Life Starts Now
No sooner have Toots Loudenberry and her three best friends—Sophie, Ida, and Mavis—returned from Sacramento, where Sophie provided some much-needed psychic advice to the First Lady of California, when another situation demands their attention…
Laura Leigh, a Hollywood starlet whose main talent seems to be landing in trouble, is missing. Toots’ daughter, Abby, has both a personal and professional stake in the story. Not only is she editor-in-chief at gossip magazine The Informer, but entertainment attorney Chris Clay, Abby’s would-be beau, was the last person seen with Laura. And now he’s missing, too.
With the help of friends in high—and low—places, the Godmothers will navigate Hollywood’s glittering inner circles and seedy underbelly to discover the truth. Along the way, they’ll uncover unexpected secrets that not even one of Sophie’s séances could have predicted…
Praise for Fern Michaels and The Godmothers Series
“Pure recession-proof fun.” —Publishers Weekly
“Delightful…witty, charming, and complicated, these four childhood chums prove that life is a gift no matter what age you are.” —RT Reviews
“How can we go to the governor’s mansion if it no
longer exists?” Mavis asked Sophie, as the Citation
X gently lifted off the runway at LAX. “I read about
it on the Internet this morning, when I was checking my
Web site.” Mavis’s line of funeral attire, Good Mourning,
had blossomed almost overnight since its inception, but
she continued to monitor her Web site for each individual
order received. Now more than ever, she lived on the Internet.
Sophie rolled her chestnut eyes upward, showing only
the milky-colored whites. “It still exists; just more of a
tourist attraction these days. Ronald Reagan was the last
governor who lived there. The gov-er-na-tor stays at the
Sterling Hotel, which is where we will be staying for the
next few days or however long it takes to assist the first
lady of California with her nightmares.” A slight smile lifting
the edge of her full lips, Sophie mimicked the instantly
recognizable accent for which the famous former actor
turned governor was so well known.
“Stop being so damn dramatic. You may be a drama
queen, but you’re not an actress,” Toots called out from
the seat in front of Sophie and Mavis.
“I didn’t say I was,” Sophie tossed back.
“Stop!” Ida intervened. “I don’t want to hear any smart
comments today. I’ve about had it listening to the two of
Laughter bubbled throughout the private jet.
When the four women had boarded the luxury jet, all of
them agreed that California’s governor flew in style. The
cabin was decked out in creamy leather reclining seats,
solid cherry cabinetry, and all the latest gadgets, including
an Apple iPad2 equipped with high-speed Internet, and
built-in telephones—just in case the governor had to make
a call and was unable to move about the plane.
Theresa “Toots” Amelia Loudenberry, Sophie Manchester,
Ida McGullicutty, and Mavis Hanover, the last three
being Toots’s daughter Abby’s godmothers, were en route
to Sacramento, the state capital. Sophie, in her newfound
celebrity, was slated to perform her magic, said magic consisting
of holding a séance for the Peabody- and Emmyaward-
winning first lady. She had begun to be plagued
with nightmares about her famous uncle, John F. Kennedy,
the thirty-fifth president of the United States, who was assassinated
when she was eight years old. When she’d
heard of Sophie’s success in abolishing ghosts and other
unworldly beings, she’d personally called to ask for her assistance.
“Oh hush, Ida! If I wanted your opinion, I’d ask.” Sophie
smirked. “And I really, really do not.”
There was a long-standing war of sorts between Sophie
and Ida. Though neither would ever voluntarily admit it, if
pressured, both would confess to loving the other. It was
just that they didn’t like each other.
“Now now, girls, let’s not fuss. We’ve got a long flight
ahead of us, and I, for one, want to relax before we’re introduced
to California’s first couple. I don’t want to appear
haggard,” Toots explained.
Mavis, the most upbeat and positive of the group, said
softly, “Oh, Toots dear, you could never look haggard! I
believe you’re the most gorgeous woman I know.”
Toots smiled at Mavis. “You are too kind, but thank
Ida muttered something decidedly unkind.
As usual, Sophie and Toots ignored her when she mouthed
“Hey, this flight might not be as long as you think. Listen
to this.” Sophie held up the brochure she had removed
from her seat pocket. “The Citation X can fly through a
half dozen time zones before refueling, and it has a Rolls-
Royce engine. Whew! This is some aircraft.”
Ida spoke up. “That is good news. The less time I’ll have
to listen to you three run your filthy mouths, the happier
Sophie raised her hand above her head so Ida could see
her middle finger standing proud and tall. “And it says the
bathroom is marble.”
Coco, Mavis’s spoiled female Chihuahua, growled from
her royal seat, aka Mavis’s lap. “Ida, I believe you’ve upset
Coco. She knows full well that I don’t say nasty things the
way the rest of you do.” Mavis grinned, before adding,
“Or at least not nearly as often.”
It was hard to imagine the woman Mavis had been just
two short years ago. A retired English teacher and widow
for seventeen years, she’d lived in a little clapboard house
near the ocean in Maine before Toots had e-mailed her
and invited her to Charleston, South Carolina, Toots’s
hometown. She’d been a heart attack waiting to happen
when Toots rescued her, and, yes, that was exactly what
Toots had done, rescued her. If she hadn’t, Mavis would
probably be six feet under that very moment. Guided by
Toots and a personal trainer, Mavis lost over one hundred
pounds and exercised daily as though her life depended on
it, which it likely did.
