After about ten minutes, Laurent emerged from the back office.
“Let’s go do the rest of your shopping.”
Emma pulled her gloves and beanie back on and they set out to return to Main Street, where Laurent said there was a toyshop. “Hopefully, they sell marbles,” he said. “They have all types of toys.”
“Including retro ones?” Emma couldn’t resist. She tilted her head, her eyes dancing, hoping he would join in the banter.
Laurent didn’t disappoint her. His eyes did their familiar crinkling at the corners. “I’m praying so. Do you have a plan B if they don’t?”
“We’ll just have to improvise. Different-colored beans, maybe.”
“Jelly beans? The kids’ll just eat those and World War Three will break out when they get high on the sugar.”
“I was thinking of dried beans. You know, pulses.”
“Hey, you’re not only cheerful, you’re also full of good ideas.”
“That’s what you employed me for,” Emma retorted smartly.
“Indeed I did,” Laurent raised an eyebrow, a smile still playing around his mouth. “Okay, here’s the toy store. Let our mission to find marbles commence.” He held open the door for her.
The store proved to be filled with all types of toys and games, and the owner, who clearly knew Laurent well, was pleased to go into his stock room and find the quantity of colored marbles that Emma needed.
When they emerged, Emma couldn’t resist raising the bag she carried and shaking it triumphantly. “See? Lots of lovely retro marbles!”
“Okay, okay, I see,” Laurent said, laughing. “Come on. We’ll go visit Sage at Copper Mountain Chocolates to celebrate. Hot chocolates are on me. I need to atone for my lack of belief in the possibility of finding marbles in Marietta. ”
Sage Carrigan’s store proved to be a delight. Emma’s eyes opened wide at the vast array of hand-made chocolates and other goodies. Laurent went to the glass-fronted counter and ordered hot chocolate for them both, while she settled herself at one of the three tables situated in an alcove. Her attention was caught by the pretty display for Valentine’s Day in the shop window.
“They do great trade here around Valentine’s,” Laurent arrived with two steaming, frothing mugs of hot chocolate. “Here.” He held one in front of her. She took it from his hand, feeling aware of his broad form close to hers. He moved to sit down opposite her. “Are you expecting a card from a lover?”
Emma breathed in the rich, sweet smell of her drink and took a fortifying sip. “No,” she said quietly. There was a pause and she could feel Laurent watching her closely. “This is just delicious,” she volunteered, brandishing her mug and changing the subject.
“It is pretty amazing,” Laurent agreed. “Sage does a brisk trade. People come from far and wide to try it and her candies.”
“Well, thank you for buying it for me.”
“You’re welcome. Brooke used to love coming in here. She was a real chocaholic too.”
Emma looked up at him. This was the first time he’d mentioned his wife to her. “We women need our chocolate,” she said diplomatically, hoping he would tell her more.
“I used to buy Brooke one of the special selections they do here for Valentine’s Day. And for Christmas and her birthday.” There was a faraway look in his eyes now as he reminisced. “She would make them last by having just one chocolate a day. She said she didn’t want to get fat.” He shook his head. “Not that there was much chance of that. She was incredibly energetic and active and had a great figure. She was always on the go and thinking of other people.”
“She was a beautiful lady,” Emma ventured tentatively, thinking of the photo of Brooke on her wedding day that sat on a side table in the living area at Copper Creek. “You clearly loved her very much.”
“She was, and I did,” Laurent hunched over the table and lowered his gaze to stare into his mug. In a short minute, the previous high mood of the afternoon quickly deflated, like air escaping from a balloon. Emma bit her lip and instinctively she leaned over the table and put a comforting hand on his arm and patted it, wishing she could give him a hug.
“I hate this time of year,” he growled suddenly, still staring down at the table-top.
End of Excerpt