By Maria Eftimiades
June 28, 1993 12:00 PM

TENSION IS HIGH IN THE SMALL RENTAL beach house in chichi Southhampton, N.Y. Ashley Richardson—SPORTS ILLUSTRATED’S towering (6’1″) 1991 swimsuit-issue cover model—cuddles her then month-old daughter, Daisy, and casts a disdainful glance at the tall, dark-haired man sunbathing on the back deck. “It’s so weird,” she whispers. “He just showed up. Uninvited.”

The interloper just in from Los Angeles, she explains, is a former boyfriend, Wilhelmina model Brian Buzzini, 30—who also happens to be the father of her little girl. It is the couple’s first encounter since a bitter argument last December, several months after Richardson learned she was pregnant. “If he wants to visit, he can,” says Richardson, 28, of Buzzini, “but he made it impossible for us to be friends.”

Buzzini’s two-day stop-in caps a tumultuous 16 months for Richardson. In a messily public breakup, she dumped Miami club owner Paul Montana after a two-year marriage, got pregnant by Buzzini and parted on not-so-friendly terms with her longtime agency, Ford. And yet, for a single mom suddenly without her $6,000-a-day career, Richardson is distinctly unfrazzled. “Nothing has been as hard as anyone said it would be,” she says. “I guess I have a positive altitude toward things.”

Except Buzzini, that is. The pair met on a modeling job last July. The attraction was instant. When the photo shoot ended, she returned to her loft in Manhattan, he to L.A., and the couple spoke daily by phone. In September, Richardson flew west for a quick visit. A month later she discovered she was pregnant. I neasy about Buzzini’s reaction, she asked a girlfriend to break the news to him. “My stomach dropped at first,” he says, “but I thought, I love kids.’ I called Ashley and told her I was very happy.”

The two talked marriage—briefly. Their next visit ended in a battle over her pregnancy. “He said and did ugly things,” says Richardson. “I tell everyone he seems charming—but just don’t have a baby with him. He turns into a nightmare.” Says Buzzini, who has offered to pay child support: “Her and I being together—we both know that’s impossible.”

Richardson left Manhattan and flew home to Sudbury, Mass., moving in with her divorced mother, Peggy Richardson, 48, and younger brother, Todd, 25. She passed the remaining months of her pregnancy helping out at Bulfinch’s, the family restaurant her mom has owned for 12 years, and knitting baby blankets.

And eating—pigging out on everything from angel food cake with strawberries to pasta salads. Not long before Daisy’s birth on May 1, Richardson hit 230 lbs.—70 more than her cover-girl days. By then, her relationship with the Ford agency had deteriorated anyway. “I didn’t feel they cared about me anymore,” she says. “They were distant. They didn’t even know when I was having my baby.”

Twice-daily visits to the local gym and a diet of salads and fruits are helping Richardson trim off the ballast, and she’s now down to 170. She hopes to model again, but only occasionally. “I just want to be a mother now,” she says. She has lined up investors to help finance Ashley’s Del Rio Cafe, which will open in October—complete with an on-site nursery for Daisy—in the art deco district of Miami Beach. “Daisy will grow up in a restaurant just like I did,” she predicts.

As for Daisy’s dad, the less Richardson hears of him for now, the better. “I don’t need him or his support in any way,” she declares. Buzzini, meanwhile, is maintaining a wait-and-see attitude. “We both want what’s best for Daisy,” he says. Says Richardson, lovingly touching her tiny daughter’s cheek: “I’m sure it’s easier if there are two parents. But we’ll be fine. She’s such a good baby. The only thing is she breastfeeds for four hours at night.” Affectionately, she gives Daisy a squeeze. “That’s the only drag,” she says. “Dinnertime.”

MARIA EFTIMIADES in Southhampton