“You did what??” Three voices rose in unison.

“Last night I asked Michael to marry me.” Dara Jensen could not restrain the smile that curved her lips. For the first time that she could remember, she had managed to silence the other three members of the Conclave simultaneously.

You asked him ?”

“Yes, Sabrina, I asked him .”

Faith Ward Cassadine placed a graceful hand on the young attorney's arm. “Dara, what is this about?”

Leave it to Faith, Dara thought, to go straight to the hard questions. “Michael is being investigated,” she replied truthfully. “The federal authorities intend to extend their investigation to me.”

“Why didn't you say something?” Faith reached for her purse and the ever-present cell phone her security-minded husband demanded she carry at all times.

Dara moved Faith's purse out of the other woman's reach. “Because it is already being handled.”

“Handled by who?” Ellen Burgess asked her young cousin.

“By whom ,” Dara corrected. “Er…by me,” she hastened to respond, prompted by the flash of irritation that crossed Ellen's lovely face at the grammar lesson. “Look…” she met the gaze of each woman in turn. “There is nothing for the Feds to find with their investigation.”

“Then I am unclear on where your marriage proposal comes into play in this situation,” Faith said.

Dara took a deep breath. She gathered her thoughts. The opinions of the women around her were important to Dara. She needed to explain the situation well. “Last night – without warning - Michael told me that our relationship was over. And it shook me more than I believed possible.” Dara shrugged. “I always imagined that if the relationship ever ended between Michael and me, then I would be the one ending things.”

“Of course,” Sabrina interjected archly. “A Conclave woman is always in charge.”

Faith and Ellen glared at Sabrina. It wasn't that they disagreed with the other woman's statement. Both women believed the sentiment whole-heartedly. No, they glared at Sabrina because it was common knowledge among their gatherings that Dara's stories were best heard uninterrupted. The young attorney had a tendency to be easily distracted. “Dara,” Faith caught her attention, “go on with your story, dear heart.”

Dara nodded. “Like I was saying, I wasn't expecting Michael to walk away. I couldn't understand it. I mean, we had just gotten through having…” Her voice trailed off and a flush began to creep up her neck. “Michael tried to lie at first. Then he told me the truth. And I knew in that second that it had finally happened.”

It?” her cousin Ellen asked.

“Yes,” Dara nodded. “That moment when I would have to decide just how much my life with Michael meant to me. Oh,” she pursed her lips thoughtfully, “I had imagined that moment happening a thousand different ways. Most often,” she admitted, “it happened because of his business.” Dara took a drink from her untouched glass of wine. “But when the moment was actually upon me, I realized that I didn't care why my life with Michael was at stake. In that moment all that mattered to me was that I continued to have a life with him.” She gave the three women a brilliant smile. “So I asked Michael to marry me.”

Ellen rose from her chair and went to kneel down in front of her young cousin. “Dara,” she grasped the attorney's hands in her own, “are you absolutely certain about this?”

“Yes.” Her voice rang with conviction. “For the first time in my life, I am going to do something I want without any care for other people's opinions or how it will fit into my career plans. Or even,” she paused, “if it meets with all of your approval or not.”

Dara's declaration of independence made Faith, Sabrina and Ellen exchange glances. “In that case, little sister,” Faith said with a touch of pride, “congratulations.”

Sabrina lifted her glass. “Congratulations, Dara. Looks like we have a wedding to plan.”

“Not exactly,” Dara laughed. “Michael and I are getting married exactly two hours and,” she consulted her watch, “six minutes from now.”