In the first book in a wonderful new series, #1 New York Times
bestselling author Fern Michaels introduces The Godmothers, four unforgettable women who are about to get a whole new lease on life…
Teresa “Toots” Amelia Loudenberry has crammed a great deal of living—not to mention eight much-loved husbands—into her varied and rewarding life. Newly single, Toots is ready to taste life again, and fate has just handed her the perfect opportunity.
The owner of the gossip rag where Toots’s daughter works is about to lose the paper to his gambling debts. Eager to find a way to keep her daughter employed among the movers and shakers of Hollywood, Toots calls on her three trusted friends—Sophie, Mavis, and Ida—to help her pull some strings. Together, they’ll hatch a plan that promises thrills, laughter, and more than a hint of danger. Putting aside her widow’s weeds (black was never her color), Toots will prove that you should never underestimate a Southern lady of a certain age, and that each day can be a gift, if you’re willing to claim it…Chapter One
Charleston, South Carolina
It was an event, there was no doubt about it. Not that funerals
were, as a rule, events, but when someone of Leland
St. John’s stature bit the dust, it became one. The
seven-piece string band playing in the downpour, per one
of Leland’s last wishes, had turned it into an event regardless
of what else was going on in the world.
Then there was the tail end of Hurricane Blanche, which
was unleashing torrents of rain upon the mourners huddled
under the dark blue tent and only added to the circuslike
“Will you just get on with it,” Toots Loudenberry mumbled
under her breath. She continued to mutter and mumble
as the minister droned on and on. “No one is as good
as you’re making Leland sound. All you know is what I
told you, and I sure as hell didn’t tell you all that crap you’re
spouting. He was a selfish, rich, old man. End of story.”
Toots’s daughter leaned closer to her mother and tried to
whisper through the thick veil covering her mother’s head
and ears. “Can’t you hurry it along? It’s not like this is the
first time you’ve done this. Isn’t this the seventh or eighth
husband you’ve buried? I’m damn glad that preacher said
his name, or I wouldn’t even know who it is that’s being
planted. I gotta say, Mom, you outdid yourself with all these
Toots rose to the occasion and stepped forward, cutting
the minister off in midsentence. “Thank you, Reverend.”
She wanted to say his check was in the mail, but she bit
her tongue as she took a step forward and laid her wilted
rose on top of the bronze coffin. She stepped aside so the
other mourners could follow her out from under the temporary
tent, which was open on all four sides. She stepped
in water up to her ankles, cursed ripely, and sloshed her
way to the waiting limousine, which would take her back
home. “That’s just like you, Leland. Why couldn’t you have
waited one more week, and the rainy season would have
been over? Now my shoes are ruined. So is my hat, as well
as my suit. Too bad you don’t know how much this outfit
cost. If you did, you would have waited another week to die.
You always were selfish. See what all that selfishness got you.
“What are you mumbling about, Mom?”
Toots slid into the limousine and kicked off her sodden
shoes. Her black mourning hat followed. She looked over
at her daughter, Abby, who looked like a drowned rat, and
said, “Of all my husbands, I liked Leland the least. I resent
having to attend his funeral under these conditions. He
was my only mistake. But one out of eight, I suppose, isn’t
Abby reached for a wad of paper napkins next to the
champagne bottle that seemed to come with all limousines.
“Why didn’t you just crisp him up?”
Toots sighed. “I wanted to, but Leland said in his will
that he wanted to be buried with that damn string band
playing music. One has to honor a person’s last wishes.
What kind of person would I be if I didn’t honor his, even
if he was a jerk?”
“Don’t you mean if you didn’t honor those last wishes,
what’s-his-name’s money would have gone to the polar
bears in the Arctic?”
“That, too.” Toots sighed.
The woman born Teresa Amelia Loudenberry, Toots to
her friends, stared at her daughter. “How long are you
“I have a four o’clock flight. I left Chester with a sitter,
and Chester does not like sitters. There’s just enough time
for me to grab something to eat at your post feast, change
into dry clothes, and get outta here. Can’t you hear California
calling my name? Don’t look at me like that, Mom.
