Natalie Annis' love of law led her to love, of a single father and his four children.
BALLAST POINT - When she was a little girl, Natalie Annis used to tell her mother she was never getting married. A law career: top priority. A husband? Not necessarily.
When she married Jim Goodwin, Annis found she could have both.
The tax lawyers met in the workplace - Macfarlane, Ferguson and McMullen - where Goodwin has handled trust and estate matters for 20 years.
Annis, 30, joined the firm in the fall of 1998, after graduating from the University of Florida College of Law.
But Goodwin, 45, noticed her before that.
"The first time we met was at a night parade when she was in the Gasparilla queen's court and my son Jimmy was a page," he recalls.
Annis wrapped a blanket around the shivering 9-year-old that cold February night. His father noted that kindness.
By the next sighting, Annis was clerking at the firm. His task for her: Develop a marketing plan for the 50-plus lawyers. She didn't see that as part of her job, so she collected some books on the subject and headed to his office.
"He wasn't there, and it was the last day of the clerkship," said Annis. "I just left the books on his chair."
That's when Goodwin noted her self-confidence.
Annis and lawyer Charles "CAM" Moore III joined Goodwin to form the estate-planning and trust department. Through working lunches, business dinners and client meetings, Annis observed Goodwin's professionalism. When she and Moore were invited to his home for cookouts, she got to see his daddy side.
"I was already impressed with his intellect. But seeing him as a single parent with sole custody of four children impressed me more than anything," said Annis.
Goodwin, meanwhile, admired Annis' spirituality and balance. He knew her late arrival on a Friday morning meant she had been to her Bible study group.
"She is very well grounded," he says.
Early in November 2001, on a flight to Atlanta, Goodwin summoned the courage to tell Annis how he felt about her.
Seated in first class, he told her he had fallen in love.
Where's the hidden camera, she remembers thinking.
Wow, am I nervous, he remembers feeling.
"I had thought a lot about the dynamics, about upsetting the work relationship, about asking her to be part of all the responsibilities of my situation," said Goodwin, who was finalizing a divorce.
Annis began joining the Goodwin gang at soccer games, swim meets and pizza nights. With both of them working 60-hour weeks, and Jim overseeing homework, haircuts, orthodontist appointments and more, the couple found quiet time at 4:30 a.m.
They'd run or swim together.
Goodwin would rush home to make breakfast for the kids and drive them to school.
The children quickly grew fond of Annis.
For sure, they admire her athletic abilities. At Berkeley Prep, Annis played the All-State Softball Tournament and made the All-State Soccer team. She went on to play varsity softball for four years at the University of Virginia, two years as captain.
Playing ball one afternoon, the two boys were shocked to see her swing.
"She got up to bat and just blasted the ball," says Goodwin."She has a gun for an arm; she's faster than anyone. My sons had never seen a girl do that."
The kids also found Annis a natural at pinch-hitting in car pools, planning slumber parties and cooking dinner for six. Daughter Lizzie says she's a pro at shopping.
The week before Thanksgiving, Goodwin proposed. It took all night.
He planned to ask her at dinner at Seven 17 South, but Annis' parents and another couple happened to also be dining there. Goodwin took that in stride.
Then his daughter Paige's track coach arrived.
That took more time away from his mission. Eventually they escaped to Bern's Steak House.
Who did they run into there? A law clerk, and two clients. It wasn't until they were back in Goodwin's driveway, sitting in his Suburban, that he popped the question.
"I've been trying to get you alone for four hours," he said, pulling out the tissue-wrapped ring - and dropping it between the console and the seat.
It took a while to retrieve it, much longer than it took for Annis to say "yes."
Their April 12 wedding at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Tampa made Annis an instant mom. Her five bridesmaids included Goodwin's daughters, Paige, 12, and Lizzie, 10. Jimmy III, 16, was the best man. Chase, 10, twin to Lizzie, was a groomsman.
Annis wore her mother's wedding gown, perfectly preserved since 1969. She carried a bright bouquet of yellow calla lilies and roses in raspberry and peach. She changed into a sleeveless designer gown for dinner and dancing to the Paul Vesco Orchestra at the Tampa Yacht and Country Club with more than 500 guests. The menu followed an Italian theme, a prelude to their honeymoon in Positano on the Almafi coast of Italy.
In their toast to their sister, Annis' siblings lauded her mothering skills, practiced on them decades before.
Natalie has always been like a mom to us, said Caroline and Jay Annis, expressing abundant confidence in her readiness for a new role.
"It's truly God's blessing," said the bride.
- Know a couple getting married this summer who have a special love story to share? Call Amy Scherzer at 226-3332 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org