At the age of 13, when trespassing on woods adjacent to her family's land, Belinda Presleigh sees Richard Berrington, who has just come home from the war, swimming naked in a stream. From that moment on she can see no one but him and locks this painful love in her heart, knowing that exposure would only bring ridicule. She knows that she cannot compete with the beautiful girls he is attracted to. Her mother, though, having lost her eldest daughter, Roselle, to pneumonia, has hopes of regaining her lost social status through Belinda, and plots to place Richard, who has now become an earl, in a compromising situation with Belinda, forcing him to an offer of marriage. Belinda realizes her mother's plot too late, yet forced to decide her future it is not her mother's overbearing insistence that decides her to accept Berrington's offer of marriage, but the realization that by accepting she will be linked all her life to the man she loves. Three idyllic days spent traveling with her new husband, who has softened somewhat toward her, leave Belinda totally unprepared for the violent and dangerous rejection she encounters from his family at home, Winterhill.