Apothecary John Rawlings has travelled to Devon to be by the side of his mistress, Elizabeth di Lorenzi, who is due to give birth to their child. Leaving his shop and his new carbonated water business in good hands, John is presented with a surprise on his arrival at Sidmouth House.
While Elizabeth is recuperating, he learns that Lady Sidmouth's daughter, Miranda, is to marry the elderly Earl of St. Austell, who is 54 years her senior and has a cruel reputation. As the wedding day approaches, John feels increasingly uneasy, and before too long his worst forebodings are realised....
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