If Nicholas Sparks didn't exist in real life, a romantic writer—someone like, well, Nicholas Sparks—would have to invent him. Not only does the 34-year-old author of the best-selling heart-tuggers Message in a Bottle, The Notebook and The Rescue send roses to his wife, Cathy, 34, "for no reason"—he also rescues her from the daily routine of raising sons Miles, 9, Ryan, 7, and Landon, 10 months. "Once," says Sparks, "I led her upstairs to a bubble bath, potpourri and her favorite magazines." Like any passionate hero, he's more than just attentive. A former college track star, he keeps his 5'11" frame in shape by lifting weights and running some 40 miles a week near the family's New Bern, N.C., home. There, "he spends time with his kids, and I think that's what's sexy," says Cathy, who met her husband in 1988 while on spring break in Florida when he was a senior at Notre Dame and she was at the University of New Hampshire. They married a year later. "You've got to be in love first, then you have to keep it alive," says Sparks. "You have to make time for each other."