When young and beautiful governess Kate Malvern finds herself unemployed in Regency England, is surprised to receive an invitation to live with a distant aunt, Minerva Broome, who she has never met. Rescued from penury by her aunt Minerva, hardly knows what to expect at majestic country home of Staplewood, a Elizabethan manor. Her aunt, uncle, and cousin welcome her to their estate, buy her new clothes, and provide all the amenities a Young lady of quality should have. The life in the grand household is so very different from a life spent following the drum in the Peninsular! But surely, other households are more homelike? Kate's uncle lives in one wing, handsome, moody cousin Torquil in another; cousin Philip appears to have taken her in instant dislike; thought the guests are few, even family dinners are formal.
However, things are not as they seem: strange things start to happen in the manor and Staplewood soon turns from an inviting stately house to a cold and gloomy mansion with a dreadful secret! Slowly, however, as strange events unfold, Kate begins to realize that her aunt's apparent benevolence hides an ulterior motive. To assure succession of the title, her aunt intends Kate to marry her cousin Torquil, until his increasingly bizarre behavior culminates in violence and tragedy. And, when Kate begins to suspect the shocking reason for Minerva's generousity, she has no-one to confide.