Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Love & Chocolate (RR Book Tours)

Alright y'all, so this beauty is about most girls two favorite things: love and chocolate! Obviously right?! This is a contemporary romance that I was able to read thanks to Reads and Reels Book Tours, and I am so glad. I will admit that this was just the thing I needed to break out of my reading funk. With Valentine's Day coming up, this is one that needs to be on your TBRs. It was a quick read, and one that is best for those that like a story line that isn't just about romance. Gail Cleare has obviously earned the title USA TODAY Bestseller. Alright so let's go!

Sarah is working on her laptop when a pop up comes up from the dating website her cousin, Paisley, signed her up for after a night of drinking. Sarah signs in under the screen name CocoLvr, which makes her wonder if it is too obvious for those that know her really well. Paisley convinced her this was the way to help her cope with her recent divorce from her husband and father to her son, Devon, who wants nothing to do with them. Sarah sees it is a message from a guy with the screen name HotNCold with just a picture of abs. She decides to reply back and it leads to a little bit of cyber foreplay until she hears Devon in his room. She gets Devon settled and back to sleep before rushing back to her room only to find HotNCold already signed off. Realizing that her cybersexing wasn't going to happen tonight, Sarah reaches into her bedside table and pulls out a plastic container of brownies Paisley made before trying to fall asleep.

Sarah is working her shift at her family restaurant, the Three Chocolatiers, that she is a Jr. Partner with Paisley while their grandfather Chef Emile is the main partner. Sarah is about to start devouring newly baked chocolate treats that are supposed to go into the dining room display case when the sous chef Jerome gets her attention while the second sous chef Raoul continues to work in his station. Paisley and Emile come walking through the kitchen into the office arguing about new recipes that Paisley wants to try. Sarah is the dining room manager while Emile and Paisley handled the kitchen, but Sarah is also the peacekeeper. Once the conversation is resolved for the moment, Sarah takes a seat on the bar stool in the kitchen.

She is reading the local business news when she is interrupted by Blake Harrison, the manufacturer and supplier of the restaurant's ice cream. Blake is there to confirm that he wanted to take the wedding catering job she emailed him about earlier. Sarah is half listening while string at his crotch until she snaps out of it long enough to make herself walk into the office to get the notes she had made. Blake watches Sarah practically run to the office and thinks about how he has been trying to find a private moment to ask her out. Blake doesn't want anything serious after his ex dumped him shortly after he put down a non-refundable deposit for their wedding. It was for the Bahamas rental she wanted, but then she ran off with all the vacation money and her personal trainer. Now Blake just dates casually to avoid being disappointed again and works constantly to fight off the depression that he can feel trying to take over.

Blake can't figure out why Sarah is so interesting to him since he could have any woman he wants, but he keeps coming to the restaurant when he can to try to get a glimpse of Sarah. While watching her fidget on the kitchen stool she was sitting on when he walked in, he thinks about how he is pretty sure that she is CocoLvr. He is pretty sure that the profile picture of freckled boobs is hers, which he thinks about while she heads into the office. The look on her face when she was looking at the fresh chocolate treats just confirms his theory even more. However, Blake aka HotNCold was still surprised that she would sext a stranger on the internet. Blake knows about Sarah's ex husband, and is thinking about how stupid he was to leave when Sarah comes back out of the office with her notes which Blake knows includes that the wedding gig involves cake, cupcakes, and special flavored ice cream. Watching her walk towards him, Blake decides that he needs to get to know her better online as HotNCold as well as in person as himself.

Blake and Sarah are about to walk out into the dining room when she hears a funny gasp followed by a thump. She turns around to find Emile pale and sweaty on the floor clutching his chest. Blake calls 9-1-1 while Sarah and Paisley try to get Emile to respond to their questions. Sarah watches Emile's face and is pretty sure that he is having a heart attack. A few minutes pass and Emile's color is starting to return to his face, then he asks why and how he got on the floor. The EMTs arrive, assess him, and take Emile to the hospital with Paisley riding with him while Sarah stays at the restaurant. Blake stands with Sarah near the back entrance as they watch the ambulance pull away. He pulls her into a hug and tells her to call him him if she needs anything before he walks away. Sarah goes back into the kitchen and makes a game plan for the night with Raoul and Jerome while switching into manager mode. After Jerome and Raoul assure her that they have the kitchen covered, Sarah walks out into the dining room just as the hostess station phone rings. She answers it and has to inform the caller that the dining room is completely reserved for the night. This makes Sarah question whether or not she can handle the wedding as she hangs up the phone, but she tries to shake it off before heading home to meet Devon's bus.

