instructions by the muffled snort from behind her.
“What in the world kind of directions are these? I hope this isn’t what you do all day in the kitchen without me.”
Ellen laughed. “Not at all. I have no idea what my grandfather was thinking.”
“Maybe this is how he ended up with your grandmother.”
The rest of the instructions were no less strange; Ellen found herself swooped into an impromptu waltz while the chocolate hardened in the molds, and she particularly enjoyed being directed to remove Trey’s shirt and replace it with only an apron before whisking the cream and champagne. By the time the truffle centers were in the large cooler, she and Trey were laughing and joking and hardly accomplishing anything due to all the pauses for romantic gestures between each step.
At last everything was done; Ellen and Trey stepped back to admire their handiwork.
“We should try them, to make sure they came out all right.” She took one of the heart-shaped candies. Without thinking, she lifted it to his lips.
Surprised, he flushed and opened his mouth to say something and she popped in the truffle. He closed his eyes and chewed. Ellen held her breath, waiting to see what he thought.
“These are…amazing.” He grinned.
Ellen sighed with relief. “Good enough for our customers, then?”
“Oh, yes. I expect they won’t last long. Here,” he picked up another one and held it our to her. Ellen took it from him and put it in her mouth. It melted on her tongue and the sheer decadence of the flavors made her tingle a little. She hadn’t even realized she had let her eyes drift closed until she opened them to see Trey lick a stray bit of chocolate off his thumb. The sight made her pulse quicken. She cleared her throat.
“We should get this cleaned up.”
When everything was put away, they sat down on the floor of the kitchen, their backs against the wall. Trey slid his hand so that he could lace his fingers with Ellen’s. She leaned her head on his shoulder.
“Had a good time, even if it wasn’t what we had planned,” he whispered.
“I’m sorry I haven’t been myself lately.”
Ellen sat up so she could look at Trey. “It’s okay. I haven’t been either.” She sighed. “It’s been a little rough the last few months. I guess I had hoped our romantic candle-lit dinner would infuse things with a bit more…magic.”
“And now?” Trey’s soft brown eyes were focused solely on Ellen, and it made her feel warm all over.
“And now I think we can make our own magic.”
“I’m glad you said that. There’s something I wanted to ask you.”
“Really? Me too,” Ellen confessed.
“You first,” Trey offered.
“Okay.” Ellen reached into her pocket and produced a small box. Trey’s eyes widened comically.
“Is that—is that what I think it is?”
Ellen didn’t answer. She opened the tiny, velvet box to reveal a silver band inlaid with turquoise. “Will you marry me?”
“Ellen, you are the most unconventional woman I’ve ever met. I would be honored to marry you.” He accepted the ring as she slid it onto his finger. When he looked up, his eyes were alight with mirth. “You’ll never believe this, but—” He reached into his own pocket and drew out a similar box. Ellen reached out to touch it, and he opened it for her. Inside there was a slender silver band set with a diamond surrounded by turquoise. “I know it’s your favorite.” He smiled.
Trey leaned forward and they pressed their lips together in a kiss as sweet as one made of chocolate but which grew into one as decadent as the champagne truffles.
In the morning, when Nan came to open the shop, she discovered the sleeping figures of her daughter and future son-in-law, as well as several plates of the beautiful champagne truffles. Taking note of their complementing engagement rings, she smiled to herself. It was a good thing she had suggested Jennifer shut the door and that she had left her father’s recipes for them to find.