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Diamond Rio's Brian Prout ties the knot with 'Breathe' writer

Story by Wendy Newcomer

Last December Diamond Rio drummer Brian Prout wanted his proposal to singer/songwriter Stephanie Bentley to be memorable. So he enlisted the help of an unlikely partner - Santa Claus!

"Pretty smart, huh? How could she say no?" laughs Brian.

Brian set up the proposal by asking Stephanie to meet him at a Nashville mall so they could pose for a photo with St. Nick and their dog, Tug.

Stephanie picks up the story. "I was sitting on Santa's lap, with Tug on my lap. Brian was sitting beside Santa on a little platform. After we took a picture Santa wouldn't let me off his lap. He asked me, 'What do you want for Christmas?' I said, 'I don't know.' I was really embarrassed. I said, 'The man sitting across from me has made me happier than I've ever been. That's all I want for Christmas.'

"He looked at Brian and said, 'What do you want?' Brian told him, 'I've tried to be a really good boy this year because all I want this Christmas is to spend every Christmas for the rest of my life with this woman.'

"He then held up his pinkie and it had the ring on it."

Meanwhile Brian had ensured that the photographer was ready to capture the moment. "The first picture is of me with my hand over my mouth," says Stephanie, who co-wrote Faith Hill's smash "Breathe." "The second picture is me with my hand over my eyes, because the tears started to flow. I was totally shocked. I was so set aback that I didn't even answer him.

"He looked at me half worried and said, 'You haven't answered me yet!' I leaned back my head and screamed, 'Yes!' The ring is so beautiful - and he's my prince charming."

The timing was perfect for Brian and Stephanie when they were first introduced by Stephanie's former manager, who served as a bridesmaid in the wedding. Early last year both had broken off engagements to other people.

"My manager told me, 'You need to get out and go on,' " recalls Stephanie, who scored the duet hit "Heart Half Empty," with Ty Herndon in 1996. " 'And I know the perfect guy. You're two great people who need to meet. If nothing else, you'll be great friends.' "

Because of their busy schedules, Brian and Stephanie played phone tag for weeks. "Finally we spoke on the phone one day," she says. "We talked for two and a half hours that first time. That definitely peaked my interest. I thought, 'This is a cool guy. I like talking to him.' When we finally met at a restaurant, we just couldn't stop seeing each other from that point on."

Brian has one word to describe Stephanie from that day: "Breathtaking," he says with a warm grin. "It had been a long time since I had been on a first date, so I got to the restaurant about 15 minutes early so I could get at least one glass of wine in me before she showed up. She came walking in and I said to myself, 'Wow! Be cool.' "

Seven months after that date, the two found themselves exchanging vows on Dec. 28. "It was a very small wedding, maybe 35 people," recalls Stephanie. "We didn't even send out invitations. But it was very special. We had the wedding in our new house that we built together. We had just close friends and family there - but it was a formal affair. We had the ceremony by candlelight. It was very intimate."

Stephanie was radiant as she walked down the stairs of their home to meet Brian, wearing a dress that made her feel "like Cinderella." It was a creamy-white silk, with a big tulle skirt with a hoop and a train. "It had a very tight-fitting bodice," she says. "From the waist down it was very lightly sequined and beaded."

Marty Roe, Brian's only bandmate in attendance, sang "The Lord's Prayer" a cappella during the ceremony. "It was gorgeous - people are still talking about that," says Stephanie.

"Yeah, it made me realize what a great singer Marty really is - all these years it's been the band that's messing up his voice!" jokes Brian.

Brian turns serious and says, "When it came time for the ceremony, the pastor touched on some traditional aspects of the wedding vows. Then he put his arm around me and his hand on my chest and began telling Stephanie what he knows is in my heart and how I love her. It was beautiful. Later we watched the wedding video and cried."

Looking back, the happy couple admits they threw themselves into a whirlwind romance. "Our first date was on May 21 of 2001," says Stephanie. "We were already talking silly about marriage from the beginning.

"On our third date, Brian was playing in a golf tournament and he invited another couple to play with him, Gerald and Betty Willis. They've been married for 50 years and are marriage enrichment counselors at their church where Gerald is the associate pastor. It wasn't until we talked to them that we realized God was tapping us on the shoulder. Things just started lining up. Gerald performed our ceremony.

"Everything happened so quickly, so perfectly and so right," continues Stephanie. "At first, things were going so fast that even our family and closest friends were saying, 'Are you guys sure?' But when it's right, there's just no doubt. Soon, they too, began to see how right it was. It was undeniable. Brian is the most wonderful thing that's ever happened to me. He's a godsend."

Brian says it was his and Stephanie's spirituality that strengthened the bond between them. "I am truly blessed to be with her," he adds lovingly. "I look at myself and feel like I've had pretty much every dream I've ever had come true, with one exception. Now that part of my life is complete as well."

For their honeymoon, Brian and Stephanie spent three weeks in Park City, Utah. "We did a lot of skiing, which was great, and had romantic dinners by firelight," she says. "We were gone for almost three weeks! With our crazy schedules, it was nice to get away and not worry about anything for that long. We didn't want to come back.

"But now we have a beautiful home to come back to and a beautiful life together that we're very excited about."