Dorset, 1838. When a ship is wrecked in a storm off the Portland coast, a taciturn stonecutter by the name of Joseph Rushmore sends his rescue dog to haul in plunder. What it brings instead is a baby in a cradle. As Joseph's wife has just given birth to a stillborn child, the couple decide to keep the infant girl. The Rushmores never tell their adopted daughter the truth about her origins, but on the death of Joseph and his wife, when the girl, Joanna, is 16, she finds herself at the mercy of her abusive and violent Rushmore cousins. She is rescued by a middle-aged sea captain, Tobias Darsham, who is making a pilgrimage to visit his wife's grave. When Tobias suggests that he and Joanna should get married, the desperate girl feels she has no choice but to agree. However, soon after the wedding, Tobias gets a nasty shock when he discovers Joanna's childhood cradle - because he carved it himself for his daughter. Horrified at the thought that he might have married his own daughter, Tobias fakes his own death and sets sail for Australia, leaving Joanna in the care of his second-in-command, Alexander Morcant. Finding themselves mutually dependent, Alexander and Joanna's initial animosity gradually dissolves into a passionate attraction. But will she ever discover the truth about her origins?