TAMPA ó The big box wrapped in Christmas paper didn't impress Patricia "Trish" Cvejkus as Joshua Candamo kept ribbing her to open the gift he'd bought her.
"We were celebrating at his mother's house on Christmas Eve, and his 3-year-old niece was opening her gifts and showing each one to me," said Cvejkus, 33, a lawyer who lives in Carrollwood. "There was so much going on I just thought, 'Really? You want me to open this, now?' "
Josh was persistent, though. Trish pulled off the wrapping paper to find a gift she needed: a large jewelry box. Inside the bottom drawer was a ring box.
"I got down on one knee and everything," said Josh, 37, owner of a tech consulting firm. "The only person I told about the proposal was the cameraman, so everyone was silent as she opened the drawers and then they were all excited. There were a lot of tears."
After getting engaged on Christmas Eve 2013, the Candamos were married on Jan. 24 at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in front of 160 family and friends. Most traveled to Tampa from Trish's native Pennsylvania or Josh's home in Caracas, Venezuela.
"We had a bilingual ceremony so that all the guests could understand," Trish said.
The Spanish language was one of the many things Trish and Josh discovered they had in common when they met in April 2011 at the 13 Ugly Men White Party held at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.
"I saw him over there with his friends, and I just inched my way over to him to meet him," Trish said. She made such an impression that Josh followed her when she left, sneaking into the VIP area to keep hanging out. He invited her to the after-party, and the connection was so electric they decided to go on a proper date the next time they met.
"She is very caring, funny, smart and just a wonderful person," Josh said. "Family is a big part of my culture, and the fact that she is close to her family and was willing and happy to be close to my family is what drew me to her."
Traveling and having active dates such as kayaking and hiking strengthened Josh and Trish's bond. He suggested they consolidate households, and they moved in together the month before he proposed. Trish brought her two Rottweilers, Zeus and Athena, who are now 9, and the adjustment was less than graceful for Josh's pristinely landscaped back yard.
"Within a few days, I didn't have any grass or plants," he said. "It was one of those things where you just throw up your hands because there was nothing you could do."
Eventually, a friend offered the solution of fencing off one area of the yard just for Trish's big babies, and that plan got Josh his lovely yard back.
"That was the only thing that was not great when we moved in together," Josh said.
The couple picked the first available 2015 date on Sacred Heart's jam-packed calendar and set to work planning a Tampa-themed reception at the Davis Islands Garden Club. Tables were named after Tampa Bay area landmarks such as the DalŪ Museum and Ybor City. Flamenco guitarist Andrťs Rieloff, a friend of Josh's, flew in from Chile to perform the couple's first-dance song, Besame Mucho. Whisky flowed and everyone devoured every drop of Trish's favorite, lobster bisque, before the dance party moved from Davis Islands to the Sail at the Tampa Convention Center via a water taxi with a "Just Married" banner on the rear.
Trish and Josh cut out early to complete their wedding photo shoot, returning to the roof of the Floridan Hotel with all the lights lit up and overlooking the Tampa skyline. In one of the last photos, Josh scoops his bride into his arms and kisses her during a big dip under the sign.
"Josh is always trying to get me to do my best or better," Trish said. "And he loves me as much as I love him."