GARLAND -- It was a rare smile from Brittani Lane.
"It's worse than your groom leaving you at the altar," she said, joking. But within seconds, the tears were falling again.
"I want to bawl my eyes out," she said. "I'm devastated. My heart is broken. I don't understand how somebody can do that."
Brittani was set to get married at Alexander Mansion in Garland next July. Last week, she called to make another payment, but a recording said they were closed for a week. Now, the phone's been disconnected and everything that was inside has been moved out.
"The decorations, the chairs, the ivy that was on the staircase, the mirror over the mantle -- none of it's there," she said after peering in the windows.
"$2,300 just down the toilet," she said, sighing.
Brides across North Texas appear to be in the same boat. They have signed contracts worth thousands of dollars, but there is no sign of the owner. She is not answering her cell phone. Her home and business phones are disconnected. She is not returning e-mails. She also runs Cappella Court Gardens in Carrollton, and it suddenly shut down, too.
One of the brides set to get married at Alexander Mansion filed a report with Garland police accusing the owner of theft. A detective is now investigating.
The Texas Attorney General's office said the couples should immediately file complaints with their office, through this website. The Dallas office is "generally aware" of the allegations, according to the AG's press office in Austin.
"You could even file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau," suggested BBB spokesman Jeannette Kopko. "We might not be able to help you if they're really gone, but we can hold onto it and maybe there's something we can learn later."
Kopko said couples should continue to try to reach the owner through any means possible. She suggested sending a letter to the venue, because she said it's possible the mail will be forwarded. She also suggested keeping track of filings in bankruptcy courts. She said closing a business does not relieve the owner of his or her obligation to customers.
The invitations are already printed for Geremy Rodacker's wedding in March, which was supposed to be at Cappella Court. While scrambling to find a new venue, he's also trying to compile a list of other victims.
"We did our research," he said. "We talked to people who'd been to weddings there, had weddings there, everybody was okay with it. They had good reviews online. We had nothing, I felt, to worry about."
Rodacker said it wasn't really the money that made him upset.
"It's knowing that someone took away something I was trying to give my fiancee," he said. "Because I know she really deserves the best."
Brittani and her fiance still plan to marry on the sixth anniversary of their first date. Son, J.P., will be the ring bearer, daughter, Kyndall, the flower girl. They just don't know where.
"We wanted to do this years ago, we just couldn't afford it," Brittani said. "Now we can, and somebody takes it."
For future brides, Kopko suggests trying to use a credit card for as many reservations as possible, because those charges can be disputed with a card company if the unthinkable happens.