September 09, 1996 12:00 PM

FOUR MONTHS HAVE PASSED SINCE Debbe Dunning’s home pregnancy test registered positive, but her fiancé, former Olympic volleyball player Steve Timmons, 37, still seems awestruck by events. After a two-month romance, the two were talking about a wedding—but hadn’t planned a family yet—and Dunning, 30, best known as Heidi, Home Improvement’s Tool Time Girl, can remember to the word her slack-jawed beau’s response when he heard the news.

“I was working out all day, and I was wearing a Speedo, and I was in a hot Jacuzzi,” he said. “It kills…those things.”

Dunning still teases him about his response. “Your Olympic sperm?” she often tells him. “I’m sure they’re not going to die that easily.”

Dunning and Timmons have come a long way together since last January, when they had a blind date for breakfast at a little cafe in Del Mar, Calif. Neither of them was much up for the encounter. Timmons, a 6’5″ USC grad and volleyball star of the 1984 and ’88 Games, was still aching from the breakup in 1993 of his three-year marriage to Jeanie Buss, daughter of L.A. Lakers owner Jerry Buss. And anyway, as he told the mutual pal who set them up, “I’m not into the actress type.” Dunning, also smarting from the recent end of a serious romance, was less than impressed when she saw Timmons drive up in his white Ford truck: “My first reaction was ‘cocky, cocky, cocky’ ”

Her second impression—a few minutes later—was different. “He had the biggest smile I’d ever seen,” she says, “and he was so soft-spoken and humble—I had to keep putting my sunglasses on so it wasn’t so obvious that I was staring.” Meanwhile, Timmons, who runs his own beachwear company, Redsand, in San Diego, quickly got over his actress issue. They began dating, taking turns shuttling between his three-bedroom home in San Diego and her four-bedroom home in the San Fernando Valley. Timmons’s friends were astonished by the change in him. Says fellow volleyball player Al Janc: “He’d been down and almost reclusive. Then along comes Debbe.”

Two months after they met, on a cool April evening, the couple went for a walk along the beach in Del Mar. “I told her how much I loved her and how I was looking forward to our life together,” says Timmons. “Then my speech ran a little long, and her neck got a little tired looking up at me, and she said, ‘Do you mind getting down on one knee and doing this?’ ” Dunning smiles at the memory. “He was crying,” she says. “The sun was about to set. It was perfect timing.” Dunning instantly accepted.

The timing of her pregnancy, however, was less perfect. “I wanted our relationship to stay as magic as it had been for at least a year or two,” she says. “I thought, ‘This is going to scare the heck out of him.’ ” Instead, she remembers happily, “I was crying, and he put his arms around me and said, ‘Whatever you decide, I’ll stand by you.’ ”

Dunning never had any doubt about keeping the baby, but she wondered how pregnancy might affect her career. The actress had been a high school track star in Burbank, Calif., where she was raised by her father, Bob, a sound technician, and her mother, Diane, a pet-store owner. Since she had supported herself through modeling, she knew her sculpted figure was partly her claim to fame. What’s more, she loved being on Home Improvement, in a role she had inherited from Pamela Lee in 1993. She was, she says, “really stressed” about calling the show’s star, Tim Allen, with the news that his Tool Time Girl was with child.

Allen chuckles as he remembers her nervousness. “I told her,” he says, “that it was all very convenient, because I was auditioning some new Tool Time girls right then anyway. There was this long pause where she was hoping I’d say, ‘I’m kidding.’ But of course I didn’t—I left her hanging for a while.”

“Obviously,” says Dunning, “he didn’t know how emotional pregnant women can be.”

Dunning’s pregnancy is being worked into next season’s episodes, which began filming in early August, and she says she hopes other women will watch and be able to relate. “My stomach got huge right away,” she says. “I was craving Der Weinerschnitzel chili cheese dogs, fresh pineapples and oranges.”

Timmons, too, has “put on a little bit of weight,” notes Jane. “He eats and sleeps right along with her.” The couple have set a tentative wedding date next May, but—since they continue to travel together between homes—they are building nurseries in both. And, they say, they’d like to have more children. Timmons says he knows what that takes—doing what he did before: “working out, sitting in the Jacuzzi and getting into those Speedos again.”


JOHNNY DODD in San Diego

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