June 2023
Hello everyone!

Can you believe it's nearly publication day for my escapist summery read Summer at the Chateau written by me as Annabel French?

It comes out on 8th June so there's only a few days left to pre-order and it's currently sitting at the bargain price of 99p!

If you need some more temptation, then keep reading and you'll find the first chapter below!

On another note, I recently revealed that I've got another pen name writing historical fiction for Century, Penguin Random House as Emma Royal! I've been busy putting the finishing touches to The Palace Girls ready for its publication in August. Because it's a different genre, I've also started a new website and mailing list so these newsletters don't get ridiculously long! If you'd like to hear more about my royal sagas set at Buckingham Palace, then sign up to my Emma Royal mailing list here:

Unfortunately, due to GDPR rules I can't transfer you across so do please follow the link and sign up so I can give you exclusive cover reveals and all the writing gossip!

For now though, I'm counting down to publication dayfor Summer at the Chateau and may even treat myself to some macarons! I can't wait to share Lizzie and Luc's story with you so if you're looking to disappear to France, then Summer at the Chateau will take you there!

And don't forget it's currently at the bargain price of 99p!

Lots of love,

Summer at the Chateau

Chapter One

‘It must be so upsetting! How do you even get over something like that?’
Lizzie Summers narrowed her eyes at the computer screen ignoring the whispers coming from behind her. She knew exactly what her colleagues were talking about. The two women might have been holding a handful of papers and pointing at various sections with a pen, but they weren’t fooling anyone, least of all her. The sly glances and muttered comments told Lizzie that her being jilted at the altar three months before wasn’t old news yet.
She supposed it was a natural reaction when someone had undergone a life-shattering experience and lived like a virtual hermit since. Even her friend had intervened, banning her from watching Dirty Dancing after she’d started reciting it in her sleep. Apparently, watching it several times a day was a ‘bad sign’ and called for some kind of ‘action’. Lizzie couldn’t even think about the drunk dialling episode where her phone had been wrestled off her after she’d started listing her ex’s faults in great, very specific, penis-shaped detail. (It wasn’t actually that small, but she’d been upset. What else was she going to say?)
Lizzie continued to type up the article due on her editor’s desk by 5 p.m. She wouldn’t normally leave her work to the last minute – Lizzie prided herself on her organisation and focus – but the famous designer who rarely gave interviews had only been able to fit her in today and Lizzie needed this piece. No one else on the team at Lifestyle! magazine had managed to speak to him, and this could be the winning ticket to the pay rise and additional column inches she desperately needed.
After narrowing her eyes at the two women who dropped their gaze and returned to their desks, Lizzie retied her long blonde ponytail, squared her shoulders and typed furiously, aware of the ticking clock above her editor’s door. Just as she’d regained her focus, her phone rang.
‘What now?’ She pulled her mobile towards her and saw it was her mum. Why was she calling? Of course, Great Aunt Sarah’s will reading was today. According to the solicitor, will readings didn’t really happen nowadays, but Sarah had always had a flair for the dramatic and despite living in France for sixty years, her will was still lodged with the solicitors in her old hometown. Sadness and guilt washed through Lizzie. Their relationship had been complicated to say the least. Two different personalities conflicting whenever they were together. The mixed emotions that had swamped her on hearing news of Sarah’s death had only added to the maelstrom already ringing inside ever since she’d stood outside the church, patiently waiting for her husband-to-be to arrive. Of course, he hadn’t, and she’d been slowly – very slowly – coming to terms with that fact for the last few months. Hence the Dirty Dancing marathon and eating her bodyweight in chocolate.
Regardless, she couldn’t answer the phone right now. Her mum knew she might not be available, and Lizzie had to get this article finished. It was already 4.30: the clock was ticking. . . loudly. She’d call back as soon as she’d submitted it. Refusing the call, Lizzie re-read the last line she’d written and continued typing.
