When Catherine’s mother, Leonora, discovers that her lover, Walter Shellard, has married another woman, she commits suicide and her daughter Catherine’s idyllic childhood at the magnificent Castile Villanova in Portugal comes to a sudden and unexpected end.
Walter Shellard then brings his bride, Ellen, from Bristol to live at Castile Villanova and banishes his illegitimate daughter to live with her Aunt Lopa in a small country farmhouse in the fertile Duoro valley. Catherine believes that she has fallen in love, first with Francisco and then with a young priest called Umberto, but in both instances there are setbacks, for Francisco’s mother opposes the match and priests are forbidden to marry. When her Aunt Lopa is savaged and killed by wolves, Catherine’s father, Walter, decides to bring her back to England and marry her to Robert Arthur Freeman, as part of a deal to amalgamate the Freeman vineyards into the Shellard family business.
Catherine quickly discovers that her husband is a deranged, unpleasant womaniser who is totally unable to run his business affairs. But Catherine has a natural aptitude for business and is as quick-witted as her father and sets out to get her revenge for the way her father and Robert Arthur Freeman have treated her. Before long her husband is beaten to death when caught in the act of rape of a young girl. Catherine then discovers that inside a wooden chest willed to her by her dead aunt are share certificates worth thousands of pounds which enable her to take a controlling interest in the business of the vineyard.