Ida, a native New Yorker and a high-society snob, had
been a complete and total nutcase. Recently widowed when
Toots invited her to come to Charleston, the elegant former
photographer suffered with OCD, obsessive-compulsive
disorder, and a debilitating fixation on germs. Thomas,
her spouse of more than thirty years, was thought to have
died from the bacterium E coli found in a tainted piece of
meat Ida had purchased from her favorite butcher shop.
Circumstances being what they were, Ida’s psychological
disorder had caused her to become a total shut-in. Her
world of Clorox and sanitizing had quickly ended when
Toots sent her to a famous doctor in California who specialized
in treating her disorder. Not only had she been
cured of her compulsion in a matter of weeks, but she became
romantically involved with her savior, who turned
out to be no doctor at all but an imposter. He’d almost
bilked Ida out of three million dollars to boot. To see her
now, minus her cleaning kit, was a true miracle.
Sophie, also a native New Yorker, an RN and a former
pediatric nurse, had been recently widowed as well. Walter,
her abusive alcoholic husband, died from cirrhosis of
the liver. No big surprise there. Planning ahead and looking
forward to the day he died, Sophie had taken out a
five-million-dollar life insurance policy on him before it
was too late and was now quite comfortable.
Toots, an expert at planning funerals—or events as she
liked to think of them—had a great deal of practice over
the years, and helped Sophie arrange a quick event for
Walter. Toots sang an off-key “Ave Maria,” they said their
Hail Marys, baked Walter’s remains, then spent the rest of
the day shopping before jetting back to Los Angeles, where
Toots had fulfilled a secret lifelong dream when she purchased
The Informer, a tabloid newspaper where her daughter,
Abby, was working as a reporter.
Two years later Abby, now editor in chief of the tabloid,
still had no clue her mother was the real power behind
LAT Enterprise, the corporation that owned the paper.
Abby seemed content to accept her new boss’s preference
for communication—e-mail and FedEx—so until Toots
had a darn good reason, she had no intention of revealing
her own involvement as the corporate owner of The Informer
Knowing she’d have to stay in close contact with her
daughter, Toots purchased a beautiful three-story hillside
minimansion in Malibu. It had been inhabited by a former
pop star, whose idea of decorating was hot pink and purple.
One of the guest bathrooms actually had a mirror in
the shape of a guitar, and blue rhinestones on the baseboards.
Toots guessed it was a sad tribute to the King himself,
dearly departed Elvis.
Prior to the pop star, the house had belonged to Desi
Arnaz and Lucille Ball. Toots, along with her dear friends,
had moved into the Malibu beach house while it was being
remodeled. It was during the remodeling that she experienced
a paranormal phenomenon in her own bedroom.
She remembered that night as being the most frightening
of her life.
Awakened by a pounding heart and an eerie chill in the
horrid purple bedroom she’d referred to as a hooker
haven, and paralyzed by a fear unlike anything she’d ever
experienced, Toots had been unable to move from her bed.
Next—she still had difficulties believing this—what seemed
to be four clouds, in an eerie, translucent shade of blue,
clustered around her bed. Inside the cloudlike puffs were
faces. Yes, she knew how insane it sounded, but she’d seen
it with her own two eyes and it was what it was. Afterward,
she remembered thinking she could’ve had hallucinations
from a bad case of indigestion or, perish the thought, even a
brain tumor. She had read somewhere about tumors on
the brain causing pressure that gave rise to hallucinations.
But it had been nothing like that at all.
Recalling the faces, she realized they were familiar to
her, but in her traumatized state, she was unable to identify
them. In a matter of seconds, the foglike clouds disappeared.
Scared and shaken, she’d told Sophie what she’d
experienced. Having had a lifelong interest in the paranormal,
Sophie hadn’t been shocked when Toots told her
what had happened. Of course, now they knew the remodeling
in the bedroom had stirred up the spirits of famous
movie moguls Aaron Spelling and Bing Crosby, who
in life had an ongoing feud over a piece of land. Sophie
had suggested a séance. Successful in her attempts to contact
and communicate with the dead, Sophie had become a
celebrity in the world of paranormal events and ghosts. So
there they were, flying in a private jet on their way to the
governor’s mansion to assist California’s first lady with her
Toots reclined in the luxurious leather seat, content
with her life and that of Abby’s three godmothers. Since
the girls had temporarily relocated to California and
South Carolina—temporarily being two years—their lives
as senior citizens had been one big roller-coaster ride. A
few rough spots along the way, but thrilling nonetheless.
Toots glanced at each of her friends, who were really
more like sisters. Abby’s three godmothers were quiet,
each lost in her own private world. They had been friends
for more than fifty years. She treasured her friendship with
each woman. Each was unique and individual in her own
right. Toots could only hope they’d have another fifty
The copilot’s deep voice came over the intercom, announcing
they were about to begin their descent into Sacramento International Airport. “Ladies, I’m going to have to
ask you all to buckle up. The ceiling is down to two hundred
feet with some fog and light rain. We’ll be making an
ILS approach, so it could get bumpy. Please secure any
open containers and that little dog.”
