Getting engaged on New Year’s Eve in Las Vegas was a perfect way to end 2008, Dancing with the Stars pros Maksim Chmerkovskiy and Karina Smirnoff tell PEOPLE in its new issue.
“I’m in love and so is she,” Chmerkovskiy gushes in PEOPLE’s exclusive interview. “Everything is beautiful.”
Equally praising of her husband-to-be, Smirnoff says, “He is such a softie. The way he proposed was so romantic.”
As they rang in 2009, Chmerkovskiy presented Smirnoff with a three-karat Harry Winston platinum and diamond engagement ring tucked inside of a Louis Vuitton bag.
The pros confess that while they’ve known each other for years as competitive ballroom dancers, it was only four months ago that they decided to explore a romantic relationship. They chose not to acknowledge their relationship to the press until their engagement.
But still, their love was clear to Staples Center audience members at the Dec. 27 Dancing tour show in Los Angeles.
“You could see it, the way he caressed her cheek and whispered in her ear and kissed her on the forehead in between dances,” says fan Heather O’Connell. “There was such a tender connection between the two of them, the way they looked at each other and smiled all night. It was lovely. That they have that passion on and off the dance floor is awesome.”
Awesome, indeed, Chmerkovskiy coos. “Somebody is looking out for me because everything is beautiful and I love it,” he says.
The pair are both expected to return to Dancing for its eighth season, which kicks off March 9 on ABC.
For more on the engagement, pick up latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday
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