Church first ladies Jasmine Cox, Larson Bush, and Rachel Jackson Adams are back and battling it out again—this time on reality TV—in the latest collaboration between national bestselling and award-winning authors Victoria Christopher Murray and ReShonda Tate Billingsley.
Jasmine Cox, Larson Bush, and Rachel Jackson Adams have been through a lot together—from fighting for their husbands to become the head of the American Baptist Coalition to getting mixed up in a terrible murder. Now the frenemies have found themselves the stars of First Ladies, a much anticipated new reality television show.
Jasmine balks at the idea of airing her dirty laundry on national TV, but Rachel sees it as the perfect opportunity to take her brand to the next level. And if Rachel is in, so is Jasmine. All the cast members are women of God—how much drama can there be?
Rachel and Jasmine know their own pasts are murky, but they’ll seem like choir girls when the secrets and sins of the others come to light. The two will once again have to form an unholy alliance to go up against these so-called Godly women who see the show as their chance to take them down—at any cost.
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About the Author
Victoria Christopher Murray is the author of more than twenty novels including: Greed; Envy; Lust; The Ex Files; Lady Jasmine; The Deal, the Dance, and the Devil; and Stand Your Ground, which was named a Library Journal Best Book of the Year. Winner of nine African American Literary Awards for Fiction and Author of the Year (Female), Murray is also a four-time NAACP Image Award Nominee for Outstanding Fiction. She splits her time between Los Angeles and Washington, DC. Visit her website at VictoriaChristopherMurray.com.
ReShonda Tate Billingsley’s #1 nationally bestselling novels include Let the Church Say Amen, I Know I’ve Been Changed, and Say Amen, Again, winner of the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work. Her collaboration with Victoria Christopher Murray has produced four hit novels, Sinners & Saints, Friends & Foes, A Blessing & a Curse, and Fortune & Fame. BET released a movie in 2013 based on ReShonda’s book Let the Church Say Amen in which she had a minor role. She also had a role in the made-for-TV movie The Secret She Kept based on her book of the same title. Visit ReShondaTateBillingsley.com, meet the author on Facebook at ReShondaTateBillingsley, or follow her on Twitter @ReShondaT.
Read an Excerpt
Fortune & Fame
Jasmine sat with her eyes opened wide and her mouth clasped shut. But even though not a word passed through her lips, the living room was filled with the joyful sound of laughter.
Slowly, Jasmine rose from the sofa, leaving Mae Frances sitting alone. There was no way her friend would be able to stand right now; Mae Frances was buckled over, laughing so hard that Jasmine was sure she was going to bust a vein.
But Jasmine didn’t turn her head to the left or the right. Her eyes remained focused only on the plasma TV centered on the wall.
“I cannot believe this,” Jasmine said, finally speaking.
She took two steps toward the television as if that would help her hear Shaun Robinson, the anchor for Access Hollywood,, a little better.
“This has to be quite an exciting time for you,” Shaun said. “Especially since you’re going to be on the OWN network.”
Rachel Jackson Adams stood next to Shaun, cheesing like she was in a Colgate commercial. Her hand was on her hip as if she was posing for the camera, though she came off looking more like a posing seal.
“Well, you know, I was supposed to be on Oprah’s show last year,” Rachel said to Shaun, though her eyes were on the camera and not on the anchor. “But due to circumstances where somebody else acted like a fool, my appearance was canceled.”
“Fool?” Mae Frances cackled as she pointed at the television. “I think she’s talking about you. She just called you a fool on national TV.”
Mae Frances cracked up, and Jasmine’s eyes narrowed as she watched the unfolding interview. For a moment, she wondered if the steam coming out of her ears would set off the smoke alarm in Mae Frances’s apartment.
On the screen, Rachel spoke, her eyes still on the camera. “But even though that didn’t work out, Oprah and I kinda became friends and after we hung out a couple of times, Oprah said that I would be the perfect First Lady to be on television because there are so many misconceptions about pastor wives.”
“Liar!” Jasmine growled at the screen.
Still chuckling, Mae Frances said, “Why’re you calling her a liar? There are a lot of misconceptions about First Ladies.”
Jasmine shook her head. “I’m not talking about that part. This whole story about how she and Oprah are friends, you know that’s a lie. Oprah’s not her friend. Nobody’s Rachel’s friend. Anyone who knows Rachel for more than five minutes would never be a friend of hers.”
