May 13, 1991 12:00 PM

IN THE REMOTE ISLAND TOWN OF George Town in the Bahamas, Tai Collins is well known by the locals for her community church work. But her most recent visit, an escape from public furor stateside, has less to do with God’s work than with the affairs of men. Last week Collins set off the latest senatorial sex scandal with her claim on NBC’s Expose that seven years ago she had an affair with one man in particular: Charles Spittal Robb, U.S. Senator from Virginia, husband of Lynda Bird Johnson. More important to her, claims Collins, she was later pressured by members of his staff to remain silent. Though Robb, 51, denounces her assertions, Collins is adamant. “I would have been loyal to him until I died,” she says. Collins had no intention of talking, she explains, “until his people started harassing me. I’m not going to be anybody’s toy.”

The flap began on April 28, when Collins, a 28-year-old former beauty queen, declared on Expose that she and Robb, the straitlaced conservative Democrat often touted as a presidential contender, had been lovers in 1984. As she tells it, the two met at a ribbon-cutting ceremony near Virginia Beach, where she lived and he vacationed, in 1983, soon after Collins, then 20, was crowned Miss Virgina/U.S.A. Days later, she says, he showed up at the lingerie shop where she worked. Before long he was sending flowers and gifts and inviting her out. “I thought, ‘Wow,’ ” remembers Collins. “I was a kid. I liked the fact that everybody who was very influential and rich wanted me at the parties.”

After months of dating Robb platonically, Collins says, the affair became physical in February 1984, after she moved to New York City to pursue a modeling career. As Collins remembers it, she met Robb, in town for a Democratic function, in his room at the Pierre Hotel. They drank champagne; he asked for a massage, slipped into a robe then stretched out on the bed, face down and naked. “After I did the back side, he turned over and kissed me,” she says. “That was our first kiss.” And the beginning, she contends, of an “exciting” affair that ended only when Collins married Stuart Lucas, a wealthy clothing executive, 10 months later. (They divorced in 1990.) “We were two adults who both knew what we were doing when we did it,” she says of her alleged fling with Robb. “We made a mistake.”

Robb’s recollection differs. “There was absolutely, categorically, no sexual relationship whatever,” he told NBC, though he has previously conceded the Pierre massage. “I clearly placed myself in circumstances…inappropriate for a happily married family man,” he said, referring to his 23-year marriage to the daughter of President Lyndon Johnson. “I have a very understanding and forgiving wife, and three loving daughters who would like to think their daddy’s perfect—but know better.”

Voters may not be so understanding. At best, the scandal has brought Robb ridicule, typified by a snide joke circulating in Washington: “If Chuck Robb was in a hotel room with Miss Virginia, and he was wearing a robe, and he didn’t have sex with her, he’s too stupid to be President.” At worst, it could slam a lid on his political career: “President Charles S. Robb? Forget it,” editorialized the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Collins, on the other hand, foresees smooth sailing for herself. Financially comfortable from her divorce settlement, she plans to relax—traveling, spending time with family, friends and in church activities—before she begins modeling again. “I’ve learned a lot—the hard way—about trusting people,” she says. “Nobody can mess with me anymore. I’m in control.”

KAREN S. SCHNEIDER

LUCHINA FISHER in the Bahamas

TOM NUGENT in Virginia Beach

STEPHANIE SLEWKA in Roanoke

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