Here is an extract from my work in progress, Return to the Auberge. Read the synopsis and join my mailing list to keep up to date with publication progress.

3D image of book cover of Return to the Auberge by Debbie Emmitt on tablet, smartphone and paperback book

Emyla has reluctantly agreed to go to France with her brother, Alastair. They are trying to locate her old workplace, the Auberge de Saint-Lazare, somewhere that Emyla would prefer not to find…


The little red Peugeot sped along in the French sunshine. Emyla’s knuckles were white on the steering wheel.

A kilometre to the south, the river Gardon would be flowing through the scorching valley, winding its eastward way past tree-covered banks. Birds would be circling above the rippling ribbon, whose thousands of fractured, sparkling mirrors briefly faded in the shadow of a colossal aqueduct.

A wave of nausea gripped Emyla’s throat. The vertiginous Roman structure commanded that section of the river, with its large arcs on the two lower levels and smaller arches on top. It had stood for almost two thousand years; odds were it was still there. Well, she wasn’t going to climb it. Not this time.

“You sure this is the road, Al?”

Her brother slouched in the passenger seat to her right, his grasshopper legs folded into the footwell. He raised his cap an inch above his eyes and yawned. “Huh?”

“You said to turn down here. I don’t recognise anything.”

He peered at the blue dot inching across his phone screen. “Looks right.”

Emyla squinted at the route ahead, barcoded with short sharp shadows cast by the mottled plane trees flanking the road. “Let’s find somewhere else.”

“My head’s killing. Hunger, probably.” Alastair rubbed his forehead then stopped abruptly. “Your place does seven courses?”

“That was the gourmet lunch when I was there, but things may’ve changed in twenty-odd years. Paracetamol and water’s in the glove box.”

“Were you there the whole summer?” He tugged at the plastic clasp between his knees and retrieved a packet of pills and a bottle of water.

She clenched her teeth. “Three months in ninety-four.”

Alastair tossed a couple of tablets onto his tongue and swigged a mouthful of water. “Do you think it will’ve changed much?”

She shrugged and he gave her a nudge. “Try to enjoy yourself now we’re here.” He closed the glove box and glanced at the map on his phone. “You never told me why you changed your mind. When I rang yesterday, you couldn’t possibly get away. Ohhh . . .”

Her insides flipped. “What?”

“You couldn’t bear to be seen with your younger, better-looking brother.”

Her face creased into a smile more from relief than amusement. “How does Jen put up with you? Just because you can swan off to the south of France at the drop of a hat, or rather, of a thousand-pound cheque from one of your fancy patients—sorry, clients—I can’t book last-minute leave from the NHS.”

Alastair sighed. “Cheque. It’s 2016, Grandma. Playing Martyr today? Better than the usual Nut Job. Or is it Nut Job Martyr?”

She grinned, hoping he hadn’t noticed. No point inflating his ego further. “Alastair Brace, do your patients know you call them ‘nut jobs’?”

“I’m discreet when I’m working. Have we gone past your hotel, or what?”

“You? Discreet?” She gave a dry laugh. “I changed my mind because cockroaches and patients don’t mix. Surgery’s closed for a week.”

“Cockroaches?” Alastair gaped.

Her cheeks warmed; at least they were off the subject of the auberge. If she kept him talking, they may shoot past it. “My office is being fumigated as we speak.”

“But . . . you could’ve stayed in Oxford and seen Dad. Free time on your hands for once.”

Her face burned. “I . . . didn’t . . . I thought you wanted me to come here. Make up your mind!”

“Em, I’m teasing. But I don’t get why you didn’t wanna come. And don’t give me that ‘I’m too busy’ rubbish. It’s the perfect holiday.” Food. Any minute he’ll mention food. “Wine, cheese, sun—all you need to escape that bloody hermit lifestyle.”

“I like my ‘bloody hermit lifestyle’.”

“We’re social animals, Em. We need people—family—or our health takes a battering. D’you fancy ending up a lonely old woman, knowing you chose that life? Wanna know what Erik Erikson said?”

Here we go again. “Not really.”

“My hero’s words are too precious to fall on deaf ears.”


“That was me, not him. I’m not wasting his pearls of wisdom.”

“Good. I’m tired.”

The hotel wasn’t this far down. We’ve missed it.

She quelled the relief in her voice as she peered over her sunglasses at the road. “Shame we didn’t find it. It was a lovely old building. Posh, too. The food was famous.”

He flicked her a sideways glance. “Memories returning?”

“Bog off, shrink.”

She scanned the roadside ahead. Spotting a pair of dark-blue solid metal gates, she pushed on the accelerator.

Alastair pointed at the gates. “Em, isn’t that something?”

“Don’t think so.”

“Pull over.”

“Whatever.” Her foot jolted on the brake.

Alastair shot up in his seat. “Watch out!”

A yellow motorbike had appeared from behind at breakneck speed. The rider swerved right to avoid an articulated lorry bearing down in the opposite lane. The bike skidded onto the dusty verge, passing an inch from the passenger wing mirror, and bumped back onto the road. It disappeared in seconds, leaving dust and exhaust fumes rushing into the car through Alastair’s wound-down window.

Emyla slammed on the brake, heart pounding. “Jesus! Was that a sign?”

“Yes, that French drivers are nut jobs. Or that you need to use your mirrors.”


“It’s one thing not to look at yourself, and we all know who holds that record. It’s another to take your brother’s life in vain.” His stomach growled and he waved at the road. “Lighten up; I’m kidding.”

She fidgeted with the gear stick. “Damn it! Can’t they hire out right-hand drive cars?”

“Calm down. Shall I drive?”

She nodded. “I’ll navigate. Right mess you’ve made of it. I’ll find a lunch stop. I knew the auberge would be a lost cause.”

She eased the car onto the verge, removed the car key out of habit and opened her door. Insect song rang from the trees. Cicadas. The soundtrack to 1994.

Alastair clambered out. “What’s this?”

“What’s what?” Emyla huffed as she joined him.

He pointed to a broken wooden board next to the tall royal-blue gates. “That says ‘Auberge’.

She removed her sunglasses and leant forward. “There are loads of hotels and guesthouses around here. Doesn’t mean it’s the Auberge de Saint Lazare.”

“What colour were the gates?”

“Why would I remember that?”

“Look round. See if you spot anything familiar. Jeez, it’s boiling out here.”

She thrust her sunglasses back on. “Waste of time!”

“Humour me. Five minutes. You’ll regret it if you don’t.”


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