“Hmph . . . I thought you two were friends.”
“No,” Jasmine said, sinking back down onto the couch. “We’re more like frenemies. I would never call someone that I couldn’t trust a friend.”
“Y’all were sure acting mighty friendly last year when you were in Chicago. By the time we got down to the Caribbean, I thought you two would be BFFs forever.”
“Yeah, well,” Jasmine said, thinking about everything that she had done for that juvenile-delinquent-on-the-loose. If it hadn’t been for her, Rachel would be sitting in a ten-by-ten concrete cell facing the death penalty for the murder of Pastor Earl Griffith. Of course, it might not have played out that way once the world discovered the truth that Earl Griffith wasn’t dead. But in her mind, right now, Jasmine had wonderful images of Rachel being dragged down a long corridor toward the death chamber.
“So, the reality show is set to begin soon, right?” Shaun asked Rachel.
Rachel nodded, though she still didn’t face Shaun. Her eyes were steady on the camera. “We’re going to begin taping in a few weeks, and Oprah told me she expects this show to be one of the fall hits.”
Yes, Jasmine should have definitely left Rachel rotting in that Chicago jail. If she had, then she’d be the one with a reality show. Not that being on one of those shows had ever been her heart’s desire. Reality TV was just not her thing. Jasmine found the women on those shows uncouth and classless. She had too much intelligence to sit in front of a television and watch women share the misery of their lives.
But the fact that Rachel was about to have a reality show made Jasmine reconsider. Maybe a reality show about First Ladies was just what America needed. A show with class and substance—the kind of show that had nothing to do with Rachel Jackson Adams.
“How in the world did this happen?” Jasmine wondered.
Though she hadn’t directed the question to Mae Frances, her friend answered, “That Rebecca girl must have more than those two brain cells you’re always talking about. Somehow she figured this out.”
“Her name is Rachel, Mae Frances!” Then she groaned out loud. “I can’t figure out how she kept this from me. I’ve talked to her at least a dozen times over the last year and she didn’t say a word.”
“We’re still in preproduction right now,” Rachel said with her eyes still on the camera. “We’re trying to figure out everything about the show. Of course, I’m the star, but the producers are still trying to determine who will be in the supporting roles.” Rachel grinned and her eyes peered into the camera as if she was trying to see into everyone’s living rooms.
Silly woman! She didn’t even know that she was supposed to be looking at Shaun, not at the camera.
Shaun shifted, taking two steps to her right as if she was trying to get Rachel’s attention. But Rachel wouldn’t turn her head. “Well, we’re excited,” Shaun finally said, speaking to the side of Rachel’s head. “We’ll be watching. By the way, Oprah hasn’t released the name of the show yet.”
“Oh, it’s a secret,” Rachel said, then batted her false eyelashes.
Jasmine hoped that a couple of those lashes would fall right into her eye! Blind her right there on TV.
“But we will announce it soon,” Rachel added.
“Just make sure you come back here and tell us first.”
“Definitely,” Rachel said.
“Thank you for sharing this with us.”
“Thank you for having me.”
Jasmine shook her head. That was what . . . a two- to three-minute interview? And that swamp pony had never once faced Shaun. How was she supposed to carry a show? There was no way that Oprah had ever spent any time with Rachel or else there wouldn’t be a show. How had Rachel pulled this off?
To the camera, Shaun said, “Who’s the latest Hollywood couple to adopt a baby in Africa? We’ll be right back with that story after this break.”
Jasmine grabbed the remote, pointed it at the television as if it were a weapon, and clicked it off. The moment the screen faded to black, Jasmine opened her mouth and released a scream that shook the bricks of the Upper East Side building where Mae Frances lived. And as Jasmine shrieked, Mae Frances howled with laughter.
“Ugh,” Jasmine growled as she paced in front of her friend. “I just cannot believe this. Rachel is going to have her own television show.” She spoke as if she was trying to convince herself that this was a fact. “This cannot be happening to me.”
“Well, this is gonna happen, unless you’re thinking about shutting it down.”
Jasmine slowed her steps. “Yes! That’s what I need to do. I need to shut it all down before Rachel becomes a star. Because can you imagine what she’d be like if that was to happen?” Jasmine shuddered. “There would be no talking to her. No.” She shook her head. “She cannot have that show.” But then Jasmine paused and tapped her forefinger against her chin. “Wait a minute. Maybe I shouldn’t shut it down. Maybe what I need to do is get on that show.”