Ida, an uncomfortable flier on a good day, turned ten
shades of white. “What does that mean? I knew I should’ve
taken a commercial flight. I hate these small planes.”
“Private jets have the same stupid-ass rules as the commercial
airlines,” Sophie said as she adjusted her seat belt.
Mavis put Coco in her carrier and placed it beneath the
seat. The little pooch growled, then went into a series of
earsplitting barks before settling down. “She just hates
that crate, but we have to follow the rules. They’re for our
own protection.” Mavis darted a glance at Sophie.
“Oh crap, Mavis, I know that. I just like to complain.
At least we didn’t have to go through security and get felt
off. I bet Ida wouldn’t mind going through security, would
you?” Sophie said, trying to distract Ida.
When Ida didn’t respond to her teasing, Sophie continued.
“Ida, clear something up for me. Is it ‘felt off’ or ‘felt
up’? I’ve heard both, but I’m not sure which one to use.”
Toots cackled, Mavis smiled, and Ida answered Sophie,
her voice trembling with fear. “Either. Personally, I like to
think of it as getting ‘felt off.’ I’m surprised at you, Sophie,
with your infinite well of useless information, that you
would even ask such a question.” To her credit, Ida didn’t
react to Sophie’s tormenting her as she would have a year
ago. She was learning to be a true Southern smart-ass.
“It certainly has been in the news a lot lately, those perverts
trying to cop a feel. People have no respect for one
another anymore,” Toots said disgustedly.
Suddenly, the plane lurched to the left.
Ida shrieked. “What’s happening?”
Unlike a commercial jet, the private plane did not have
a closed cockpit. Ida strained to see into the cockpit and
gasped when she saw nothing but clouds rushing past the
windscreen. “Oh my God, how are they going to land this
plane? The windshield is covered with clouds! I should
have stayed home.” Ida bowed from the waist, closed her
eyes, and held on tight.
Toots observed Ida, whose normally composed face was
etched with fear, fingernails digging into the expensive
leather armrest. Toots knew full well there was nothing to
fear. One of her eight husbands, she couldn’t remember
exactly which one in the sequence, had been a pilot. To
take Ida’s mind off her fear, she said, “I remember doing
this many times; it really isn’t as dangerous as you think.
See all those little gauges?” She pointed to the instrument
panel, which was clearly visible from their seats. “One of
those little round things has two needles on it. One goes
up and down, and the other moves left and right. As the
pilot approaches the airport, the needles will begin to intersect
each other. Keeping them centered—it’s somewhat
similar to the crosshairs on the scope of a rifle—will align
the plane directly on the center of the runway at exactly
the right height and allow the pilot to make a normal landing
even though he can’t see.”
Incredulous, Sophie asked, “How in the hell do you
know that? Or is that something you’re just making up so
Ida won’t be afraid?”
“Trust me, when you’ve been in a plane that’s even
smaller than this one, a four-seater, and you’re in the copilot
seat and cannot even see the wings of the plane, you
remember stuff like that. Plus, I think it was Joe, number
four or five, who was obsessed with flying and explained
everything to me when we flew together. I listened, too,
just in case he kicked the bucket. By then, I was already
quite experienced in the widow department.”
The turbulence ended as quickly as it had begun. Below
was the view of a beautiful runway lit up like a festively
decorated tree on Christmas morning. Seconds later, the
wheels screeched, and they were safely on the ground.
The copilot announced their arrival, and within minutes
the cabin door was opening and the automatic stairs descending
for their immediate exit.
“This sure beats commercial flying. I always hate when
the passengers jump up like pigs running to a feeding
trough. Not to mention all the offending body odors you
have to endure.”
“You’re disgusting, Sophie,” Toots said.
Their arrival was met with all the pomp and circumstance
afforded visiting dignitaries, complete with a
meticulously placed red carpet leading to a sleek black
The chauffeur was retrieving their luggage from the
baggage compartment when a well-dressed woman in her
mid-thirties emerged from the limo. She greeted the quartet
as they approached the vehicle. “I’m Cynthia Johnson,
the first lady’s personal assistant. How was your flight?”
Returning to her role of society snob, Ida was the first to
speak. “It was perfect from takeoff to landing. It was so
kind of the governor to send his jet for us.”
Sophie looked at Toots and Mavis, rolling her eyes. “Is
this the same woman who left fingernail marks on the
armrest five minutes ago?”
Ida shot her a shut-up-or-die look.
“I’m not the biggest fan of flying myself,” Cynthia said
to Ida. “Sophia?”
“That would be me,” Sophie said, shaking hands with
the woman. “These are my friends, Toots, Ida, and Mavis.”
“I’m glad you all could accompany Sophie. I’m sure you
will enjoy the amenities at the Sterling Hotel. You have
carte blanche, courtesy of the governor.” Cynthia looked
at her slim gold wristwatch. “We’d better get going.”
Half an hour later, when they arrived at the hotel, they
were greeted by the governor himself.