All names, places and other identifying characteristics of people involved in this story have been changed.

Cindy moved into the house on R Street near Dupont Circle that Michael had brought her. It was, as they say in the romance magazines, their "love nest."

Not too far away, in Georgetown, Michael's wife Angela lived with their two children. It was close enough to walk, and Michael often did if the weather was nice.

Ever since Angela found out about Cindy, she had kept a close watch on her husband. Cindy suspected he had told Angela that the affair was over. But since she and Michael still workedtogether, she couldn't imagine what Angela really thought.

Cindy's acceptance of her mistress status seemed to fuel Michael's ardor. And by giving up her apartment and moving into a house he had brought for them. Cindy had indeed accepted it. By the time she had been going with him for a year.

She is sitting in a Washington restaurant. As the piano tinkles in the background and the waiters hover around the table, the afternoon wears on. Soon the room is almost deserted. She is so intent on telling her story, she doesn't even notice.

She fingers the ends of her long red hair as she talks. There is no lightness in her green eyes, no sign of joy.

Her words are heavy with the desperation of a woman who had been living with a married man for seven years. They are the words of a mistress who finally has admitted to herself that the life of duplicity, of guilt, of repressed anger is not the life she wants.

At first, she says, when she moved into the R Street house she insisted on paying "rent" to her lover.

"He brought the house," she says, "with his money, but it's always been thought of as my house though it was in his name. I always wanted to pay my own way. I paid three-quarters of the mortgage and half the utilities."

Soon after Cindy moved into the old Washington townhouse, Michael, in an economy effort, decided to move his offices into the first floor.

Cindy doesn't know what he told Angela about the move, nor does she know whether Angela suspected she was living in the house with Michael. "I guess," says Cindy, "he told her I had an apartment there, too. He told her since the sucide attempt he felt sorry for me." As for what Michael told Cindy, he had it all worked out.

"He told me that he had gone back to her . . . to get everything all in order. Once he did, he was going to leave. I really believed it. And I felt I was at fault too for the way I had behaved earlier." She seems to need to blame herself, to rationalize having stayed with him for seven years.

For a while Michael and Cindy both worked at home. He had a very good deal going, says Cindy, though he wouldn't admit it to her. She was getting more and more fed up. They rarely went out and cindy's circle of friends had dwindled.

"I really think the relationship would have ended had I not become pregnant," she says.

At first she thought of abortion. "I had no problems with it. But he was against it. I felt if I had the abortion it would indeed end the relationship and hurt him. And I didn't want to do that."

And, of course, there was some part of her that wanted his child, that knew if she had his child she would have more power over him, more of a shot at getting him to leave his wife.

"I had the child -- thinking we would someday be together. The pregnancy was horrible, the worst time of my life. I can't explain how bad it was. Emotionally you need somebody at that time and if you know he could be with you and he's not, when he goes home daily to somebody else, when you know he has other priorities, well, it's really depressing.

"I tried to explain it to him. But he doesn't like to deal with those kinds of things. If I showed I needed him during that time he would pull even further away.He wanted me to have the baby for his ego more than anything else. He thought it was a love child, a fantasy in some way. In fact I think I've been more of a fantasy to him than anything else. I didn't have the abortion because it was his child and because I loved him. I still have an enormous guilt about having a child with him without being married."

At this point, Cindy couldn't afford the house payments on the salary Michael was giving her, so she rented out the top floor of two women. "And also," she says rather sadly, "they were company for me at nights and on the weekends.

"The only friends we had were business associates, Mike's and mine, and they were not close friends. They're mostly people I've given up. Today my world consists of my child and Mike. You can't have friends in a relationship like this, when you have to drop everything just because he has time and wants to be with you. You can't make plans."

When Cindy was six or seven months pregnant, Michael started going to natural-childbirth classes with her.

Shortly before the baby was born, Cindy told her parents about it. They accepted it. "They love me," she says simply. As far as Cindy knows, Michael's parents still aren't aware that they have a 4-year-old grandchild. "I'm trying to decide whether to tell them myself," she muses.

