The British romance writer who found such an enthusiastic US following with The White Dove (1986) returns with a similar concoction, richly textured and pitched to prove that girls who start out wild and sluttish can eventually grow up good. Julia Smith and Mattie Banner, raised in one of London's lower-class suburbs, have reasons for their fierce adolescent rebellion: Mattie's been sexually abused by bad, drunken dad, and Julia's cold adoptive mother demonstrates daily how little she loves her. So the two girls hit the street, sleeping in an alley near the Savoy Hotel, working in shops and typing pools, finally making friends with a gay artist named Felix and his blowzy mother. Mattie's path leads her to the theater, with occasional stops in a striptease joint when the money runs out. Julia gets mixed up with men, in particular a professional skier who's great in bed but won't be fenced in by romantic commitments. She marries Sir Alexander Bliss on the rebound, bears him a daughter, Lily, then hotfoots it back to her skier just after Alexander's beloved family manse burns down. Later, alone in London, she has trouble starting a string of trendy shops while trying to raise Lily. Meanwhile, Mattie becomes a star and has a brief affair with Alexander, which puts a chill on her friendship with Julia. It takes Julia 20 years to realize that she really loves Alexander, a relationship that's rekindled after Mattie dies of an alcohol and pill overdose. Thomas takes the standard women's fiction formula, but infuses it with emotional verisimilitude, which sets her apart from the tribe of romancers, and should mean that there will be dogeared copies of this book passed among fans for months to come.