By Susan Schindehette
March 02, 1998 12:00 PM

HER CONCERN ABOUT THE VALENTINE’S DAY PARTY INVITATIONS should have been tip-off enough. “She said she wanted them to be very sensuous, with richness and beauty,” recalls Tim Girvin, the Seattle-based graphic designer Sharon Stone enlisted in January to create the cards for a Feb. 14 bash at her Benedict Canyon mansion. Eager to comply, Girvin and his staff of eight labored over 70 invitations (estimated cost: more than $100 per) overlaid with a silk screen and wrapped in burgundy silk and ostrich feathers. But Stone, 39, was anxious to add an even more personal touch. During a phone call with Girvin, Stone told him that her beau of nine months—Phil Bronstein, executive editor of the San Francisco Examiner—had written her a love poem about the “fire between them,” and she had an added request. “I’m burning the [edges] of the invitation,” she said, “and it’s doing this beautiful thing. Can we do it to all of them?”

It was a rare show of sentimentality from a love-’em-and-leave-’em siren who once described a former lover—Dwight Yoakam—as a “dirt sandwich.” But as party day approached, it became clear that the Basic Instinct femme fatale, once notorious as a Hollywood home wrecker, was a woman transformed—and that the twice-wed Bronstein, 47, was more than the latest accessory on her well-toned arm. At 8 p.m. limos began lining up outside Stone’s $4.5 million mansion to drop off guests—120 in all—including Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas, James Woods, and Paramount Pictures chief Sherry Lansing. Though Stone had spent much of the previous week dodging rumors of a wedding (“I’m having a Valentine’s party,” she insisted to Jay Leno the night before), a sign at the door asking guests to leave cameras and cell phones behind left little doubt what was afoot.

Inside the actress’s French provincial-style house (replete with dark Persian carpets, brick-red walls and a sky-blue ceiling), the foyer was filled with orchids, the dining room’s gilded mirrors reflected light from silver candelabras, and bouquets of red roses, pears, apples and grapes adorned the living room. As Nell Carter crooned “Come Rain or Come Shine,” guests sipped champagne and nibbled on blini pancakes topped with caviar (Stone’s favorite food) and oysters on the half shell. Stone herself—dressed in a blue-green sequined gown and feather boa—let nothing slip as she casually mingled. But at 9:45 p.m., J.D. Hinton, the husband of Stone’s best friend Mimi Craven, asked guests to enter a side room off the parlor for “a very special evening.” There he made the much-anticipated announcement: The party was in fact a wedding. “Everyone roared in joy,” says Rev. Cecil Williams, pastor of San Francisco’s Glide Memorial United Methodist Church, who presided over the ceremony.

Once in the side room, Sharon’s father, Joseph, who had flown in from Pennsylvania with wife Dorothy, asked “everybody [to] stand. My daughter is now coming.” As a gospel choir sang “Amazing Grace,” two flower girls—the daughters of designer Vera Wang, Cecilia, 6, and Josephine, 4—filed in, casting rose petals and gardenias. Four bridesmaids, including Sharon’s younger sister Kelly, followed, wearing Wang-crafted navy jersey suits with gold beading. Then, at last, came the bride herself, fresh from a quick change upstairs. Beaming in a pale pink, bias-cut chiffon gown by Wang topped with a diamond tiara, Stone, says Williams, “was glowing. She’s such a beautiful woman anyway. But there was an aura.”

Clad in a classic black tux, Bronstein—whose parents, Alvin, a retired fund raiser for the Jewish Federation, and Charlotte, a documentary film writer, had come in from Ojai, Calif.—took Stone’s hand at the altar. Exchanging brief vows that included passages from Kahlil Gibran and Lao-tzu, the couple gave each other gold bands—presented on a pillow by Sharon’s nephew—before exchanging a heartfelt kiss. “There was a real connection,” says one guest. “A real deep respect.” Then Bronstein, following Jewish custom and, says Williams, “in recognition of all religions,” broke a glass underfoot. To gales of laughter, one witness shouted, “Finally!”

Afterward, while fashion photographer Firooz Zahedi snapped the bride privately, guests moved to a dazzling, candlelit backyard tent. Three long red paisley-covered banquet tables shaped to form a U framed a goldfish pond filled with water lilies. Rice-paper sheets attached by velvet ribbon to peacock-feather fans served as name cards; atop the tiered, off-white cake, dusted with gold powder, sat the same bride-and-groom cake ornament that Stone’s parents had used in their own wedding years before. Then “Phil made a toast and referred to Sharon as ‘my wife,’ ” says one guest. “And she started to giggle.”

At 1 a.m., as uniformed waiters began serving more caviar, foie gras and veal chops on antique plates, Ray Charles, who flew in from Hawaii the day before, sat down to a piano and, backed by a 41-piece orchestra, began his rendition of “It Had to Be You.” Stone then giddily invited everyone back to the house, where she and her new husband took the first spin on the dance floor, and the Stone and Bronstein clans murmured approval. “[Sharon’s] an extraordinary person. Quite wonderful,” Charlotte Bronstein told PEOPLE afterward. “We’re extremely happy about the marriage. [Like Phil], she has that high level of intelligence.”

