It was a romance right out of a soap opera.
He was the dashing cancer surgeon.
She was the hot blond TV star.
He proposed over a bathtub filled with bubbles and water lilies, and slipped a five-carat fancy yellow diamond ring on her finger.
The engagement party was at her sister's Odessa home. The happy couple arrived by helicopter. They planned to marry this past September and live in the Tarpon Springs home she bought for $870,000.
But the romance began to unravel the day she got a letter from a stranger.
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Now, Crystal Hunt, a Clearwater native who played troublemaker Stacy Morasco on ABC's One Life to Live, has called off the engagement.
Her ex, Dr. Philippe Spiess, wants her to return the ring he says is worth $96,000. He wants her to compensate him for $43,000 in furniture, appliances and household items he says he bought.
A lawsuit he has filed against Hunt also claims she dumped him via BlackBerry message.
Spiess, 37, a urologic oncologist at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute in Tampa, didn't agree to an interview, saying in an e-mail he wanted to keep the suit and allegations private.
He also disagreed with the essence of Hunt's account.
"I have multiple corroborators that would support that I had been truthful with Miss Hunt with regard to this (matter)," he wrote.
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Spiess proposed on Christmas Eve, 2008. A month before, he had told Hunt he had a son.
Hunt says Spiess said the child was the result of a one-night stand and that the woman must have tricked him.
Then, on her birthday in February 2009, Hunt got an anonymous letter.
The writer said he had worked with Spiess at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, where Spiess completed a fellowship.
The writer learned of the engagement and said Hunt seemed "sweet" and "grounded" and needed to know Spiess had a previous relationship that produced a child.
At first, Spiess seemed "quite happy" about the baby, the person wrote, but within a month, he didn't want the "burden of a child."
Hunt called Spiess from New York, where she was taping One Life to Live.
According to Hunt, he got mad at her for believing the letter.
Hunt said she wanted to believe him. But to ease her mind, she hired two detectives to go to Houston.
"I had to find out if there was more to that story or not," said Hunt, 25.
There was, she said: The detectives told her the boy wasn't conceived in a one-night stand.
Spiess and the other woman were in a relationship, they said, and "had friends they hung out with together, like couple friends," Hunt said.
"I thought I was going to throw up," Hunt said.
Court records show the boy turned 2 in December. A year earlier, a Hillsborough Circuit Court judge ordered Spiess to pay a Texas woman about $18,000 in back child support, with monthly payments of $1,447.
Spiess insists he was honest with Hunt and questions her choice to hire detectives.
"The fact she elected to do such an inquiry is a reflection that this previous relationship would have never lasted," Spiess said.
The night Hunt got the detectives' report, Hunt went to dinner with a friend. She was upset. She told Spiess she needed time to think, she said.
Spiess wanted her to talk to him directly. He called her repeatedly, she said.
At times he was sweet. At others, he was "irate," even cursing at her, she said. At one point, he told her they might not work out because they were different religions. He's Jewish. She's a member of the Pentecostal Church of God.
Hours later, she was crying, mascara running down her face, she said.
"You're right," Hunt recalled saying. "This isn't going to work out. We need to part ways."
The next day, she sent him a BlackBerry message using that same excuse about the tribulations of a mixed marriage.
"There was no way I was telling him why," she said. "I was afraid like you would have no idea."
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Hunt wants to keep the ring. She says Spiess bought it from friends of her family for about $50,000.
She feels she has the right to do so after buying the home and nearly $900,000 worth of gifts for him during their relationship, she said.
But Spiess' Tampa lawyer, Ellen Ware, said Hunt is legally obligated to return the ring.
"In Florida, an engagement ring is a conditional gift. If you break off the engagement, you give the ring back," she said.
But this case may not be so clear cut, according to opinions by two Florida law professors.
Marco Jimenez, an associate professor at Stetson University College of Law, said fault determines entitlement to an engagement ring in Florida.
So, if you rely on the allegations in the suit alone, Spiess would get the ring.
But Nancy E. Dowd, a professor at the University of Florida College of Law, said Hunt "would argue that he was at fault and the reason the engagement ended is that he was not truthful and that he had acted dishonorably."
And as far as the furniture, appliances and other household items go, both professors say it boils down to ownership. A court may determine the items belong to him, her or both of them, depending on who bought them and for whom they were purchased.
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Seven years ago, Hunt landed the part of bad girl Lizzie Spaulding on the Guiding Light right from Palm Harbor University High School. She received an Emmy nomination for the role, which she departed in 2006.
Hunt joined One Life to Live in February 2009. A year later her character was killed off. Now, Hunt lives in New York and Los Angeles, where she's been looking for work in film and TV.
Just over a year ago, the couple was gushing about their relationship. Spiess told the Times they still had a lot in common despite their contrasting professions.
Says Hunt: "Literally it was perfect, and so quickly things just started to crumble."
She remembers thinking: "Am I on a soap opera?"
Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Lorri Helfand can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4155.