Her phone immediately rang again and for a second, she wondered if this time it was Will, her ex. Whenever her phone buzzed into life there was always a fleeting moment where she imagined him calling to apologise. To say it was all a mistake and could they start again, but it never was. Maybe that was a good thing. Her heart felt like a deflated balloon, all floppy and empty, and she wasn’t sure it would cope with having to work again. She wasn’t one hundred per cent sure it would ever resemble anything like an actual proper heart ever again.
Seeing her mum’s name, Lizzie answered with a quick, ‘Hi Mum, sorry can’t talk now. On a deadline. Call you back after 5.’ She hastily ended the call. Perhaps something had gone wrong at the will reading even though they’d all assumed it would be a straightforward affair, or perhaps it had been too much for Mum. Although Lizzie hadn’t really got along with Great Aunt Sarah, her mum had been shaken by the news of her death.
Lizzie wrested her attention back to her interview and typed.
After a final read through and a flourish, she pinged the finished article over to her editor with a minute to spare and immediately hunkered down behind her screen for some privacy. She tapped the screen to call her mum, and the dial tone started ringing.
‘Hey, Mum, everything okay?’
The sound of a tissue being pressed to her nose crackled down the line followed by snuffling. ‘Sort of, I suppose. No. I mean yes. I’m okay, I think.’ Lizzie frowned trying to figure out which of the options was likely the right answer. ‘I’ve got something to tell you and it’s important. I know you said you had that interview today. The one with that designer who makes massive pillows out of second-hand jumpers—’
Lizzie rolled her eyes. ‘Eye-wateringly expensive luxury over-sized scatter cushions woven from the finest cashmere.’
‘That’s the one. I’ve put the one you gave me for Christmas on the spare bed. I’m too afraid to use it in case your dad spills something on it. You know what he’s like when he eats from a sofa tray. I found a piece of spaghetti stuck to the arm of the chair yesterday. When I asked him how it got there, he tried to blame me, but I never sit there. Don’t try to—’
‘Mum,’ Lizzie said gently. ‘What’s happened?’ Her mum always babbled when she was nervous or upset.
‘It’s – it’s – I don’t really know how to say this.’
‘Just say it, Mum. It’s fine,’ Lizzie replied, calmly. ‘We already knew Sarah wouldn’t have wanted me to have anything. We never really got on and—’
‘She’s left you the chateau!’
Aware that her mouth had fallen slightly open, Lizzie’s heart beat erratically. The once steady rhythm growing faster. ‘I’m sorry, what? What did you say?’
‘The chateau, Lizzie. You know, her place in France. You used to go there every summer.’
‘I – huh?’
‘Oh, darling. Didn’t you hear me? I can’t believe it myself.’ Her voice was shaky with sadness as well as shock.
‘No. I mean yes, but . . .’ Lizzie’s brain had stopped working altogether and was currently shouting ‘Whaaaaaaaaaat?’ with a large neon sign flashing above it. This couldn’t be right. ‘There must be some mistake, Mum. We all thought she’d sell it or leave it to the locals. Let’s face it, as I got older, my trips there became so much more difficult and—’
‘She loved you,’ her mum replied indignantly.
‘Please Mum, she used to see me arriving and say the same thing every year, “Still not got a boyfriend then?” Or “Cheer up it can’t be as bad as all that”.’
‘In her defence, you were a bit of sulky teenager.’
‘That’s what teenagers do!’ Aware of a sly glance from the desk opposite, Lizzie lowered her voice. ‘And I wasn’t always sulky. Sometimes I’d be asleep.’ She could hear her mum smile on the other end of the line. ‘I just wanted to be at home with my friends not off to France with no one my own age to hang out with.’ Saying it out loud she suddenly realised how spoilt it sounded and moved the conversation on. ‘I don’t understand this at all, Mum. Are you sure there’s not been some sort of mistake? What did the solicitor say?’
‘It’s all there in the will in black and white. You should have heard what your father said. He actually swore in the solicitor’s office which Mr Devlin did not like at all I can tell you. But he was very clear about it, and he said I’m the executor and it’s apparently my job to tell all the beneficiaries what they’ve got, and you’ve got the chateau. Sarah didn’t have much money, but she’s left you and me a bit, and some of her jewellery too, which is sweet of her. I always remember her wearing those enormous kaftans and reams of beads. She wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea but once you got to know her . . .’ Her mum’s words were replaced with more snuffling.
‘Oh, Mum. Are you okay? I wish I could give you a hug.’ She was beginning to regret not moving the interview.
