Fresh from her triumphs in Paris society, Whitney Stone returns to England determined to win the heart of her childhood love. However, in order to save himself from ruin, her father has come to an arrangement with the arrogant Duke of Claymore, and Whitney is the price.
After a young Whitney Stone’s mother dies, her father Martin is unable to handle her tomboyish antics and sends Whitney off to France with her aunt and uncle, Lady Anne and Lord Edward Gilbert, a diplomat. Whitney is separated from her childhood love, a significantly older Paul Sevarin, who does not return her affections. Before leaving, she vows to come home from France and marry Paul. While in France, she is educated by a variety of language, dance, and etiquette tutors, coming to age as a fashionable and witty young lady. She also meets the DuVille family, becoming close friends with the daughter Therèse and their son Nicolas (Nicki). Around the age of 19, Whitney attends a party in France where she meets a mysterious stranger. Shortly after, she is recalled back to England by her father. To the surprise of her small town, Whitney returns as a sophisticated young lady. Furthermore, possessing what she believes is a substantial inheritance from her grandmother, Whitney is determined to marry Paul.
Once home, Martin hosts a party for Whitney to reintroduce her to the town and their new neighbor, a Mr. Clayton Westland. Whitney is disinterested, focusing her attention on Paul. She and Paul have a flirtation, which Whitney believes leads to a serious courtship, despite her father’s efforts to push her towards Mr. Westland. When Paul proposes, Whitney eagerly tells her father, only for him to reveal that he had spent her dowry and sold her in marriage to the Duke of Claymore in exchange for a large sum of money to save the family home from ruin. Martin also reveals that Mr. Westland is the Duke of Claymore and slaps Whitney, much to Clayton’s displeasure. Whitney begs Clayton to keep the engagement a secret and he acquiesces on the condition that she break off the engagement with Paul. Convinced they can run away and pay back the dowry money her father spent, Whitney reveals the situation to Paul. Instead, Paul is angry as he had already started spending her dowry money. Resigned, Whitney accepts her status
Clayton and Whitney begin a tentative courtship, filled with passion. The beginning of the relationship is tumultuous, with the apex being a controversial rape scene.
Whitney and Clayton become estranged due to miscommunication. Whitney’s cousin Emily, aware of the entire story, contrives to bring Whitney and Clayton back together at Elizabeth’s wedding. While this initially does not work, Whitney and Clayton ultimately reunite and become happy parents