It is 1971. Hannah Matheson, whose affluent Quaker family lives in Devon, moves to a hostel in London to study for a degree. Her extravert and exuberant personality initially brings her into conflict with the hostel’s caustic deputy warden, Jo Ackroyd, whose abusive upbringing was very different from her own. In desperation Hannah persuades her old schoolfriend, Kate Deveraux, who, following the death of her parents, is often lonely living in her London flat, to come and live with her at the hostel.
Kate, a hospital receptionist, has long been valued by Hannah’s family as a calming influence upon their daughter and she is a regular visitor to their home. Kate’s unspoken affection for Hannah’s solicitor brother, Aidan, has grown over the years and she longs for him to notice her. Jo and Kate get on well from the start and Kate is determined to help Hannah overcome her antipathy to the deputy warden.
At Christmas Hannah invites Kate, Jo and Jo’s younger sister, Beth, to stay with her in her family’s holiday cottage in Devon. Beth, unlike her atheist sister Jo, has a deep spiritual awareness which is something she finds she has in common with both Kate and Aidan. Kate, however, soon realises, to her dismay, that her love for Aidan is clearly not reciprocated.
Hannah, meanwhile, resumes her close relationship with Daniel, a friend of Aidan’s, who is also a solicitor in the family firm – Mathesons. Her passionate nature, however, is constantly frustrated by him and she is driven to look elsewhere to satisfy her needs.
The book follows the relationship between the three women, as their inter-twining lives and loves threaten to destroy the friendship that unites them.