Modern day Margaret Bryce is in a jam. Her graduate dissertation is due in mere weeks, and despite the enormous help her adviser, J. Whitman Bell has provided, there's something missing from her paper. Dr. Bell decides the best option is for her to travel back in time to a Victorian mill town, so she can better understand the struggles--both economic and personal--people of that era faced. She agrees to his insane scheme, knowing it's only a joke, a way for her to dig deeper within herself to find the answers. Only, when she wakes up in Milton, and finds the year to be 1851, she knows she's in trouble.
John Thornton, the most successful cotton mill master in Milton, is bored. His life is tedious. In his thirties, he still lives with his autocratic mother and his empty-headed sister, and he hasn't had much excitement. He decides he needs to get married, that maybe a wife, a partner, is the biggest thing missing from his life. Unlike the running of his mill, finding a wife is a bit beyond his skill.
When Margaret and John meet, sparks fly, as a woman with 2015 sensibilities collides with a man of 1851 proprieties. Will Margaret agree to give up her life in 2015, all her independence, and settle for a life in dirty, smoky Milton? Will John learn to bend to Margaret's odd ways and believe she's really from the future? Can they overcome the obstacles of instability in Milton, jealousy and the death of beloved friends?