Bob Pops the Question

updated 06/07/2004 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/07/2004 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Call him excited, even ecstatic—just don't call him Bachelor Bob anymore. On May 20 Bob Guiney proposed to his girlfriend of five months, All My Children star Rebecca Budig, in her Manhattan apartment. "She had just thrown a big surprise birthday party for me on May 8, and it blew me away," says the mortgage broker turned rock singer. "So I had a couple of different ideas how I wanted to go about it." The 2-carat diamond engagement ring he designed with his friend, jeweler Simon Cardwell, "was burning a hole in my pocket for a week," Guiney says, until he found the right moment: "She happened to need an accessory for the [Daytime] Emmys the next day, and I happened to have the perfect accessory."

If the engagement surprised Budig, 30, it might shock fans of Guiney, 33, who recall his failure to pop the question during The Bachelor's final rose ceremony. Back in September, when the show was taped, he placed a diamond ring on the right hand of Estella Gardinier (see box), explaining that being a divorcé (his 2½-year first marriage ended in 2002) made him cautious about a return trip to the altar. But with Budig—whom Guiney started dating after he and Gardinier split in November—his hesitation disappeared. "I wanted her to feel how committed I am to our relationship," he says. "We just have an absolute blast together. We are best friends on top of everything else."

The pair first met in January '03 while taping a segment for Bachelor XYZ (the ABC Family Channel recap of the series, which Budig hosts) after Guiney was dumped by Trista Rehn on The Bachelorette. "He was funny, witty, wonderful, but I didn't think anything of it because I had a boyfriend," says Budig. Guiney, for his part, was so smitten—"I thought she had an amazing sense of humor and was, obviously, very beautiful," he says—that he sent her a thank-you note at the AMC set. "I didn't get it until December 2003," Budig admits. "It was with all this fan mail that I hadn't been able to get to." When they reconnected last October before Guiney's Bachelorseries was broadcast, they again hit it off. "I got in the cab and said out loud, 'Wow!' " recalls Budig, who was by then single. "But I thought he was engaged."

Even so, others were beginning to sense a vibe between the two. "When I first saw the rough tape of her talking to Bob, I actually asked the producer if there was something going on," says former ABC Family Channel president Angela Shapiro. "She said, 'No, absolutely not,' but I saw a sparkle in Rebecca's eye that I haven't seen in a while."

Once Guiney and Budig finally went on their first date, their relationship was on the fast track. They have yet to set a wedding date, but Guiney says the ceremony, when it happens, will be "a real private thing." For now, they're just trying to synchronize their busy schedules: Guiney, who's based in Detroit, is currently on a 40-city tour to promote his CD 3 Sides, while Budig remains mostly in New York City taping AMC. "When he's off tour, we'll probably be in New York and go to Detroit on weekends," Budig says. Guiney, for his part, says simply, "I will go wherever she is."

Jill Smolowe. Liza Hamm in New York City and Sean Daly and Zorianna Kit in Los Angeles

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