It is 1795 and Esther Coad is plunged into destitution when her mother, father and younger brother are taken by the Great Sickness. She is relieved when a distant relative offers her a home at Coad Farm in the tiny hamlet of Hamsey but soon discovers that the offer is not made in kindness but from the desire for cheap labour. She finds her relatives unkind and mean spirited and the work is hard, especially with the lipsy leg Esther has suffered from since birth.
Esther's life improves when a new servant, Becca arrives. Becca is young, vivacious and pretty and in no time the girls become firm friends. One bright Midsummer's day they venture to the hiring fair at nearby Lewes, a decision that will trigger a sequence of events that will test Esther to the limit.
A tragedy leaves Esther with a tiny baby and mourning a senseless death. Esther fears for her own life and that of the child and runs away from the farm throwing herself at the mercy of strangers who support her as she fights to prove her innocence in the case she has become entangled in.
Can Esther escape the malevolent reach of the Coads and their accusations of murder and kidnap? Can she create a life for herself and Beth and triumph over the smugglers and the press gang who threaten her hard won freedom? And will she find the happiness she deserves at last?