Monica Rizzo and Lesley Messer
December 17, 2012 12:00 PM

Just three hours before she was set to exchange vows with her fiancé, J.P. Rosenbaum, on Dec. 1, Ashley Hebert was facing every bride’s nightmare. The skies over the Langham Huntington Hotel in Pasadena were dark, rain was threatening to dampen the former Bachelorette star’s big day, and her wedding planners were already working on a contingency plan to tent the Horseshoe Garden area where her 200 guests-including a camera crew that would be capturing the nuptials for a Dec. 16 ABC special-would be assembling that afternoon. But after a quick prayer to the weather gods, “I went outside, and I said, ‘We have to take a risk,'” Hebert tells PEOPLE. “It was amazing: It drizzled for a second, then stopped.”

By the time Hebert walked down the aisle in a $75,000 Randi Rahm custom-designed gown to a performance of Elvis’s “Fools Rush In,” her groom, for one, couldn’t have cared less about the weather. “She looked like an angel standing there,” Rosenbaum says, glancing affectionately at his new wife the next morning over mimosas. “I was blown away.” Beneath a rose- and hydrangea-adorned chuppah, recently ordained Bachelor host Chris Harrison officiated a nondenominational service, which featured Jewish traditions in honor of Rosenbaum’s faith. “Everyone could see how in love they are,” says the bride’s sister Chrystie Vachon, who served as maid of honor. “Their love will last and it’s going to be forever.”

It may be an aberration from the reality-show norm, but so far the pair, who met and fell in love on The Bachelorette last year, seem to be right on track. “A lot of people were skeptical,” says Hebert, acknowledging the show’s low track record for marriage. (Before her, the only Bachelorette to wed in eight seasons was Trista Sutter in 2003.) Leaving the spotlight (mostly) behind them, the couple relocated to Princeton, N.J., last year so that Rosenbaum, 35, a construction manager, could commute to New York City, and Hebert, 28, could continue her dental residency in Philadelphia. “Obviously there was pressure,” Hebert concedes, “but we blocked it out and focused on our relationship.”

They were just as determined when it came to their wedding. “We didn’t want it to be a circus,” says Rosenbaum. In the end it may have been filmed for TV, but “the ceremony was simple, sweet and personal,” says Hebert. Her Yorkshire terrier Boo walked down the aisle. And Rosenbaum accidentally tried to kiss the bride early. (Harrison teasingly reminded him to “wait for it.”) Neither one of them could avoid a few tears when the groom read his vows. Says Hebert: “It was heartfelt and honest.”

But most of all, it was fun. After the ceremony guests including fellow Bachelorettes Sutter, Ali Fedotowsky and Emily Maynard moved inside to a ballroom decorated with a “vintage romantic” feel, says planner Mindy Weiss, who brought in 15 antique chandeliers for softer lighting. L.A.’s Mark’s Garden used more than 25,000 white roses, hydrangeas and delphiniums to decorate the tables with multiple arrangements. At dinner, guests dined on roasted chicken and risotto and tucked into one of three wedding cakes (red velvet, chocolate marble and champagne) by Joanie & Leigh’s Cake Divas, who made a custom topper of Ashley giving her groom a rose, in a nod to the show’s tradition. (“That was the only red rose allowed in the room,” insisted Rosenbaum.) After dinner they shared an intimate first dance to an acoustic performance by Matt White before a deejay picked up the tempo. “I stepped back and watched everybody: The shoes were off, people were dancing, laughing and smiling,” Hebert says. “We wanted to bring people together and celebrate love. When I saw that, I felt relieved.”

The morning after the festivities, tired but still elated, Rosenbaum and Hebert couldn’t stop gushing about the event. “It was the best night of my life!” Hebert said emphatically, grinning ear to ear. “We were given a very special gift. No one gets to experience something like this,” added Rosenbaum. “In 20 years we’ll look at our unbelievable wedding video and be so happy that we did it.”

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