Charity Royal is bored with her life in the small town of North Dormer. She was born to poor parents from "up the Mountain" who gave her up to the town's learned person, Lawyer Royall, but she still dreams of an even better and more exciting life outside of the town. She secures a job at North Dormer's library, a job that she is neglectful of, in an attempt to save up money so she could eventually leave the town and Mr. Royall's care. At 17, that exciting life finds her in the form of a visiting architect named Lucius Harney. Her first encounter with the charming young man is at the library and there is immediate chemistry between them.