Rhine is in the back of a truck with several other girls who have also been kidnapped. This has been a common practice for the Gatherers to collect girls from their homes or the streets since the virus has been discovered that kills boys at 25 and girls at 20 years-old. When the truck stops, the girls are let out. Rhine and two others are led to a limo while the others are put back in the truck and shot. Rhine wakes up in a nice room and throws up. A boy is there to clean it up and tells her sleeping gas was used so they won’t know where they are. He servers her a meal with tea (which reminds her of her twin brother, Rowan). She asks about the other two girls. The boy tells her one is resting and the other is touring the garden with the house governor. He leaves her and she lays her head down to cry but ends up screaming instead.
Rowan had warned Rhine about grey vans kidnapping girls, but she was taken in a different way. She thinks about the first generation of genetically perfected people, now in their 70s. The generations that followed are the ones that started dying prematurely. Rowan was very into finding a cure until their parents were murdered. She finds her room in unlocked and wanders down the hall. A blonde girl, Rose, is obviously sick and wants to stop the medication to let herself die. She points out that Rhine is her replacement and then starts coughing blood. A first generation woman comes to help Rose and Rhine sneaks out into the hallway. She runs into a man that she can’t tell is good or not. He leaves her to go to Rose. The boy that brought her lunch tells her she needs to go back to her room. Later, the same boy brings her dinner in her room. She asks about Rose and he tells her she is the House Governor’s First Wife (note necessarily chronological order, but most valued, taken to social events) and she has the virus. He is surprised Rhine hasn’t seen its affects before. Rhine doesn’t think it is safe to tell him her parents were first generation. He tells her his name is Gabriel before he leaves, warning her she will need her rest for the next day. She notices a limp when he walks away and hears him lock the door after he closes it.
The next morning, Rhine is woken up by several first generation women. They are surprised she has one brown and one blue eye (so does her brother; her parents called it heterochromia). They pull her out of bed and start to bathe her. A girl named Deirdre comes to get her in the middle of the process to talk to Lady Rose. Deirdre warns her Lady Rose gets whatever she wants. Rhine enters and Rose shows her pictures of her and Linden growing up together and always being in love. His father tried to get Rose to last as long as Linden, but she knows she is dying. Rhine is the perfect age to die at the same time as him. Rhine asks where Rose is from and she answers they are at Linden’s Childhood home in Florida, which is where she is from. Rhine is furious for being taken from Manhattan and for all the other girls that were shot. Deirdre comes to take Rhine to a doctor. He sticks her arm and she passes out quickly.
Back in Manhattan, Rhine and Rowan put burlap sacks over their windows and slept in shifts in the basement. Rhine could usually find work in call centers, but Rowan mostly did manual labor. He fell asleep one night and a Gatherer made it into the basement and put a knife to Rhine’s throat. Rowan woke up and shot him in the head. They started setting up cans in the kitchen to alert them after that. Deirdre wakes Rhine and does her hair and makeup before putting her in a wedding dress. Rhine is impressed at how talented the little girl is. Deirdre explains she is Rhine’s personal domestic. She takes Rhine to the garden with the other brides, Cecily (young, redhead who seems excited to be getting married) and Jenna (sallow looking older girl who seems dazed). They are wed to the house governor, Linden, in order of age and then taken back to their rooms to be dressed in sultry dresses. Rhine’s is red. Deirdre then leads her to dinner with her new husband, sister wives, and father-in-law. Housemaster Vaughn is a first generation that intimidates the girls. Rhine decides to bide her time and gain Linden’s trust to optimize her chances of escape. Linden is lost in thought about Rose dying.
Rhine asks Deirdre how Linden will consummate his marriages. She thinks he will wait until Rose dies. Linden wakes Rhine up just before sunrise and takes her to sit on a swing outside. They talk about how the world used to be before war melted the icecaps and flooded everything except North America. Linden admits that Rose taught him about it. Rhine leaves him to his grieving. She finds they are allowed to roam the wives’ floor, but there are no stairs and the elevator needs a card to work. There is a library and a sitting room, and Rhine checks everywhere for a way to escape. She uses an umbrella to pry open the elevator doors and thinks of how to get out. Rose catches her and says she won’t tell. She points out Linden left an umbrella in her room because he intends to take her outside. Rhine takes Rose back to her room and starts being prepared to replace her. She learns Linden had an older brother before he was born that died at 25. Rhine compares this to her parents having a set of twins before her and Rowan. They died by age five due to genetic deformities. Linden’s mom died giving birth to him and his father was too obsessed with genetic research to remarry and breed again. Housemaster Vaughn has invested in the girls and plans to protect them. Rose explains she had to convince Linden to take more wives to make her death easier for him and to help in social circles where most men have at least three wives. Rhine and Rose become friends and spend a lot of time together, but Rhine knows she will never be what Rose is to Linden (and she doesn’t want to be).
