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Danielle Steel. Delacorte Press, $26.95 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-385-31957-7

Many a stay-at-home mom's worst nightmare is realized in Steel's latest novel when India Taylor's husband, Doug, threatens to end their 17-year marriage if she dares to pursue her long-abandoned photojournalism career. Doug repetitively intones that marriage is by necessity an unromantic contract in which the wife's sole purpose is to care for the home, kids and husband, and if she reneges on her end of the deal with a pipe dream of independence, that is the ultimate ""deal breaker."" But in tried-and-true Steel (Mirror Image, etc.) fashion, India has a handsome Wall Street billionaire, Paul Ward, in the wings. His glamorous wife--an internationally bestselling author--dies in a plane crash several months after he and India have struck up a close friendship. But then Paul turns guilty and skittish about the budding romance, leaving India alone to face the harsh realities of being a single mom of four. Predictably, India's desolation is brief, punctuated by travel, adventure, a thrilling new career and a near-tragedy to put everything into perspective. As usual, Steel takes a theme of interest or concern to many--in this case, a woman striking out on her own--and turns it into a compulsively readable tale. With its swiftly moving story line and tidy love-conquers-all ending, Steel's latest should gratify her millions of fans. Major ad/promo. (Apr.)