Bess Marvin draped an antique lace veil over her long blond hair and checked her reflection in the rearview mirror. “What do you think?” she asked brightly. “Don’t I make a cool bride?”
Bess, her cousin George Fayne, and their friend Nancy Drew were on their way to a wedding. George, who was sitting in the passenger seat, turned around to glance at Bess. “Very pretty,” she said. “But that veil doesn’t exactly go with your purple dress.”
Eighteen-year-old Nancy, behind the wheel of her blue Mustang, peered in the rearview mirror and chuckled. “I think George is right. You need either an antique lace dress or a purple veil.”
“A purple veil — what a great idea!” Bess exclaimed. She reached up to remove the veil, but it was caught on one of her earrings. “Hey, what’s with this thing?” she muttered, tugging at the lace.
“Be careful, Bess,” George warned. “If any thing happens to that veil, Mandy will kill you and so will the bride!”
Mandy Applebaum was Bess’s boss and the owner of a wedding consulting service called Happily Ever After, Inc. Mandy arranged weddings, taking care of all the details including the setting, attire, invitations, food, photography, music, and flowers.
This weekend Mandy was in charge of four weddings. They were all taking place at Heights House, a Victorian mansion on the outskirts of River Heights. Because Mandy was so busy, Bess had suggested that she hire Nancy and George as extra helpers. Mandy had agreed, so Bess, Nancy, and George were on their way to assist with the first wedding of the weekend.
Bess finally untangled the delicate veil and put it back in its tissue-filled box. The veil had been at the dressmaker’s undergoing minor repairs, and Mandy had asked her to pick it up on the way to the wedding. “There, good as new,” Bess announced, rearranging her hair. She pointed out the window and said, “Oh, there’s the turnoff for Heights House, Nan.”
Nancy flicked on her turn signal and swung onto the narrow dirt road. Alongside the road were masses of lilac bushes in bloom and rolling meadows that looked golden in the late-afternoon light. A half dozen old farmhouses dotted the landscape. Gazing at the rural scenery, Nancy couldn’t believe they were only fifteen minutes from downtown River Heights.
“Wait till you guys see Heights House,” Bess said eagerly. “It’s gorgeous. There are huge chandeliers everywhere, and there’s the most amazing ballroom.”
“That’s where tonight’s reception will be held, right?” George spoke up.
“Right,” Bess replied. “And tomorrow night’s reception, too. But the other two receptions will be outdoors.” She sighed and shook her head. “This weekend is going to be exhausting. I’ve been working part-time for Mandy since April, and we’ve never had four back-to-back weddings.”
“It is June, after all,” Nancy reminded her. “June is traditionally the most popular month for weddings.”
“I think it’ll be fun having a marathon work weekend,” George said cheerfully, “even though I had to pass up a chance to run in a real marathon on Sunday.”
“A marathon — as in running twenty-six point something miles? Of your own free will?” Bess shuddered. “No, thank you!”
Nancy couldn’t help smiling. Even though George and Bess were cousins, they were as different as night and day. Not only were they opposites physically — George was a tall, slender brunette with brown eyes, while Bess was short, blond, and blue-eyed — but they were opposites in personality, too. George’s idea of a good time was mountain climbing or camping in the wilderness. Bess preferred shopping or reading fashion magazines.
“So, speaking of work, what kind of stuff will we be doing for Mandy tonight?” George asked Bess.
“Oh, a little of everything,” Bess said. “Helping the bride and her attendants get ready, putting centerpieces on the tables, chopping vegetables for the caterer, serving hors d’oeuvres — you name it.” She grinned and added, “It’s a zoo, but you get used to it pretty fast. And you’ll like working for Mandy, even though she’s kind of serious.”
Five minutes later Nancy pulled into the winding driveway of Heights House, which was several hundred yards from its nearest neighbor. Bess was right. The place was gorgeous. It was an enormous stone mansion with wide front steps, stained-glass windows, arches, and several cylindrical towers with candle-snuffer caps. It reminded Nancy of a medieval castle.
“There are pretty garden paths out back, and a duck pond and a huge forest, too,” Bess said.
“There’s also a big gazebo. That’s where wedding number two is going to be held.” She paused and frowned. “Or is it wedding number four?”
After Nancy parked the car in the lot, they went into the house. The inside was as grand as the outside. There was a wrought-iron chandelier in the large front hall and a stone staircase curving up to the second floor. Hanging on the wall of the entrance hall were portraits of a gray-haired man with wire-rimmed glasses and a white-haired woman with pale blue eyes. Following Nancy’s gaze, Bess said, “That’s Joseph and Jeanine Merrill. They were the original owners of the house.”
Just then a tall, slim woman in a beige linen pantsuit came rushing down the stairs, clipboard in hand. She appeared to be in her early thirties and had short brown hair and large brown eyes.
The woman didn’t notice Nancy, George, and Bess until she was at the bottom of the stairs. She stopped and glanced at them with a startled expression. “Oh, great, you’re here,” she said quickly. “And, Bess, I see you brought the veil with you.” She turned to Nancy and George and stuck her hand out. “You must be Nancy Drew and George Fayne. I’m Mandy Applebaum.”
“I’m Nancy and this is George,” Nancy said, shaking Mandy’s hand. “How are things going?”
“The florist shorted us one bouquet and I can’t get him on the phone,” Mandy said breathlessly. “So we have to dismantle the other bouquets and create an extra one. Plus, the bride and her attendants need help getting ready. Oh, and we have to put about a hundred candles in the chapel.”
