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Lost Daughters

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Everyone from Louisiana to Florida knows Mama Ruby—a small-town girl who became one of the South’s most notorious and volatile women. Now New York Times bestselling author Mary Monroe reveals how the indomitable heroine of her acclaimed classic The Upper Room continues to vex the family she’s left behind.

Mama Ruby has died and Maureen Montgomery is finally taking charge of her own life. With her beautiful teenage daughter, Loretta, by her side, she returns to Florida and settles into a routine any other woman would consider bland. But for Maureen and her brother, Virgil, after Mama Ruby’s hair-trigger temper and murderous ways, bland is good. Yet Loretta has other ideas . . .

Set on becoming rich and famous, Loretta convinces Maureen to let her start a modeling career with the help of a Miami photographer. But even as they move in promising new directions, they can’t escape Mama Ruby—including Virgil, who’s concealed one of her most shocking acts for most of his life. To make a future that’s truly hers, Maureen will have to take on a bit of Mama Ruby’s strength, forge new bonds—and face down the past.

ISBN-13: 9781496742896

Media Type: Paperback

Publisher: Kensington

Publication Date: 11-28-2023

Pages: 400

Product Dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

Series: A Mama Ruby Novel

Mary Monroe is the award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of twenty-five novels and six novellas. She is a three-time AALBC bestseller and winner of the AAMBC Maya Angelou Lifetime Achievement Award, the PEN/Oakland Josephine Miles Award, and the J. California Cooper Memorial Award. The daughter of Alabama sharecroppers, she taught herself how to write before going on to become the first and only member of her family to finish high school. She lives in Oakland, California, and loves to hear from her readers via e-mail at Visit Mary’s website at

Read an Excerpt

Lost Daughters

By Mary Monroe


Copyright © 2013 Mary Monroe
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7582-9468-5


Goons, Florida, 1983

Nobody was surprised when Maureen and Loretta, her nine-year-old daughter, returned to Goons, Florida, from San Francisco just two months after they'd left, three days after Mama Ruby's funeral.

Virgil had purchased their tickets to San Francisco, one way like Maureen had requested. She had assured him that she would never return to Florida. He had also given her a credit card and a little over two thousand dollars in cash, but he had also tried to talk her out of leaving.

"Runnin' away ain't goin' to help you get over losin' Mama Ruby," he had told Maureen.

"That ain't the only reason I'm leavin' Florida. This place has caused me too much misery. If I don't get up out of here now, I'm goin' to go stone crazy," Maureen replied in a bone-dry voice, already feeling like she had lost most of her mind.

"This is your home, Mo'reen. Everything you love, and everybody that loves you, is here," Virgil continued. He was worried about his baby sister moving so far away, but he knew that she had made up her mind.

"I know that. I just need to know more about life than Mama Ruby allowed me to learn. The way she kept me hemmed up in that upper room in that spooky old house of hers made me feel like a prisoner when I was growin' up. I need a fresh start, and I can't get that here."

Maureen got a fresh start all right, but not a very pleasant one. California was the land of dreams and hope for a lot of people, but it was more like a nightmare for her. Before she and Loretta could even claim their luggage and get out of the San Francisco airport, an earthquake hit. It lasted for only a few seconds, but it was strong enough to shake some common sense into Maureen's mind. Moving from one end of the country to the other, to a city where she didn't know a single soul, had made no sense at all, and now this. It had been a strong tremor. One that had people scrambling for cover and newspapers and books tumbling from racks.

"Baby, what did we get ourselves into?" Maureen asked, looking at Loretta, who had tumbled to the floor in front of the baggage carousel. "I heard about the earthquakes out here."

"Well, Mama, at least it didn't last as long as the hurricanes we have back in Florida," Loretta pointed out. She wobbled up off the floor, brushed off her jeans, and looked around. "These people up in here just keep walkin' around like zombies, like that earthquake wasn't nothin'. Maybe all of the folks out here do stay doped up on drugs, like everybody told us before we left Florida."

