Playing the Field

updated 04/26/2004 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/26/2004 01:00AM

As new tabloid stories of her husband's alleged sexcapades kept sparking up like a gag birthday candle, former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham put on a brave face at the couple's mansion on April 12 to celebrate her impending 30th. As the pop singer known as Posh and soccer star David Beckham, 28, prepared for guests, a radio could be heard from the house. The Percy Sledge standard "When a Man Loves a Woman" came on the dial. "And someone turned it right up," says a witness. "Very loud."

Not loud enough to keep the British from buzzing: What woman, or women, did Beckham not love? And what did this mean for the future of "Posh and Becks"—in celeb wattage, England's equivalent to Brad and Jen—married for almost five years and the parents of sons Brooklyn, 5, and Romeo, 19 months? The scandal erupted April 4, when the News of the World tabloid reported that Beckham had had an affair with twentysomething former assistant Rebecca Loos late last year—and, worse, printed purported phone-text messages in which he used embarrassingly explicit language. The allegations, said Beckham, were "ludicrous." But a mere week later came reports of more racy text messages to Sarah "Kiki" Marbeck, 29, a Malaysian-born model who claims she was his lover while Posh was pregnant with Romeo. Within days the British tabloids had linked Beckham, who spends most of his time on his own in Spain playing soccer, to at least five other ladies, with stories (some of them paid for) involving wild hotel nights and still more naughty text-messaging. A rep for one alleged recipient, Spanish model Esther Cañadas, had no comment. But British soap actress Stacey Winfield told PEOPLE last year that Beckham propositioned her, and she refused.

Fighting back with hand-holding photo ops, Becks and Posh, in a statement, "dismiss these stories" and have consulted a lawyer. Even if there are more shocks, those close to the two think they'll survive. "They were the paradigm of a golden couple, and now everyone's saying they're not so golden after all," says a friend. "But Victoria wants to stay married to David. She loves him deeply."

Tom Gliatto. Bryan Alexander, Courtney Rubin and Sara Hammel in London

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