She was alone in her efficiency apartment yesterday. He was opening Christmas presents with his wife and three children.

"He called two days ago." she said during a Christmas Day interview pouring herself a cup of coffee and lighting a cigarette, "I don't think he'll call today. It's hard, you know, to slip away to a phone booth."

Their affair started six months ago. She: 29, tall and blonde, college educated and coolly independent. He: 50, out-of-state businessman, wheeling and dealing with the government bureaucracy in an expensive Washington hotel suite for months at a time. They met at a bar. She didn't know he was married.

She recalled yesterday that it was one of her rules to never date married men, adding. "But before I knew it, I was caught."

Putting another Stevie Wonder record on the stero, she settled back into a velvet chair and rubbed her eyes, puffy from too little sleep and too much champagne consumed at a friend's house the night before.

"I know he'd rather be with me today than with his wife and kids," she says confidently.

"He's the one who's suffering, not me. Don't get me wrong, I miss him a lot and would love to spend, Christmas with him, but I'm free. He's not. Essentially, I don't have to deal with his wife."

Like many other single women in Washington, women who realize that Christmas Day is a family affair, she was alone yesterday, hoping for the phone to ring -- knowing that it probably wouldn't.

"I have a girlfriend whose been dating the same married man for 12 years. The girl really suffers every holiday season. It starts at Thanksgiving and doesn't end until after New Year's. It's too sad for her to be alone in her apartment. This year, she went away for Christmas."

Suddenly the telephone rings. It's not he.

"He gave me $500 for Christmas. "It's not that I don't love you' he told me. 'It's just that I didn't have time to go shopping.' But that's fine with me," she said laughing. "I can get what I want. Or pay some bills."

She gave him after-shave lotion and ski socks.

He is not paying her rent, she said. She supports herself with two jobs: real estate during the day and bartending at night.

"It's tough," she said. "Sometimes I feel like a one-woman push cart."

She says that if he wants to divorce his wife and marry her, that's fine. If not, that's fine, too. "I don't want to be a little homewrecker, she said. As for marriage, "there's too many strings."

"Sometimes I think I want to have children," she said, looking out the curtained window. "He wanted to get me a puppy so I'd have something to remind me of him all the time."

She is dating him exclusively, and has kept the relationship from her friends and family. As for him, she says she doesn't know if he's seeing anyone else. "I figure if he cheats on his wife; he could cheat on me too," she laughs.

There is a chance that his family will move to Washington. There is a chance that the affair will end. "I hold back, emotionally, you know? I know there's really no future in it, but I take it day by day."

She gazes at the brilliant red poinsetta plant-- a gift from a colleague -- and shrugs her shoulders. "In the broad spectrum of things, I don't really endorse this kind of relationship. But it's crazy, now. Nobody has any values. Nobody knows what they want."