“Why so many?” George asked her.
“This is going to be a Victorian-style wedding, with authentic details,” Mandy explained. “That means a candlelight ceremony, Victorian attire, Victorian menu, you name it.”
“It sounds so romantic,” Bess said with a sigh. “It sounds like there’s a lot to do,” Nancy said to Mandy. “Where do you want us to start?”
“Why don’t I introduce you to the bride and her attendants first?” Mandy said. “We’ll see what they need from us, then we can tackle the other problems.”
The four of them headed upstairs, where Mandy knocked on a closed door. “This is the Gold Room,” she told them. “It’s where all the brides get dressed.” She raised her voice and called out, “Libby? It’s me, Mandy.”
“Mandy, help!” a voice rang out.
Mandy frowned, then opened the door and rushed in. Nancy and her friends followed. Two women in their late twenties — a redhead and a blond — were sitting on a gold brocade settee. The redhead was wearing a floor-length, pale pink dress. The blond was wearing an old-fashioned ivory-colored wedding gown made of muslin and lace. The room was furnished with beautiful antiques, and the walls, drapes, and rugs were all shades of yellow and gold.
Seeing Mandy, the woman in the wedding gown jumped up and ran to her. “Look at this!” she shrieked, pointing to a scarlet smear on the front of her dress. “Lipstick! I managed to get lipstick on my great-grandmother’s wedding dress while I was putting it on. What am I going to do?”
Mandy put her hand on the woman’s shoulder. “Don’t worry about it, Libby,” she said soothingly. “I’ve got a special wedding emergency kit downstairs, and there’s something in there for lipstick stains.”
Libby’s face lit up. “Really?”
“Really. Club soda and talcum powder — works every time. I’ll go down and get them right now.” She waved her clipboard at Nancy and her friends and said, “These are my assistants, Nancy Drew, Bess Marvin, and George Fayne. And this is the bride, Libby Ewing, and her maid of honor, Molly Croog. ” She glanced around the room. “Where are the bridesmaids?”
“They went to get some sodas,” Molly replied. “Hey, did you manage to find a bouquet for Emily Sherman?”
“Don’t worry, that’s being taken care of,” Mandy said easily.
Watching Mandy in action, Nancy was amazed. Gone was the frantic, stressed-out person she’d met in the front hall. With Libby and Molly, the wedding consultant was calm, cool, and reassuring — completely on top of things.
The door opened a crack, and a petite brunette popped her head in. “Um, Lib? Can I talk to you for a sec?”
“What is it, Emily?” Libby sat down at the dressing table and sniffed delicately at a vase of long-stemmed yellow roses. Then she began fixing her lipstick.
Emily walked in, stood awkwardly in the middle of the room, and glanced uncomfortably at everyone. “It’s Charles,” she said slowly. “He seems to be, um, missing.”
Bess leaned toward Nancy and George and whispered, “Charles is the groom.”
Libby whirled around. The color had drained from her face. “Missing? What do you mean, he’s missing?” she rasped.
“The best man — what’s his name, Tyler — just called,” Emily explained uneasily. “He was supposed to go by Charles’s apartment to pick him up. But he said that when he got there, no one answered the bell, and the door was locked. He went to a phone booth and called Charles’s number, but all he got was the answering machine.”
“I’m sure it’s just a mix-up,” Mandy said quickly. “I’m sure that Charles is — “
” — standing me up!” Libby finished. Hiding her face in her hands, she burst into tears. “I’m being…stood up on…my wedding day,” she sputtered.
Molly put her arm around Libby’s shoulders. “Listen, Lib — “
“No, I will not listen!” Libby wailed. “Leave me alone, all of you. I want to be left alone.” She picked up the vase of yellow roses, aimed it at the wall, and threw it. There was a loud crash, and crystal shards and rose petals flew everywhere.
Seeing that Libby was dead serious, Nancy, George, Bess, Mandy, Molly, and Emily hurried out of the room. The door slammed behind them, and Nancy heard the sound of the lock being turned.
“She’s not usually like this,” Molly said apologetically to the others. “It’s just that she’s really on edge about this wedding. She and Charles have been dating for about seven years, and they’re finally getting married. Libby wants everything to be absolutely perfect.”
“I understand,” Mandy said sympathetically. “Molly, Emily, why don’t the three of us go downstairs and get on the phone? Maybe we can track Charles down.” She turned to Nancy, George, and Bess. “You can work on the bouquet. Bess, you know how, right? All the flowers are in the Blue Room.”
“No problem,” Bess said. Nancy and George nodded.
Nancy, George, and Bess went down the hail to the Blue Room. Inside, they were greeted by a blast of air conditioning and the overwhelming fragrance of flowers. The floor was covered with boxes and vases filled with white roses, jasmine, and orange blossoms.
Bess picked up a spool of wire and some wire cutters from the dresser, then pointed to three small bouquets nestled in a large white box. “Let’s each take one and pull it apart.”
They got to work. “I feel so bad for Libby,” Nancy said. “First the florist shorts her one bouquet, then she gets lipstick on her wedding dress, and now she can’t find her fiance.”
Bess pulled a strand of orange blossoms out of one of the bouquets. “She seemed so upset,” she murmured. “Maybe one of us should go down the hail and check on her. Or maybe — “
She was interrupted by a loud, shrill scream.