Meanwhile Blake drives back to his shop in the old shoe factory which hosts a bunch of different stores thanks to Blake and his brother Jordan. They bought the place together, and by sharing resources like bookkeeping makes it affordable for them all. However, this does mean that Blake and Jordan are responsible for all repairs, but it still makes Blake happy to see all their businesses doing well. Blake does a quick check to see if any repairs need to be done on the outside before he hears Jordan calling his name. They go into the office while Blake tells him about what happened to Emile. Once inside the office, they start talking about upcoming orders, events, and promotions but it leads to a debate. In the middle of the debate over dates and times, their little sister Carrie comes walking into the office with Blake's chocolate lab, Kahlua, on leash.

Carrie is currently working in the building as one of the bookkeepers for all the business owners to make some money for college. Carrie asks if they know anyone that will hire her during the summer so she isn't stuck working on the spreadsheets. Blake thinks about Sarah and the wedding gig, and tells Carrie that he will talk to Sarah. Carrie tells him thank you before heading back upstairs while Kahlua settles on his bed in the corner. Jordan starts making phone calls while Blake stares at the mountain of paperwork in front of him. Blake starts thinking about how attractive Sarah looked walking away to get her notes from the office until he makes himself get to work. Meanwhile, Sarah is pulling into her driveway just as school bus drops off Devon.

She watches him drag his feet towards the house and decides to not tell him about Emile just yet. She knows that he has a hard time with his ADHD even though he is pretty smart for a second grader. Devon has recently become obsessed with the TV show Bonanza, and she encourages it for as long as he is. She parks the car and tells him to meet her at the back door. She unlocks the door, and watches him run to the bathroom while her chocolate lab Hershey comes up to greet her before he goes outside to pee as well. While waiting for Devon to come out, she thinks about how much work she has done to the house to restore it. She bought it with her ex, but she done all the work herself. She thinks about how she was even doing some repairs on the night she realized that he truly wasn't coming home. Sarah replays calling him that night just to hear him say that he doesn't want anything to do with Devon beyond paying child support. She shakes herself out of it while she thinks about how she converted the third floor into a mini apartment that she rents out. The current tenant is a college student from Japan named Miki. Sarah made the arrangement with Miki that she could have free room and board in exchange for her watching Devon while Sarah is working.

While Devon gets settled in front of the TV to watch cartoons, Sarah goes through his backpack where she sees a flyer reminding her about the upcoming baseball playoffs. She knows that this is a big game for Devon and mentally prepares herself for him to be extra anxious. Sarah also starts a load of laundry to make sure that his uniform is ready to go before bringing in Hershey. Sarah heads up to her room with a cup of tea. Once she is settled on the the bed for a little bit, she calls Paisley to try to get an update about Emile. Paisley finally answers and tells her that blood tests showed that Emile had a small heart attack, but no major damage. He just has to rest and take a new medicine for it. Paisley also tells her that the doctors were keeping Emile over night just to be safe. Sarah tells Paisley about the plan to get through the dinner service, and hangs up.

Sarah gets ready for work after getting off the phone. While putting on her makeup, she thinks about her father died at his work desk and how her ex not coming home had the same feeling to it. Sarah was scared she was going to have that same feeling again with Emile until she got off the phone with Paisley. Then Sarah thinks about she found out her ex was cheating because an airline called to ask about a ticket for another woman, and how she emptied the joint bank accounts as well as cancelled the credit cards to ensure that there was money for her and Devon. After Sarah finishes getting ready, she heads downstairs and sees that Miki is already settled on the couch with Devon. They are playing a video game together, so Sarah tells them goodbye and heads to work. Later that night, Blake is waiting for Sarah to look at the message he sent her as HotNCold since he knows that she should be home from the restaurant soon.

Blake takes Kahlua for another walk past the restaurant to try to see how things are going while sticking to the shadows. He looks in the windows and sees Sarah standing behind the bar drinking some water. Blake thinks about how she is beautiful with her hair coming out of her updo and stretching from a very long night. The sight of her has his pulse pounding and breath labored, so he turns it to the rest of the dining room where everyone else is cleaning up. Blake continues the walk before doubling back to make it look like he is on the way back to his place instead of coming from it. He knocks on the door and waits for Sarah to come to the door. She comes and unlocks the door before greeting Kahlua first. Blake plays it off as he just wanted to check on Emile on his way home. When Sarah stands back up, Kahlua pulls Blake forward until he is standing beside her. She smells the ice cream on him, and literally waters at the mouth. She invites Blake to come in for a drink, which he accepts after he takes Kahlua home. Sarah watches Blake walk down the road before going back inside to prepare the single drink each.