When the baby was born, Cindy named her Lee Ann and called her Lee-Lee.

When Lee-Lee was two weeks old, Cindy and Michael took her away with them on a business trip. They had no problem because outside of Washington, in cities all over the country, colleagues and political constituents know Cindy as Michael's wife. In Washington, Michael and his wife Angela have a moderately active social life and their friends have no knowledge of his other life. Somehow, Cindy and Michael have managed to carry on this subterfuge for seven years.

"Many of the out-of-town clients or Capitol Hill business associates who come to the house know all about Lee-Lee," Cindy says.

After the baby was born Cindy stopped working as Michael's assistant, and her new role as mother of his child changed his whole attitude about her professionally. He began to give her much more menial tasks. She did his typing, ran errands, chauffeured him to his Capitol Hill appointments. "That's how I get to be with him now." When he travels now, she travels as his companion not as his business associate.

"He has his mother, his wife and me all taking care of him, caring for him as a person.

"I was there to fix his lunch. If I wasn't there the expected it to be fixed and put away for him."

Michael's schedule was relatively routine. If he didn't have a lunch date, he would eat with Cindy and Lee-Lee. Afternoons he would spend on Capitol Hill, arriving back at the office around 5. He would spend the next few hours with Cindy and Lee-Lee, stay with her while she ate, and leave for home about 7:30 at night.

He had an active social life with Angela, says Cindy, and didn't like to miss going out. The weekends, she says, always belonged to Angela and the kids.

After Lee-Lee was born, Cindy stopped paying any rent money or any bills and Michael, she says, took care of most of the hospital bills. He also opened a charge account for her so she could buy things for Lee-Lee.

Cindy's life had become terribly confining and she was often in a state of depression. Michael realized this and promised her a trip to London in the summer. She got all excited, bought travel brochures and books and spent hours planning their dream trip, her first trip abroad. But nothing was ever arranged. Meanwhile Michael told Cindy that he would have to take Angela and the kids to Boston in August to visit his parents. She didn't believe him. She called the travel agency and learned what she had suspected but did not really want to know.

Michael was taking Angela to London.

"I went crazy," she recalls. "All he could say by way of explanation was that Angela needed something to tell her friends about." They left Washington and went to Europe for a month. Cindy and Lee-Lee went Texas for that month to stay with her sister. She had a long talk with her sister about her relationship with Michael.

"She told me, 'If you can use it and get out of it what's good for you, then fine. Otherwise, get out.'"

Cindy took that advice to heart. She felt good getting away from her claustrophobic existence in Washington. She met a lot of nice people. "I had a wonderful time.

"In Texas nobody asked any questions about Lee-Lee. It was so different from Washington. They were so accepting. I even took Lee-Lee out on dates a couple of times."

When Michael got back from Europe with Angela, he called Cindy from the airport and rushed over to see her. He told her he couldn't bear being away from her and said it had been a terrible mistake for him to leave.

"You feed on that," she says. "That's what I wanted to hear. Even though intellectually I knew it was a crock." Solitary Holidays

Holidays. Those are always the worst days. There are songs written about them: The mistress sits alone by the telephone contemplating suicide while the man is living it up in front of the fire and the Christmas tree with his beloved family. It all sounds so corny. It's also true. Certainly in Cindy's case.

Michael has always spent Christmas Eve with her. Never Christmas Day. Even this last Christmas, seven years later. "He told me Angela knew he was coming to see me so she took his car keys and hid them."

Did Cindy suspect he was lying? "Oh, of course." This past Christmas it really got to her. Her parents were visiting and Cindy says they know Michael and like him, though they don't understand or approve of the situation. He told them he would come over on Christmas Day for dinner. He never showed up. They were upset.

He did show up for Thanksgiving dinner last year, for the first time. He ate at home, then at Cindy's. And he spent New Year's Eve with Cindy this year while his wife was at home waiting for him to show up. He had promised Angela he would be home. He later told her he was working.

