A Cowboy and a Leopard Walked Into a Bar

A Cowboy and a Leopard Walked Into a Bar

In October 2020, Melissa Cuc was visiting friends in South Florida. They were excited about attending a party that weekend. She was not.

“I said I’d rather die than go out for Halloween in Miami,” Ms. Cuc, 27, said.

She relented and wound up at the party, wearing a leopard-print skirt. Early into the event, Ms. Cuc was separated from her friends. As she scanned the crowded venue for them, she locked eyes with Alexander Witkoff. He wore a cowboy hat and boots — and an inviting smile.

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The two struck up a conversation and immediately felt at ease with each other.

“She had a bubbly personality and a positive demeanor,” Mr. Witkoff, 31, said. “She radiated happiness.”

They made plans to meet the next day because Ms. Cuc, who works as a model, would soon be returning home to New York City for a job. For their first date, they went to a barbecue hosted by Mr. Witkoff’s friends and spent the afternoon jet skiing.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, her modeling gig kept getting postponed and the two ended up spending eight consecutive days together.

“Each night was the last night,” she recalled. “Fortunately, or unfortunately, I was able to stay.”

When it finally came time for Ms. Cuc to leave Florida, she and Mr. Witkoff committed to continuing their budding romance. They made frequent trips to each other’s cities. Mr. Witkoff, who grew up in New York City and has many relatives there, introduced Ms. Cuc to his family on Thanksgiving, just a few weeks after they first met. In April 2021, Ms. Cuc moved to Miami.

“It was going fast, but it didn’t feel weird,” she said. “It felt right.”

It was not the first time she had shaken up her life in such a way. Ms. Cuc, whose family is Romanian, grew up in Stuttgart, Germany, and moved to New York City alone at the age of 18 in pursuit of a dream: to model and travel the world.

Mr. Witkoff earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He is a chief executive at Witkoff, a real estate development and investment firm founded by his father, Steven Witkoff. Ms. Cuc, who still works as a model, recently obtained a real estate license.

“Leaving my friends and coming to Miami to be with Alex was an adjustment,” she said. “But it was exciting. We started creating new friend groups together.”

Ms. Cuc visits her family in Europe a few times every year. Not long into their courtship, Mr. Witkoff began to join her on those trips. “He took my family and friends in as if they were his own, which was very, very special to me,” Ms. Cuc said.

In November 2022, the couple vacationed at a resort in Costa Rica. Ms. Cuc had meticulously planned out their activities for each day, so she was shocked to discover that Mr. Witkoff had stolen enough time to decorate a terrace where they were going to have dinner. He decked it with flowers and candles, and hired singers to serenade them.

There, Mr. Witkoff proposed.

Ms. Cuc said she was so surprised that she “sort of blacked out” in the moment.

“I made him repeat everything afterward,” she said. “It was beautiful.”

The two were married on Feb. 3 at the Breakers Palm Beach Resort. Rabbi Paul Offenkrantz led the interfaith ceremony in front of 350 guests. (The groom is Jewish, and the bride is Greek Orthodox.)

Mr. Witkoff said that his relationship to Ms. Cuc was vital in bringing balance to his life. “Her focus on family and friends and loved ones helps remind me of what is important,” he said.

And Mr. Witkoff, she said, has given her something just as valuable: “He’s a big safe place in my life.”