Joe Nichols

I Do, at Last

UPDATED 09/24/2007 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 09/24/2007 at 01:00 AM EDT

He's long been one of the hottest bachelors in country music. But on Sept. 9 Joe Nichols traded up to an even better title: hottest husband—literally. While the setting sun cooled the 90° air outside the Bethesda School for Boys in Savannah, Ga., inside its tiny Whitfield Chapel, where the country singer from Arkansas was set to wed Texas native Heather Singleton, a broken air conditioner led to sweltering heat. "I've seen grooms sweat before," laughs his friend, Universal Records South president Mark Wright, one of nearly 100 guests there, "but he needed a towel!" Not that Nichols minded. "Right now, I feel like the happiest man in the world," he said after the ceremony, declaring his bride "the love of my life."

It was a romance that took time to simmer. The couple, both 30, first met almost 12 years ago when Nichols was a young singer working the club scene—including the Rio Palm Isle in Longview, Texas, owned by Singleton's father, Max. He urged his daughter to go see Nichols perform, and the two began an on-and-off romance that college, careers (she was in pharmaceutical sales) and other relationships kept from becoming serious. "The timing was always wrong," says Singleton.

Until last winter, when, after a breakup, Singleton turned to Nichols for friendship. By spring he was on his knee in his backyard, armed with champagne and a three-carat diamond ring. "I am so happy," he told her. "The only thing that would make me happier is if you marry me." To which she responded: "Really?"

Really, really. After the ceremony the guests went to the local Mansion on Forsyth Park hotel. The newlyweds, meanwhile, stole a few minutes alone in a horse-drawn carriage ride around the grounds. At the reception they had their first dance to "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," and later Nichols serenaded his bride with his 2002 ballad "That Would Be Her." At midnight guests tossed rose petals while the couple headed off as Mr. and Mrs. in a 1938 Buick Special McLaughlin. "They fell in love when they were kids," says bridesmaid Hannah Sanford, "but they love the person each other has become."

Kay West in Savannah

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