Altared State

updated 12/08/1997 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/08/1997 AT 01:00 AM EST

AN ANGRY FLORIST LUNGING AT the best man was not the only sign that something might be amiss at New York City's Cathedral of the Holy Trinity on Nov. 22. The bigger tip-off that this would be no Martha Stewart wedding—despite flowers flown in from New Zealand and sterling-silver gift boxes engraved with the bride and groom's initials—was the absence of a happy couple.

Welcome to a tale of high-society spunk and serious cold feet. Let's start with Nicole Contos, 27, a kindergarten teacher who donned an ivory Christos gown and drove up in a black Rolls-Royce for her nuptials with Tasos Michael, 35, a British lawyer she met in Greece last year. Nicole's parents, Carol and Demetrios, owners of a fruit-importing business, couldn't have been happier and proved it by shelling out more than $100,000 for the 250-guest affair. But on the Big Day, the best man announced that his buddy Tasos had other plans (that's when the frustrated florist made his lunge). In fact, Tasos had skipped town altogether. "I thought my father was going to have a heart attack," says Nicole's brother George.

Nicole, on the other hand, dealt with the news like a storybook heroine: She kept her chin up, put her brioche out and summoned the dearly beloved for rack of lamb and fillet of salmon at the planned reception at Manhattan's tony Essex House hotel. "Her heart was truly broken," says maid of honor Dana Speers. "But she's one of the bravest people." Nicole changed into a little black number, got a standing ovation, and danced with brother George to "I Will Survive." "I'm going to go on with my life and be optimistic," she says.

Naturally that meant making the TV rounds (Good Morning America). As for the would-be groom, he has yet to even call—probably because he has been too busy in Tahiti enjoying their planned honeymoon solo. He seemed annoyed by the publicity. "Maybe someday she'll have her own talk show and we can all say we knew her when," Michael told New York's Daily News. Nicole, for her part, says she has learned one important lesson. Next time, she says, "I probably won't go for such a big wedding."

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