Cecily seems to be the only bride happy to be there. She reads books about pregnancy, tortures the staff, and is nosey about the other wives. Jenna keeps to herself, hating Linden. Gabriel brings Rhine lunch and finds her reading about Christopher Columbus. He starts to tell her about the ships when Elle comes to yell at him to get Rose’s cough medicine. Rhine follows him to the elevator. She can see Linden crying into Rose’s bed down the hall. He yells for everyone to leave him alone and Rhine jumps into the elevator with Gabriel. She spends some time in the kitchen where the cooks have no love for Rose. Gabriel gives Rhine a bag of Rose’s favorite candy, June Beans, and takes her back to the wives’ floor. That night, Linden comes into Rhine’s room and she invites him into her bed for comfort. He cries himself to sleep over Rose. Gabriel finds Linden sill in her bed when he brings Rhine’s breakfast. She wants to explain to him what happened, but can’t with her husband there. One day while Gabriel brings the girls tea in the sitting room, Cecily starts complaining that Linden won’t touch her. She accuses Rhine of kissing him and asks several questions. Rhine tells her it is not her business and leaves the room. She slips into the elevator with Gabriel just before it closes. He keeps the door closed when she starts crying. She tells him about Rowan. She went to sell plasma and was thrown into the back of a truck with the other girls. The elevator starts to move and they find themselves in the basement. Gabriel can’t get the elevator to move with his card. He explains during storms, the elevators go into “panic” mode and go to the basement automatically. They hear people coming and hide. They watch people in hazardous material suits wheeling Rose’s body away.
Rhine and Gabriel wait until it is clear to get back to the kitchen. One cook asks why her face is red and she says she is allergic to shell fish to cover up for her crying. Rhine and Gabriel continue to talk whenever they can. He sneaks the June Bean candies into her means. He tells her he didn’t have much freedom at the orphanage, but he could see the beach. They taught skills and then auctioned them off as servants. None of the servants leave the mansion - everything they need is delivered. Rhine tells him about fishing with her brother and always having to throw the fish back because the ones near the shore are not edible. Linden invites his brides to dinner and suggest they celebrate they have all been together for two months. Rhine suggests the orange grove (Rose’s favorite place) knowing it will hurt him with memories of Rose. He tries to talk his wives out of it, but the other girls agree with Rhine. Later that night, Jenna tells Rhine she is glad Rhine found a way to hurt Linden. Her sister were in the back of the truck they were taken from. She plans to live out her life in luxury, but she won’t let Linden know her. The next morning, Gabriel wakes Rhine from a nightmare about the basement. He tells her he wonders what happens to people when they die there. Even Rose and Linden’s baby that was stillborn was only scattered ashes. Rhine tells Gabriel she wants to get out and reminds him about the real world he hasn’t seen in years (half his life). Linden hosts the party in the orange grove. Jenna and Rhine dance with the Housemaster’s colleagues while Linden spends the entire night with Cecily. He disappears with her and they don’t see Cecily again until the next morning. She is dazed and dreamy. Rhine assumes Linden slept with her. That night, Linden comes to Rhine’s room and asks to join her in her bed. She denies him, so he asks her to go for a walk. Once they are in the orange grove, he says he won’t let her use the place against him. Rhine lies and says she meant it to be a funeral for Rose. Linden starts sleeping in Rhine’s room, but they only talk. Rhine thinks she is doing good helping her sister wives. Linden starts to let them out during the day. Rhine runs into Gabriel by the pool and he seems disappointed that Rhine has fallen for Linden. He doesn’t give her a chance to explain. Rhine realizes how much she misses talking to him. One day, Gabriel escorts the three wives back to their floor. Rhine tries to get his attention. Cecily says she feels funny and faints.
