ERIC AND ERICKA
Fate, and a canceled flight, brought them together

Of all the gin joints in all the world, she walked into his. Well, not his, exactly—he was just out of college and on vacation in Costa Rica, shooting pool with his buddies in a bar in April 1999. And then ... there she was. "She was very beautiful but also classy, sophisticated," says Eric Lundberg, 29. "I kept telling myself, "That's the kind of girl I wish I could meet some day,' not realizing that's exactly what was happening."

Her English was bad and his Spanish worse, but it hardly mattered. The instant she saw him, "I thought to God, "Is this the one you sent me?'" They flirted in the bar, went out dancing and talked for hours under the moon and stars. "I was immediately thinking long-term," says Eric, who didn't dare kiss her that first special night. "This wasn't a vacation hookup. It was unlike anything I'd experienced."

Fate, as they see it, kept them together: They bumped into each other again the next night, at a different restaurant. When it was time to say goodnight, her car stalled. And his flight home to Madison, Wis., got canceled—twice—giving him more time with her. "It showed us this was not just infatuation," he says. "It was love." Finally, on their fifth day together, they kissed. "That's when I knew for sure," says Ericka, 30. "I felt butterflies." Eric made it home to Madison, but his bumped flights gave him free plane tickets, which he used to return to Costa Rica two weeks later. He moved there the next year and proposed by the pool table where they met. "He used a lot of goofy Spanish words," she says, "but in the end he got it right."

Now Eric, a real estate investor, and Ericka, who models and owns a maid service, live in Germantown, Wis., with daughter Yarah, 5, and son Elijah, 6 months. "Nobody except us believed it was going to work," she says. "But we just knew we'd be together forever."

MIKE AND CHERYL
They fell for each other's hands, but their hearts quickly followed

Can you fall in love with someone before you see his or her face? That's what happened in a crowded Maryland jazz club where Mike Jackson and Cheryl Brown both showed up solo one night in October 2004. A divorced mother of three, Cheryl took a seat at a table with some strangers. Mike, a divorced father of two, spotted a single open chair—at the same table.

His eyes were drawn to the woman next to the open chair—or rather to her manicured hand. When he asked her if the chair was taken, he leaned on the table. "I thought to myself, 'Such a pretty hand,'" says Cheryl, an office administrator. "We fell in love with each other's left hand before we saw each other's face."

Once they did, it was time to measure for rings. "From the very first moment, I knew I was in love with her," says Mike, a financial systems analyst. When, like Cinderella, she ran off and left behind her blue cardigan sweater, Mike returned it the following day. Last Christmas, he asked for both her hands in marriage; they plan to wed on Valentine's Day 2007. "People talk about love at first sight feeling like you were hit by a train," he says. "I understand now."

PAUL AND ANN
Picked as dance partners, they paired off for keeps

Paul Maloy was shy. Here he was at a singles dance in the parking lot of his Mormon church in Bountiful, Utah, but just as it was getting started, he snuck out for a quick getaway. About 200 women and 200 men had put their names in separate hats and were waiting to be paired off with dance partners. Paul had his car keys in hand when, over the loudspeaker, he heard his name—and the name Ann Madsen. "I stopped dead in my tracks," says Paul, then 22. "I knew I couldn't leave this girl in the lurch. So I went back."

Waiting for him was a woman with green eyes he couldn't stop staring into. As for Ann, then 17, "I knew he was the man I was going to marry," she says. Not long after their first dance, new partners were called. The chance they'd be paired again were, what, a zillion to one? But that's just what happened. "I thought, "Okay, this is a sign,'" says Paul, who asked for her number, proposed four months later and married her in 1983. The parents of five children, they still feel the way they did in that long-ago parking lot, when love summoned them over a loudspeaker. "It was divine intervention," says Paul. "And I still love looking into her eyes."

MILO AND RICHIE
They met cute at a rodeo, got lassoed by love and rode off into the sunset together

Way before Brokeback Mountain, Richie Olsen knew what it felt like to get swept off his feet by a cowboy. He was at a 2001 gay rodeo in Denver when, cutting across the arena to visit some friends, he was all but trampled by a rugged man in tight Wranglers charging past on a horse. Richie dusted himself off and thought, "He's the Marlboro Man," he says. "It was just an instant attraction for me."

Milo Bardwell, a horse trainer who competes in barrel-racing events, had a Ledger-Gyllenhaal moment too. "I thought, "Wow, this guy is hot,'" he says. "I asked him if he wanted to keep my horse warmed up while I was in another event." Richie, 32, a finance manager for American Express, hopped up and rode away with Milo's heart. "Some guys say they can ride, then you see them bounce around like a yo-yo," says Milo, 39. "But this guy could ride."

A steak dinner sealed the deal. "This is it for us," says Milo. "Our love is a deep-rooted-in-the-soul kind of thing." Both grew up in conservative Utah towns; both had trouble coming out. "But I'm happy with who I am," says Richie, who was married before meeting Milo. Now they live on a ranch in Herriman, Utah, and compete in barrel-racing events. Most straight cowboys accept them "because they know we're serious about riding," says Milo. More importantly, they both finally feel at home on the range. "We're committed to each other," says Milo. "And I no longer have to run him over with my horse to get his attention."
  • Contributors:
  • Cathy Free/Salt Lake City,
  • Leslie Goldman/Chicago,
  • Arnesa Howell/Washington,
  • D.C..