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Vision in White

Nora Roberts

  Vision in White

  Nora Roberts

  The first book in the Bride Quartet—following the lives and loves of four friends who run Vows, a wedding-planning company. Wedding photographer Mackensie “Mac” Elliot is most at home behind the camera, but her focus is shattered moments before an important wedding rehearsal when she bumps into the bride-to-be’s brother…an encounter that has them both seeing stars.

  A stable, safe English teacher, Carter Maguire is definitely not Mac’s type. But a casual fling might be just what she needs to take her mind off bridezillas. Of course, casual flings can turn into something more when you least expect it. And Mac will have to turn to her three best friends—and business partners—to see her way to her own happy ending.

  For Dan and Stacie.

  For Jason and Kat.

  For all the moments.

  Seduce my mind and you can have my body,

  Find my soul and I’m yours forever.


  It is not merely the likeness which is precious . . . but the association and sense of nearness involved in the thing . . . the fact of the very shadow of the person lying there fixed forever!

  Elizabeth Barrett Browning


  BY THE TIME SHE WAS EIGHT, MACKENSIE ELLIOT HAD BEEN married fourteen times. She’d married each of her three best friends—as both bride and groom—her best friend’s brother (under his protest), two dogs, three cats, and a rabbit.

  She’d served at countless other weddings as maid of honor, bridesmaid, groomsman, best man, and officiant.

  Though the dissolutions were invariably amicable, none of the marriages lasted beyond an afternoon. The transitory aspect of marriage came as no surprise to Mac, as her own parents boasted two each—so far.

  Wedding Day wasn’t her favorite game, but she kind of liked being the priest or the reverend or the justice of the peace. Or, after attending her father’s second wife’s nephew’s bar mitzvah, the rabbi.

  Plus, she enjoyed the cupcakes or fancy cookies and fizzy lemonade always served at the reception.

  It was Parker’s favorite game, and Wedding Day always took place on the Brown Estate, with its expansive gardens, pretty groves, and silvery pond. In the cold Connecticut winters, the ceremony might take place in front of one of the roaring fires inside the big house.

  They had simple weddings and elaborate affairs. Royal weddings, star-crossed elopements, circus themes, and pirate ships. All ideas were seriously considered and voted upon, and no theme or costume too outrageous.

  Still, with fourteen marriages under her belt, Mac grew a bit weary of Wedding Day.

  Until she experienced her seminal moment.

  For her eighth birthday Mackensie’s charming and mostly absent father sent her a Nikon camera. She’d never expressed any interest in photography, and initially pushed it away with the other odd gifts he’d given or sent since the divorce. But Mac’s mother told

  her mother, and Grandma muttered and complained about “feckless, useless Geoffrey Elliot” and the inappropriate gift of an adult camera for a young girl who’d be better off with a Barbie doll.

  As she habitually disagreed with her grandmother on principle, Mac’s interest in the camera piqued. To annoy Grandma—who was visiting for the summer instead of being in her retirement community in Scottsdale, where Mac strongly believed she belonged—Mac hauled the Nikon around with her. She toyed with it, experimented. She took pictures of her room, of her feet, of her friends. Shots that were blurry and dark, or fuzzy and washed out. With her lack of success, and her mother’s impending divorce from her stepfather, Mac’s interest in the Nikon began to wane. Even years later she couldn’t say what prompted her to bring it along to Parker’s that pretty summer afternoon for Wedding Day.

  Every detail of the traditional garden wedding had been planned. Emmaline as the bride and Laurel as groom would exchange their vows beneath the rose arbor. Emma would wear the lace veil and train Parker’s mother had made out of an old tablecloth, while Harold, Parker’s aging and affable golden retriever walked her down the garden path to give her away.

  A selection of Barbies, Kens, and Cabbage Patch Kids, along with a variety of stuffed animals lined the path as guests.

  “It’s a very private ceremony,” Parker relayed as she fussed with Emma’s veil. “With a small patio reception to follow. Now, where’s the best man?”

  Laurel, her knee recently skinned, shoved through a trio of hydrangeas. “He ran away, and went up a tree after a squirrel. I can’t get him to come down.”

