Say you’re Tom Cruise and you want to propose to your “magnificent” girlfriend of just over two months, Katie Holmes. Step one: Contact Paris city hall several days before the big night and arrange an after-hours visit to the Eiffel Tower. Step two: Secretly stash one sizable oval-shaped diamond stunner. (When did he buy the ring? “A while ago,” Cruise told PEOPLE.) Step three: After a private trip to the observation deck, pop the question at the Tower’s famed Jules Verne restaurant over a late-night candlelit dinner served with Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé Champagne. “They were very low-key,” says a waiter, adding that Cruise never dropped to one knee. “They sat overlooking the lights of Paris. They were so happy.” And finally: Announce the news to the entire world less than eight hours later. “What a day! What a night last night!” an ecstatic Cruise declared on June 17. “Today is my favorite day in my entire life…. I’ll never forget this day. Ever.”
With that, the turbocharged romance of the couple nicknamed TomKat hurtled forward faster than a speeding bullet train, as Cruise, who turns 43 on July 3, and Batman Begins’ Holmes, 26, boarded a high-speed rail to travel from Paris to Marseille for Cruise’s June 17 War of the Worlds premiere. “I want to marry her as soon as possible,” Cruise said mid-ride. “Without a doubt, in Paris, the most romantic city in the world.” Of those who think the relationship might be too much too soon, Cruise told PEOPLE, “You have to do what you feel is right. So many people are worried about what other people think. It’s [about] your own integrity and how you want to live your life.”
For Cruise, that means living with Holmes by his side. As the newly engaged couple kissed, hugged and gushed their way through the European capitals—Berlin! Rome! Paris! London! Madrid!—on dual publicity blitzes for their respective summer blockbusters, their romance seemed to intensify with each new locale. Asked whether the couple are planning to have children, Holmes—now set to be a stepmom to Connor, 10, and Isabella, 12, Cruise’s children with Nicole Kidman—told PEOPLE with a smile, “Yes.” But before things move forward, says Cruise, “we have to talk to our families about it.”
In fact, Holmes’s mother, Kathy, 58, and Cruise’s sister and publicist Lee Anne DeVette, 45, were both in Paris with the pair and looked on as Cruise announced the engagement. (Holmes’s father, Martin, 60, a Toledo, Ohio, lawyer, stayed in the States; he and Kathy reunited at a Cubs-Yankees baseball game in New York City the next day.) “We’re very, very excited,” says DeVette. “Katie is a wonderful woman.” The Holmes clan (including her siblings Tamera, 37, Holly, 36, Martin Jr., 35, and Nancy, 31), too, “is very excited,” says family pal Michael Molinari, though even for Holmes’s own kin the romance “is mind-boggling, almost surreal.” Adds Molinari: “The family is very supportive.”
If Holmes’s hometown crowd is still absorbing the high-flying romance, those in Cruise’s circle—including his exes—have expressed their approval. On June 20 in Madrid, the couple turned up at Casa Lucio restaurant, where they dined on traditional huevos estrellados (fried eggs and potatoes) with the parents, sister and brother of Cruise’s ex-girlfriend Penélope Cruz (who was in town but busy filming a movie). Meanwhile, Cruise’s ex-wives Nicole Kidman and Mimi Rogers each offered their congratulations. “I’m very happy for them and wish them all the best,” Rogers told PEOPLE. Kidman told David Letterman on June 13, “Listen, honestly, if Tom’s in love, I’m so happy for him.”
Public reaction to the romance hasn’t always been as kind, with the stars’ unchecked exuberance generating some eye-rolling. In France the press derisively called the pair’s tour “The Tom and Katie Show.” Cruise’s War of the Worlds director Steven Spielberg weighed in, telling Newsweek that he was “a little upset” by claims the romance was eclipsing their movie—and by speculation the actor’s now-famous couch-jumping Oprah appearance was a publicity stunt. “What Tom did on Oprah was exactly what Tom did with me when he first told me about Katie Holmes,” he said.
For their part the bride- and groom-to-be continue to shrug off the naysayers. Holmes plans to join her betrothed in Italy, where he’s set to begin shooting Mission: Impossible 3 July 18, but first, “we are going to go somewhere where we can scuba dive,” she says. As for wedding plans, the couple aren’t commenting on whether they’re planning a Scientology ceremony (see box) or when they plan to tie the knot—though if they opt for a Paris wedding one of them must meet a 40-day residency requirement. Details, details. For now, says Cruise, life is all about “really, really enjoying this moment.”