"Us bein' in a damn earthquake before we can even get out the airport ain't a good sign of things to come," Maureen said in a worried voice.

"Why did we come out here in the first place? Especially if you already knew about these earthquakes?" Loretta said.

"Huh? Oh, we just needed to get away, that's why. A change might do us a lot of good," Maureen insisted with a dismissive wave. "We'll get used to this place. We'll be all right."

But they wouldn't be all right.

They checked into a motel that rented rooms by the hour in San Francisco's seedy Tenderloin district. There was a massage parlor with tinted windows on one side of the motel and a porn video store on the other. Each day, Maureen and Loretta ate crackers, cheese, and bologna sandwiches for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Their "neighbors" included hookers, marauding drug dealers, runaway teenagers sleeping under filthy blankets in doorways, and horny men beating a path to the nearby strip clubs.

Maureen enrolled Loretta in a school that was filled with gang members, some as young as seven. When she picked Loretta up after school one day during the first week, Loretta had a black eye because two mean girls had attacked her and taken her lunch money. That incident, and the fact that Maureen couldn't find a job or an affordable apartment by the end of the second month, was all she could stand. She used the credit card that Virgil had given her to purchase tickets back to Florida. It was more of a relief than an admission of defeat. She belonged in Florida where everything was familiar and, she prayed, where she would eventually find true happiness.

Maureen and Loretta returned to Florida on Loretta's ninth birthday, which was March 15. Loretta was still pouting about having to celebrate her special day with a Happy Meal at McDonald's near the San Francisco airport instead of a birthday cake. "This is the worst birthday I ever had!" she complained.

"I'll make it up to you once we get settled back home. I'm goin' to treat you like a princess from now on, girl!" Maureen promised, ignoring the simmering scowl on Loretta's face.

"You better do that, Mama," Loretta said in a voice that was disturbing coming from a child. "Or I'm goin' to make you real sorry." Loretta laughed and Maureen laughed along with her.

Many years later, Maureen would recall Loretta's ominous threat....

Maureen's legs almost buckled as she ran toward Virgil in the baggage claim area in the Miami airport. He looked even more frazzled than Maureen. He had been worried about her and Loretta since the day they left.

"Let's get the suitcases and get the hell out of here and back home," Maureen told Virgil as she hugged him.

Loretta glanced from Virgil to Maureen. "Home? Back home to Mama Ruby's old house with the upper room where Uncle Virgil lives now?" she asked in an excited voice, picking at the dried snot beneath her nose. "Yippee!"

"No, sugar! I don't want to go anywhere near that place. I don't even want to be in the same house where Mama Ruby lived and died. Not for a while at least," Maureen said quickly, her eyes blinking like an owl as she looked from Virgil to Loretta. Maureen had loved Mama Ruby from the bottom of her heart. Mama Ruby was gone forever, though, at least from the physical angle. Maureen knew that if she wanted a chance at a normal future, she would have to let go of Mama Ruby from the emotional angle too. "Uh, we'll be stayin' with Catty until I find us a place." Maureen looked at Virgil again. "I have to move forward without bein' haunted by anything that'll remind me of Mama Ruby too much. She controlled every move I made. I can't let her control me from beyond the grave. I hope you understand."

Virgil nodded. "I do. Once Mama Ruby got her hooks in you, you either had to sink or swim. If I hadn't run off and joined the army when I did, there is just no tellin' what kind of man she would have turned me into." Virgil rubbed his nose and sniffed. "If I was you, I wouldn't step back into that house no time soon either. Ain't nothin' but bad memories there for you. Mama Ruby gave you a lot of protection and spiritual guidance. She raised you to be strong, too, so you'll do just fine on your own."

Maureen had no idea how far she would get without Mama Ruby's "protection and spiritual guidance." Mama Ruby had controlled Maureen's life from the day she was born, and she knew that Mama Ruby's influence would remain with her for a long time to come. Jesus was Maureen's main source of spiritual guidance now, and she prayed to Him every day of her life, but Mama Ruby's crude words still rang in her ears: "Listen, girl, ain't nobody in this world, other than Jesus, can make you happy except me. You ain't goin' to do nothin' unless I approve it. Otherwise, you will suffer like a mad dog." It had been a while since Maureen had heard those chilling words. They continued to haunt her on a regular basis.

