From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
Just a few friends getting together for dinner—that's what everyone thought was happening on the evening of April 4. But Brooke Shields and her fiancé of eight months, sitcom writer Chris Henchy, had other plans. According to Shields's friend and personal stylist Marlene Blackwell, the small clutch of friends and family who met the couple that night at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Marina del Rey, Calif., were whisked away by boat to Catalina Island, 26 miles off the California coast. Shortly after everyone was dropped off at a spot not far from the island's stately Wrigley Mansion, Shields and Henchy slipped away to change their clothes. Only when she returned in a Vera Wang wedding dress did the group finally catch on. Guests were soon toasting the couple as Henchy, 37, slipped a diamond-and-platinum ring he designed with Shields and West Hollywood jeweler Neil Lane onto the finger of his 35-year-old bride. "I think Brooke just wanted simplicity, and I think she achieved it," says Blackwell. Adds Shields's new mother-in-law, Patricia Henchy, 59, who was among the guests: "It was lovely. Absolutely lovely."

Not to mention as secretive as a CIA operation. The intimate wedding caught even relatives off guard. "I'm always the last one to find out something in this family," says Cristiana Shields, Brooke's half sister (she lives in Palm Beach with their father, Frank, 59, who is battling prostate cancer). "My dad had once kidded with Brooke about eloping, and I guess she took him seriously."

The newlyweds first became friends in late 1998, when Henchy was a writer and Shields a host on the NBC special Christmas in Washington. Over the next couple of years, Henchy helped Shields battle through some painful setbacks: the March 1999 suicide of her Suddenly Susan costar David Strickland; the sad end of her two-year marriage to tennis ace Andre Agassi one month later; and, last year, the trial of 42-year-old Mark Bailey, who pleaded no contest to stalking Shields and is now out on probation. Half Romeo, half regular guy, Henchy, Shields has said, delivered a huge boost to her often shaky self-esteem. "If there's a moment when I'm starting to feel insecure...all he has to do is say, 'You know, you look beautiful,'" she told PEOPLE last year. "And I know it's coming from a sincere place."

Just as earnest was Henchy's proposal, proffered last July 15—along with an antique, cushion-cut diamond engagement ring—during a trip to Cabo San Lucas. No wedding date was set, and many friends believed the pair planned to marry this summer. "I had a feeling it was coming up," says Spin City star Barry Bostwick, who last saw the couple at a March 24 party for the ABC sitcom, on which Henchy is a supervising producer. "But they didn't say it was coming up in 10 days."

One thing that's not a secret to those who know them is how well their relationship works. "He's quite happy letting her take the spotlight and being the supportive man behind her. You get the feeling this one could last," says Bostwick, who has just one gripe: "Now I've got to think of something to buy them."

Alex Tresniowski
Mark Dagostino, Michelle Caruso, John Hannah, Julie Jordan, Elizabeth Leonard, N.F. Mendoza and Pamela Warrick in Los Angeles and Michael Cohen in Palm Beach

  • Contributors:
  • Mark Dagostino,
  • Michelle Caruso,
  • John Hannah,
  • Julie Jordan,
  • Elizabeth Leonard,
  • N.F. Mendoza,
  • Pamela Warrick,
  • Michael Cohen.