Wealthy Laura and Martin Burney have a passionate marriage. Martin's passion manifests itself in a need for complete control and order, which in turn results in violence against Laura when that control and order is lost. This violence is generally followed by an act of controlled forgiveness. She is scared of his violent tendencies, which are hidden underneath a public veneer of perfection. A non-swimming Laura supposedly drowns during a sailing accident. The accident however was really a premeditated escape plan by a swimming-able and still alive Laura, who knew that Martin would never allow her to leave him as long as she was alive. Rechristening herself Sarah Waters, Laura travels from their Cape Cod home to Cedar Falls, Iowa to be closer to her blind, wheelchair-bound and nursing home residing mother, who Martin believes is dead. Although apprehensive at first, Laura begins a relationship there with Ben Woodward, the local college's drama professor who is attracted to her despite the many secrets he knows she is keeping from him. Meanwhile, Martin stumbles onto evidence that Laura may still be alive, and stops at nothing to discover the truth so that he can carry out his promise of never letting her go while she's still alive. That promise extends to anyone who may be helping her, such as Ben.