February 08, 2010 12:00 PM

The barrage of tabloid headlines—screaming fights, ultimatums, impending separation—had been relentless. And it didn’t help that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie hadn’t been photographed together in more than two weeks. Evidence of relationship trouble seemed to be piling up: On Jan. 22 Pitt attended the Hope for Haiti Now telethon without his partner of nearly five years by his side. And neither of the stars showed up at the Golden Globes or Jan. 23’s Screen Actors Guild Awards, where the cast of Inglourious Basterds toasted their win minus Pitt. Then came a bombshell—on Jan. 24 a British paper ran a headline that raced around the globe: “World Exclusive: Pitts All Over.”

It was far from the first breathless breakup report to hit Hollywood’s most-watched couple, but it spread like few others ever have. The News of the World—a tabloid known for playing fast and loose with the facts—claimed that in preparation for an imminent split, Pitt, 46, and Jolie, 34, had signed legal papers that divvy up their fortunes and specify custody of their six children (see box on page 68). The story might have been a blip in the gossip universe if The Sunday Times—a reputable paper owned by the same company as the News—hadn’t picked up the report. Within hours newspapers and TV outlets from New York to New Zealand (and blogs and tweets galore) were announcing the demise of Brad and Angelina.

Not so fast. Multiple sources close to the couple tell PEOPLE they are going strong. Any talk of a split is “totally false,” says one source, while another adds that “everything is fine.” In fact, while the world dissected their breakup, the two stars were nesting in the L.A. home that they share with their kids Maddox, 8, Pax, 6, Zahara, 5, Shiloh, 3, and twins Vivienne and Knox, 18 months.

Moreover, a source close to the News of the World says that the paper’s provocative legal details were exaggerated: While newspaper staffers claimed to have seen a prenup-like document signed by Pitt and Jolie, it didn’t detail custody or financial settlements, wasn’t drafted recently and didn’t imply a separation. Still, what about the scores of other rumors the pair are on the rocks? Paparazzi photos of the two looking less than blissful haven’t defused the rumors—and Pitt and Jolie have declined to address gossip about their relationship.

Those who have observed the couple away from the flashbulbs recently have seen no outward signs of trouble. On Jan. 2 the pair went out for a date night at the French restaurant Le Périgord in Manhattan, where they shared a $700 bottle of wine. “You could tell they wanted to spend time alone,” says a source. “They chatted and smiled and had a good time. It was wonderful to see a couple so much in love.”

Jolie understands that the negative attention is “unavoidable,” Lorenzo di Bonaventura, a producer on her thriller Salt, told PEOPLE recently. “I find myself rising to her defense, saying, ‘How can they say that?’ And she’ll say, ‘Come on.’ That’s her attitude. It doesn’t make her crazy.”

For now, the couple are keeping busy with preproduction meetings for upcoming movies, charity work (following the Haiti quake, the Jolie-Pitt Foundation donated $1 million to Doctors Without Borders) and everyday kid stuff (the older children attend a private school in L.A.). Jolie may head to Venice in April to start shooting The Tourist opposite Johnny Depp. So here’s a quick Italian lesson, Angelina: When yet another round of split stories pop up, say, “non è vero.” Translation: That’s untrue.

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