Jess, winner of The David Porteous’ Botanical Painting Award for Young Artists, little knows that when she accepts the invitation from the award founder's widow, Kate, that she will be opening Pandora's Box. Far from being a holiday in the west country so that she can build up a portfolio of botanical paintings, it turns into a search into the muddled history of her family: a history which has been kept secret from her.
‘It was such a shock,’ Kate tells her old friends Cass and Tom on her return to Tavistock, ‘to see how like her grandmother she is. Of course, Jess is about the same age Juliet was when I first met her. It took me way back. I lost touch after Mike and Juliet went out to Australia but Jess was so thrilled to think that I’d known them. What an amazing coincidence.’
Way back: parties at the Trehearnes’ Georgian house on the banks of the River Tamar - and one particular party thrown to celebrate Dickie Trehearne’s knighthood on his promotion to Vice Admiral which had spilled out of the house and onto the Sea Garden. Kate, Cass and Tom had all been there as had Alistair and Johnnie, Dickie’s sons, and Mike, Al’s best friend and rival. Officers in their uniforms and girls in long dresses dancing until dawn.
But it was Mike who had married the beautiful Juliet and not Alistair as Old Lady Trehearne had so hoped. She is still mourning the loss of her eldest son in a mysterious boating accident and has always suspected him of having an affair with Juliet but she and Mike emigrated to Australia before the birth of their son who was to return to England and join the army only to be killed in the war in Bosnia shortly after Jess was born.
When Jess reacts strongly to one face in old group photograph including Alastair, Lady T is convinced she has found her long lost granddaughter.
But all is not quite so simple.