Joanna is the timid twin, the one who would rather paint than go out into society. Henrietta is the brave one, the renowned beauty who was engaged at seventeen to a handsome and rich young man. But when Henrietta’s fiancé is suddenly killed in a cholera outbreak, the twins and their childhood companion Brook are sent back to England.
Joanna starts noticing herself blushing around Brook, who suddenly seems an excessively handsome young man with a new awkwardness around her. But even thinking of marriage would be impossible for the pair, as they are both impoverished and quite busy chasing Henrietta. Henri, still grief-stricken over the loss of the man she was to marry, has chosen to throw herself at every married man and rake in sight.
When yet more tragic news reaches the three of them, Brook takes comfort in the arms of a woman who seems to be Henrietta, an experienced and wild woman. In fact, the woman who spends the night with him is Joanna, and Brook makes her question her desires, her character, and her resolution not to follow a path of passion.
When Joanna discovers that she is with child, the twins are faced with a harsh choice – to be penniless and helpless little ladies trying to make their way in society, or to put a dangerous scheme in place and provide for both their futures. And Brook, Joanna’s beloved, is the only person standing in the way.