December 1917. In this landscape full of hunted men, Bess Crawford finds herself torn between love and duty. A murder shakes up the Ellis family at stately Vixen Hall, and Bess returns home from her job as nurse on the Western Front. Amid cold rain and wind, Bess approaches her flat. She doesnít notice at first the dark figure huddled in the shallow outer doorway.
A young woman desperate to get away, Lydia Ellis shivers with cold; Bess offers to let her stay. Clearly someone has struck this well-educated and well bred girl, and fairly recently. Wrestling with whatever is troubling her, Lydia anxiously tells Bess of a little girl named Juliana, Roger, her husband, and the fact that she took a train to London and walked aimlessly for hours.
Bess tells Simon Brandon (arriving the next morning from Summerset) of this frightened woman with nowhere to go and her face so badly bruised. It's not wise for Bess to pry, but knowing who Juliana was might help her understand why Lydia fled to London. On a raw, cold morning, the bitter sadness of war reverberates as Lydia asks Bess to accompany her to Vixen Hill.
Like a drowning woman searching for a lifeline, Lydia unfurls her dark story. She so badly wants a child, someone to love and to end the curse of Vixen Hill, a house of widows, of Rogerís mother and grandmother. Realizing this is a more complicated business than she had foreseen, Bess learns of Julianaís devastating last days.
Everyone in this family remains haunted by her death, which at first appears to be no oneís fault.
In this place of twisted branches and stunted heather, the land is as blighted as its inhabitants. Roger - wounded in the shoulder in France - tells Bess of his brother Alan's death from war wounds. George Hughes, Rogerís best friend, talks of a refugee girl in France and her fleeting resemblance to Juliana. But no one can be certain if the child is Rogerís, or whether George
is only perpetuating a strange obsession.
Events plot to turn the Ellis home into a bloody nightmare when a body is found in Ashfield forestís twisted, overgrown path. Bess must heed the warnings from Simon: keep her eyes open and her wits about her as she delves deep into George Hughesí dark secrets, Lydiaís anger, and Rogerís suspicious, vulnerable nature. Thereís also the issue of Lieutenant Davis Merrit, the blind occupant of Blue Bell Cottage, who Lydia had been visiting on the morning of the murder.
Moving from England to France, Bess races to find Rogerís little girl. The plot abounds with complex red herrings, the real murderer shattering everyoneís expectations.
As Bess turns to an affable Australian sergeant, the war continues to leave bitter, unhealed scars. Of course Bess, driven by honor, gets the killer, once again proving her mettle in Todd's compelling mystery.