The Ashley family had lived at Ashley Court for generations. With its moated house and ruined gardens the Court has been the lifelong home of Bryony Ashley, a twenty-two-year-old Englishwoman of spirit and beauty. However, when Bryony's father is killed in a mysterious automobile accident, ownership of the Court passes by legal trust to her cousin Emory.
At first, Bryony feels relief that she has not inherited the responsibility of the Court. She knows that she possesses the true Ashley legacy: the "gift." Three hundred years ago that gift was called "The Sight," and had caused an Ashley ancestor to be burned at the stake. Today Bryony calls it the gift of telepathy, and she is also aware that at least one of the other Ashleys has this gift. Is it Emory? Or perhaps James, Emory's identical twin brother? Or even perhaps Francis, another Ashley cousin?
Throughout the years this strange telepathic communication has led Bryony to think of this other Ashley as her "phantom lover." The intimate relationship with this lover is complete in every way but one: the physical.
Left alone after her father's death, Bryony is more determined than ever to discover the identity of this person. She also wants to learn the meaning of her dying father's last message to her. There is a "cat" in her father's warning. Bryony thinks it may refer to the cat on the family crest, which decorates the scandal-shrouded garden pavilion used in the nineteenth century by the Ashleys as an illicit trysting place. Or does "cat" refer to a vivacious young American girl who is making a play for Emory?
The garden pavilion is in the center of a complicated maze of hedges and shrubbery notoriously difficult to get out of. Bryony knows the maze well, but does not guess the harrowing significance it will come to play in her life as well as that of her "phantom lover."
—jacket, William Morrow edition, 1976