USA Today and New York Times bestselling author Fern Michaels is a publishing legend and one of the most beloved storytellers of all time. In her newest book, BREAKING NEWS she tells the exploits of four irrepressible women, each of whom has their own marvelous quirks and sensibilities…
Teresa “Toots” Amelia Loudenberry is extending her stay in Charleston to help care for her ailing housekeeper, Bernice. Here in her beloved hometown, the air is rich with the scent of azalea sand honeysuckle and there’s always a pitcher of sweet tea (or something a little stronger) close to hand. Not that the ladies have much time for relaxing. Ida’s new line of cosmetics, “Seasoned,” is about to launch, and Toots, Mavis, and Sophia are relishing their new career as models. Most exciting of all, Toots’s daughter, Abby, is getting married. Toots has her hands full, especially when Abby’s criminal ex-boss resurfaces and the bride-to-be jeopardizes her big day in order to catch him. Toots is so busy taking care of the upcoming nuptials that she’s blindsided by her own unexpected romance. After eight husbands, she’s sworn never to get involved again. But every godmother, fairy or otherwise, loves a story that ends with happily-ever-after…
Teresa Amelia Loudenberry, aka Toots to those who knew and loved her, smoothed a wrinkle from the cream-colored duvet at the foot of her bed. Restless after spending the night tossing and turning, she’d been up for over an hour. Toots glanced at the clock on her night table. Five fifteen, and she was already showered and dressed. Most likely Bernice would be up and about, even though technically she was no longer Toots’s housekeeper and was not to do anything without assistance. After Bernice suffered a massive heart attack and underwent coronary bypass surgery, Toots had put her foot down to her dear friend of almost twenty-five years. It was time to call it quits, but like Toots, Bernice wasn’t one simply to stop working just because she’d had—Bernice’s exact words— “a little setback.” The “little setback,” unfortunately, just happened to be five clogged arteries, which required open- heart surgery, extensive physical therapy, and major changes to her diet and lifestyle. Toots had categorically refused to allow Bernice to do anything strenuous since being released from the hospital. Toots had hired a temporary service to do the heavy cleaning in her Charleston home.
Bernice might moan and groan until the cows came home. Toots was absolutely not going to let her wash windows and mop floors. Bernice’s days as a housekeeper ended the day Jamie, Toots’s partner at Charleston’s finest bakery, The Sweetest Things, found her curled in a heap on the kitchen floor. Had Jamie not paid a visit that morning, poor Bernice would most likely be six feet under.
Toots did not want to say good-bye to Bernice, certainly not yet. She’d already buried eight husbands in her lifetime. Doing the same for one of her dearest friends was nowhere to be found on her agenda. Not now. Not tomorrow. Not next week, next month, or next year. They still had too much life to live, they meaning Sophie, Mavis, and Ida, Abby’s three godmothers, Toots, and Bernice.
Bernice had acted strangely since coming home from the hospital, but Toots put it down to her age and the fact that she’d almost kicked the bucket. Bernice swore she had died and gone to heaven but had to return to help Sophie investigate the odd events that were going to take place at the house of Mrs. Patterson, Toots’s recently deceased next-door neighbor in Charleston. Mrs. Patterson’s house was empty, up for sale. She’d passed away while they’d been in California, at the beach house.
Toots feared that Bernice might be skirting the edges of dementia, but refused to discuss the possibility with anyone. Not even Sophie. But for now, Bernice was alive— above the grass, not below—and that was really all that counted.
And, of course, there was Ida, who’d lived in New York City, where she’d spent almost all of her adult life. She’d married three or four times—Toots lost count after the second time. Ida’s last husband, Thomas, had died of E. coli, or so everyone had thought. Following Thomas’s death, however, Ida had morphed into a different person. Since she’d believed Thomas had died from eating a piece of tainted meat, Ida developed OCD, obsessive-compulsive disorder. With the help of Toots, Sophie, and Mavis, plus the unsavory Patel Yadav, who’d been impersonating the famed Dr. Benjamin Sameer, a very successful doctor in Los Angeles who specialized in treating obsessive-compulsive disorder. The fake Dr. Sameer had tried to bilk Ida out of the three million dollars she had inherited from her deceased husband.
Nonetheless, Ida had overcome her bout with germs very quickly with the aid of the unscrupulous Patel, who was also her lover at the time. It was after Ida’s almost miraculous recovery that Sophie made contact through the spirit world and learned that, unknown to Thomas or Ida, he had an illegitimate daughter. His death was investigated, and it was determined that he had been the victim of a homicide. His daughter had poisoned him in hopes of gaining access to his fortune. After she got rid of Ida. The daughter was successfully prosecuted, sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, so she would not have another day of freedom in this lifetime.
Ida, a former photographer, now had a successful line of cosmetics for the deceased, Drop-Dead Gorgeous. She was quite content with her new business venture and life, one lacking any morbid fear of germs.
Mavis, another of the childhood quartet of friends, had barely been surviving on the pension she received as an English teacher when Toots had e-mailed, inviting her to Charleston. Living on the coast of Maine, with nothing for company except her little Chihuahua, Coco, and daytime television, Mavis had ballooned until she was more than one hundred pounds overweight. When Toots had first seen her that day as she struggled to walk through the airport, she’d had her doubts about Mavis ever having had any quality of life. Right there, on the spot, in the airport, before Mavis barely had a chance to say hello, Toots knew she would do whatever it took to help her friend lose all that weight.
