Teresa “Toots” Loudenberry has a knack for finding adventure, even when she’s not looking for it. But ever since her friend Sophie convinced her to start holding regular séances, life in Los Angeles is getting a little too dramatic even for Toots’s tastes. When their friend Ida receives a message from the beyond suggesting that her late husband was murdered, a spooked Toots decides it’s time the Godmothers left LA for her hometown of Charleston…
Meanwhile, Mavis, the final member of their group, has been acting suspiciously, mailing packages in bulk and refusing to divulge what she’s up to. She should know by now that Ida, Toots, and Sophie will never let secrets rest or ignore a friend in need. And when the Godmothers discover that whoever killed Ida’s husband has plans for Ida too, they’ll do what they do best—rally together, concoct a daring plan, and show the world there is no match for these four formidable friends...
“A thrilling read ripped from today’s headlines. Michaels mixes humor and good old-fashioned cop drama in an endearing way.” —RT Book Reviews
“A page-turner... the perfect blend of mystery, adventure and romance.” —The Charleston Mercury
About the Author
Hometown:Summerville, South Carolina
Place of Birth:Hastings, Pennsylvania
Read an Excerpt
By FERN MICHAELS
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2010 MRK Productions Fern Michaels is a Registered Trademark of First Draft, Inc.
All rights reserved.
The beach house, Malibu
Sophie Manchester sat on the deck, staring out at the Pacific and watching the reflections off the waves as the sun rose behind her. She rose, turning to the east, and watched a giant ball of fire floating above the mountains. Vibrant yellow, orange, and a dozen hues of pink, it appeared like a rosy blush-colored wine splashed across the sky. She crushed her third cigarette out in the giant shell she and Toots used for their ashtray, then began pacing back and forth across the ocean-facing deck. The view was out of this world, but it could have been the Taj Mahal for all the attention she paid it. Haunted by last night's events, she wondered if she'd opened a door that was meant to remain closed. She'd heard Walter's voice; she would know it anywhere. The question was, should she continue to experiment with the unknown? There was no way in hell she would admit it, but she was now truly frightened of the ability she had to make contact with the other side. It was one thing to get through to Hollywood's dead stars. It was a totally different ball of wax when it came to ex-husbands and neighbors who might still be alive. Madame Butterfly had told her many years ago that she had a special gift, but Sophie had always shrugged it off as a bunch of mumbo jumbo. She wasn't so sure anymore.
Mavis, all 146 pounds of her, carried out a tray filled with an ungodly amount of healthy food, a carafe of fresh-squeezed orange juice, and four steaming mugs of coffee.
Placing the food-laden tray on the patio table, Mavis said, "I knew I would find you out here smoking those nasty old cigarettes. Are Toots and Ida up yet?"
"I heard Toots stirring around when I woke up. Nothing from Ida," Sophie said flatly. "She's probably still in shock after last night."
Ever cheerful, Mavis observed, "Well, that was quite an experience. I don't know that any one of us will ever get over it." Mavis proceeded to empty the tray, placing the plates and cups on the table. "I've made steel-cut oats with fresh blueberries, and sliced pineapple with whole- grain toast, minus the butter, of course. I do believe you will like this fresh sugar-free strawberry jam I made last week. I saw this recipe on the Food Network, one of Paula Deen's shows, but I made a few healthy substitutes. She uses so much butter, it's a wonder that sweet little woman hasn't suffered a major coronary from all that unhealthy cooking she does. Though I do enjoy her show."
Sophie rolled her eyes, grabbed a mug of coffee, and carried it back to her lounge chair, where she sat down and lit another cigarette. "Why do you watch her if her show cooks nothing but fattening, unhealthy food?"
Mavis sat down at the table and stirred blueberries in her oatmeal, then took a healthy sip of orange juice before answering Sophie. "She's such a dear woman. She reminds me of Toots. You know, sweet and silly, a little bit on the ornery side but with an air of sophistication. I would love to go to her restaurant in Savannah, Georgia, sometime before I die. Plus, I would have a chance to see those old graveyards from as far back as the eighteenth century. I think I will add that to my life list. What about you, Sophie?"
Sophie blew out a funnel of smoke and took a sip of coffee. "Actually, there are a few places I would like to see before I cross over into another world," Sophie said. One evening, when they'd all had too much time on their hands, they'd each made a list, calling it their life list, of things they wanted to do before they passed on.
"Good. We all need something to look forward to in our old age, something fun and exciting."
