At Last, the romantic Harry Warren ballad, was the obvious first-dance choice for Ashley Schulten, 31, and Stephen "Bucky" Buchanan, 49, when they glided onto the floor at the Gasparilla Inn following their marriage ceremony at Our Lady of Mercy Church in Boca Grande on April 6.
"My best friend Jean Tyler and I were running errands in her dad's car on one of my trips to Venice before the wedding," explains Ashley. "We were playing his CDs; and when that song came on we said at the same time, that's the one." The song seemed appropriate not only because it spoke to how long it took the groom to wed, but also to the off-again-on-again four-year courtship that Schulten, a Wall Street bond trader, and Buchanan, a money manager for a British bank, negotiated in Manhattan.
Ashley, a Vanderbilt grad who had just moved to New York, met Bucky on a blind date. They went to a Christmas dinner at the Metropolitan Club organized by Bucky and some of his Holy Cross College pals. The pair realized they had much in common-traditional backgrounds, close-knit families, ambition and religion. "We began dating, but I had just moved to town and was eager to experience a lot of big-city things that Stephen had done already," explains the bride. "Our timing was off, and there was the age difference. Truly, neither of us was ready for a serious relationship. We're both private people and career-oriented."
A year after the amicable split, Ashley had drinks with a friend and the woman's boyfriend. Michael Meyer turned out to be a pal of Stephen's; and when he realized whom he'd just met, he remarked, "Oh, you're that Ashley. You know, I've known Bucky Buchanan for 15 years and you're the only woman he's ever talked about." The next day Ashley e-mailed Stephen. The next day he phoned. The next day they reunited. "I had matured, and he had missed me," says the bride. "We were a serious couple, but still there was no compulsion for marriage even after I moved into his Sutton Place apartment."
Then Ashley's father, Maurice, a prominent Venice surgeon, was diagnosed with terminal cancer. "That was it," says the daughter. "All of a sudden it hit me-love, marriage, continuum. I wanted it. Steve flew to Florida last April and formally asked my father for my hand in marriage."
Ashley's father summoned the determination to walk his eldest daughter down the church aisle but was too ill to stay for the reception. He died two months later. The newlyweds bought a home in North Stamford, Connecticut, where Ashley keeps her horse and the couple comes (with Mina, a five-year-old Yorkie) for weekends and creating family traditions of their own. At last.