Virgil's chest tightened as his hands gripped the steering wheel during the ride back from the airport. He had promised himself that if and when Maureen returned to Florida, he would tell her that Mama Ruby had kidnapped her. She deserved that much from him. He knew that with Mama Ruby out of the picture now, he had a moral obligation to come clean. He decided that it was just as important for Maureen's peace of mind as it was for his.

"Uncle Virgil, did you forget that today is my birthday?" Loretta asked as she bounced up and down in the backseat.

"Oh, that's right! I been so busy lately it had skipped my mind!" he yelled, glancing over his shoulder and giving Loretta a huge smile. "Happy birthday!"

Loretta waited a few moments for Virgil to reveal what he planned to do to honor her birthday. But he didn't mention taking her to Disney World or even to a pizza parlor like he had done last year. That made Loretta angry. What was wrong with her family these days? Didn't they realize how special she was? Well, one day they would....

"I wish Mama Ruby was still alive. She would never let me down," Loretta said with a whiny sniff. "She never let nobody down."

Virgil had more important things on his mind than celebrating Loretta's birthday. But she was right about Mama Ruby. She had never let anybody down. For the first time in his life, Virgil knew that he was going to let Mama Ruby down in the worst way. He had to tell Maureen that she was not who she thought she was and that he was not her brother, or even related to her. The guilt was eating him alive. He had to tell her soon. Until then, his conscience would continue to torment him until he could no longer stand it.

Unlike Mama Ruby, he was determined to not take the secret to the grave.


Five years later

Virgil couldn't believe that so much time had passed and he still had not told Maureen that she was the victim of a bizarre kidnapping. Every time he had thought the time was right to tell her, he found an excuse not to.

Some days and nights the facts of the case were all he could think about. Maureen's biological mother, Othella Mae Johnson, was dead. She had been Mama Ruby's last victim. She had experienced Mama Ruby's wrath when she'd tracked her down and attempted to reclaim Maureen when Maureen was twenty-five. Othella had a lot of relatives back in Louisiana, though. Virgil admitted to himself that it was not fair to Maureen to keep her cut off from that family.

However, he knew how important it had been to Mama Ruby for Maureen not to know the truth about her background. Would he be betraying Mama Ruby if he told Maureen now — especially since she was no longer around to "chastise" him for doing so?

"I don't know what to do about this mess now," Virgil said out loud to himself one evening while driving the two miles home to Goons from his job in Miami. He didn't need to work. Injuries that he had sustained while a prisoner of war in Vietnam had made him eligible to collect disability payments from Uncle Sam for the rest of his life. He worked anyway because it made his life seem more balanced, and he enjoyed being the chauffer for one of Miami's most powerful lawyers. "Besides, Maureen is happy now and I don't want to mess up her mind," he reasoned. "Let me shet my mouth," he snickered, looking around. "Somebody was to see me talkin' to myself they'll swear I done lost my mind." He stopped talking, but he couldn't stop thinking about his sister.

Maureen was happy in many ways. She had returned to her old job as a file clerk at a lobster factory in Miami, and she and Loretta lived in a nice little apartment about a mile away from Virgil. They visited each other several times a week and talked on the telephone almost every day.

Maureen didn't have much of a social life, even though she had resumed her relationships with her hard-partying old friends Catherine "Catty" Flatt and Emmogene "Fast Black" Harris. Every once in a while, Maureen accompanied them to the clubs and the neighborhood parties. She even went on an occasional date.

Unfortunately, romance was still as elusive as it had always been for Maureen. She was thirty-two years old now and had never been married or even involved in a serious relationship. She was lonely, but she didn't complain about it that often. As long as she had her daughter to keep her company, she was fairly happy.

