Kate Courtney, fifteen, is an heiress with a house in the country - and a rather inflated idea of what her position entails. But she has no one who cares anything about her. She believes she has found happiness when she goes to live with her aunt Mrs Anderson and her cousin Ombra (whose name means Shadow) in a cottage on the Isle of Wight. But Ombra does not feel the same fondness - she had been the center of attention in her little world before the arrival of Kate.
Another complication is the arrival of two look-alike cousins, "the two Berties", Bertie Eldridge and Bertie Hardwicke, the second being someone Kate knows already and is drawn to. Both boys seem attracted to Ombra, though Kate feels at times that "her" Bertie is fond of her too. And it is not clear to Kate which Bertie is the one Ombra is falling in love with.
Later Mrs Anderson takes the girls on a tour of the Continent. In Florence the two Berties appear again, and Kate's happiness fades after she realises a secret is being kept from her by the entire party. There will be more secrets, one of them shocking, before all is revealed.
Biographical and other notes
Margaret Oliphant dedicated this novel to H.B. and E.B. - her late publisher Henry Blackett and his wife Ellen, of whom she had been especially fond. Ellen died in 1866, Henry in 1871.