February 16, 1998 12:00 PM

FOR LINDA COYLE, A YANNI FAN WHO HAS GONE TO DOZENS OF the performer’s concerts, his Dec. 16 show at the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Conn., seemed perfectly routine. The New Age heartthrob played the keyboard in his trademark white suit while his longtime girlfriend Linda Evans gazed adoringly at him from a front row. “She looked very happy,” says Coyle, who sat behind the former Dynasty star. “She was smiling and signing autographs. He didn’t dedicate a song to Linda,” she adds, “but he never does.”

In retrospect there may have been an emotional subtext. On Jan. 26, after spending Christmas together in the Caribbean, Yanni, 43, and Evans, 55, announced that after almost nine years together they were parting company. “Our lives are moving in different directions,” the couple said in a joint statement. But a source close to the couple says the real problem was Yanni’s current 18-month worldwide concert tour. Under the circumstances, the source says, “they decided it was impossible to maintain any continuity in the relationship.” In fact, while Evans was a regular fixture at Yanni’s shows, the Greek-born musician, say neighbors, hasn’t been seen near Evans’s $1.7 million Lakewood, Wash., mansion for over a year. He also showed little outward interest in Evans’s 15 Linda Evans Fitness Centers in California. At every branch opening since 1992, Evans showed up alone. “I got the feeling that it’s not his thing,” says Lynn Altemus, manager of a club in Tustin, Calif.

Outwardly, at least, there had been no sign of trouble. “I’m settled down. I feel as though we’re married,” the never-wed Yanni told PEOPLE last October. “The only thing that’s missing is a piece of paper.” Since they began dating in 1989—when the actress called the then-little-known musician to tell him she enjoyed his work—they have often spent periods of time apart so he could compose in solitude. Which seemed to suit the twice-married—to director John Derek and real estate magnate Stan Herman—Evans just fine. “I didn’t want to make a man the No. 1 quest in my life,” she told PEOPLE in 1990. But Evans was soon helping produce two PBS specials, 1994’s Yanni Live at the Acropolis and last year’s Tribute, covering his tour of India and Beijing. Says a boutique employee in Lakewood, where Evans moved in ’87 (her friend, controversial spiritual guru J.Z. Knight, lives nearby): “They’d come in and sit at the [diner] counter and eat cheeseburgers. They’d sit there hand-in-hand. It was so cute.”

The two will likely stay close. “Their friendship will endure,” says Mark Golob, CEO of the Linda Evans Fitness Centers. Their friends hope so. “They were a terrific couple, that’s understood,” says George Veras, director of Acropolis. “I wish them both the best—and happiness in wherever their lives take them.”

DAN JEWEL

NATASHA STOYNOFF in New York City, ELAINE PORTERFIELD in Lakewood and JULIE JORDAN and JACK KELLEY in Los Angeles

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