In a town called Hope on the edge of Britain's empire, desperations clash: the beautiful Dorothea Brook is desperate to free her pregnant sister Rose from the clutches of Fraser, a fortune hunter. A local politician, William Poyner, is desperate for cash and thinks marriage to Dorothea will save him. Dorothea hires Lawrence Hayes, a rough but handsome Argonaut, to bribe Fraser with jewels and to marry Rose; Hayes desperately loves Dorothea and may marry Rose to stay close to her. But Dorothea has a lover, the ravishing Anne Cooper, who encourages the match with Poyser to give the lovers cover. Are these remedies, each desperate in its turn, going to make anyone happy?