"I always thought that was terrible," says Cindy. "Even though I wanted him to be with me. The idea that she would have to sit there and expect him to show up. That's what's so awful. He's done it to me so many times. And I know how often he's dont it to her."

Most years, Cindy would just try to pretend Christmas didn't exist. "I did not decorate or have a tree or anything. I just stayed in my bedroom in bed with the door closed all day long. I kept telling myself that it is this way this year but next year it will be different. It has to. It just has to. I'm an optimist. It just has to get better."

This past Christmas, says Cindy, was the worst, even though her parents were with her. "It was awful that Mike wasn't there for Lee-Lee. He said, 'Well, she's only 4. She doesn't understand.' Well, she does understand. And he had just missed Lee-Lee's birthday party. He came over but he was three hours late. Lee-Lee just waited and kept asking where her daddy was . . ." Love Lingers

The restaurant is completely empty now and the annoying whirr of the vacuum cleaners has replaced the soft piano music.

It is dark outside but Cindy doesn't seem to notice. Her conversation still has a strange, detached air to it, even when she is talking about the most depressing parts of her relationship with Michael. But she will not let herself dwell on her anguish. As she says herself, she is an optimist.

After a long silence, she begins to talk again.

"Every time I get to a point where I am totally depressed and think it's not going to work," she says, "he swears he's going to leave her. And he does something to make me believe it, like the trip to Europe. These things make you hopeful. For instance, I know that money is important to him. So when he spends it, it means something to me. Then maybe I think I blew things out of proportion."

She thinks a lot these days about her feelings for him and whether or not she loves him. "Mike was the first man I ever really fell in love with. He was a certain person then. He's changed a lot. I don't see him through rose-colored glasses anymore, but I know he's better than what he appears to be. I know that sounds stereotypical of me to say that, but I believe that he's caught in a web of circumstances and there's a part of me that excuses him because of his background.

"He still fascinates me, still causes my heart to beat fast, still interests me for an evening of conversation, and I still enjoy making love to him. But I'm afraid that this love has been tainted so much by all the garbage that has gone on. If there ever was a possibility that it could work, and I don't think there is, I wonder if we could come through it?"

The bitterest part for Cindy is that she feels "Mike's been so unhappy lately. If he could get rid of everything I think he'd get rid of me too. When a man is tired of his life and wants a change it usually includes the mistress, too, because she represents all the same garbage he went through in his marriage."

It was a year-and-a-half ago that things really began to go badly for Cindy and Michael. That was when she got pregnant for the second time, when she decide to have the abortion. Though Michael was unhappy about the abortion, he was more realistic about the future this time, and that angered Cindy. She began to see the writing on the wall. The abortion had hurt her, but it had also made her start thinking about what was in it for her and the security of her daughter. And she began, for the first time, to lose hope that he would ever leave Angela for her.

At about the same time, Angela got an anonymous letter telling her about Cindy, and mentioning Lee-Lee. An ugly argument ensued, but again Michael did not leave home.

"He talks about Angela a lot," says Cindy. "He excuses her. He accepts her. She can do things that are tolerated, whereas if I did them I would be bitched at, complained to."

Last September, Cindy told Michael she was leaving. For good.

The final plow: Once again, at the beginning of the summer, he had told Cindy he was taking his family to a resort for the month of August. Once again she found out the truth. He was taking his family to Europe.

"It gets a little old after a while," she says. "I called the travel agent. I have a good sixth sense. I can tell when he is lying. I told him I wasn't going through that again."

She went to Texas with Lee-Lee again. When she came back, Michael was unhappy and depressed. He told her he was thinking about selling the house on R Street. She decide it was time to broach the subject of her security and Lee-Lee's future.