Toots immediately called Dr. Joe Pauley, her longtime friend and physician. Dr. Pauley announced that Mavis was physically sound in all the areas that mattered. Toots took this as a sign. After a visit to Catherine’s, a clothing store for plus-size women, which outfitted Mavis in gorgeous clothing, boosting poor Mavis’s self-esteem tenfold, all Toots had to do was sit back and watch as the pounds practically dripped off Mavis. Now a hundred pounds lighter, and a successful businesswoman as well, not only was Mavis new and improved, but she was hip, sexy, and proud of it. Coco still tried to rule the roost, but Toots figured that was okay as long as Mavis didn’t fall back into her trap of eating and feeding the little dog more than they needed. Mavis had truly worked her ass off.
Over months, unbeknownst to Toots, Sophie, and Ida, Mavis had created a secret Internet business. During her period of massive weight loss, Mavis had insisted on remaking the clothes Toots had purchased for her when she was so heavy. As she was doing so, she discovered that she truly loved making her old clothes into new ones, and it was in this way that she started her own line of clothing for those in mourning, aptly naming it Good Mourning.
The line became so successful that Mavis went one step further by designing clothing for the dearly departed themselves. This, too, was another moneymaking venture. Between Mavis’s clothing and Ida’s makeup, both women were sought after by morticians and funeral directors across the country. Once the two began to work together, they attended special classes in San Francisco that enabled them to “lay out” the deceased. They were more popular than ever in the world of those who dealt with the dearly departed.
And then, of course, there was Sophie. Toots was closest to Sophie. Why? Maybe they were more alike in some ways. She didn’t know why, but Sophie had always held a special place in her heart, just a wee bit more than Ida and Mavis. Sophie had always been the toughest of the bunch. Strong and street-smart in ways that Toots, Ida, and Mavis would never be. Sophie had met and married only one man in her life—Walter Manchester, an alcoholic banker who’d kicked the bucket just about a year ago. He’d died of cirrhosis of the liver. Big surprise there. He’d spent most of their marriage slugging Sophie around as though she were his own personal punching bag.
Sophie was a great believer in her marriage vows. She would not divorce him, because, as bad as her situation was, divorce was contrary to her Catholic upbringing. Toots had always known that something was not kosher in her friend’s marriage. Once, when Toots had made an unannounced visit to New York City, she’d found Sophie with her arm in a cast. She didn’t have to ask her friend what had happened. She just knew. Toots had tried to convince Sophie to leave Walter, told her she deserved better, but Sophie had been adamant in her decision not to divorce him. “Till death do us part,” she’d said, all those years ago.
And so she survived. And she’d been smart. Working as a pediatric nurse her entire life had taught her a couple of things. One: people don’t live forever; and two: she was going to outlive Walter so she could collect the fivemillion- dollar insurance policy she’d worked her tail off to pay for. After Walter’s death, Toots took control of the “event” so that Sophie could mourn for a few minutes, about all the mourning she had in her. Walter was laid to rest efficiently and quickly. Toots even honored the old sot by singing a very off-key version of “Ave Maria” before they sent him to the fires of hell via one of New York’s finest crematoriums. They’d done what was required and not a single thing more.
It wasn’t too long after Walter’s death that Sophie’s psychic abilities blossomed even more than they already had. And now she was sought after like those Hollywood starlets whose lives and loves Abby reported on at The Informer.
Though Bernice wasn’t an official godmother in the true sense of the word, she’d helped raise Abby when the three of them had moved to South Carolina a little less than twenty-five years ago. Not one to wallow in self-pity or overanalyze a situation, Toots put all negative thoughts aside. They would only depress her, and her life was anything but depressing. She had more reason than ever to greet each new day with an abundance of enthusiasm and a positive attitude.
First and foremost, Toots no longer had to hide behind the screen of LAT Enterprise as the owner of the tabloid paper The Informer. She’d purchased the paper a little less than two years ago, when she had learned that the former owner and editor in chief had gotten himself into such a humongous financial disaster that Abby and the team of reporters employed by The Informer feared losing their jobs. Toots, being Abby’s multimillionaire mother and also being addicted to reading the tabloids, saw this not only as a possible business venture, but also as an opportunity to make sure Abby kept the job she loved so much. Knowing how independent her daughter was, Toots, along with Sophie, Mavis, and Ida, agreed to keep the new owner’s identity a secret until the right moment came along to tell Abby. That moment happened shortly after Bernice was stricken with her heart attack.
Toots was very sure that Abby would disown her and the three godmothers when she learned that the four of them had been lying, if only by omission, since The Informer had been sold to LAT Enterprise. However, when an unexpected situation presented itself, Toots had known it was time to reveal that she was the secret owner of The Informer.
Abby’s reaction hadn’t been what she’d anticipated. It brought tears to her eyes just thinking about it. Though that had been quite the emotional time for all of them, the fact was that Abby listened to the explanation of why Toots had felt compelled to purchase The Informer and had felt the need to keep her identity a secret. Her daughter’s reaction had practically blown her away.
Abby had phoned Toots to tell her about how the noted physician from Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, Dr. Bruce Lowery, whom Toots had engaged to perform open- heart surgery on Bernice in Charleston before discovering in a séance that he had been involved in a homicide, had been arrested for murder in an entirely different case. Toots recalled asking for details, the who, what, when, where, and why. Abby laughed, telling her she’d never make it as a news reporter, tabloid or otherwise. At that exact moment, Toots knew it was time to reveal her secret.
Toots remembered holding her breath, waiting for Abby to reject her, to tell her she was the worst mother alive, tell her she would never speak to her again, but what she heard was anything but a rejection. Prepared for anger, Toots would never forget her daughter’s words.
“Mom, come on! I’m not three years old! I can’t believe you’d go to such lengths. Oh, what am I saying? Of course you would go to whatever length necessary to see that I was happy. Oh, Mom, I’m not angry at all. I’m honored that you would do something so phenomenally, fabulously, off the wall just to make me happy. There isn’t another mother in the world who would do something so gigantically crazy. Why should I be angry? I’m humbled and bowled over, but angry? No way.”