Dim lighting, a plush booth in the back and a tipsy Jessica Simpson downing vodka tonics as she cozies up to a hunky, dark-haired crooner. But on the night of Sept. 4, 2004, at the celebrity-friendly Whiskey Bar at L.A.’s Sunset Marquis Hotel and Villas, the studly singer that Jessica, 25, cozied up to was not her husband, Nick Lachey! More than a year ago — even before the rumors of Nick’s bachelor-party antics with porn star Jessica Jaymes and other indiscretions began plaguing their three-year marriage — Jessica was caught canoodling with Maroon 5’s Adam Levine! "It was obvious that Jessica and Adam were very attracted to each other," an eyewitness who partied with the pair that night tells Star. "They were cuddled right up against each other, side by side, giggling and whispering romantically into each other’s ears. Jessica was putting her hand on Adam’s leg from time to time."

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An innocent flirtation? Could be. Reps for both Simpson and Levine, 26, say that the two are just "friends." But it seems that Nick, 32, has been wrongly vilified for his apparent wandering eye — especially in light of virgin-till-marriage Jessica’s own extracurricular explorations. She’s been linked in reports to her Dukes of Hazzard co-star Johnny Knoxville, as well as his bad-boy Jackass buddy and skateboard star Bam Margera. But Jessica’s latest boytoy may be Trace Ayala, 25, Justin Timberlake’s business partner in the William Rast clothing line, who she’s been spotted cozying up to in L.A. since mid-November.

A rep for Simpson insists that Ayala, who recently split with fiancée and 24 actress Elisha Cuthbert, 23, is close friends with Jess’ best friend and assistant CaCee Cobb. "That’s a complete hoax," a Simpson source tells Star. "I think Trace is hanging around Jess because he wants to be her boyfriend," the source says. "But Jessica told Trace she can’t date him ‘publicly’ for at least six months. Trace is gaga for Jessica, so he’ll go along with anything at this point."

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In any case, it seems Jessica, who has been crashing at her parents’ home in L.A. since the split with Nick, is ready for a fresh start — which means relocating to focus on her acting, including a possible stint on Broadway.

"She’s doing everything she can to break away from Nick. She’s even thinking of moving to New York to keep a safe distance," says a Simpson source. "She’s asked her staff to find her an apartment in New York so she can move east and start a new life!"