Recently widowed, Katherine Chambers is taking her young son to visit her husband's family when disaster strikes. The ship they are sailing on runs into a severe storm off Robin Hood's Bay on the Yorkshire Coast. The Whitby lifeboat goes to their rescue but the freak weather conditions mean that not only is the ship lost but the lifeboat crew as well. However, among the bodies on the beach, a survivor is found.
In the halcyon days of the 1930s Sebastian Kilbride, a screen idol, and Nick Kennedy, his accountant and financial adviser are close friends, enjoying an almost idyllic lifestyle. The lives of their wives and families are intertwined. Tessa Kilbride, in contrast to her glamorous husband, is scatterbrained, warm-hearted and a homebody; Sally, Nick's efficient, well-groomed wife, is conversely a woman frustrated by domesticity.
Olivia Coulson is pretty and determined enough to attract any man's eye. George Chilton-Brookes, heir to the Cropton estate, is visibly enchanted by her, while handsome gentleman farmer Kit Fernley is also drawn to her looks and vivacity. Olivia wavers between her two suitors, eventually inclining towards the wealth and social position that marriage to George will bring - only to find that he has turned his attention elsewhere. So she marries Kit: handsome, attentive, loving... and in her eyes, second best. Unable to forgive her George, Olivia sets out to make him pay....
Jay has always envied her cousin Delphine. While Jay was brought up in a large, noisy and chaotic family, Delphine was indulged, perfectly dressed with a co-ordinated bedroom, an immaculate wardrobe, dancing lessons and monogrammed silver-backed hairbrushes. Now Jay lives happily with her architect husband and their three teenage children, while Delphine has long since disappeared to Australia with her second husband. But Delphine is about to reappear.