  Parker rolled her eyes. “I’ll get him. You’re not supposed to see the bride before the wedding. It’s bad luck. Mac, you need to fix Emma’s veil and get her bouquet. Laurel and I’ll get Mr. Fish out of the tree.”

  “I’d rather go swimming,” Mac said as she gave Emma’s veil an absent tug.

  “We can go after I get married.”

  “I guess. Aren’t you tired of getting married?”

  “Oh, I don’t mind. And it smells so good out here. Everything’s so pretty.”

  Mac gave Emma the clutch of dandelions and wild violets they were allowed to pick. “You look pretty.”

  It was invariably true. Emma’s dark, shiny hair tumbled under the white lace. Her eyes sparkled a deep, deep brown as she sniffed the weed bouquet. She was tanned, sort of all golden, Mac thought, and scowled at her own milk white skin.

  The curse of a redhead, her mother said, as she got her carroty hair from her father. At eight, Mac was tall for her age and skinny as a stick, with teeth already trapped in hated braces.

  She thought that, beside her, Emmaline looked like a gypsy princess.

  Parker and Laurel came back, giggling with the feline best man clutched in Parker’s arms. “Everybody has to take their places.” Parker poured the cat into Laurel’s arms. Mac, you need to get dressed! Emma—”

  “I don’t want to be maid of honor.” Mac looked at the poofy Cinderella dress draped over a garden bench. “That thing’s scratchy, and it’s hot. Why can’t Mr. Fish be maid of honor, and I’ll be best man?”

  “Because it’s already planned. Everybody’s nervous before a wedding.” Parker flipped back her long brown pigtails, then picked up the dress to inspect it for tears or stains. Satisfied, she pushed it at Mac. “It’s okay. It’s going to be a beautiful ceremony, with true love and happy ever after.”

  “My mother says happy ever after’s a bunch of bull.”

  There was a moment of silence after Mac’s statement. The unspoken word

  divorce seemed to hang in the air.

  “I don’t think it has to be.” Her eyes full of sympathy, Parker reached out, ran her hand along Mac’s bare arm.

  “I don’t want to wear the dress. I don’t want to be a bridesmaid. I—”

  “Okay. That’s okay. We can have a pretend maid of honor. Maybe you could take pictures.”

  Mac looked down at the camera she’d forgotten hung around her neck. “They never come out right.”

  “Maybe they will this time. It’ll be fun. You can be the official wedding photographer.”

  “Take one of me and Mr. Fish,” Laurel insisted, and pushed her face and the cat’s together. “Take one, Mac!”

  With little enthusiasm, Mac lifted the camera, pressed the shutter.

  “We should’ve thought of this before! You can take formal portraits of the bride and groom, and more pictures during the ceremony.” Busy with the new idea, Parker hung the Cinderella costume on the hydrangea bush. “It’ll be good, it’ll be fun. You need to go down the path with the bride and Harold. Try to take some good ones. I’ll wait, then start the music. Let’s go!”

  There would be cupcakes and lemonade, Mac reminded herself. And swimming later, and fun. It didn’t matter i
f the pictures were stupid, didn’t matter that her grandmother was right and she was too young for the camera.

  It didn’t matter that her mother was getting divorced again, or that her stepfather, who’d been okay, had already moved out.

  It didn’t matter that happy ever after was bull, because it was all pretend anyway.

  She tried to take pictures of Emma and the obliging Harold, imagined getting the film back and seeing the blurry figures and smudges of her thumb, like always.

  When the music started she felt bad that she hadn’t put on the scratchy dress and given Emma a maid of honor, just because her mother and grandmother had put her in a bad mood. So she circled around to stand to the side and tried harder to take a nice picture of Harold walking Emma down the garden path.

  It looked different through the lens, she thought, the way she could focus on Emma’s face—the way the veil lay over her hair. And the way the sun shined through the lace was pretty.

  She took more pictures as Parker began the “Dearly Beloved” as the Reverend Whistledown, as Emma and Laurel took hands and Harold curled up to sleep and snore at their feet.

  She noticed how bright Laurel’s hair was, how the sun caught the edges of it beneath the tall black hat she wore as groom. How Mr. Fish’s whiskers twitched as he yawned.