“You want to be on the show with Raquan?”
“Yeah,” Jasmine said, this time, ignoring the way Mae Frances had made up yet another new name for Rachel. She couldn’t focus on that while this idea was still forming in her mind. “First, I have to find out what’s really going on because Rachel is such a liar, she could have made this whole thing up.”
“Well, you’ve told a few lies in your lifetime, Jasmine Larson,” Mae Frances said, calling her by the name she’d been using from the first day they’d met. “So, maybe you shouldn’t be so quick to call that buffoon a liar.”
“My past sins have nothing to do with this. This is all about Rachel. I have to get some information. But how?” She took a few more steps, then stopped. Her eyes settled on her friend.
The two had been friends for more than eight years, since weeks after Jasmine had moved to New York. And if there was one thing that Jasmine had figured out during that time, it was that Mae Frances knew everybody in America, and beyond this county’s shores. That meant that Mae Frances surely knew Oprah.
Jasmine sat down next to her friend on the sofa. “You can help me.”
“How?” Mae Frances looked at her sideways.
“You need to call Oprah. You’re friends with her, right?”
Mae Frances crinkled her nose like she smelled something bad. “Did I ever tell you I was friends with Oprah?”
Jasmine’s shoulders slumped. This was unbelievable. There was someone that Mae Frances didn’t know? “I thought you knew everybody.”
“I do. But Oprah ain’t everybody. In fact, she’s nobody to me.”
“Well, Oprah’s the person I need for you to know right now because I have to get on that show with Rachel,” Jasmine whined like she was about to throw a tantrum. She surely would if she couldn’t find a way to contact Oprah.
“Well, if that’s all you need to do, we don’t need to be talking about Oprah.” Mae Frances pushed herself off the sofa. “ ’Cause I can make a call right now and get in touch with the person who’s in charge of everything that has to do with Oprah.”
Jasmine blinked like she was trying to clear her thoughts. “If you’re not friends with Oprah, who are you gonna call? Gayle?”
“Gayle King? Please. She might run one or two things here and there, but I’m talking about the real Negro in charge of Oprah and her business. I’m calling Stedman.”
Now, Jasmine’s eyes were wide. “Stedman Graham?”
“You know another Stedman?”
“Oh, my God, you know him?”
“Yeah,” Mae Frances said in a tone that sounded like it was no big deal. “Stedman’s the reason why Oprah and I aren’t friends.”
“Because of Stedman?”
“Yeah,” Mae Frances said with a little chuckle. “He’s one—” She glanced over at Jasmine, who was staring at her with wide eyes, and Mae Frances cleared her throat. “Let me just make this call. Stedman will get you on that show.”
Mae Frances turned toward her bedroom, and Jasmine followed. Suddenly, Mae Frances stopped, making Jasmine bump right into her. She faced Jasmine. “Where are you going?”
“With you. I wanna hear what Stedman’s going to say.”
“Excuse you . . . but this is a private call. You don’t need to know what Stedman says to me as long as he says yes.” Mae Frances walked into her bedroom. “I’ll be out when I’m finished.” She closed the door, and Jasmine’s mouth opened in shock when she heard her friend click the lock.
Jasmine folded her arms and stood in the middle of the living room, stunned. She should have been insulted, but how could she be? Mae Frances was about to hook her up!
“Oh, yeah,” Jasmine said as she plopped back down on the couch. It wouldn’t take Mae Frances more than ten minutes to work it all out. Jasmine Cox Larson Bush was about to crash Rachel’s party.
She laughed as she thought about the look on Rachel’s face once she heard the news that she wasn’t going to be the only First Lady of reality TV.
There was a new First Lady in town. And this one had class.
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Fortune & Fame includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
From competing against each other to become the First Lady of the American Baptist Coalition, to joining forces to extract themselves from a murder case, Jasmine Cox Larson Bush and Rachel Jackson Adams have been through a lot together. In Fortune & Fame, the women must put aside their differences as production begins for the new reality series First Ladies, where both Jasmine and Rachel intend to become the show’s biggest star. But when Rachel’s husband’s former lover joins the cast and Jasmine’s husband’s former flame turns up as the show’s executive producer for the OWN network, the ladies find themselves in for a season of drama both on- and off- screen. To survive the months of filming and maintain their sanity and their marriages, Jasmine and Rachel will have to decide whether it’s best for them to become friends or foes.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. The world of reality TV provides a setting rife with drama for all of the novel’s characters. What do Rachel, Jasmine, and Mary each hope to gain by appearing on First Ladies? Is it simply fortune and fame, or something more than that? What does each character stand to lose by starring on the show? Do you think that the benefits of appearing on a reality show outweigh the negatives?