‘Thanks, darling, but your dad’s here and the worst is done now. Sarah has some bits and bobs she wants me to have so I’ll send you a copy of the list. When do you think you can go down there?’
‘Go down there?’
‘Yes. What else are you going to do? Surely you want to see it.’
Lizzie’s mind started running at a million miles an hour and memories of the chateau filled her brain. It had been a beautiful and enchanting place when she was younger. Before she’d grown out of the idea, she’d dressed as a princess and run up and down the grand staircase, Cinderella arriving for the ball. She’d stood at the top window of one of the pepper pot turrets and flung out a bed sheet, the other end secured to her head with a headband, Rapunzel in her tower. Then she’d fought dragons in the nearby wood, climbed trees with dirty knees and picked mushrooms. But as she’d grown, turning from a child to a teenager, the summers had dragged with envious thoughts of all the fun her friends were having back home without her. These memories hadn’t surfaced in years and as they came to that last, disastrous summer, an unsettled feeling inched up her spine. She began to fiddle with a paperclip.
‘I can’t go down straight away, Mum. I used a lot of my time off after . . . you know what.’ Remembering her colleagues from moments earlier, she didn’t want to say the words out loud. ‘I’ll have to speak to Hilary.’
‘As soon as you can, poppet. Get everything sorted out as quickly as possible, you know? You’re probably going to want to sell it so the sooner it’s on the market the better. Though I do hate to think of it not being Sarah’s anymore.’ She sniffed again and the ruffling of the tissue filled Lizzie’s ear.
‘Yeah, I guess you’re right.’
Really, there was no question that she’d sell it. She had no wish to move to France. Her life might not be quite how she hoped at the moment, but it wouldn’t be forever, and she loved her job. It was the only thing she had left. Hilary had hinted at possibilities to come and once she secured a promotion she’d have enough for a place of her own. With the sale of the chateau as well, she might even be able to buy her own place in London, somewhere that wasn’t the size of an ant’s shoebox.
‘Well, let us know when we can call and talk more. You need to get the keys from the solicitors, they won’t give them to me. I told Mr Devlin I’m your mother and would pass them on, but he still refused. I mean, what did he think I was going to do with them? But apparently, there are rules about this sort of thing. I’m glad it’s all over though.’
‘I’m sure you are, Mum. You’ve been really brave about it all. I know how close you were.’
‘You’re a good girl.’ She snuffled again. ‘Anyway, toodle-oo poppet. I’ll let you get on. Love you.’
‘Love you too, Mum.’
As she placed her phone back on her desk, Lizzie heard scoffing from behind the screen opposite where her annoying acne-ridden colleague Matthew worked. ‘You love your mum! How old are you?’
‘Oh, grow up, Matthew. This is why you’re only allowed to write the zodiac column.’
What had he come up with for Libra? Whatever it was, it wasn’t going to predict the unbelievable turn of events that had just befallen her.
Glancing at the glass office to her left, she stood and went to Hilary’s door, tapping gently.
‘Come in, Lizzie.’
Hilary’s chin-length bob swished around her face as she lifted her head. A few grey hairs scattered the roots of her light brown hair, but they suited her, and Lizzie admired how she accepted them with pride. Will had always joked about dying his hair when he found his first grey. Had he found any yet?
‘The interview went well and is in your emails.’ Lizzie flopped into the chair Hilary motioned towards, banishing thoughts of him from her mind.
‘You did well to secure him. I’m not sure how you managed it.’
‘Stubbornness and a talent for stalking, I think. I was a bit worried my daily phone calls to his assistant were going to land me in prison, but thankfully not.’
Hilary laughed. ‘So what’s up?’
Lizzie shook her head slightly, still unable to believe the news she’d just received. ‘So—’ She opened her mouth to speak, then closed it again, unsure where to begin.
‘I’ve inherited a chateau.’ Hilary stared as if she’d just admitted to stealing the office Post-its or photocopying her behind at the Christmas party (Matthew had, Lizzie had politely declined). ‘It’s crazy and a bit mad but . . .’ She gulped down a laugh at the absurdity of it all. ‘I hate to ask but I need some time off to go and see the place and get it on the market. And I need to bring some bits back that my great aunt wanted the family to have.’