A short time later, Blake walks in the restaurant just as she is pouring the drinks into martini glasses. They toast to Emile before slowly drinking the chocolate alcoholic drink that fixed both cravings Sarah had all day long. There is a buzzing energy between Blake and Sarah as they have a flirty conversation that most people would have on a first place. Sarah feels like they're in their own world until Paisley walks in from the kitchen with her current boyfriend and restaurant wine supplier, Wayne Gallaway. Paisley answers questions about Emile while Wayne opens the bottle of wine he brought for him and Paisley. Paisley brings up the wedding gig, and this is when Blake decides it is time to leave. Sarah walks him back to the front door while wondering if he is going to ask her out because she flirted with him a little, but he just walks away from her without much more than goodbye.

Finally back at home, Sarah tosses and turns for over an hour before she gets her laptop out. When the start up sound is a little loud, she gets up to check on Devon who was still peacefully sleeping. Back in her bed, she checks the restaurant email before her personal one where she sees a message from HotNCold waiting for her. She logs into the site, and sees a note from HotNCold saying that he had to take a phone call, but he hopes she will give him a second chance. Before she has a chance to send a message back in reply, a window pops up with a chat invite from him. She accepts and they have a conversation that covers their most recent failed relationship. Before the conversation can go back to sexy, HotNCold tells her that he has to be up before dawn and he wants to know if they can continue tomorrow. As much as Sarah doesn't want it to end, she agrees that they would talk again tomorrow.

When Sarah sees that HotNCold is offline, she thinks about the attraction between them mentally. Once shutting down her laptop, she reaches into her bedside table drawer and pulls out a plastic bag with almond bark candy. Just as she is drifting off to sleep, Hershey barks to alert her to a scraping metal sound outside. She hears Miki put her feet down on the floor above her right before Devon calls out to her. Miki comes down the stairs carrying a lacrosse stick while Devon is coming out of his door when Sarah goes into the hallway. Sarah tries to reassure Devon that it is probably just a skunk or a raccoon when a crash is heard at the back of the house. Devon grabs a baseball bat before the three of them head downstairs to investigate. Hershey is begging to go outside, and Devon is about to let him when Sarah stops him. She turns on the outside lights and sees the trash cans are knocked over. She puts Hershey on his leash and hands it to Miki before going outside alone to fix the trash cans while checking for any animals. On the way back into the house, Sarah notices that one of her azalea bushes has a few bent branches, but doesn't say anything. Sarah locks the door, and carries Devon back up to his room while Miki lets Hershey back off his leash and turning off the lights. The three of them go back to sleep without much more fuss.

Blake wakes up a few hours later with a sense of purpose after the conversation with Sarah last night. The heart-to-heart had him wanting for more with her, and he realizes he hadn't opened up to anyone else in a long time. Blake hums cheerfully while he gets ready for his day. He goes to the Downtown Diner to meet his dad and Jordan for breakfast. His dad and Jordan try to get Blake to spill why he's so happy, but he doesn't tell them anything. While eating, their dad tells him that his mom says to get Cassie a new job at the restaurant or Blake will go on the Black List. This makes Blake say that he will take care of it immediately, because he doesn't want to upset his mom in anyway. Blake throws a couple bills on the table before heading to the Three Chocolatiers.

Emile was released from the hospital two days later, and Paisley is bringing him home. Sarah decides that she will go upstairs to clean the apartment up a bit on the second floor of the restaurant. Paisley lives on the top floor in a tiny one bedroom apartment, but Emile had all the room he needed in his. When she takes the trash down to the dumpster, Sarah checks to make sure that Blake wasn't lurking around. Yesterday she hired Carrie to work as the summer hostess. Sarah thinks about her budding relationship with HotNCold which has turned into a nightly ritual even though they still hadn't had cybersex. She climbs the stairs back up to Emile's apartment as she thinks about how HotNCold promised her that tonight was going to be special. She reached the apartment just as she hears the elevator coming up from the ground floor parking lot. Sarah can hear Paisley and Emile arguing about the girls have everything covered so he can get the doctor demanded rest.

