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Blake Shelton has wedding plans with a longtime sweetheart, another hit with "The Baby" and a hometown full of fans

Story by David Scarlett "

I've got a lot of friends here, but what makes it special is this is still where all the family lives - cousins and aunts and uncles and parents. I know that I'm welcome at any of those people's houses. It's just something I don't have anywhere else." In spite of his incredible success - including a No. 1 hit with "Austin," the first single from his self-titled debut album; the follow-up hits "All Over Me" and "Ol' Red"; and a current Top 10 hit with "The Baby," the first single from his second album, due in February - Blake's feelings about his hometown aren't much different than those of other country boys who've moved away from home.

But what is different is the way the hometown folks feel about him. His friends and family can't mask the pride on their faces when they're around him. But that doesn't mean they're above dishing out a little good-natured ribbing.

They especially like to remind Blake of the pranks he loved to play!

"Blake and a buddy found a deer one day that'd been run over, and they brought it to school and put it in this guy's pickup," recalls Blake's high school shop teacher, Richard Truitt. "Put it up behind the steering wheel and made it look like it was driving!"

"That sucker was four or five days old," laughs Blake. But he and his friend didn't put the deer in just any truck. They decided to give the driving doe to a friend.

"Well, he was a friend," grins Blake.

As Blake recalls another prank, the look on the face of his mother, Dorothy, says loud and clear that she's hearing about this escapade for the first time.

"A friend of mine, Cory Coggburn, was a baseball player," recalls Blake. "And I didn't play sports. So during football season, while our other friends were busy, he and I hung out together every day. It was a holiday season, from October to Christmas, and it was so fun to steal people's yard ornaments, their pumpkins and stuff, and take 'em two blocks away and arrange 'em in somebody else's yard or on their porch ... neatly! And we knew they were thinking when they woke up in the morning, 'Where's my hay bales and pumpkins?'

"And we did that with those light-up Santa Clauses. We'd take them across town to somebody else's yard and plug them in. But it wasn't as mean as it was stupid. Really more relocating than stealing! But we had fun with that. Never got caught. Until now - I'll probably go to jail now!"

Blake probably doesn't need to worry about getting locked up for his mischief. But he is looking forward to doing some serious time because of another theft - that of his heart by a hometown sweetie. He and longtime girlfriend Kaynette Williams became engaged in early December.

"Thanksgiving I took off a lot of time," he recalls. "We just kind of stayed around the house and went huntin' and my dad came up and visited for a couple of days. And I just got my priorities in order and decided that it was something I needed to do soon. We've been together close to six years now since we first started dating."

He and Kaynette met when she was a photographer's assistant and young Blake came in to show her boss a baby wild hog he'd caught. Not exactly a storybook beginning, but now they can both laugh about it.

"And there's just a connection there, it's more than you can explain. It's just easy," he smiles. "We understand each other without even saying a word. It's just one of those things you know is supposed to be."

So how did he pop the question?

The answer is in this week's (2/4/03) "Newsstand Issue" on sale now!