"He was very noncommittal. He told me I was greedy. So I went to see an attorney. Because of the Marvin case in Califorina, they just lapped it up. I learned a lot of things. I had an attorney write him a letter. He hit the ceiling. He said how could I not trust him. It was sheer hell, what he put me through, as my attorney said he would. h

"Finally, he said, 'Well, if that's what's making you unhappy I'll change the deed.' That, by the way, never happened. He told me he would ask Angela to sign away her one-third dower according to District law. Then he told me she wouldn't do it. I don't believe he ever asked her. lAll of last winter he was really upset with me. He'd have a couple of drinks and that's all I would hear."

He said he had told his wife that Cindy was going to sue him for breach of promise. "I think he probably told her he didn't know whose daughter Lee-Lee was."

"But he signed the birth certificate I found a note from her in his coat suggesting to him that he hire a private detective to get the birth certificate. Don't think I haven't thought of sending her a copy of it myself." Solace in Acapulco

At this point, Cindy again went to work for Michael -- as his secretary. "It was horrible. I was too overqualified. I thought I could do it because I was at home and I knew the business, and also I hate having people being brought into my home to work. Besides, it's not zoned for an office. It wasn't a good thing. He wasn't paying me as much as he'd paid his own secretary."

He did buy her an expensive mink coat during that time, though she says "I'm not really a fur-and-diamond sort of person." And too, he had begun renovations in the house, putting in costly luxury items. "I think he has trouble spending money on me, though," she says.

When Michael finally took off for Europe with his wife last August, Cindy and her sister decided to go to Acapulco.

She sent Lee-Lee to Kentucky to stay with her parents.

"My self-esteem was at the rock-bottom," she says. "In terms of work I felt I couldn't accomplish anything. I was scared to go job-hunting. But the trip made all the difference. I met really attractive guy down there and a lot of other nice people. By the time Mike got back from Europe I was already going for the weekend to see this guy I had met in Acapulco. He came in and said, 'Here I am.' When I told him about the other guy, he was very upset. He couldn't believe I would leave him. He came back the next day and brought me a present, a gold chain. He wanted to talk. While he was in Europe, he said, he had made decisions, plans.

"I couldn't listen to that anymore. I had heard it so many times before.I said, 'If you're going to leave Angela, then leave.'

"'No,' he said. 'I have to know you'll be there.'"

This past fall, Cindy says, she and Michael had almost no relationship. He was there during the day working, but he would go home early. And she was going out more since she had met several people in Acapulco. She was also job-hunting.

Then, in the middle of October, he went on an overnight trip and asked her to go with him. She did. The next day after work; he left as usual to go home. But he was back by 9 p.m.

He told her he had left his wife. She wasn't as enthusiastic as he had expected her to be. He got upset. The next day he went back home. He told her he had to get his clothes. "That," she said, "was it."

The last couple of months, the relationship has been tumultuous, with lots of emotional discussions.

"He kept trying to prove he was changing, trying to make me feel he cared about me." He showed up for Thanksgiving (he'd already eaten one meal at home) and he began to spend occasional weekends. Then the crunch came. Little Lee-Lee began to ask him where he went at night. "Oh, I go to work, I see some people," replied her father.

It wasn't good enough, either for Lee-Lee or Cindy. "Now Lee-Lee asks every day, and especially on weekends, where her father is. Mike can be very loving and caring and at other times he seems totally unconcerned. The more he talks about leaving, the more he does things to indicate he's not going to -- responding to Angela's needs, taking her out. Before Christmas this year he began to tell me, 'You're just like she is, you're just as bad. Why should I go from the frying pan into the fire? I get bitching here and I get bitching there.'

"I think she has the right to bitch more than I do. Though every so often he'll tell me he knows I put up with more, that I've tolerated more."

She is trying to make some sense of her story. At one point she explains that the reason she is telling the story is that she has lost all perspective on her life, that she has no idea what she is doing or how it appears to others. In some detached way she wants to see it in print, see it realistically from the point of view of an objective observer. She becomes very pensive, philosophical.

The waiters are beginning to set up the restaurant for dinner. She is offered coffee or tea. She wants nothing to drink, only to mull over her situation.

