For four years, Renard, heir to Ravenstow, has been a crusader in Antioch, a city of heat and eroticism far removed from the Welsh Marches of his birth. It is here in an Arab tavern that he meets Olwen, a beautiful, predatory dancing girl who rules men with her body and who will stop at nothing to rise above the poverty in which she lives. When Renard is summoned home by his father's illness, it is with great reluctance that the young heir returns to his responsibilities--and to Eleanor, the child to whom he is betrothed. Olwen, however, will not be left behind.
Thus, the battle of determined hearts begins. Spellbound by Olwen, Renard views Eleanor as the child-wife of duty. But Eleanor has matured in Renard's absence, and proves to have developed formidable talents of her own, not least a shrewd business acumen. Eventually, Renard awakens to the fact that Olwen's ambitions may be too powerful for him to satisfy.
Renard's personal dilemma is set against the backdrop of an England in the crisis of civil war. The Ravenstow lands are threatened by greedy neighbor, Ranulf of Chester, and by the division of family loyalties. After the Battle of Lincoln, Renard lies injured and imprisoned, his future in the hands of two women: one his former mistress, now in the bed of his deadliest enemy, and the other his wife, frightened and alone, holding his earldom together in the face of terrifying odds.