Chicky Ryan loves the small Irish seaside town of Stoneybridge where she grew up. She’s happy living at home, working at the local factory, and walking along the wild Atlantic coast. Then one day Walter Starr, an attractive American tourist, sweeps her off her feet. Surprising herself, and in spite of her family’s dire warnings, she returns to New York with him. To placate her family, she writes of her wonderful life with Walter, even making up a story about their quiet wedding ceremony. But her fantasy is cut short when Walter announces he is moving on. Left on her own, Chicky gets a job at a boardinghouse, mastering the ins and outs of making the guests feel at home and building a small savings account. Eager to put her family’s constant questions about Walter to rest, she writes that he died in a car accident. On a visit to Stoneybridge, Chicky finds a way to merge both her lives: she buys Stone House, a run-down mansion on the coast and turns it into a cozy inn. It is the perfect setting for Binchy’s much-admired talent for capturing character and place.
With the help of her niece and the son of an old friend, and the delighted support of the elderly former owner, Chicky restores the charm and beauty of Stone House and its surrounding grounds. The opening week in early December brings a diverse and intriguing group of vacationers: a pair of women obviously uncomfortable with each other; a handsome American intent on hiding his true identity; and a husband and wife, both doctors, trying to figure out their future. Joining them are a young Swede torn between his obligation to take over his father’s business and his passion for music; a long-married couple who won their week at Stone House in a contest; a cold, disagreeable retired headmistress; and a librarian haunted by unwelcome visions. Each guest arrives with a story—of a failed or shaky romance, missed opportunities, or unrealized dreams—and each discovers that a week in winter can be the beginning of change.