In two areas of life that some say count the most—your job and your sex life—Kevin Bernhardt has proven himself a quick study. With nary a TV credit to his name, the actor was signed to fill in for Jack (Frisco Jones) Wagner for one week on General Hospital in December 1984. Bernhardt was such a smash with audiences that the producers gave him a permanent role as resident stud Kevin O'Connor. So much for the career. Then, a little less than two years ago he met singer and onetime Prince protégée Apollonia Kotero, and their May/mid-June romance heated up quickly. (He's 25, she's 26.) Neither will say how they met, although Apollonia coyly hints, "I found him underneath my pillow one lonely night."

The pillow feathers eventually settled, and in August of last year the two became engaged. Prince has already given his gracious blessing. "Everyone thinks that Prince and I had a beautiful, romantic love affair, but we didn't. We just let people think that, in order to promote Purple Rain," says Apollonia. "The first time Kevin met him, Prince just looked at me and smiled with approval. We've all been friends ever since."

Even if Prince hadn't been such a good sport, Bernhardt wouldn't have cared. That he has gotten a girl and a plum job (with a six-figure contract) at his tender age is no accident. Brash and independent, Bernhardt creates opportunities long before they have a chance to knock.

He arrived in Hollywood on New Year's Day 1984 with few possessions and dual degrees in economics and drama from the State University of New York at Binghamton. Deciding first to get rich quick, then to take up acting, he began amassing a nest egg by trading securities for an L.A. brokerage firm. At night he studied acting. With a growing bank balance to fall back on, Bernhardt thought he could be picky about roles; instead, it was the roles that were picky about him. Frustrated by rejections, he announced to his agent that he was fed up with "meaningless interviews, and only call me for lead parts in films and TV series. My agent almost died," remembers Bernhardt.

The cocksure strategy worked, and in late 1984 Bernhardt spent a month in Paris filming a low budget French movie that he claims he still hasn't seen. When he returned from Paris, the General Hospital job was waiting. He plays a hot-tempered but sensitive (aren't they always?) doctor. "I don't feel like a hunk, but if being one is going to get me what I want in the future, fine," he says.

Bernhardt was born in Daytona, Fla. and was adopted as an infant by Red Bernhardt, an auto mechanic, and his wife, Beverly, a housewife. The family later moved to rural Pennsylvania. "I have no idea what my real ethnic background is," he says. "I'll always have that curiosity to know about my heritage, but that has always been overshadowed by the fear of insulting the couple that took care of me." He has thought about tracking down his natural mother but is reticent to meet her. "We'd be strangers," he allows. "I wouldn't know her any more than the mailman does—probably less. Besides, parents are people who love you and teach you things. Somebody else did that for me, so the Bernhardts are my parents."

His own family life will have no mystery. The wedding date has been set but is top secret. "I'd die if it ended up like the Sean and Madonna fiasco," he says. Both want to have children. "Nothing big," shrugs Bernhardt. "I don't want to be Dad to the Waltons." Just as well. It's a little hard to imagine Apollonia as Ma Walton.