On a fateful night in 1860, Thadius Grady realises, too late, that he has made a grave mistake. In blind faith he has put himself and his daughter Emma at the mercy of his sister and her conniving husband, Caleb Crowther - for he has entrusted to them his entire fortune and the daughter he adores. With his dying breath he pleads to see his daughter one last time - but Caleb's heart is made of stone.
A feared Lancashire Justice, Caleb Crowther is a womaniser and a gambler, and now the inheritance due to Emma is as much in his hands as is the beautiful Emma Grady herself. But Caleb lives in fear of the past, for how did Emma's mother mysteriously die? And what made Thadius and Caleb hate the river people so intensely? History seems likely to repeat itself when Emma falls helplessly in love with Marlow Tanner, a young bargee. For Marlow and Emma, it is an impossible love - a love made in Heaven, but which could carry them both to Hell . . .