Sadomasochistic shivers about an incarnate Aztec goddess and the spell she casts over six North Carolina yuppies. Paperback horror novelist Watkins writes well in his first hardcover, but you practically have to sponge away the blood to make out the words. Watkins is especially good at setting the story's theme--that there can be a potent link between pain and erotic pleasure. Here, the pleasure is provided for Sam Leo, an epidemiologist, by the exotic Selinde Lorona, a remarkably beautiful and self-possessed young woman who gives him her phone number when they first meet, by chance--and who is, as we know from a prologue set in 1518, the fleshy form of the Aztec goddess Cihuacoatl, the ``Snake Woman.'' Though Sam--hitherto faithful to his wife, Cheryl--is reluctant to call, his lust bests him and he meets Selinde at a restaurant where, in a scene of genuine sensual power, she introduces him to the seductive agony of hot chili peppers--a lesson intensified the next day as she bathes his body in burning pepper oil, which he loves. Meanwhile, Cheryl's pal Stephanie Dixon buys a mysterious kaleidoscope whose violent, pre-Colombian images enchant her and her husband, Art, into ever-rougher sex; and, at the same time, Sam becomes aware of a rash of stabbing-murders in which the victims submitted without a struggle--with the path of the killings leading to the coastal town where Sam, Cheryl, Stephanie, Art, and a third couple go for their annual vacation. There, in an isolated beachhouse, the kaleidoscope lures the couples into a crescendo of extravagant--and graphical detailed--acts of group sex, flagellation, piercing, and finally, stabbings...with Selinde hovering in the background, smiling her killer Mona Lisa smile. Worth a try, though it might be wise to call it quits after the hot chili peppers.