Sophie crushed out her ever-present cigarette before lighting another. She remembered last night and found that the place where sarcasm usually dwelt had become the home of fear. "Never hearing from ... Well, let me put it this way. I want to make it my number one priority to guide Walter's ghost straight into the fiery pits of hell. That's going to the top of my life list."
Mavis shook her head. "That is so sad, Sophie. You need to revamp your list."
Sophie rolled her eyes. "I could say the same about you. This new fascination you have with graveyards, reading the obits like they're great works of literature. Is that something on your life list?"
Mavis ducked her head, took a large spoonful of oatmeal, and practically shoved it down her throat. "That isn't on my list."
"Oh. Then explain why you're so fascinated with the obituaries." Sophie took a drink of coffee. "I'm waiting."
Mavis stood, gathering up her bowl and the plate of fruit. "I certainly don't want to sound rude, Sophie, but that isn't any of your business. It's just something that ... well, I'm curious about. How long people lived, whom they left behind."
Sophie inhaled, then blew the smoke out, where it swirled above her head like a halo. "I could understand if it were family. But these are strangers. You need to find another hobby."
At that moment, Toots stepped outside, saving Mavis from having to reply. Spying the coffee, she helped herself to a mug. "What're you two arguing about this early?" Toots sat down in her deck chair, reaching for her ever-present pack of cigarettes. She lit up and blew the smoke out in one giant puffy cloud.
"Mavis's morbid fascination with the obits. It's her new hobby," Sophie said.
Mavis snatched the tray off the table so quickly that her mug of coffee tipped over, sending the brown liquid flying through the air, then landing on her charcoal gray blouse. Sophie just then realized that Mavis seemed to be wearing a lot of different shades of gray lately. Maybe she was in mourning for all those strangers she spent so much time reading about.
"I'm going to pretend we never had this conversation. Now I have work to do." Mavis rushed through the open doors, her willowy blouse flapping like wings.
"Stuck-up!" Sophie shouted to her back. Since Mavis had lost all that weight, she'd become a bit conceited, but, Sophie granted, Mavis was entitled since she'd literally worked her tail off to lose almost a hundred pounds. If asked a year ago, Sophie would never have believed Mavis could be so dedicated, so disciplined, but she'd proven her wrong. The same with Ida. Her life had been defined by her fear of germs. Had Toots not stepped in, who knew what Ida would be doing right now? Though Ida's OCD wasn't as severe as some cases, and all the girls suspected her of playing this up to the nth degree, none of them wanted to see her suffer in any way.
"You shouldn't be so hard on her," Toots said. "She's come a long way." Sophie rolled her eyes. "I know that. I just don't understand this newfound fascination with the obits, that's all."
"What about our newest ... ah ... hobby?" Toots was almost hesitant to bring up last night. It'd scared the guff out of all of them. "Séances? That's not your everyday hobby."
"It isn't a hobby at all. You, of all people, should know that. It's a ... gift," Sophie informed her.
"A gift? I thought this was entertainment, something for Abby's column for The Informer," Toots replied. Abby was Toots's daughter and the editor in chief of a Los Angeles — based tabloid that, unbeknownst to Abby, Toots had bought a year or so ago. Toots took a sip of her coffee, then tossed the remains over the deck. "Mavis makes the worst coffee."
Sophie reached for a slice of pineapple from the platter Mavis had left on the table. "Her food stinks, too. I need something real. Like a ham- and-cheese omelet with a side of greasy hash browns. This healthy stuff will be the death of me."
Toots nodded in agreement. "Stop trying to change the subject. I want to talk about what happened last night."
Sophie swallowed her pineapple, took a drink of coffee, then lit up. "I was as shocked as the rest of you. I think I've opened up a portal for our dead husbands. I did some heavy-duty research on the Internet last night, after I went upstairs. I know it sounds nuts, but I don't have any other explanation. You got any bright ideas?"
"Isn't that supposed to be evil, like a place for demons to come and go? Take over someone's personality, their soul?" Toots asked.
Sophie shook her head, her dark brown hair wrapping around her face. She tucked the loose strands behind her ears. "You're talking about demonic possession. I don't believe we have anything like that going on here. It's like I said, I think our exes are coming back to ... I'm not sure what they're coming back for. Maybe they just want to frighten us. I don't have any other explanation."
Toots was quiet for a moment. "I suppose if Leland should decide to ... make his presence known, I'll have to explain why I didn't bury him with his expensive bottle of scotch. The old coot was cheap in life. I doubt that's changed in death. Maybe he's stuck in between, you know, waiting for whatever it is they wait for to help them cross over to the other side. Or in his case, he might be waiting for a U-Haul to bring his fortune to his grave site."