Paisley and Emile stops arguing when they see Sarah standing in the hallway. Paisley and Sarah help Emile walk into the apartment to his favorite armchair. Sarah brings out tea and scones for the three of them to enjoy while Paisley tells her what the doctor said. Emile needed to stick to a diet that involved no alcohol, no caffiene, low-fat, low-salt food as well as two new medicines. When Emile starts to complain about not being in the kitchen, Sarah tells him that he can tutor her in prep for the wedding right from his chair. Paisley brings up that he has to walk every day, so Sarah suggests that he take Hershey around downtown. After accepting this game plan, Emile sends Paisley down to the kitchen to get started on lunch while Sarah gets books down needed to give her a crash course on food safety and cocoa cookery.

Sarah takes the books Emile gave her and heads home to get ready for Devon's game in just a couple hours. She pulls into the driveway just as Devon bursts out the front door. It is clear that he is hyper and worried about being late. Sarah goes inside, changes her clothes, and then helps Miki load the cooler with snacks and drinks before they all head out, Hershey included, to the school playing field. They arrive just as the first round of teams are leaving. After getting settled with the other moms and dads who have become her friends, Sarah sees Blake walking towards her in a a purple shirt matching the team he sponsors. She also sees that he is wearing a whistle as she waves at him. He comes over, and Sarah finds out that he is the assistant coach for his team who just finished. Blake sits with Sarah and helps cheer on Devon's team.

Before the game starts, Blake puts his hand on her knee and holds it there until they both have a blush form over their faces. Blake was still talking to her as HotNCold, but it is clear that she doesn't know because last night she mentioned a cute guy she met at work. Blake is pretty sure she means him, but not enough to reveal his secret. They watch the game together, and Devon's team wins which means that they will face Blake's team for the next round of playoffs. Blake walks Sarah, Miki, Devon, and Hershey back to her car. Sarah invites him to her house for chocolate chili, but he has to say no since he has a community meeting for his condo building. Blake helps her load everything up, and then leans into her driver's side window to tell her goodbye. He leans so close that Sarah is sure that he will kiss her, but he places a peck on her cheek. He sees the clear disappointment on her face, and he knows that is a sign that he is getting closer to having her as his girl.

On the drive back to the house, Sarah listens as Miki explains that she knows about her dating profile and can be a good/bad thing. Miki tells her about the time that her friend got stalked by a dude she met online. The guy was able to find her friend's address through an internet search. When they get back to the house, Miki shows Sarah just how easy it can be to find information about someone. After dinner and doing a few household chores, Sarah heads upstairs to get started on the books Emile gave her while Devon watches TV. Sarah reads until her eyes glaze over and she nods off for a little bit. She is startled awake by her house phone ringing, but no one is there when she answers so she lays back down. She decides a little longer nap before putting Devon to bed is needed. Especially since she had another cyberdate with HotNCold later.

Sarah is in the middle of another round of cyber foreplay with HotNCold, and instead of enjoying the pleasure he's painting for her, Sarah's guilt instinct kicks in. Sarah takes out a box of chocolate truffles thinking it will help, and it does. That is until she she pictures Blake's face. With the fantasy ruined, she cuts HotNCold's descriptive conversation short by saying that she feels weird talking like this. He tells her that he enjoys the simple conversation by itself, and asks her for another chance. She thinks about it for a moment before telling him yes. Later Sarah is sitting on her window bench seat watching the storm happening outside. She notices a strange car sitting outside a house across the street that is for sale. She watches the car long enough to see the driver light up a cigarette before starting the engine. She sees it drive down the road without it's headlights until it reaches the stop sign. Before Sarah can think too much about it, a strike of lightening startles her back to her bed. Knowing she won't be able to fall asleep soon, she picks the chocolate cooking books up again.

Blake wakes up all wound up from the cut short conversation with Sarah, and decides to make a stop by the restaurant to see her. However when he gets there, it is clear that he is the subject of an inside joke between Paisley and Raoul. Blake plays it off that he is there to check on Emile before heading upstairs. After asking Emile how he is doing, Blake confirms that the ice cream is ready for the wedding. This leads to Emile asking Blake if he will be sending someone to deal with the ice cream, so Blake volunteers that he can handle it himself. Emile agrees that it would be good for Sarah to have a familiar face, and now Blake has a reason to be there besides his own. Blake leaves and heads back to his office after telling Emile to call if he needs anything.

Sarah is sitting in Emile's office trying to make sense of the massive paper pile on the desk when she sees the papers about the wedding. She decides to use the excuse of needing to give them to Blake and heads out to also enjoy the nice weather. She walks through downtown which is full of other people taking advantage of the nice day until she reaches Blake's ice cream factory. She gets there as he is dealing with a delivery on the loading dock. Once he is done, he takes her on a tour while staying intimately close which sends shivers and goosebumps all over Sarah's body. They go into his office at the end with the tension so think that Sarah wants Blake to make some kind of move until the phone rings. Shaken out of her sexual state, Sarah tells Blake goodbye and practically runs back to the restaurant. She goes into the office and starts to work on the paperwork pile again.

