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Chicagoan Jennifer Stewart arrives at the Southern home of her cousin, Eva Phillips, who has pressured her into moving in with her family. Shortly after arriving, Jennifer overhears an argument between Eva's sister-in-law Carol Lee Phillips, and her fiancé Judson Prentis, about announcing their engagement, then Carol introduces her to Eva's husband Avery, and the neighbors Sue McKinnon and her brother Ty. When Eva arrives home, the McKinnons depart hastily and Eva blithely explains to Jennifer that Sue begrudges her for taking Avery away from her years before. When a drunken Avery and Eva begin quarreling, Carol ushers a startled Jennifer away. Over the next few days, Jennifer learns more about her family, as she settles into being a personal assistant to Eva, whom she greatly admires. When Avery dryly attempts to point out to Jennifer her naiveté about his wife, she criticizes his manner towards Eva. Later, Jennifer is shocked when Carol frankly admits that she hates Eva, but does not elaborate why. That evening, Jud asks Jennifer not to reveal his engagement, insisting that the need for secrecy is Carol's idea. A little later, Jennifer is taken aback by Eva's familiarity with Jud and further surprised when, after Jud reveals the engagement, Eva speculates that the marriage will never occur. One night Jennifer finds Carol comforting Eva's young son Ted after a nightmare and when she asks after Eva, Carol ruefully explains that Eva uses people, describing her as a heartless "queen bee" of the hive. When Jennifer protests that Eva has always unselfishly provided for her, Carol reveals that Avery, not Eva, paid for Jennifer's education and daily support after the death of Jennifer's parents. The following evening, Jennifer accidentally sees Eva attempting to kiss Jud, who refuses and walks away. Eva follows and Jennifer overhears their discussion. Jud protests that their relationship ended ten years earlier when Eva married Avery and Jud insists on his love for Carol, but Eva scoffs at him. When Jennifer confronts Eva about her harshness, her cousin explains the difficulty she felt moving into the hidebound and traditionally Southern Phillips family and the measures she felt necessary to take to protect herself from permanent outsider status. Confused, Jennifer suggests that she is considering returning to Chicago, but Eva persuades her to remain. Jennifer then tells Avery that she has learned more about her cousin and after apologizing for doubting him, seeks his help in thwarting Eva's intention to disrupt Carol and Jud's marriage. Avery admits to knowing about Eva and Jud's past. When Jennifer wonders whether Avery will ever like her, he responds by kissing her, which startles her. The next day, Avery summons the family and, to Eva's displeasure, announces that Carol and Jud will marry that weekend. The night before the wedding, Eva returns from a party to overhear Carol and Jennifer discussing Carol's wedding plans. When Jennifer realizes Eva is going to reveal her past with Jud to Carol, she attempts to intervene, but is unsuccessful. Eva hints broadly about the affair, but Carol refuses to discuss the situation and departs. The following morning, a worried Jud asks Jennifer if she has seen Carol. After a search, they find Carol dead in the stable, having hanged herself the night before. When Jennifer tells Eva, she breaks down and goes into a two week withdrawal, forcing Jennifer to try to care for Ted and his sister Trissa, despite the condescending attitude of the nanny, Miss Breen. Ignoring Avery's advice, Jud announces his intention to quit the family business and refuses to give further explanation. When Avery observes Jennifer's strained appearance, she admits to great stress due to her attraction to him, but he tells her they can have no future together. Unknown to them both, Eva has overheard their conversation. Jennifer discovers Miss Breen slapping the children and informs Avery, who promptly fires the nanny, despite her arch suggestions that she will have to explain the situation between Avery and Jennifer to Eva. When Jennifer notices a palpable tension between Jud and Avery, she questions Jud, who angrily believes Avery broke his word and told Carol about his relationship with Eva. Jennifer tells him that Eva told Carol, infuriating Jud. Avery informs Eva that he wants a divorce, but she belittles his affection for Jennifer and promises she will fight any divorce action. Eva warns him to stay away from Jennifer and demands that Miss Breen be rehired. Soon after, Avery becomes very attentive to Eva, who is initially suspicious, then delighted. Jennifer is crushed and Jud suspicious when Eva and Avery announce their plan to have a second honeymoon. On the night of a large party at a neighbor's, Jud confronts Avery on his change of attitude, and Avery admits his plan to kill Eva in a car accident that night. Jud then tells Eva that Avery has been slightly delayed for the party and offers to drive her, despite the heavy rain. Eva agrees and on the car ride, Jud stuns Eva by revealing Avery's plan. When Eva realizes Jud intends to complete Avery's plan, she struggles, but Jud succeeds in driving the car off a cliff, killing them both. Avery, who has followed in a frantic attempt to stop the pair, is filled with despair, but receives loving support from Jennifer.