Toots took a deep drag from her cigarette. "In his case it might be that he'll return for all that money he left behind."
Sophie laughed, but her heart wasn't in it. "I suppose if Walter and Leland crossed paths, they could ... Hell, I don't know. Maybe Walter's looking for Leland's bottle of scotch that you were supposed to bury with him. Could be his liver's been revived."
Coffee spewed from Toots's mouth as she uttered a hearty guffaw. "Only you would think of something like that at a time like this." She wiped her mouth with a tissue from her jeans pocket.
All traces of humor gone, Sophie inquired, "What is that supposed to mean? 'At a time like this'?"
"You know what I mean. This séance ordeal. Last night. Do you suppose there is a connection of some kind, something we're missing?" Toots asked.
"I thought of that, and I'm coming up as empty-handed as you are. I think we need to try another séance tonight. We'll try to duplicate last night's séance as closely as possible. Same time, same candles. We'll wear the same clothes, the whole deal."
"Something tells me Ida isn't going to be game for this a second time," Toots said.
"Then we'll just have to make sure she is game," Sophie shot back.
"Explain exactly how we're going to do this. I doubt that Ida will ever want to sit in on one of our séances again. Now that she's seen Thomas, and before you say anything, no, I cannot believe these words are coming out of my mouth, but it is what it is, so how do you propose we convince her to come to another ... performance?" It amazed Toots how she accepted these ... peculiar entities as part of their normal, everyday life.
"We could threaten her. With something extremely germy," Sophie said, a huge grin on her face.
"That's a terrible idea, especially after all she's been through!" Toots lit another cigarette. "Just what kind of germs are we talking about here?" "Something the seagulls would ignore." Sophie laughed. "Maybe an unusually smelly dead fish. A dirty diaper. I see people tossing disposable diapers into the water all the time."
"That's beyond disgusting. I can't believe we would even consider doing this to poor Ida given what she's been through this past year. I don't know if she'd be able to withstand something so vile," Toots said.
The sliding glass door opened. "Poor Ida, what? I heard what you said! What are you two up to?"
Sophie and Toots had the grace to appear chagrined.
"We aren't up to anything," Sophie said hastily.
Normally, Ida wasn't an early riser, so neither Toots nor Sophie had expected to see her out on the deck at sunrise. It was obvious that Ida had had a rough night. There were dark circles beneath her eyes, her impeccable pageboy was a mess, and she still wore the same navy slacks and mauve blouse she'd had on the night before, only they were wrinkled, as though she'd tossed and turned in them all night.
Ida reached for a mug of the now-cool coffee Mavis had left on the table. She took a sip, made a face, then took a seat in the chair opposite Toots.
"You look terrible," Sophie said cheerfully.
"You're not much to look at, either," Ida complained. "I haven't slept a wink. This has been one of the worst nights of my life." Ida made a dramatic gesture of sweeping her hand out in front of her as though she were a game-show model about to reveal the grand prize behind door number two.
Toots and Sophie looked at one another, then quickly glanced away.
Sophie, who was never at a loss for words, said, "I thought the night Jerry dumped you for Toots was the worst night of your life." Years earlier, Ida had been dating Jerry, who at the time she'd thought was the love of her life. As soon as he laid eyes on Toots, he'd immediately dumped Ida for Toots. Ida made a habit of reminding Toots of this whenever the urge hit her.
Toots tried to suppress a giggle. "I did you a favor, and you know it." Jerry had been a skinflint and a lousy kisser to boot.
"You certainly remind me often enough," Ida snapped back.
"I'm not the one who's always doing the reminding, if memory serves me correctly," Toots said. If they all lived to the ripe old age of one hundred, Ida would still remind Toots of this so-called indiscretion that had happened so many years ago. Toots and Jerry had shared a brief marriage; then he'd kicked the bucket. He'd been husband number five or six. After eight marriages, it was hard to name them in numerical order. Someday she would do so. She'd match up all her marriage certificates with the death certificates. Maybe she would start a scrapbook. Scrapbooking seemed to be all the rage these days. At least she could claim she'd never been divorced.
"Stop it, both of you. I'm sick of hearing about Jerry. If my memory serves me correctly, and we all know I have the memory of an elephant, Toots said he was a dud in the sack, as well. So, once and for all, Ida, why don't you thank Toots for the favor and be done with it."
Uncharacteristically, Ida flipped Sophie the single-digit salute. The three of them burst out laughing, which eased the tension immediately. They laughed until tears streamed down their faces. Exhausted from their unexpected hysterics, the trio suddenly became quiet. The only sounds were the occasional cry from a seagull and the noise of the ocean as its waves caressed the dampened, bone-colored sand. A mild breeze carried the scent of wood smoke, doubtlessly left over from a beach bonfire the night before.