Loretta had always been an attractive child, but by the time she was fourteen, she was so beautiful that people stared at her and complimented her on her looks everywhere she went. It was no wonder. She was five foot ten and had the body of a goddess, slim but curvy in all the right places. She had Maureen's beautiful brown eyes, high cheekbones, full lips, and long thick black hair. She had long legs and fair skin that she had inherited from the father whose true identity she would never know — a father whose true identity nobody else would ever know either, Maureen had decided.

Everybody, including Mama Ruby and Virgil, had believed Maureen's lie when she told them that she'd been seduced by an albino drug addict called Snowball. He had conveniently died of a drug overdose right after Maureen realized she was pregnant. The truth of the matter was Loretta's father was John French, the deceased son of Mama Ruby's Caucasian landlord. As toddlers, Maureen and John had played in the sand together and frolicked naked in the Blue Lake, near Ruby's house. They had ridden together on John's old mule and played marbles and hide-and-go-seek. They had romped in the blackberry patch behind Ruby's house. That was where John had overpowered Maureen one afternoon and raped her when they were seventeen. She didn't see or hear from him again until a few weeks later. She had tracked him down to let him know that she was pregnant and he was the one responsible for her condition.

She had asked John for the five hundred dollars she needed to get an abortion, so he'd attempted to rob a gas station. The attendant shot and killed him for his trouble. When Loretta and her identical twin, Loraine, had come into the world with very light skin, everybody believed Maureen's story about her tryst with the albino.

Mama Ruby had always wanted a baby girl to replace the one she'd given up when she was fifteen. Suddenly she had three, and it didn't matter to her that they didn't share her bloodline or that the twins' father was the dead albino. Mama Ruby told several people that if that "all-white devil" had not already died, she would have killed him herself for taking advantage of her baby girl.

Shortly after the twins turned eight, Loraine fell into the Blue Lake and drowned. Mama Ruby was devastated. She whooped and hollered for days. It had taken some powerful tranquilizers from her doctor to calm her down. "I don't know why Satan keeps messin' up my life!" Mama Ruby complained from bed where she remained for three days after Loraine's death. Once she was able to get up, she crawled to the upper room. She made Maureen and Loretta join her in prayer. The three of them got down on their knees and thanked Jesus that they still had each other.

Now that Mama Ruby was gone, Maureen was more attached to Loretta than ever. She knew that if she lost her, too, she couldn't go on. She promised herself that she would do twice as much for Loretta to make up for the loss of Loraine. She felt it was her responsibility to make every sacrifice she could to keep Loretta happy.

No matter what Maureen did for Loretta, though, it was never enough. When Maureen gave Loretta twenty dollars for her birthday one year, Loretta was horrified. She glared with contempt at the twenty-dollar bill in her hand and asked, "Is this all I get?" Maureen immediately gave her twenty more dollars. Loretta had more than a dozen Barbie dolls, a TV in her bedroom, and more toys than several of her friends combined. When Maureen treated Loretta to a weekend trip to Disney World to celebrate her tenth birthday, Loretta demanded a trip to Epcot the following weekend to make up for her disastrous ninth birthday during the San Francisco fiasco.

When Maureen bought Loretta her first bicycle, Loretta decided that it was too plain. Loretta sold it to a friend the same day. Then she begged and whined until Maureen purchased her the one she really wanted, even though Maureen had to borrow money to do so.

Maureen purchased her own clothes from discount stores, Goodwill, and the Salvation Army. Everything that Loretta wore had to come from places like the high-end stores on Worth Avenue in Palm Beach where a lot of the A-list celebrities shopped. Once when Maureen didn't have enough money to buy Loretta the designer jeans she wanted, Maureen found the same pair in a consignment shop. Even though the jeans looked brand-new, once Loretta found out they were "secondhand," she exploded. "You have to do better than that, Mama!" The next day Maureen used her rent money to purchase Loretta the jeans she wanted.


Excerpted from Lost Daughters by Mary Monroe. Copyright © 2013 Mary Monroe. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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