Washington is a city of dreams, great and small, of hopes both foolish and daringly grand. -- Maureen Dean, "Washington Wives"

Her ample breast strained under the taut, delicate emerald silk of her blouse. She couldn't resist his offer. She was weak with desire, hungry for the kind of deep satisfaction only he could provide. It had consumed her very being and sent shivers of anticipation down her spine. She knew, at last, what she wanted. Her pliable, pink rosebud lips parted.

"Pasta," she said at last, handing the menu to the waiter, who nodded, his taut chest heaving with relief. "I love pasta."

Maureen Dean, a k a Mo, leaned against the muted tapestry wing chair in the dimly lit Washington restaurant and sighed with pleasure. Her hair, the color of fresh Kruggerands, was pulled back in a loose ponytail. It shone in the darkened room, heavy with paneling and the hot breath of political fortune. So did her diamond bangle bracelets.

Yes, she said, her latest book, "Washington Wives," is fiction. A roman a` Krantz. Of course it has to be. Everyone knows there's no sex in Washington. Dean disagrees.

"I think wherever you have power, you're going to attract sex. It's the stress factor." Men in power centers feel "they earned the right to have a mistress. It's part of being successful."

She started writing the book nearly three years ago after Arbor House approached her. First they just wanted her name, and provided her with a ghostwriter. She balked at his first draft ("It was a man writing a woman's story; it just didn't come off") and sat down to write her own. After all, she was the wife of John Dean, former counsel to President Richard Nixon. She was the one who lived through Watergate, her hair slicked back in an "I Remember Mama" bun every day for weeks of his testimony.

I remember Mo-Mo. Was it really 15 years ago?

Those clothes! That hair! Such an ice queen, the press said. She sat there like a Saks Fifth Avenue mannequin, never even daring to go to the ladies' room. "I held it," she confirmed yesterday.

And while Chuck Colson and Jeb Magruder found comfort in God after the political scandal, Mo Dean has turned to money and sex. Everyone thinks she and John are divorced, but the Deans (he's her third husband) just celebrated their 15th anniversary. She's 42, childless and a successful stockbroker. (Yes, she bought herself that diamond ring the size of a socket wrench on her left finger.) He's an investment banker. They live in Beverly Hills with a dog named Joy. She goes to parties without him. "He's not a social creature."

It took her so long to finish the book that she was actually able to include the Donna Rice/Gary Hart debacle in the manuscript. What luck! Trash imitating life! Pulsating, throbbing bodies coupling willy-nilly in the White House, the Hay-Adams, the Watergate. Men in (and out) of $40 Egyptian cotton broadcloth boxer shorts, women in beaded Galanos gowns, drenched in lust, greed and Giorgio.

"It's not dirty," Dean said, defending the explicit, nonstop sex. "It's steamy."

The water jet turned his hair into a shiny black hood, plastering it to his forehead and into his eyes. He reached for her as she stepped into the tub and pulled her against the matted hair of his chest. Their mouths met instantly, devouring each other in a deep kiss as the water streamed over their naked bodies.

"It's my vivid imagination at work," she said, laughing. "It's meant for sheer entertainment. Nothing more."

Her mouth was as soft as cashmere, but her lips were firm.

The mini-plot revolves around the death of the president's chief of staff and the hot-blooded scramble for his successor. The three Washington Wives are the spouses of the contenders. The proper, boarding-school-educated Jan Kirkland, the vivacious Sinclare Ives and the alcoholic Caroline Riggs.

Mo Dean says there's "a little bit of me" in all of the characters, including the voluptuous high-priced hooker Echo Bourne.

Her ice princess good looks and cheerful readiness to do even the most menial task soon brought her to the attention of the men planning Nixon's fall election -- or coronation as some called it ... The day she stepped into the outer lobby of the committee chairman's office she was wearing an angora sweater. It was light blue and a size too small ... He moved his eyes up to her nicely shaped thighs and tiny waist. He lingered on the sweater longingly.

Maureen Kane, former flight attendant and nice Catholic girl from California, met John Dean while she was working for the National Committee on Marijuana and Drug Abuse. She was the daughter of a diamond setter and had been voted "Best Looking" in high school. People told her she looked like Grace Kelly. "Which I always thought was the greatest compliment." She was a beautiful single woman, with an upturned nose and California party girl demeanor and a terrific figure. "I was like any young person who liked to have a good time. I had fun." Barry Goldwater Jr. introduced her to Dean. He was divorced too. They lived together for a while before bowing to convention and marrying.

She was never really a Washington Wife, per se. Shortly after they were married, Watergate broke. But she feels she spent enough time here to observe the species.

They would circle and size each other up for some flaw, some hint that someone else was less than they were, an ounce heavier, a wrinkle older, an inch of hemline less well-turned-out. They batted their eyes like cartoon fawns and said airhead things they didn't mean. She shuddered just thinking about those women, whose lives were based not on talent or worth but on their husband's last appointment or election.

"The women in Washington are strong," Dean said, reaching for her water glass. "I think it's a very hard life, politics." She calls her own experience "baptism by fire," but she's gotten over it. Her eyes tear up a little at the memory. "I'm really fortunate that I have a lot of very wonderful lady friends. In Los Angeles, not unlike Washington, it's hard for women. They're in their forties, they have to start working and they have to help each other. It's really satisfying to see women band together."

She said she doesn't view the spouses of politicians "as doormats at all. "I'm happy to see that these days the Washington wife in general is more in the news. Elizabeth Dole, Nancy Reagan. It's partnerships that are being formed. The political wife makes choices. She decides whether to participate in her husband's campaign or she can have her own identity."

You need friends, she said, because "your husband is not always there. He's working long hours, often weekends and if you don't have your own life or something that is really yours, you get lost."

If it hadn't been for Watergate, she said, "John could have been attorney general, or an ambassador someplace."

Is John going to write "Washington Husbands"?

She guffawed. "No. 'Blind Ambition' was enough."

He helped her write the book. She wanted to scrap it several times, but didn't. "I was scared because I didn't really know if I could do this," she said in her breathy, little girl voice. "There are times you get so tired, you think, 'I can't do this.' "

She is considering having plastic surgery. "I don't know though. I had a girlfriend who had her eyes done and she couldn't close them for six months because the doctor took too much. She had to put this goonk in her eyes every night to keep them lubricated. And sleep with a mask. It's risky stuff."

Her favorite authors are Judith Krantz and Stephen King.

"Washington Wives" has, naturally, been optioned for a movie. "Living in Los Angeles, when I meet new people, everybody wants to know about Washington. The perception out there in America is that Washington is a very fast-paced, sexy city."

That image of Washington bureaucrats will certainly get a boost after America reads about "the Ziegler switch." A little red light that goes on outside the White House press secretary's office door when he wants to be alone. If you get the drift.

Were all the president's men really that randy? After all, they were Republicans.

"They did have their fun," she said mischievously.

When the Iran-contra hearings were on, Mo Dean was glued to her set. She was worried about Fawn Hall. "I was nervous for her. But she handled herself so well. I was pleased to see that a secretary in Washington could get that kind of coverage and be articulate. I was pleased. I think she did a lot for women."

There's more talk of sex and politics and pasta.

Does she think her book will be a best seller?

"That's the stuff that dreams are made of," she said dreamily.

Big dreams and small dreams, tall ones, short ones, hot and cold ones.

She digs into the creamy plate of noodles.

"This is very spicy," she said, somewhat surprised.

But hey, this is Washington.