A sweeping story of passion and obsession, set against the upheavals of 19th-century imperial China
Samuel Pickens, a blue blood from Connecticut's Gold Coast, narrates the tale of obsession, lust, and lost love from his home within the walls of the Forbidden City. In his youth, Pickens has fallen passionately in love with his headmaster's daughter, Annabelle. She had been raised in China and was worldly beyond her years. Though they were just teenagers, their romance quickly blossomed until tragically, only one month after meeting, Annabelle was dead. Initially, Pickens is devastated by the loss, but within days, he believes that Annabelle's ghost is visiting him, and she will not rest until she is returned to China.
Pickens becomes the benefactor of a number of lucky coincidences --- unless, of course, it is Annabelle who is pulling the strings --- that allow him to travel to the Orient. There, he works for the effete and powerless emperor, who keeps a concubine, Qiu Rong, who looks shockingly like dear Annabelle. Pickens cannot hide his desire, and it is requited, but the palace is filled with gossips and thieves at every turn. Once their love is discovered, Qiu Rong and Pickens must escape, but the only one who can help them is a nearby warlord, who has a shocking story of his own to reveal.