- We analyze the probe absorption spectra of a strongly driven [Formula Presented] system with arbitrary spacing between the two lower levels. Under the condition that the spacing between the two lower levels is of the order of a strong-pump-field Rabi frequency, important interference effects are observed due to same-field coupling with both the transitions. We report the possibility of a significant gain from the cross talk among optical transitions, and a strong dependence of gain and absorption on the relative polarizations of the pump and probe beams. We present an analysis based on dressed states to explain our numerical results. 1999 The American Physical Society.