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The bestselling author of Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith weaves
a literary spell of love, shame, death, and the power of faith,
set against the charismatic world of Appalachian snake handlers.
Lauded for her beguiling stories of passion and history set in exotic lands, Gina Nahai's new novel takes place in a hidden part of America-a land untamed by man, seemingly forgotten by God, but filled with the mystical fervor for the miracles promised by Jesus Christ. After seventeen years in flight from his roots, Adam Watkins returns to Appalachia to investigate the murder of his father, Little Sam, a renowned Holy Roller. The suspect, Blue, is a fiery-haired, purple-eyed beauty with a reputation for being immune to earthly harm.
When Blue and Adam meet, the power that moves between them is both dark and exhilarating. Will their sudden love, like the mortal bite of a poisonous snake, destroy them or redeem them? In indelible images and mesmerizing prose, Nahai explores the triumph of passion over reason, the cross-cultural sympathies of fundamentalism, and the price of extremism.
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Gina B. Nahai's Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith was a number one bestseller
in Los Angeles. She is also the author of Cry of the Peacock. She lives in Beverly Hills, California.
SHE WENT TO find him when he most longed to see her, walked through town in her white cotton dress and her bare feet, and all along the way men stopped and stared at her as if to wonder if she were not a figment of their imaginations. Adam sensed the men's agitation before he became aware of Blue's presence, heard the murmurs of their hearts and their faint, embarrassed gasps as she traveled past them like a breeze in the heat of the two o'clock sun of a Sunday afternoon in August. Then he recognized the stirrings of an old sadness, felt Blue move toward him with the beat of his own breath, and by the time he went to the door and saw her, he knew he should never have come back.
She looked like rain.
She stood before him with her purple eyes and her innocent's smile, a storm of golden-red hair against her tulip-white skin, her body long and lean and Unself-conscious, her arms bare and cool and hinting of desire-and he realized that he knew nothing about her at all, that he had spent days investigating the woman without gaining the slightest understanding of her.
"I wanted to see you," she said.
They stood in front of the Lamar-Church Boardinghouse in downtown Knoxville. An old colonial mansion built on one of the original sixty-four lots that had comprised the city in its early days, the house had been abandoned for close to forty years-victim of the urban flight that overtook Knoxville after the Great Depression and that lasted well into the mid-1970's. For forty years the house had sat, unoccupied, along a deserted street, its windows smeared with dust, its steps crumbling with age and covered with kudzu. Around it the city had slept in shells of empty department stores and locked offices, houses overrun by colonies of mice and giant cats, cobblestoned alleys frequented by naked ghosts and orphaned children, railroad tracks that transported only freight cars, and a station where no train ever stopped. Then the city's leaders had embarked on a plan to invite life back into its center. The boardinghouse had been sold for a pittance to the first and only bidder, and money had been loaned for a renovation. Investors had been invited to take over stores and businesses. Streetlights had been installed. The train station had revamped. A year after it had opened its doors, the boardinghouse was still among only a handful of buildings that held a semblance of life downtown.
That Sunday Adam shared the hotel with three other guests-college students from Amsterdam on a year-long cross-country tour of the United States. One of the boys had heard her come in and was now standing at the window of his room overlooking the street. Even without turning to see him, Adam could imagine the look of stupefaction on the boy's face, the way his eyes watered as they strove to swallow Blue's image whole, the way he whispered to his friends "come-to-the-window-and-look-for-yourselves-this-is-definitely-a-sight-to-see, the-one-we'll-remember-when-we're-old."
Adam had been in Knoxville for ten days already. He knew where to find Blue, of course. She had lived in the same house in Fort Sanders since she had moved here from a far-off and exotic land twenty-four years ago. Her husband, a man everyone knew as as "the Professor", had brought her here with no fanfare and with little explanation of her background. In Knoxcille the last few days, Adam had followed Blue's trail around town and talked to people who knew her, looked up her records at the county courthouse and the DA's office, searched the archives of the local press for references to Blue and her past. He knew he had to call on her, of course-to look her in the face and determine for himself the truth or falsehood of the rumors surrounding her. Yet every time he came close to seeing her, he was overcome by an instinctive sense of danger, a feeling that he would lose objectivity the moment he set eyes on her, and so he had kept his distance, from hour to hour and day to day, until she made the first move.
"You've been asking about me," she said.
The smile had spread from her lips into her eyes, and spilled like heat onto everything she looked at. Adam watched the edges of her mouth, the soft dimple in her right cheek, the curve in the nape of her neck. Her dress, cut at the top in the shape of a V, was almost transparent. Through it he could see the bareness of her breasts, the line that ran from the center of her chest down over her stomach, the tips of her hipbones against the sheer fabric. She was like a creature from another world, he thought-a child's drawing of a woman, all those vivid, improbable colors, the red and purple and blue that belonged more to trees and to fish than to humans. She must have picked up a box of crayons, he thought, once when she was three years old and her world was filled with promise, picked up the colors and painted herself into what she thought a woman would look like.
Blue shook her head to move the sun out of her eyes. Her hair fell in long, soft curls onto her back and shoulders, reflecting a thousand variations of light, giving her an aura of unreality. She walked closer to Adam and out of the sun. At the second-floor window, the trio from Amsterdam inhaled uneasily and remained glued to their spots. Aware of their desperation Blue raised her eyes at them for a split second, acknowledging their presence, accepting their eagerness. Then she looked back at Adam.
It occurred to him then that she was not afraid of him at all, though she must realize why he was here-because he had read about Little Sam Jenkins' death and come back to investigate how he had died, because Sam may have well died at Blue's hands-he had said as much to the sheriff in the hours before his death-because Adam was determined to establish the truth or falsehood of that claim.
She came even closer to him and stopped. He thought he could feel the warmth of her body spreading under his skin-like water moving through the earth, finding every pore, filling a longforgotten but excruciating need.
She was not afraid of him at all.
"Come inside," she said.
Copyright © 2001 by Gina Barkhordar Nahai, published by Harcourt, Inc. All rights reserved. For permission to reproduce this information, go to our Permissions and Copyright Requests page at http://www.harcourtbooks.com/pol-copyright.html
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