Halifax, 1832. Anne Lister returns to Shibden Hall, having discovered that her would-be companion, the aristocratic Vere Hobart, has accepted a marriage proposal from a man. Despite her affection for her elderly aunt, Lister is frustrated by the shabbiness of her ancestral home and finds her father and long-suffering sister difficult to live with. When Lister discovers that her land is rich in coal, her plans to transform the estate soon provide a welcome distraction. On the neighboring estate, shy heiress Ann Walker is quietly delighted to hear that the charismatic Anne Lister is back. Meanwhile, a hit-and-run accident on Shibden land puts a child's life at risk, and Lister's new French maid, Eugénie, finds herself in trouble.
Lister begins a playful but dangerous courtship of Ann Walker, who quickly finds herself captivated by the attentions of her neighbor. Lister's plan to excavate her coal mines brings her into the path of local magistrate Christopher Rawson and his brother Jeremiah. While Ann Walker prepares for a trip to the Lake District, her cousin's reaction to her budding friendship leads her to realize that Lister is not popular with everyone in the community. Back at Shibden, Lister's servant, John Booth, offers a solution to Eugénie's problem. Meanwhile, Lister wonders if confronting the past could be the key to finding future happiness.
Lister confides her hopes for a future with Ann Walker to her aunt, as Ann's neighbor, Mrs. Priestley, has an inkling about the two women's relationship that presents a threat. Meanwhile, John Booth is surprised at his own romantic success. The Rawson brothers step up their attempts to out-maneuver Lister in the coal business. Marian grows annoyed that her sister is treating Shibden like a hotel. The mouthy behavior of Lister's tenant, Sam Sowden, causes problems for his son Thomas.
During a visit to York, Lister is delighted when Doctor Belcombe confirms that she is the perfect tonic for Ann Walker's nervous disorder. When news of a friend's death arrives, Ann's desperate reaction makes Lister suspect that she has secrets of her own. Meanwhile, as her rivalry with Christopher Rawson heats up, Lister steps up her plan to re-open her old coal mines. At Shibden, Eugénie's misfortune has implications for John Booth, and Thomas Sowden spins a risky web of lies after his father's disappearance.
The widowed Reverend Ainsworth arrives in Halifax, and with encouragement from Mrs. Priestley, sets his sights on Ann Walker. Aware that Ainsworth's attentions are stirring up memories for her lover, Lister sets out to deal with the clergyman in her own inimitable manner. Meanwhile, Lister presses on with the transformation of her estate, but her ambitious plans threaten to lead her into trouble. At afternoon tea, Marian remains impressed by Mr. Abbott, though her aunt and father are less so. A discovery in the pigsty gives Mary Sowden reason to suspect Thomas is lying about his father.
With Ann Walker's mental state in a downward spiral, Lister is forced to contemplate travelling to Europe alone, despite her family's warnings that doing so will raise eyebrows. Aunt Anne and Captain Lister endure another visit from the irritating Mr. Abbott, while Marian remains peeved that her sister is absent once again. Lister reopens her coal-mine negotiations with the powerful Rawson brothers. Thomas Sowden's secret casts a cloud over his budding relationship with Suzannah Washington. Ann's Scottish relatives swoop in with their own ideas about what's best for her future.
Before setting off for Europe to escape her heartache, Lister invites Christopher Rawson to Shibden to rebuke him for publicly insulting Marian. Later, Lister comes up with a bold strategy to mine her own coal and expose the Rawson brothers' industrial-scale theft. In Scotland, Ann Walker becomes increasingly distressed when she discovers that her brother-in-law, Captain Sutherland, plans to marry her off to his penniless cousin. Lister travels to London with her old flame Mariana Lawton, a trip that exposes crippling memories of their past relationship. Despite his lowly social status, Thomas Sowden plucks up the courage to speak to Mr. Washington about his future with Suzannah.
Following a four-week journey from Paris to Copenhagen, Lister finds acceptance and appreciation in Danish high society, stepping out of her sartorial comfort zone to attend a birthday ball hosted by Queen Marie. When difficult news arrives from Shibden, Lister is faced with the decision to stay in Europe or go back home. In Scotland, a shocking discovery about Captain Sutherland leads Ann Walker to make a bold resolution about her future. An unexpected visitor to the farm threatens to expose Thomas Sowden's macabre secret.