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A courtly couple

Published Sep. 3, 2005

The first time Steve Parker laid eyes on Jennifer Doran, she pummeled him with questions to make him look stupid.

Love at first sight, it was not.

They were in the middle of a mock trial at the University of Florida School of Law, where they were both students four years ago. Jennifer was assigned the role of prosecutor; Steve, that of witness. He hadn't done his homework, though, and stumbled through her sharp cross-examination.

"She impeached me with my prior testimony and showed I was being a liar," said Steve, 37. "I'm sitting there, basically messing things up."

Jennifer, now 28, was thinking much more about her grade than about the man before her. But afterward, she began to take notice of Steve when she saw him on campus. She thought he was handsome, with clean features and blue eyes. He stood a head taller than she did and still had the proud posture of the Navy fighter pilot he'd been.

A few months later, she confided in a girlfriend that she'd like to meet him again in less adversarial circumstances. She figured her prospects weren't good.

"This guy must think I'm a total witch," she remembers thinking.

When she reported to her course on lawsuit negotiations a week later, only to learn it had been moved, she found herself face to face with another befuddled student, Steve. They chatted, avoiding any mention of the mock trial.

But they did agree on a casual date that night _ with a comfortable buffer of her friends and his.

The support team never materialized, and the evening fell to them alone. Sandwiches and beer at a pub led to light conversation. He kissed her good night.

They got to know each other over a few harried weeks between studying for finals. She learned his father was in the Navy and that Steve attended the University of Virginia for his undergraduate education. Being a lawyer was like flying an F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet, he told her.

"They're both about winning," he said.

He learned her father was employed by the FBI, that she grew up in Ohio and went to college at the University of Florida.

After they'd taken all their tests, they rented a tent and sleeping bags and climbed into Jennifer's red Mitsubishi.

"She drove. I slept," Steve said.

At Tallulah Falls, Ga., they hiked to the bottom of a gorge and swam to a boulder in the middle of a shimmering pool of water.

"Our rock," they dubbed it, and decided it was maybe the most romantic place on earth.

Days later, they graduated. Everything went topsy-turvy. She headed for Orlando to take a job as a prosecutor; he, to Tampa, as a civil attorney.

Then came the commutes.

"I drove every weekend," she said.

"I drove every weekend," he said.

"Of every four weekends, I drove three," she said, winning again.

The more time they spent together, the more they discovered they had in common. They loved camping and riding water scooters at the beach. They slept in and read the paper.

But Monday always loomed, and with it, solitude.

"All week long, my heart just felt empty and would ache that I couldn't be with her," Steve said.

Still, he couldn't leave Tampa because he had two young daughters he was helping to raise. Jennifer wouldn't leave Orlando until she had a guarantee.

"I wasn't going to move until we got engaged," she said. "He was a little gun-shy."

But last June, after secretly having asked Jennifer's father for her hand, Steve took his girlfriend back to Tallulah Falls and down into the gorge.

"Let's swim to our rock," he urged. Leaning on the warm stone, he pretended to discover a long filament of fishing wire in the cold, clear water.

"What's at the end?" he asked her.

She tugged. It seemed to be stuck on something, she said.

Actually, that end was stuck to Steve's swimsuit. He'd sewn the wire into his pocket so as not to lose what was on the far end.

"The other way," he nudged her.

She pulled. A diamond ring followed her tug, glistening in the sunlight.

She said yes on the spot, of course.

Jennifer moved to Tampa. She is a prosecutor with the Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office. He works for Davis & Harmon as a trial lawyer.

The couple was married Saturday at St. John's Episcopal Church. The bridegroom's oldest daughter, Kate, played the violin. The crowd then headed to Tampa Yacht and Country Club. Afterward, the newlyweds headed to Yosemite National Park and Lake Tahoe for a weeklong honeymoon.

When Jennifer thinks about the gestures she loves, it's the way he softly touches her face, her hair. He's sweet, thoughtful and smart. And "he's a great dad."

For Steve, the allure of his bride had little to do with the courtroom acumen she displayed the first time he met her.

"She has a beautiful smile," he said. "When she smiles, her eyes light up."

_ Writer Kathryn Wexler can be reached at 226-3383 or

The Heart Beat

Summer is here. Society slumbers.

What's left? Love.

Social columnist Amy Scherzer ventures into the venue of brides and grooms to bring back tales of romance.

Want to share yours? If you're soon to be wed, or recently wed, tell your story in 500 words or less. How did you meet? How did you know it was love? What makes your wedding special?

Send stories to Amy Scherzer, St. Petersburg Times, 1000 N. Ashley Drive, Suite 700, Tampa, FL 33602. Be sure to include your address and phone number.