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When Eustacia Hope is jilted at the altar, her parents decide to save her reputation by sending her to stay with her godmother, Lady Agatha Rayner, a clergyman's widow. Eustacia's mother warns her to have nothing to do with Lady Agatha's brother, the notorious Lord Ashbourne, nor with his son, Lord Ilam. Eustacia soon discovers that her godmother, too, has a hidden side, as she plots and schemes to remain in the vicarage in defiance of the bishop's wishes. Soon after her arrival, Eustacia meets Lord Ilam who, although an attractive man in his own right, has always felt as if he was living in his father's shadow. The two are attracted to one another, and Ilam even takes her to meet his foster family. It is only after the arrival of Eustacia's estranged fiancé and the unexpected appearance of Lord Ashbourne that matters are resolved in a way that is satisfactory to all parties.

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