"The man loves me," she says finally. "At one time we could have been very happy together. I don't think so now. I think there's too much that's gone on. I'm prepared to deal with him next week in terms of 'it's absolutely over.' But I'm not sure that I've absolutely dealt with it. That it is over.

"I've always thought there must be a key to it all somewhere there must be a solution. My lawyer says I need help. Even though I've been around seven years and I know what the likelihood is every time he says he'll leave her, or he lies to me, when it happens I'm shocked. How can a person really be like that? Am I really that sick?"

She going over it as though she is alone now, as though she is thinking out loud.

"Even if he leaves her, what kind of a relationship could we possibly have. . . . We went to the theater last night. I was quiet. 'Why are you so grumpy?' he asked me. 'You know you love me. You know you're crazy about me.' He takes me for granted . . . I know he behaves exactly the same way with her. He swears he doesn't sleep with her. I know we're all the three of us a little crazy. But I don't believe any woman can live with a man without some sort of nurturing." The Common Bond

Only recently has Cindy begun to feel sorry for Angela, to sympathize -- indeed, empathize -- with her.

It has occurred to her that Michael has effectively pitted the two of them against each other, made them hate each other when in fact he is the one they should both be angry at, if not at themselves for putting up with him. Now she is questioning things he has told her about Angela.

"He comes in lots of times and tells me things she has said about me. He know I'm going to get upset. He enjoys having the two of us against each other so he can be in the middle. If I call there she hangs up. I did it when he was late for Lee-Lee's birthday. He had promised to be there. I was so angry. It was a stupid thing to do . . . She's in the same predicament I am. That's what I wish she could see aout me. We do share a common bond. It's not so simple for me to pack up and take off any more than a wife can. You develop a relationship. It's not that easy to break.

"Sometimes I hate him. And I'm seething all the time," she says. "Much more, recently, than ever before. I'd rather not hear anything from him about his leaving Angela.

"But I have to hear it and have it blamed on me. It's my fault that he hasn't left her because I'm so bitchy. At the same time I know that if we get away, like we're taking a trip out of town next week, that it's possible to put this out of my mind. The love is eroding though.

"It worries me about Lee-Lee. If I felt that Mike were going to be a responsible father I could deal with it, but I'm not sure of it because he hasn't been there when I needed him . . . and there's all the trashy stuff . . . Most of the time I tell myself, I rationalize his behavior. He does indeed believe he is doing what's best for everyone concerned. He feels this enormous amount of guilt that he's not able to cope with. I feel badly that I haven't been able to help him . . ."

It is time to go. Cindy has spilled out her story. She still doesn't have any answers, but there is a sense of relief there, just in the unburdening. She gathers her bag and gloves, puts on her jacket, starts to get up, sits back in her seat. She blurts out a question, more to herself than to anyone else.

"How could I love someone like this?" she asks. "I don't have an answer. I just don't know." Epilogue

She has become more and more fond of the man she met in Acapulco. She has been to New York to visit him and she sees a real possibility in the relationship. "He is wonderful," she says. "He knows about the situation. He is very sympathetic. Still, I want to play out this other thing."

This past week she took a trip with Michael out of town for a night. During dinner, he began to cry. He told her that he had been crying uncontrollably for the past several weeks, that he had cried all weekend and that he had offered his wife anything if she would leave him. He still couldn't get the courage to leave her.

Cindy felt real pity for him. For the first time in years she felt like the strong one, "the controlled one" she had been as a young woman in Kentucky.

She knew she had seemed detached at the lunch. She said it was the only way she could tell her story without crying. "I just want to say that my involvement with Mike came from an enormous amount of love and attraction. I would not have stayed if there had not been love. Love on both sides.

"If he had ever said 'I don't want you, I don't want it,' then I wouldn't have stayed with him. At this dinner I told him he should step away, he should leave me. He cried. He said, 'I need you. I can't live my life without you.'

"You know," she says with nothing but sorrow in her voice, "he really is a broken man."