From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
Like most newlyweds, Kellie Pickler was eager to pour through her wedding photos, but when they arrived she was shocked. "I just couldn't believe that's me in those pictures," she says. "I can't believe that's the same little girl from Albemarle, N.C., that never thought she was going to get married and didn't believe in love. I see my husband in the pictures and think to myself, 'I can't believe he picked me out of everybody.' I got so blessed."

The singer found her happily ever after with Nashville songwriter Kyle Jacobs when the two surprised friends and family by ditching their plans for a big celebration and secretly eloping to Antigua on New Year's Day. "We didn't have to worry about hosting; we didn't have to worry about making anyone else happy," she says. "His only thoughts were for me, and my only thoughts were for him."

Before saying their "I dos" on a sandbar ("It felt like we got baptized at the same time we got married," she says of the ceremony in the water), Pickler's groom sent over a special wedding gift as she was getting ready in her seaside villa: a CD of music he had written for her. "As soon as I hit play and heard his voice, I lost it," she says. "I think we had to redo my makeup three times."

She was overwhelmed by emotion again when she stepped outside to meet Jacobs. "When I looked across the water and saw Kyle waiting for me, it felt like my grandma was standing beside him," says the singer, who was raised by her grandmother after her mother abandoned her when she was 2. "And I knew that my grandma and God handpicked him especially for me." Says Jacobs of his new bride: "Just knowing her heart and her beautiful soul, she is an absolute treasure."

Their sunset nuptials were followed by an intimate dinner on the beach at the Jumby Bay island resort. "We danced by the bonfire and had champagne and the most amazing food," Pickler says.

Before they returned home as Mr. and Mrs., the couple spent four days on the island swimming, cycling and "chasing sheep," says Jacobs, followed by a trip together to Iraq for a USO tour. But, Pickler says, the honeymoon is far from over. "Kyle always leaves me little notes around the house on Post-its, and I found one this morning on the counter that said, 'Baby, I'm proud to be your husband. Love you unconditionally. Love, KJ,' " she says. More than once she's woken up to pancakes in bed garnished with a flower and a love note. "He's so romantic. We both do things like that for each other because we don't want to lose that excitement. I feel like every day is a great adventure with him."