June 15, 1992 12:00 PM

AS THE WILD CHILD OF THE GRIMALDI FAMILY, Princess Stephanie, 27, is a longstanding favorite among those who savor tabloid tales about troubled royals. Since 1982, when she was injured in a car wreck that killed her mother, Princess Grace, Stephanie has fluttered from one infatuation to the next in a seemingly desperate search for love. Stints as a fashion model, swimsuit designer, perfume peddler and chanteuse have alternated with giddy interludes in the arms of beaux, including Rob Lowe, racecar driver Paul Belmondo, record producer Hon Bloom and Jean-Yves Le Fur, a French real estate developer to whom she was briefly engaged in 1990. She made her mistakes in public as she struggled to forge an identity beyond that of Princess Stephanie Marie Elisabeth of Monaco. “My whole life,” she said recently, “has been nothing but tremendous doubt.”

Now, to hear Stephanie tell it, life holds no more doubts. On May 15, the joyous Princess announced to a pair of French journalists that she is three months pregnant. The child, she said, was fathered by her former bodyguard, Daniel Ducruet, 27—a onetime member of Monaco’s police force who now manages a seafood-distributing business. Divorced from his first wife in the mid-1980s, he has a 4-month-old son by former girlfriend Martine Malbouvier, 32. A Frenchman born in Monaco, Ducruet met the Princess when he was assigned to the palace security detail from 1988 to October 1991. A few months before he left the post, the two began to live together. Exulted the expectant mother: “Things are completely changed. It is a happiness of such intensity, there are no words to explain it.”

By all accounts, Stephanie and Ducruet, who say they have no plans to wed immediately, are wild for one another. In an interview in her high-rise apartment in Monaco, the Princess (in brightly colored tights and a pullover) and her paramour—a well-built, athletic-looking sort—nuzzled and cuddled as they discussed the circumstances that brought them together. Said Daniel: “The first time we met…we exchanged a glance, and we couldn’t stop looking at each other…. [And now] a baby is going to emerge from that lovely little belly….” Added Stephanie: “[Daniel] helped me greatly to grow up. He really loves me for myself. He has proved to me that I am the one who counts, not what I represent.”

Friends say that Ducruet is a self-made man. In the words of one who knows him well, Stephanie’s beau is “smart, witty and loyal.” Says the friend: “Daniel’s only problem, if it is a problem, is that he was born into a poor family.” (Raised near the border in Beausoleil, France, he is the son of Henri, a manual laborer, and Maguy, a housewife.) Although Daniel attended the University of Nice for just a year, his friend lauds his “good business sense,” and adds, “he’s doing well with his company.”

The talk of Monaco on the last weekend in May, the news of the Princess’ pregnancy overshadowed both the 50th running of the Monaco Grand Prix and a gala dinner in honor of Prince Rainier’s 69th birthday (an event attended by neither Stephanie nor her elder sister, Princess Caroline). It also eclipsed the persistent rumor that Caroline (widowed in 1990 when husband Stefano Casiraghi died in a powerboat accident) is wailing for the Vatican to annul her 1978 marriage to Philippe Junot in order to wed Vincent Lindon, a 32-year-old French actor.

Following Stephanie’s announcement, magazines ran paparazzi shots of the fully swimsuited Princess (who usually bathes topless), her belly slightly protruding, frolicking with Daniel in the pool at the Monte-Carlo Beach Hotel. As it was Mother’s Day in France, Le Journal du Dimanche wished Stephanie, “Happy Mother’s Day (Future) Mother,” even as it erroneously noted that the Palace had denied that Rainier’s youngest was expecting.

Many observers wondered how the Prince had taken the news that he was to become a grandfather again. (Caroline is the mother of Andrea, 8, Charlotte, 5, and Pierre, 4.) But direct comment was not forthcoming. Said one palace source: “There will be no official statement [about the pregnancy].”

Stephanie herself told reporters, “[My family] is happy for me. To see me happy, to know that I am going to have a child, they are evidently pleased.”

Beyond that, she said little about Rainier’s reaction, though jaded Stephanie watchers speculated that her having a child by her ex-bodyguard might finally goad her tolerant father to rage. “All these things are driving the Boss [as Rainier is called by intimates] up the wall,” said one close family friend.

Others, however, note that Caroline was pregnant with Andrea when she wed Casiraghi in 1983 and that Rainier has always been particularly indulgent toward Stephanie. “She’s got a tremendously strong character,” he once said admiringly. Although the constitution specifies that no member of the family can marry without his approval, the doting Prince is deemed unlikely to refuse Daniel his daughter’s hand. “He’s got to accept both the baby and the father,” says an American friend.

Daniel’s friend confides that Ducruet “hasn’t had a father-son talk” with Rainier but adds, “He is not afraid of his future father-in-law.”

