Talk about a surprise engagement.
Carrie Ann Inaba thought all she had to do was sub for vacationing Kelly Ripa on Thursday's Live with Regis and Kelly to discuss Dancing with the Stars.
But there was more: Inaba's boyfriend of about two years, Jesse Sloan, showed up – bearing a diamond sparkler and a wedding proposal.
The timing couldn't have been better. At the top of the show, Inaba had told Regis Philbin and the audience that the stories about her being engaged simply weren't true, though she had mentioned in an interview that she was anticipating a summer wedding.
She even bared her naked ring finger before the camera, as the audience let out a collective – and sympathetic – "Aww."
A bit later, show guest Jake Gyllenhaal presented Inaba with a mock engagement ring.
But then came the real thing, in the closing minutes of the show, as Regis pretended to answer a viewer's question on how best to propose to his girlfriend. The lights dimmed, live violinists appeared – and so did Sloan, who told Inaba she is his inspiration, she's beautiful, she's wonderful. "Will you marry me?" he asked.
"Yes," said Inaba, wiping away a tear, "I will marry you." She later said, waving a finger, "You tricked me!"
Inaba, 43, kissed her fiancé and hugged Philbin when Sloan, 39, presented her with a 2½-carat, D-color, princess-cut diamond solitaire ring in platinum from Rafinity. Artfully hidden inside the ring? The bride and groom's birthstones, a Rafinity signature detail.
At the end of the show, Gyllenhaal and other guest Howie Mandel joined in for a champagne toast.
"Love is the one thing in life that makes everything worthwhile," Inaba told PEOPLE Thursday after the proposal. "To find a man that I love and have him love me in return is beyond words."
Additional reporting by STEPHEN M. SILVERMAN