2. Each of the three First Ladies has come to her position in a different way. What does each of them gain by being a First Lady? How do Jasmine and Rachel’s positions differ from Mary’s, and why? Are they right to treat Mary as they do?
3. Reality shows are supposed to be unscripted. But as the novel progresses, it becomes clear that many events and scenes of First Ladies—for example, Nathan exposing the secrets of Mary’s past on the altar of his church—are staged by the stars and the producers. Were you surprised by how many of the characters orchestrated events during the course of filming, and by how scripted the “unscripted” show actually was? Why do the characters feel they needed to manipulate situations, and how do their manipulations help or hurt them?
4. From phone calls to Stedman to her brilliant scheming, Jasmine has a very powerful friend in Mae Frances. How do Mae Frances’s connections help Jasmine and Rachel throughout the course of the novel? Could Jasmine and Rachel have made it through filming without the assistance of Mae Frances?
5. Natasia promises Rachel, Jasmine, and Mary that First Ladies will be a classy show, “about serving as an example of a Godly woman who finds forgiveness in the most difficult of situations.” By the end of the novel, do you think Natasia’s description is an accurate representation of what audiences would take away after viewing season one of First Ladies? Why or why not?
6. Rachel reveals that she thinks that God is testing her by putting her on a reality show with her husband’s former lover and ex-con Mary. Discuss Rachel’s relationship with Mary over the course of the novel. Has Rachel accepted Mary by the end of the book and passed God’s test, or not? If you think of the reality show as a test from God for all of the main characters, who passes and who fails?
7. Jasmine constantly refers to herself as classy and sees herself as above the show’s drama, while Rachel struggles to maintain her composure and refrain from physical violence and altercations. How do the women’s contrasting personalities push them apart and how do their differences bring them together? Do you think Jasmine and Rachel are actually more alike than they think? Do you have friends with personalities that you consider to be completely opposite from yours?
8. When Mary is released from prison, she never dreams that her life with Nathan will turn out the way it does. How does her time in prison change Mary and her faith in God? Why are her expectations of life with Nathan so different from the reality? Why is she so submissive to her husband? Were you surprised when didn’t she speak up for herself or try to leave her marriage sooner?
9. The First Ladies get the opportunity to star on a television show because they each have a powerful husband, but the pastors all have very different feelings about the show. Describe how Hosea, Lester, and Nathan each react to their wives being a part of the television show, and how their feelings about the show impact their marriages. Why are Lester and Hosea so reluctant to be a part of the filming, and why is Nathan so eager to appear on camera?
10. Natasia’s illness causes her to question everything in her life, particularly her relationship with Hosea. Does Natasia take advantage of her situation to get closer to Hosea, or is she doing what anyone in her position would do? How does her understanding of her mortality impact her actions? Do you think Hosea goes too far in his support of Natasia, or are his actions justified? Is Jasmine right to be angry with her husband for helping Natasia, or not?
11. ReShonda Tate Billingsley and Victoria Christopher Murray wrote the book in alternating chapters. Could you tell which author wrote which chapter? Did you see examples of how each author tried to put the other in situations that would be difficult to write their way out of?
12. By the end of the novel, do you think that Jasmine and Rachel are truly friends, enemies, frenemies, or something else? What do you predict will happen on the next season of First Ladies?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Hold a reality show pitch session! Each member of the book club should prepare their best idea for a reality show and pitch it to the group. Who would star in your show? Where would it take place? Why do you think it would be a hit?
2. The First Ladies are filmed volunteering at the Fulton County Right Track program with troubled young girls. Spend an afternoon with the members of your book club volunteering at a cause that is important to all of you. No need to bring the drama—just have fun while you help make a difference!
3. Are you on Team Jasmine or Team Rachel? Make T-shirts showing your loyalty like the ones Victoria Christopher Murray and ReShonda Tate Billingsley are wearing in their joint author video for Sinners & Saints, the first book that brought Jasmine and Rachel together: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g57hGC zXPp0.