Ida looked Sophie directly in the face, her tone as serious as ever. "Can you explain what happened last night? I ... I don't know when I've been so frightened."
Sophie glanced at Toots, who shook her head and shrugged her shoulders, as if saying she hadn't a clue how to answer.
"You saw Thomas's ghost. What's to explain?" Sophie asked.
Exasperated, Ida threw her hands up in the air. "And you think I'm just supposed to accept that like it's ... like it's normal?"
"I'm afraid I must agree with Ida. Seeing all those famous stars is one thing. Seeing people we know, especially our dead spouses, well, that's a bit much if you ask me."
"I didn't ask. I don't know what's got your panties in a knot. You didn't see any of your dead husbands," Sophie singsonged. "Yet."
"Yet is the right word. Where is this leading? Are we so bored that we have nothing better to do than stir up a bunch of unnecessary trouble just to entertain ourselves?"
Sophie considered her question. "Yes, I think that's exactly what's going on. We're bored, but we've found a way to entertain ourselves. We aren't hurting anyone." Sophie paused then, considering her words. "Except ourselves, and we're all okay, aren't we?" she challenged.
"When put that way, I suppose we are. But what if, what if we've opened a portal that's not supposed to be opened?" Toots asked. "As in a portal to hell?"
Sophie lit another cigarette, inhaled, then blew out the smoke like Puff, the Magic Dragon. "If that's the case, then we're screwed."CHAPTER 2
Later that evening, they all scrambled around the table in the newly remodeled kitchen, ready to dig into the piping hot pepperoni pizza that Giorgio's, their new favorite pizza joint, had just delivered. Mavis, still as pleasant as ever, had set the table as she normally did, with the everyday dinnerware, forks, knives, and royal blue cloth napkins. Apparently she'd forgiven Sophie her morning's indiscretion. It was apparent Ida had spent the afternoon napping, as her under-eye circles were gone, and her hair was smoothed to perfection. She had changed into a pair of black slacks and a pearl-colored top and appeared more herself. Toots had spent the afternoon proofreading an article for The Informer. Sophie had prepared for the evening's scheduled séance. She'd set up the video and voice recorders just in case.
They had just learned that the jury had reached a verdict in the trial of the State of California versus Patel Yadav, Mohammed Dasgupta, and Amala Malik, the trio charged with identity theft, fraud, and numerous other crimes. Ida had had the misfortune of getting involved with Patel, who'd posed as Dr. Benjamin Sameer, medical director at the Center for Mind and Body. He'd almost bilked her out of three million dollars, but fortunately, or unfortunately, depending upon how you looked at it, Ida had caught the charlatan in the act of sniffing her racy red and black panties. She'd stopped the financial transaction in the nick of time. The case was being covered on truTV, and now there was a verdict.
Toots positioned the small television set where they all had a bird's-eye view. She bumped the volume up several notches before sitting down at the table.
"You should've used the paper plates, Mavis. This is just more dishes to wash," Toots complained as she reached for a generous slice of the cheesy pizza with large pieces of pepperoni. Tonight, they couldn't wait to clog their arteries.
"Oh, I don't mind," Mavis said sweetly. "Gives me something to do. I'll need to work off this meal, anyway."
"One slice won't ruin your svelte figure. Let's listen," Ida said, nodding toward the TV set.
With an evil grin that lit up her dark brown eyes like a bottle of good whiskey, Sophie said, "Yeah, I can't wait to see Ida's lover on the news."
Toots reached for her royal blue napkin. "Enough! You can't keep your nastiness to yourself, can you? This case is already a joke as it is. What's your take on it, Ida?"
Ida, always trying to play the role of elegant lady of the manor, dotted her mouth with her napkin and placed it on her lap before speaking. "I think that dirty old man deserves to be laughed at. I hope they give all three of them the maximum sentence. I've never been so embarrassed in my life. And to think, I thought he was a gentleman."
Ida sliced a piece of pizza on her plate and shook her head. "I can't believe I had to tell that old prosecutor about the panty incident. Personally, I think it gave her a cheap thrill of sorts."
Sophie, never one to miss an opportunity to add her two cents' worth, said, "I think she has a crush on you, Ida. She's about your age. Maybe after this, you'll learn your lesson. Ever think about crossing over to the other side?"
Excerpted from Late Edition by FERN MICHAELS. Copyright © 2010 MRK Productions Fern Michaels is a Registered Trademark of First Draft, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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