  When it happened, it happened as much inside Mac as out. Her three friends were grouped under the lush white curve of the arbor, a triangle of pretty young girls. Some instinct had Mac shifting her position, just slightly, tilting the camera just a bit. She didn’t know it as composition, only that it looked nicer through the lens.

  And the blue butterfly fluttered across her range of vision to land on the head of a butter yellow dandelion in Emma’s bouquet. The surprise and pleasure struck the three faces in that triangle under the white roses almost as one.

  Mac pressed the shutter.

  She knew,

  knew, the photograph wouldn’t be blurry and dark or fuzzy and washed out. Her thumb wouldn’t be blocking the lens. She knew exactly what the picture would look like, knew her grandmother had been wrong after all.

  Maybe happy ever after was bull, but she knew she wanted to take more pictures of moments that

  were happy. Because then they were ever after.


  ON JANUARY FIRST, MAC ROLLED OVER TO SMACK HER ALARM clock, and ended up facedown on the floor of her studio.

  “Shit. Happy New Year.”

  She lay, groggy and baffled, until she remembered she’d never made it upstairs into bed—and the alarm was from her computer, set to wake her at noon.

  She pushed herself up to stagger to the kitchen and the coffeemaker.

  Why did people want to get married on New Year’s Eve? Why would they make a formal ritual out of a holiday designed for marathon drinking and probably inappropriate sex? And they just had to drag family and friends into it, not to mention wedding photographers.

  Of course, when the reception had finally ended at two A.M., she could’ve gone to bed like a sane person instead of uploading the shots, reviewing them—spending nearly three more hours on the Hines-Myers wedding photos.

  But, boy, she’d gotten some good ones. A few great ones.

  Or they were all crap and she’d judged them in a euphoric blur.

  No, they were good shots.

  She added three spoons of sugar to the black coffee and drank it while standing at the window, looking out at the snow blanketing the gardens and lawns of the Brown Estate.

  They’d done a good job on the wedding, she thought. And maybe Bob Hines and Vicky Myers would take a clue from that and do a good job on the marriage.

  Either way, the memories of the day wouldn’t fade. The moments, big and small, were captured. She’d refine them, finesse them, print them. Bob and Vicky could revisit the day through those images next week or sixty years from next week.

  That, she thought, was as potent as sweet, black coffee on a cold winter day.

  Opening a cupboard, she pulled out a box of Pop-Tarts and, eating one where she stood, went over her schedule for the day.

  Clay-McFearson (Rod and Alison) wedding at six. Which meant the bride and her party would arrive by three, groom and his by four. That gave her until two for the pre-event summit meeting at the main house.

  Time enough to shower, dress, go over her notes, check and recheck her equipment. Her last check of the day’s weather called for sunny skies, high of thirty-two. She should be able to get some nice preparation shots using natural light and maybe talk Alison—if she was game—into a bridal portrait on the balcony with the snow in the background.

  Mother of the bride, Mac remembered—Dorothy (call me Dottie)—was on the pushy and demanding side, but she’d be dealt with. If Mac couldn’t handle her personally, God knew Parker would. Parker could and did handle anyone and anything.

  Parker’s drive and determination had turned Vows into one of the top wedding and event planning companies in the state in a five-year period. It had turned the tragedy of her parents’ deaths into hope, and the gorgeous Victorian home and the stunning grounds of the Brown Estate into a thriving and unique business.

  And, Mac thought as she swallowed the last of the Pop-Tart, she herself was one of the reasons.

  She moved through the studio toward the stairs to her upstairs bed and bath, stopped at one of her favorite photos. The glowing, ecstatic bride with her face lifted, her arms stretched, palms up, caught in a shower of pink rose petals.

  Cover of

  Today’s Bride, Mac thought. Because I’m just that good.

  In her thick socks, flannel pants, and sweatshirt she climbed the stairs to transform herself from tired, pj-clad, Pop-Tart addict into sophisticated wedding photojournalist.

  She ignored her unmade bed—why make it when you were just going to mess it up again?—and the bedroom clutter. The hot shower worked with the sugar and caffeine to clear out any remaining cobwebs so she could put her mind seriously to today’s job.

  She had a bride who was interested in trying the creative, a passive-aggressive MOB who thought she knew best, a groom so dazzling in love he’d do anything to make his bride happy. And both her B and G were seriously photogenic.

