Lenore Brownley tires of the never-ending tea parties and social whirl required of her as a Boston debutante and she asks her parentsí permission to visit her grandmother, Sylvia Worth, off the coast of Maine. Lenoreís parents have been estranged from her grandmother so she is pleasantly surprised when permission is readily given. It seems that the Brownleys are hoping to ingratiate themselves back into Sylviaís good graces since they could use a little help financially. Lenoreís reasons for going though is entirely her own Ė she wants to discover who she truly is and to seek her destiny.
When she arrives at Belle Cove, Sylvia is taking care of business at Worth Lumber Company and leaves a note that she will see her at dinner. In the meantime, Lenore reflects on past summers spent here and her enjoyment of them. One of her most pleasant memories is of Jake Warren, son of her grandmotherís friend and advisor, Jacob Warren. Lenore used to follow Jake around when she was a little girl, fascinated with his laugh and his knowledge. She couldnít be more shocked when he walks into the kitchen of Belle Cove and reveals that he and his father are now living there after their own house burned down. Jake is now the town doctor and better looking than ever, arousing feelings in Lenore she didnít know were possible.
Jake cannot believe the little girl with the golden braids has grown into such a beauty, although he is not at all taken with her haughty manner. The two soon clash and then endeavor to stay out each otherís way. But Sylvia Worth has other plans; she first puts Nora to work sorting papers concerning the local cotton mill where young girls have been disappearing. Nora becomes more and more intrigued in the plight of these young girls and is quickly told by Jake to not get involved in something that is not her business. When Jakeís assistant at the clinic goes away to visit her new grandchild, Sylvia insists that Nora step in and help Jake, an idea that Nora is not very fond of until it becomes apparent that Jake thinks she is totally unsuitable. Of course, Nora now has something to prove and sets out to do just that.
Soon Nora is caught up in shenanigans at the cotton mill as well as with Jakeís patients; the two are so intertwined in their lives that it becomes very difficult to resist each otherís charms. Nora worries over Jakeís view of himself as a failure because he cannot save a dying man, and Jake searches for Nora vigorously when she goes missing. It begins to seem as if Grandmother knows exactly what she is about.
The Darling is a good romance with a little bit of mystery thrown in the mix. Elizabeth Keys has added some intriguing elements to the story of Nora and Jake; unfortunately the best parts, the story about the cotton mill and the roles that the Widow Johnson and her brother Richard Moore play in that, are just barely skimmed over. Fleshed out, that could have been a fascinating back story. The whole story seemed like it was tied up much too quickly and somewhat untidily. Overall though, The Darling will probably satisfy pure romance fans.