Later Sarah is working the bar section when a man named Alonso comes in. Sarah notices that he looks a lot like the Tarzan figure she usually imagined during her fantasy moments with HotNCold. He makes intense eye contact with her when she engages him in conversation. He scribbles notes in his notebook in between bites and conversation with Sarah. She politely asks what he does for a living, and he tells her that he works in the HVAC area. Sarah hears this, and practically runs to the kitchen convinced that he is HotNCold. She tells Paisley that she thinks HotNCold was sitting in the bar area. When Sarah finally gets Paisley to come out of the kitchen with her, Alonso is already gone after leaving a $100 bill tucked under the dessert plate. Paisley calms Sarah down by convincing her that he was just a random nice guy who found Sarah attractive. Sarah agrees that she was probably overreacting.

Blake heads over to his childhood home where his parents still live for a family dinner. Jordan and Carrie are already there waiting very impatiently to eat. Jordan has already had a few beers and tries to bait Blake into confessing his interest in Sarah. Blake doesn't take it, and makes it through dinner without much more about it. While cleaning up, Jordan tries again but it just makes Blake get defensive until Jordan gets that he doesn't want to talk about it. After Jordan says goodbye, Blake joins his mom near the fire pit and vaguely asks her what to do about Sarah. She tells him to just be himself because that is what any woman wants. Blake realizes his mom was right, and says goodbye. He looks up and sees the blood moon, and contemplates what it means as he decides that he needs to tell Sarah that he is HotNCold.

Sarah finally makes it back to her house after closing down the restaurant and is letting Hershey out back. Hershey growls and stares at the azalea bushes. She takes a few steps closer to the bushes until she hears a stick snap. Sarah runs back into the house and calls Hershey to come to her. He slowly inched his way to the back door until she is able to pull him inside. She bolts the door shut and kills the outside lights. She watches for a few minutes until Hershey starts up the stairs with her close behind. The next morning Sarah gets up and rushes getting Devon ready for school and on the bus on time. Miki comes down the stairs to join Sarah for a cup of coffee when she goes to check the outside thermostat. Miki calls Sarah over to the window because the bushes were completely flattened and trash cans turned over. Sarah assumes that the person who emptied the trash cans is responsible, and calls the company. Miki heads out the door herself.

Sarah trims the bent branches before getting ready for work. As she is going out the door, the phone rings but she doesn't answer when she sees Private ID. Once at the restaurant, Sarah walks in to find a very somber atmosphere. She walks into the office to see Paisley trying to do the bookkeeping. Paisley admits that she has already messed up once as well as burnt some cakes. Sarah comes up with a plan to let Paisley's brother Lucas handled the accounting part every week through FedEx while they do a few specials a week to help boost sales. This helps calm Paisley some, but she reminds Sarah that they need to nail the wedding gig. Sarah heads upstairs for another lesson with Emile. It is after lunch when Emile brings up the fact that the chef that works at the country club the bride chose will not be happy to have them there. Emile calls Paisley to come join them, and they come to the agreement that Paisley would handle the kitchen at the wedding while Sarah worked with the serving staff. Emile gives his blessing that Raoul and Jerome will handle the restaurant.

Emile then tells them the story about he met their grandmother while they fill in the pieces they remember. When Emile falls asleep in his armchair shortly after, Paisley and Sarah head up to Paisley's apartment to relax before getting ready for the dinner rush. While sitting up there, they come up with a plan to talk to Emile about sticking to his new diet better after Sarah saw heavy cream in his fridge. Then they reassure each other that they have the wedding gig handled. They share a hug that makes Sarah want to tell Paisley everything about HotNCold and Blake, but she decides not to before leaving to go meet Devon's bus at home.

Will Blake ever tell Sarah his secret? Will Sarah give in to the attraction between her and Blake? What is the cause of the strange noises and bent bushes outside Sarah's house? Is there a happy ending for everyone?

Alright y'all, I could probably have covered a little more, but I don't want to give away too much. Like I said this was the perfect book to help break me out of the reading funk I was in thanks to having a sick household. Gail Cleare has a wonderful way of writing about a budding romance while making sure that there is an actual storyline. This one even has a slight suspense plot behind it. I have to say thank you to Read and Reels Book Tours for including me into the readers for Love and Chocolate. If you want to add this beauty to your library in time for Valentine's day, head over to my page:

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