Under normal circumstances, Mike wouldn’t show up for a party unshowered and wearing gym clothes after grueling back-to-back shifts at work, but July 4, 2009, was never destined to be normal. At the urging of his sister Pam, the New York native reluctantly agreed to stop by her Independence Day gathering. It was there that he met Nikki, a California girl and family friend vacationing on the East Coast, just as she had since childhood.

Although Mike recalls they initially “played coy,” the fireworks were undeniable. The two exchanged numbers and spent the next week attached at the hip.

“Between work and spending time with Nikki, I only slept nine hours that whole week!” Michael shares. “Nikki will tell you that I went to the hospital because I missed her too much. Truth is, that was part of it, but don’t tell her that.”

Looking back, Nikki believes their first meeting was a clever set-up orchestrated by her future sisters-in-law. Of their budding romance, she says “many people saw it before we even realized it.”

After three months of dating, Nikki relocated to New York in early 2010. Five years later, a trip to the Bahamas was the perfect backdrop for a surprise beach proposal, complete with buried treasure. As they strolled at sunset, Mike stumbled upon his seemingly misplaced bracelets among a pile of shells—all clever markers for an engagement ring hidden in the sand below. A nearly speechless Nikki accepted Mike’s proposal as friends cheered (and filmed) nearby.

Soon after, plans for a spring wedding were underway. At first unsure of her bridal style, Nikki looked to Pinterest for inspiration and eventually settled on what Mike describes as, “a glammed-up California back yard estate-style wedding.” Above all, the bride looked for elements that truly represented the couple, right down to the ideal venue. An initially difficult search led them to Villa Florentina, the perfect location to enjoy family, friends, food and drink.

In a day filled with special highlights and surprises, the bride says dancing to “Butterfly Kisses” with her older and younger brother was “amazing.” The two took turns standing in for their father who, sadly, passed away before the wedding. (During the reception, the maid of honor revealed that she had pinned a heart-shaped piece of his favorite shirt to the tulle of Nikki’s dress and to the dress and coats of her siblings.)

“Because we didn’t have a set plan, the [planning] process was full of surprises and was a learning/growth process for both of us,” Mike adds. “The only thing I would change is that I would have been more involved sooner. The whole day could be a musical montage highlight reel!”

—Morgan Cásarez