As everyone fusses over Cecily, Rhine listens at her own door. Gabriel comes in to talk to her. She reassures him she is not having sex with Linden and he is relieved. She wants to tell him about planning to escape, but decides against it since she doesn’t have any idea how to accomplish it yet. She starts asking questions about him until Elle comes in to tell them Cecily is pregnant. Linden’s attention shifts to Cecily so Gabriel and Rhine are free to talk in the mornings. She tells him how Manhattan’s Burroughs have been renamed to reflect what they are used for. Cecily knocks on the door and Rhine answers. Gabriel leaves with a tray. Cecily points out how miserable she is because of the pregnancy. Rhine explains to her that people might be more willing to get her what she wants if she is nice to them. Cecily says Rhine is being to nice to Gabriel, and it gives the wrong impression.
As Linden devotes more of his time to Cecily, Jenna and Rhine are allowed to roam the mansion and gardens. Rhine looks for any way of escaping, but can’t even find tracks left from delivery trucks. Jenna asks Linden for a trampoline. As Jenna Ned Rhine lay on it, Jenna reveals that she was a prostitute in order to survive. Rhine is surprised Jenna had sex with Linden, and Jenna is surprised Rhine is still a virgin. Jenna explains Linden isn’t so bad; Housemaster Vaughn is the one who scares her.
Rhine is lying in the orange grove one day when Linden finds her. Seeing an opportunity to earn his trust, Rhine asks him to join her. He does and asks what she is thinking about. She thinks about the destroyed world and tells him she wonders if they are worth saving. Linden tells her about getting sick when he was little and almost dying. He tells her it wasn’t his choice to live. Linden gives Rhine a gift: her window now opens. Cecily sends an attendant for Rhine one day saying it is an emergency. Rhine rushes up to the wives’ floor just to find Cecily is bored because Linden keeps her in bed all the time. Rhine tells her a story about twins from Manhattan being separated by a hurricane. When a hurricane really does come through, the wives and their domestics are all rushed to the basement with Vaughn and Linden. While Vaughn shows Cecily how to play chess and Jenna naps, Linden shows Rhine his drawings. She is impressed with the houses and the life he has drawn inside them. He starts to lean in to kiss her, but Cecily interrupts. After a while, Rhine joins Jenna in a canopy bed. Jenna tells her to remember how they got there. Rhine drifts off and dreams of Vaughn telling Cecily that she can’t be jealous of Linden’s other wives.
Everything goes back to normal after the hurricane passes. While Rhine is outside enjoying fall, Gabriel brings her hot chocolate so they can spend some time together. She walks him back in, but finds Vaughn at the door to the kitchen. He takes her on a walk and tells her he is going to find a cure within four years. Linden and his wives will live long and happy lives. Rhine realizes he is telling her to be happy with the luxuries he has provided until she dies. Rhine starts dedicating her nights to thinking about Rowan and Manhattan. She dreams of her brother one night and is woken by Linden crawling into bed with her. Another hurricane comes through three days later. Rhine kicks out the screen when the alarm sounds and then jumps out the window. She starts blindly running and finds herself on the miniature golf course. She can only see the light from the lighthouse in the storm. She climbs the lighthouse and sees a gate in the distance. Gabriel is coming or her and calling her name. She asks him to run away with her, but he keeps calling her name. Something hits her in the back of the head and she falls into Gabriel’s arms.
Rhine drifts in and out of sleep as she heals. Linden is with her most of the time. Vaughn sits by her bed one day and tells her how Rose tried to escape through the air vents. He killed her parents (who he thought were crazy for wanting to find other surviving countries that could help them) with a bomb. He warns her that if she tries to escape again, he will kill her. She realizes Rose was trying to warn her about him.
Jenna tells Rhine she and the staff said Rhine was caught out in the storm and couldn’t find her way back to the house. Cecily comes to visit and is much more pregnant than the last time Rhine saw her. She was scarred that Rhine died when they brought her in. Rhine cheers her up by asking her to distract Linden so she can be alone for a while. Gabriel comes to see her and she apologizes to him. He kisses her. They hear a noise and he goes to check, but no one is there. He shows her Linden’s atlas and that her name comes from a river in Europe. She is grateful to him for the information.
Linden shows Rhine his drawings - houses that would have existed in the old world but have been destroyed. He tells her he has met with some executives and they want him to design a strip mall for them. He says he will take Rhine to the architecture expo and building christenings (celebrating things still being built even thought humans’ life spans are so short). Cecily throws a fit when he tells her she won’t be able to go to the parties, and Linden carries her out of Rhine’s room. Gabriel comes to visit. She tells him she still plans to escape and he asks if it is so bad there. Rhine tells him she wants to go home and find her brother. She tells him she asked him to run away with her in the storm, but he couldn’t hear her. Now she says she will drag him with her. Deirdre comes in and Gabriel leaves. The young domestic tells Rhine she can’t try to escape again. Rose hadn’t wanted to bring children into the world, but once she got pregnant, she wanted the baby. Rose and Deirdre both heard the baby girl cry even though Vaughn said it was stillborn. Rhine promises not to try to leave, but she is now more determined than ever.
