Less than a year after their fairy-tale wedding, the pair are fighting an Atlanta stripper's claim that he cheated

By Michelle Tauber
Updated November 16, 2009 12:00 PM

Looking sleek in a tightly cinched Valentino dress and chatting happily with partygoers at a New York City benefit on Oct. 27, singer Fergie couldn’t stop gushing about her 10-month marriage to actor Josh Duhamel. Married life is “wonderful!” she told PEOPLE at an Avon Foundation for Women event. Although the two had been apart lately–she has been touring with her chart-topping group, the Black Eyed Peas, and he has been in Atlanta filming the romantic comedy Life As We Know It with Katherine HeiglFergie said the pair had arranged a “romantic rendezvous” during a recent tour stop in Oklahoma City. “We had a nice date at Mickey Mantle’s [restaurant],” she said. “Then we stopped at this country bar and danced. It was a lot of fun.”

Just one day later the fun came to a screeching halt when a tabloid story surfaced claiming that Duhamel, 37, had cheated on Fergie (real name: Stacy Ferguson), 34, with an Atlanta stripper. Duhamel’s rep immediately denied the allegation: “This is not the first, nor will it be the last, time that a stripper was paid a large amount of money to sell a false story about a celebrity. This story is absolutely ridiculous.” But the scandal exploded when the stripper, Nicole Forrester, 34, gave a tell-all interview to Atlanta radio station Q100 on Nov. 2, in which she detailed her alleged fling with the Transformers star in early October. Forrester went on to tell PEOPLE on Nov. 3 that she met the actor when he turned up at her strip club, Tattletales, and that he initially referred to himself only as “JD.” “We had a few cocktails and I did one dance,” she says, adding that he contacted her a few days later to arrange a meeting at the St. Regis hotel in Atlanta, where the pair “had sex … for a long time.” Forrester, who says she signed a contract with the National Enquirer, says Duhamel claimed to be a porn star and “kept referring to himself as Josh.” Forrester maintains there are text messages from the actor in which he asks her “U okay?” (The club’s general manager Tom Hudson says that Duhamel met Forrester at the club, and that Forrester later told him about their liaison at the St. Regis.)

Before the story ran in the Enquirer, Forrester says, Duhamel called her. “He said, ‘I don’t know how this happened,’ and he was telling me he loved his wife.”

On the set of Life As We Know It, a source observed that Duhamel “seemed withdrawn. Just unhappy looking. His mind was somewhere else.” Off the set, though, he was friendly with fans who spotted him outside the Tin Lizzy’s Cantina in Atlanta on Oct. 28. “I’ve seen Josh flirting with girls all over the place–but it is hard to tell if that is just being nice to fans or a come-on for later,” says a source. “But he has not stayed home in his hotel every night–that is for sure.”

As the scandal grew, Fergie–who a backstage observer says was in “high spirits” at an Oct. 30 Madison Square Garden concert, even picking up a designer T-shirt for her husband–left New York City after attending a Halloween party for a long-planned visit with Duhamel in Atlanta. On Nov. 3 her rep said, “These allegations are nonsense.”

The couple’s romance began in 2004, after Fergie appeared on Duhamel’s NBC series, Las Vegas. They got engaged in 2007 and celebrated with more than 300 guests at a fairy-tale wedding in Malibu on Jan. 10, 2009. But friends of the couple’s say the relationship isn’t without its hiccups. There have been tabloid reports of Duhamel’s wandering eye, and in 2006 he was photographed in a risque pose with a woman poolside. “For years [Fergie‘s] heard rumors [of Duhamel’s cheating], confronted Josh, and he’s denied it, over and over,” one of her close friends tells PEOPLE. Says a music industry source who knows them well: “They’re two very different, very passionate people.” And in recent years the couple “have both put career very high, and often before each other, and they’ve spent less and less time with each other,” says the source. “She’s certainly disappointed with all the rumors about cheating. It hurts. They’re both very devoted to each other so they’ll work through whatever issues they have, but it’s not easy.”