  The last fact made the job both pleasure and challenge. Just how could she give her clients a photo journey of their day that was spectacular, and uniquely theirs?

  Bride’s colors, she thought, flipping through her mental files as she washed her short, shaggy crop of red hair. Silver and gold. Elegant, glamorous.

  She’d had a look at the flowers and the cake—both getting their finishing touches today—the favors and linens, attendants’ wardrobes, headdresses. She had a copy of the playlist from the band with the first dance, mother-son, father-daughter dances highlighted.

  So, she thought, for the next several hours, her world would revolve around Rod and Alison.

  She chose her suit, her jewelry, her makeup with nearly the same care as she chose her equipment. Loaded, she went out to make the short trek from the pool house that held her studio and little apartment to the main house.

  The snow sparkled, crushed diamonds over ermine, and the air was cold and clean as mountain ice. She definitely had to get some outside shots, daylight and evening. Winter wedding, white wedding, snow on the ground, ice glistening on the trees, just dripping from the denuded willows over the pond. And there the fanciful old Victorian with its myriad rooflines, the arched and porthole windows, rising and spreading, soft blue against the hard shell of sky. Its terraces and generous portico heralded the season with their festoons of lights and greenery.

  She studied it as she often did as she walked the shoveled paths. She loved the lines of it, the angles of it, with its subtle touches of pale yellow, creamy white picked out in that soft, subtle blue.

  It had been as much home to her as her own growing up. Often more so, she admitted, as her own had run on her mother’s capricious whims. Parker’s parents had been warm, w
elcoming, loving and—Mac thought now—steady. They’d given her a calm port in the storm of her own childhood.

  She’d grieved as much as her friend at their loss nearly seven years before.

  Now the Brown Estate was her home. Her business. Her life. And a good one on every level. What could be better than doing something you loved, and doing it with the best friends you’d ever had?

  She went in through the mudroom to hang up her outdoor gear, then circled around to peek into Laurel’s domain.

  Her friend and partner stood on a step stool, meticulously adding silver calla lilies to the five tiers of a wedding cake. Each flower bloomed at the base of a gold acanthus leaf to glimmering, elegant effect.

  “That’s a winner, McBane.”

  Laurel’s hand was steady as a surgeon’s as she added the next lily. Her sunny hair was twisted at the back of her head into a messy knot that somehow suited the angular triangle of her face. As she worked, her eyes, bright as bluebells, held narrowed concentration.

  “I’m so glad she went for the lily centerpiece instead of the bride and groom topper. It makes this design. Wait until we get to the ballroom and add it.”

  Mac pulled out a camera. “It’s a good shot for the website. Okay?”

  “Sure. Get any sleep?”

  “Didn’t hit until about five, but I stayed down till noon. You?”

  “Down by two thirty. Up at seven to finish the groom’s cake, the desserts—and this. I’m so damn glad we have two weeks before the next wedding.” She glanced over. “Don’t tell Parker I said that.”

  “She’s up, I assume.”

  “She’s been in here twice. She’s probably been everywhere twice. I think I heard Emma come in. They may be up in the office by now.”

  “I’m heading up. Are you coming?”

  “Ten minutes. I’ll be on time.”

  “On time is late in Parker’s world.” Mac grinned. “I’ll try to distract her.”

  “Just tell her some things can’t be rushed. And that the MOB’s going to get so many compliments on this cake she’ll stay off our backs.”

  “That one could work.”

  Mac started out, winding through to check the entrance foyer and the massive drawing room where the ceremony itself would take place. Emmaline and her elves had already been at work, she noted, undressing from the last wedding, redressing for the new. Every bride had her own vision, and this one wanted lots of gold and silver ribbon and swag as opposed to the lavender and cream voile of New Year’s Eve.

  The fire was set in the drawing room and would be lit before the guests began to arrive. White-draped chairs sparkling with silver bows formed row after row. Emma had already dressed the mantel with gold candles in silver holders, and the bride’s favorite white calla lilies massed in tall, thin glass vases.

  Mac circled the room, considered angles, lighting, composition—and made more notes as she walked out and took the stairs to the third floor.