Katie O'Dwyer flees the constraints of her rural Irish upbringing for the excitement of London. Here she meets and falls in love with William Melville: the imposing head of the Melville fashion dynasty. Elusive, charismatic; married. Their affair is brief but passionate. Katie conceives a child. Fifteen years later she succumbs to cancer; and her beautiful daughter Caitlin finds that she must go to live in England, with the father she has never met. Her half-sisters - cold, high-achieving Elizabeth, and spoilt princess Amber - react to her with hostility; while their elegant mother is too high on valium to notice what goes on. Reeling from her mother's death, unable to fit into this alien world, Caitlin is sent away to boarding school. It is here that something happens which is so awful, so brutalizing, it will change Caitlin forever . . .
Over the next fifteen years the sisters' lives will take them in very different directions. Golden girl Elizabeth will enter the family business, hoping to fulfil her destiny of taking the helm; longing above all for her father's approval. But Caitlin remains William's favourite; even though she has rejected his love and his money. In fact, Caitlin's success as a high-fashion designer has been achieved entirely on her own terms. Amber, meanwhile, is too beautiful for her own good. Spoilt but unloved, she craves attention: this makes her easy pickings for predatory men. But the sisters' paths will continue to cross. Because the simple truth is that, no matter how far you go, you cannot escape the claims of family.
In Hyland's sprawling debut, sparkling with Gossip Girl sizzle and Barbara Taylor Bradford melodrama, 15-year-old Irish lassie Caitlin O'Dwyer learns the shocking truth about her father's identity from her dying mother: a London retail magnate named William Melville, who broke things off before Caitlin's birth. Unsurprisingly, the successful businessman arrives in Valleymount, County Wicklow, for the funeral and informs Caitlin that she's moving in with his family at their posh Somerset estate. Besides problems fitting in with William's wife, Isabelle, and their two pampered daughters, Elizabeth and Amber, Caitlin is drugged and gang-raped at her new school. Caitlin fails to press charges and eventually graduates to study fashion in Paris and become an award-winning New York designer. Meanwhile, Elizabeth grows into a driven business whiz, and Amber becomes an unstable supermodel. Hyland juggles the sisters' fortunes smoothly, reconnecting them convincingly, but occasionally overextends, as in a subplot involving William's jealous brother.