‘Wow, Lizzie. I mean . . . I don’t know what to say. Firstly, I’m so sorry for your loss.’
‘Thank you. We weren’t close.’
‘Sounds like you were closer than you think.’
Her stomach knotted and Lizzie let her eyes drift to the view of the London skyline behind Hilary’s head. The summer sun shone through the window and the sky, a bright cloudless blue, reminded her of laying on the grass in front of the chateau, bored to tears and wishing she was at home. She didn’t want to go back there. She’d left the place behind years ago, physically and mentally. Especially after . . . No, she wouldn’t allow herself to think about that now. Her life was here, and besides, she’d only just picked herself up from her breakup with Will. One day she’d have an office like Hilary’s with a view just like this. One day, she assured herself, feeling the fire of ambition that had grown since the split. ‘I know I haven’t got much time off left, if any.’
‘I think you’ve only got a few days,’ Hilary replied, wincing. ‘I could give you a couple more as compassionate leave even though that’s normally only for close relatives. How long do you need?’
‘I don’t really know.’
How long would it take to get it on the market? After all, she could sell it with all the possessions in it. Lizzie remembered the beautiful Louis XV chairs they’d sat in around the large mahogany table in the formal dining room, though most of the time they ate at the simple wooden table in the kitchen. But the house would still be full of her possessions, her documents. Her life was in that place and given that she’d lived there for over sixty years, there’d be quite a lot of stuff to sort before people came to view it.
‘More than a few days,’ she said sadly, noting the way Hilary’s eyebrows pulled together. ‘But believe me, I want to make this trip as short as possible.’
After how supportive Hilary had been when she’d been jilted, letting her work from home (or at least the apartment she was bunking in while her friend’s flatmate was in Australia) Lizzie knew she was asking a lot.
A kernel of an idea made its way to the forefront of Lizzie’s mind, pushing aside all the confusing emotions and she looked to Hilary, a smile forming on her lips.
‘What if we made an article of it? We could call it “Living the French Dream” or something like that and I could talk about how to sell or buy property in France, how to negotiate with French estate agents, that sort of thing? I think our readers would love it. It’s a beautiful property and you know how many people have a dream of packing up and moving to France. The wine, the cheese, the culture . . .’
If she had a purpose, something to focus on, returning might not be too bad and this could be the piece that really showed Hilary what she was made of. Coming straight off the back of her star designer interview, it would definitely impress an interview panel. Hilary leaned forwards and tapped the pen she’d been holding on her notepad. It was a good sign, but she wasn’t convinced yet.
‘It has turrets,’ Lizzie added.
A sparkle came to Hilary’s eyes, and she sat back in her chair. ‘You can have 5,000 words and as much time as you need but—’
Why was there always a but?
‘I’m not paying your travel as you needed to go anyway and don’t stay longer than you have to.’ As she said this last part, her mouth pulled up in a grin.
‘No worries there,’ Lizzie replied firmly, remembering again the welcome she received whenever she arrived for the summer. ‘My plan is to get in, get it on the market, and get out again as quickly as possible. I definitely won’t be staying long.’

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Reading Recommendations...

The French Chateau Dream by Julie Caplin

With a broken heart and a broken spirit, Hattie is in need of a summer escape. So when an opportunity comes up to work at a beautiful, stately chateau in the Champagne region of France she books her flights quicker than the pop of a cork.

Romance is the last thing Hattie is looking for but then she wasn’t expecting gorgeous Luc to stroll into her life. With picnics in the warm French sun and delicious foodie trips to the local market, Hattie starts to wonder if a holiday fling – or maybe even something more – might be just what she needs.

What a book! This was absolutely THE perfect slice of summer escapism! I devoured this book quicker than a bar of Diary Milk chocolate and was bereft when it ended. Luckily, there are some other Julie Caplin books I haven't got around to reading yet, so I'll definitely be catching up on those!
Oh, and look at that absolutely gorgeous cover! If that doesn't make you want to grab a hold of a paperback of this little beauty then nothing will.

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