Prologue

The opening of Suzie's Sweet Shop in downtown Summerville, Georgia, was a low key affair. So low key, in fact, that hardly anybody recalled when it happened. The little store came into being on Tanner Street suddenly, magically, like a patch of frost that had formed overnight, to sparkle at dawn under the gentle gaze of a sun in its infancy. And even though your first sight of that frost may have caused mild surprise, in no way was its presence jarring or unwelcome. It was supposed to be there; the conditions were simply right.

So it was with Suzie's Sweet Shop. The store took out no advertising; posted no banners; did not hold a ribbon cutting. It just appeared and, afterwards, seemed as if it had been there forever.

Monday through Saturday, from ten in the morning until seven at night, Suzie's Sweet Shop sold a wide assortment of goods to the sugar-craving public, which was just about everybody in Summerville. Its success was remarkable. Within a year of the store's establishment in 2007, the cakes, pastries, cinnamon rolls, cupcakes, hard candies, and other tasty marvels that emerged from behind the display case had acquired a certain cachet.

"These cupcakes are from Suzie's," a mother would mention to other mothers at her four-year-old daughter's birthday party.

"That cake," one office employee would tell another office employee at a colleague's retirement celebration, "came from Suzie's."

"I got this cinnamon roll at Suzie's," somebody would say, handing the delectable creation over to a friend or to a significant other in need of cheering up.

If it came from Suzie's Sweet Shop, you knew it would be superb.

The woman who owned the store typically introduced herself as Susan Choate, although official records indicated she actually had a double last name: Comte-Choate. But to the townsfolk of Summerville and the surrounding area she was just Suzie. She gave her age as forty, but looked ten years younger. Her hair was deep red; her lips were a glossier, brighter shade of the same color. Her blue eyes shone like polished sapphires. Her skin was white as ivory, and seemingly without blemish. Petite, slender, dressed in her starched white shirts and the red aprons she wore to match her hair, Suzie looked as if she were a woman made out of peppermint, visiting the little town of Summerville from some enchanted Candy Land.

And who knows?

Maybe she was.