March 27, 2006 12:00 PM

Dining at Miami Beach hot spot the Forge on March 11, Nicollette Sheridan and Michael Bolton were clearly in the mood to celebrate. Sipping vodka and club soda, the unabashedly affectionate couple kissed and held hands all evening. But if they seemed in high spirits then, they were even giddier when Bolton proposed to Sheridan on a private island in the Bahamas two days earlier. “You can tell they’re genuinely in love,” a source says of the duo. “It’s the real deal.”

The engagement caps a whirlwind courtship that began just four months ago but has its roots all the way back in 1992, when Sheridan was best known as a Knots Landing vixen and balladeer Bolton was busy making ’90s-era desperate housewives swoon. Since rekindling their romance last fall, the pair have flaunted their chemistry everywhere from Maui, where Bolton, 53, serenaded Sheridan, 42, with “My Girl” last New Year’s Eve, to the Oscar party circuit, where Sheridan deflected questions about the hefty diamond stunner on her ring finger. Whether that was the ring or a pre-ring, friends of the couple say the wedding plans come as no surprise. “They’ve never really been completely out of each other’s lives,” says one pal. “It’s all about history.”

When they were first introduced by musician Kenny G in 1992, the two were both coming off recent splits—Sheridan from ex-husband Harry Hamlin after 11 months and Bolton from ex-wife Maureen, with whom he had three daughters, after 15 years of marriage. “She’s a great woman,” Bolton told PEOPLE that year. Still friends after their 1995 breakup, they reconnected last fall following Sheridan’s broken engagement to fitness trainer Niklas Soderblom. What makes this go-round different? “They were both so strong-willed, and possibly they’re compromising a little more,” says the friend. Still, “it’s either fire or ice with those two.”

But don’t count on Sheridan to be the next of the Desperate Housewives to go bridal. Although she’ll get a break from Wisteria Lane when the show wraps for the summer, her fiancé—a longtime Connecticut resident who commutes to Sheridan’s L.A. home—will be touring and recording an album of Sinatra covers, tentatively titled The Second Time Around. For now, the pair are simply savoring their full-circle romantic journey. “The truth is,” says their friend, “they’ve always been in love with each other.”

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