I didn’t even know that guy you married. I met him at
your wedding, and that’s the sum total of our relationship.
If I remember correctly, you said he was a charmer. I expected
a charmer. I did not get a charmer. I’m just saying.”
“Maybe I should have said snake charmer,” Toots said
vaguely. “Leland was like this gorgeously wrapped present
that when opened was quite . . . tacky. I was stunned, but I
did marry the man, so I had to make the best of it. He’s
gone now, so perhaps we shouldn’t speak ill of him. I’ll
mourn for ten days for the sake of appearance, then get on
with my life. I’m going to find a hobby to keep myself
busy. I’m sick and tired of doing good deeds. Anyone can do
good deeds. Anyone can garden and grow one-of-a-kind
roses. I need to do something that will make a difference,
something challenging. Something I can really sink my teeth
into. That’s another thing. Leland wore dentures. He kept
them in a cup in the bathroom at night. I could never get
used to that. He wasn’t very good in bed, either.”
“That’s probably more than I need to know, Mom.”
“I’m just saying, Abby. I don’t want you to think your
old mom is callous. You have to admit I did have seven
happy marriages. I should have hung up my garter belt
when Dolph died. Did I do that? No, I did not. I let Leland
sweep me off my feet, dentures and all. Sometimes life is so
“That’s enough of a pity party for me. Tell me how it’s
going out there in sunny California. How’s the job going?
What’s the latest hot gossip, and who is doing what to
whom in Hollywood?”
Abby Simpson, Toots’s daughter by her first husband,
John Simpson, the absolute love of Toots’s life, was a reporter
for a second-rate tabloid, The Informer, based in
Los Angeles. She was a second-string runner, which meant
she had to hit the pavement and find her own stories, then
elaborate on them for the public’s insatiable appetite for
“Rodwell Archibald Godfrey, otherwise known as Rag
to us underlings, called me into his office and told me he
wants more product. I can’t make it happen if it isn’t out
there. All the A-list papers seem to get the stories first. I
think this is just another way of saying he is not happy
with my work. I applied to the other tabloids, but they’re
full up and not taking on anyone new. I’m doing my best.
I just manage to make my mortgage payment every month
and have enough left over to buy dog food. No, you cannot
help me, Mom. I’m going to make it on my own, so
let’s not go down that road. My break is coming, I can feel
it. By the way, I brought a stack of future issues for you to
read. I have stuff in all of them.”
“I can’t get used to the idea that you people make all
that stuff up, then it happens. And you print weeks in advance
of what’s happening,” Toots said.
Abby laughed. “It’s not quite that way, but you’re close.
Well, we’re home, and you have guests. You really know
how to throw a funeral, Mom.”
“Event, dear. Funeral is such a dreary word. It conjures
up all kinds of dismal thinking.”
Abby laughed as she climbed out of the limo and marched
up the steps to the wide veranda of her mother’s house.
Both women raced upstairs to change into dry clothing
before they had to meet with the guests who would be
coming by to pay their last respects.
Toots looked at herself in the long mirror in her room.
Yes, she did look bedraggled, but wasn’t a widow supposed
to look a little bedraggled? “Black is not my best color,” she
muttered to herself as she tossed her mourning outfit into
a heap on the floor in the bathroom. She donned another
black dress, added a string of pearls, brushed out her hair,
sprayed on some perfume, and felt refreshed enough to go
downstairs and socialize for an hour or so.
Burying the dead was so time-consuming. Even the aftermath
took an eternity. All she wanted to do was retire to her
sitting room to read the pile of tabloids Abby had brought
with her. Not for the world would Toots ever admit that
she was addicted to tabloid gossip. But for now, she had a
duty to perform, and perform it she would. She had all evening
to read her treasured tabloids and guzzle a little wine
while doing so. She’d drink to Leland, and that would be the
end of this chapter in her life.
Time to move on. Something she was very good at.