02/26/2001 at 01:00 AM EST
The box read Top Secret. Inside lay a bottle on a bed of sand—and the news in the bottle gave many friends their first notice that actress Halle Berry
and her R&B singer beau, Eric Benét, had wed a couple of weeks earlier. "To share eternal love, we have chosen each other," it said. "Introducing...Mr. and Mrs. Eric Benét Jordan."
Keeping their I do's on the QT, Berry and Benét, both 34, tied the knot on a Santa Barbara, Calif., beach in front of a few friends on Jan. 19—and didn't own up in public until Berry introduced Benét as "my husband" at a Feb. 6 party in Burbank. During the low-key nuptials, bride and groom "were both just bawling," Berry told Entertainment Tonight.
The affair took some last-minute scrambling. Berry put a rush order on her backless, figure-hugging white silk gown by San Francisco designer Ristarose, a customized version of a $1,950 dress. (Benét wore a white silk suit.) The rings—Berry now sports an eight-carat combo of two pavé diamond bands flanking a baguette engagement ring; Benét a creation with six carats of black and white diamonds—arrived in the nick of time. "I delivered them at 11 p.m. to the house the night before," says Ann Whatu, designer for Santa Monica's Rafinity jewelers. "She started jumping up and down, and then they kissed."
After a two-week honeymoon, the pair, who met at one of Benét's 1997 concerts, returned to the L.A. home they share with Benét's daughter India, 9. (Her mother, Benét's girlfriend Tami Stauff, died after a car crash in 1994.) Benét and Berry, whose 1993 marriage to baseball's David Justice ended in a painful divorce in 1997, "went together" from the start, says Berry's sister Heidi Henderson, 36. "They're happy. And I'm happy she's happy."