While Stephanie acknowledges that her father would undoubtedly be “delighted” if she opted for a full-dress church wedding, she says that she and Daniel have other ideas. “We don’t want a reception or any great ceremony,” she says. “I believe that the day of our marriage we will be all by ourselves or with very few others. If necessary, we have decided to go off, just the two of us, with his mother and a pal, and get married… in perfect privacy.” Rainier, she predicts, will have no objection. “I believe that he will leave it to me to choose,” she says.

The wedding date, they say, is still open for discussion. “We don’t want to rush things,” says Daniel. “We already have this happy event coming, and we do not want to seem forced to get married. Because marriage is something beautiful and not made with an idea of obligation.”

Becoming engaged undoubtedly didn’t seem part of the script when the two met in 1988. When Daniel joined the palace security staff, Stephanie had just ended an affair with French-born nightclub owner Mario Oliver and was throwing her energies into her singing career. Despite the initial attraction, neither she nor Daniel made a move. “Each of us lived what had to be lived, but we remained very close to each other, in our hearts, at least,” Daniel says.

“He never left my mind,” adds Stephanie. “There was always a place for him… in my heart.”

For the Princess, the ensuing years were restless ones: After a brief engagement to Le Fur, she recorded a second album (Stephanie) and put her name on a scent sold in Europe. When Casiraghi was killed, she seemed to lake on a new maturity—spending much of her time with the shattered Caroline and helping to care for her sister’s young children.

For his part, Daniel was occupied at the time by his relationship with Malbouvier, who lives in Beausoleil. In May 1991, Malbouvier became pregnant, and four months ago she gave birth to their son, Michael.

While rumormongers claimed that Ducruet deserted the pregnant Marline after his romance with Stephanie began last spring, a close friend says he “was always there for her.” Daniel himself maintains that he has been a devoted father. In fact he was present when Michael was born; he has been seen accompanying Martine and Michael to the pediatrician, and paparazzi have snapped him loading his son into the backseat of Stephanie’s black BMW. As the French magazine Voici put it, “Stephanie [also] respects Daniel’s fatherly involvement.”

Says Daniel: “I am taking care of that child, and I am giving an allowance to his mother. He is my flesh and blood—I am not ashamed of him. Whether I wanted him or not is nobody’s business. And I shall look after him as I look after the child Stephanie is giving to me.”

“The things that have been said about Daniel are completely astonishing,” says Stephanie. “[But] the birth of our baby is a wonderful event, and I don’t want it to be sullied.” At the suggestion that her child, too, may someday be the target of gossip, she retorts swiftly, “We will protect him—you will see the mother hen turn into a mother lion. Nobody will touch my child.”

At the moment the mother-to-be plans to put aside long-term projects such as her singing and her work with Pool Position, the company for which she designed swimsuits. “Now my family life comes before everything,” she says. Still, Italian director Ottavio Fabbri has asked the couple to star in a six-part historical TV series called Welcome to Monaco, to he shot after the birth of their baby, and they have consented—providing they won’t be forced to travel. “I do not wish to be absent [from the baby],” says Stephanie. “If [the project] required me to take my distance from my family, I would not be in agreement at all.”

Both athletic, Stephanie and Daniel, a paragliding enthusiast who introduced the Princess to the sport, say her pregnancy will be an active one. “I want to keep fit. I don’t want to become a wreck,” says Stephanie with a laugh. “I go swimming and do a bit of exercise at home, and every weekend we go off for long hikes in the mountains.”

Before the baby is born, the couple plan to move with their three dogs into a two-story home that will be built near the palace, next door to Caroline’s pink villa. For Stephanie, it will be the beginning of a new phase—one that, by her account, marks a new maturity. “I [am] ready to have this child,” she says. “I have become much more responsible. I feel myself much more a woman.”

Eager to discover the sex of their baby, the two say they are hoping for a son, whom they would call Jonathan. “We are convinced that it will be a boy,” says Stephanie. Adds Daniel: “For a daddy, it’s good to have a boy, because that is the continuity of his life.”

According to Stephanie, this will only be the beginning for the famille Ducruet. “We want to have three or four children,” she says. “At the very least, three.” And how will they be raised? “One must be very open-minded, very understanding,” she says. Daniel agrees. “We will offer the widest range of possibilities to our [children],” he says, “and then it will be up to them to make [their] choice.”

For better or worse, it seems that the restless Stephanie has found a new raison d’être. Never mind that there are cynics who claim that this pregnancy was an impulsive move, one that will sustain her interest no longer than, say, a new suitor. The Princess is convinced that she has finally found her place. “My role will be, above all, to make [this child] happy in what he does,” says the woman who has spent so much of her life struggling to define herself. “Our children,” she vows, “will not be unhappy.”