The perfectly choreographed ceremony seemed just the capper for a whirlwind courtship that began last spring, when Bronstein was introduced to Stone—in San Francisco to film the sci-fi thriller Sphere—through socialite Denise Hale. “I was always a great admirer of Sharon Stone, and I thought it was a great idea,” says Hale. “I thought he needed somebody fabulous. I couldn’t be happier.” Before long, Stone and Bronstein had become a fixture on the San Francisco social scene, dining out at hot spots such as Aqua and Jardiniere, attending the Glide Memorial Church (a freewheeling congregation whose attendees include Bono and Maya Angelou) and even showing up together at the Examiner’s Christmas party. Bronstein, a rakish bachelor with a taste for blondes, underwent a not-so-subtle change. “He’s the same person he always was,” says his sister Susan, 51, a personal trainer in St. Louis. “But he’s lightened up. I see him as being much, much happier.” Stone also seemed transformed. Seale Ballenger, a member of the Glide congregation, recalls the day when Rev. Williams announced, ” ‘There’s a woman who’s been coming here. She’s been scrubbing the floors. She really rolls up her sleeves. I want to recognize her. Sharon, stand up.’ She looked a little appalled. She was not looking for PR. She was bashful.”

In October, when Stone headed to New York City to star in the remake of John Cassavetes’ Gloria, Bronstein sent flowers regularly and flew in for several on-set visits. Once, “she was so happy to see him that she ran to him and threw her arms around his neck, hugging and kissing him,” says Jacqueline Figueroa, whose son Jean-Luke, 7, was one of Stone’s costars. “They looked into each other’s eyes, and it was like they were saying a zillion things.” Adds set hairstylist Werner Sherer: “You could actually see the development of how much they loved each other. She would say, ‘I miss Phil. I really miss Phil.’ ” A few weeks later, Stone told columnist Liz Smith “that she’d finally met a man who was her peer, her equal, a man who wasn’t riding on her coattails,” says Smith. “She could respect him.”

In short, say friends, Stone may finally have met her match. After her first marriage, to TV producer Michael Greenburg, ended in 1987, Stone arrived on the A-list with ’92’s Basic Instinct—and soon became just as well known for her serial dating. Among her men: Dweezil Zappa, Guess? executive Michel Benasra, Sliver producer Bill MacDonald (he left his new wife Naomi Baka for Stone, the star of Sliver; Naomi then wed Sliver screenwriter Joe Eszterhas) and fledgling director Robert Wagner. It was only after meeting Bronstein, she told the Examiner last month, that “I realized it was time to hang up my heartache.”

Bronstein, no doubt, offers Stone a burly shoulder on which to lean. Atlanta-born, he is a former globetrotting foreign correspondent (Asia and Latin America), avid backpacker and mountain climber who plays blues guitar, loves good wine and often wears cowboy boots. “He’s the Marlboro Man, virile and gruff,” says a friend. “A man’s man. He’s not a talker.” As far back as the ninth grade at Vermont’s Quaker-run Woodstock Country School, where he was student council president, he exhibited a rebellious streak. He was expelled twice and “was constantly in trouble for one thing or another,” he said in a 1985 interview. “Like I spent a lot of time with girls in places and circumstances where I shouldn’t have been.”

After a stint at the University of California at Davis in the 1970s, he eventually landed work at San Francisco’s KQED-TV before becoming an Examiner reporter in 1980. There he was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the 1986 overthrow of the Marcos regime in the Philippines. Along the way, Bronstein’s first marriage, to a college sweetheart, ended; in 1997 a second (to longtime girlfriend Bette Line) also broke up. But friends see neither divorce as a worrisome bellwether. “When he married the other two times, he wasn’t ready,” says friend Peter Greenberg, the Today show’s travel editor. Says Stephanie Salter, an Examiner columnist: “With Stone, he’s very protective of his relationship, really sensitive to any invasion of her privacy. He sees himself as a buffer between her and all those long lenses.”

In December, Stone, who turns 40 on March 10, contacted longtime friend Wang to design her wedding dress. Early last month, Stone and Bronstein—rumored to be house hunting in the Bay Area—met with Williams and his wife at San Francisco’s chic Farallon restaurant to go over details of the ceremony. From that point, Stone—a woman who stage-manages her film career with an iron hand—took charge. The day before the wedding, hours before a dozen guests assembled for an intimate rehearsal dinner, she was seen dressed in a gray T-shirt, sweatpants and glasses, directing security to the entrance of her home. By the big day steady El Niño rain flooded her blocked-off cul-de-sac and smoke from decorative candles had set off a fire alarm, but the couple resolutely tended to last-minute preparations, including a final fitting by Wang and a house call by chiropractor Leroy Perry. In the end “everything was so elegant. It was like a vision,” says New York City clothing designer Zang Toi.

By 11 a.m. the morning after the nuptials, the sun had risen in a cloudless blue sky and Hollywood’s highest-profile newlyweds were headed for a top-secret honeymoon destination. For their part, the guests, some of whom hadn’t left Stone’s mansion until the wee hours, were left to treasure a tender keepsake. As they departed Stone’s front gate, each had been presented with a copy of a poem written by the bride and wrapped in silk and rose petals. An entirely appropriate poem, as one friend puts it, “about memories, flowers—and fire.”