Cecily is having contractions the night Linden and Rhine are supposed to go to the expo. Vaughn convinces her they are Braxton Hicks contractions and to let Linden go. Rhine quickly tells Jenna what is going on so she can watch over Cecily. A limo arrives and Rhine is nervous about getting in until the window is rolled down. She puts her head out the sunroof and watches the mansion disappear as they leave the trees and enter the city. Linden tells her how Rose used to handle social events. Rhine tries to emulate her predecessor’s behavior, but finds she has to keep drinking wine to be able to stand the rich men kissing her hand and the vapid young wives. Linden shows off his holographic model. After a while, they sneak out. Rhine contemplates running, but gets back into the limo. When they get home, Linden checks on Cecily and Rhine goes to bed. He joins her later and wakes her up. He starts kissing her, but she stops him to remind him she isn’t Rose. HE asks her why she wanted to become a bride. Rhine is shocked and asks him what he thinks happened to the girls he didn’t choose. He assumes they were sent back to where they came from. Rhine realizes Linden has been a prisoner his whole life.
Rhine is worried when she doesn’t see Gabriel the next day. She asks to go outside, but Vaughn shows up to escort her. He takes her to the newly fixed gold course and has her play a round with him. He thanks her for bringing Linden back to his former self and says he will take her all over the city. When lunch is brought by a nervous first generation attendant, Jenna complains about the food and sends Rhine to the kitchen to complain. The attendant takes her down. Rhine asks about Gabriel, but no one has seen him since Vaughn called him to the basement that morning.
Rhine dry heaves into the toilet. She ends up telling Jenna everything she knows and then throws up. Cecily comes to check on her and Jenna says she had too much to drink. Cecily insists on hearing about the party. Rhine tells her it was so boring she drank just for something to do. Later, Cecily sleeps while the new attendant brings a meal. He tells Rhine to check the napkin. She finds a June Bean. Rhine is in Cecily’s room looking out the window when she sees a limo drive through some trees. She realizes the driveway is hidden by an illusion. Deirdre tries to help Rhine relax. Rhine asks her if she could go anywhere, where would it be. Deirdre tells her about a beach her father painted. Rhine has trouble sleeping and goes to Jenna’s room. Linden is leaving as she comes in. Jenna, seeing how anxious Rhine is, takes her to the sitting room to watch a soap opera and eat ice cream. Cecily joins them. Rhine looks away from the TV during a sex scene and Cecily calls her a prude. She points out she can’t be the only one having babies. Rhine thinks about being free with Gabriel and smiles to herself.
Linden takes Rhine out for a walk in the snowy orange grove. He gives her a gift and she opens the box to find a key card like the attendants have. Sh is so excited she hugs him and lets him kiss her. Back on the wives’ floor, Rhine looks for Jenna, but can’t find her. She sees her again at dinner with Linden, Vaughn, and Cecily. Afterwards, Rhine thanks Jenna for convincing Linden to give her the card. Jenna tells her she hit the panic button in the elevator to go to the basement to find Gabriel, but she ran into Vaughn instead. She tells Rhine not to worry because there are a lot of jobs in the basement Gabriel could have been assigned to. Jenna says she will distract Vaughn so Rhine can check on Gabriel; she only has a year left and nothing left to loose. Rhine asks what Vaughn did to Jenna. Jenna says Vaughn knows Rhine tried to run once and is trying to keep Gabriel away from her.
Deirdre tries to comfort Rhine, but she is too distraught. She asks for a manicure and waxed eyebrows, so Deirdre sends up the women that helped prepare Rhine for her wedding day. Rhine asks about changing her eye color and they bring her contacts to try out. Cecily screams out when she goes into labor early. Jenna goes to get Linden and Vaughn. When everyone gets there and starts fussing over Cecily, Jenna points out this is Rhine’s chance to go check on Gabriel. Rhine can’t bring herself to leave Cecily in such pain with Vaughn. Hours pass before Cecily gives birth. The baby doesn’t cry.
Vaughn takes care of the baby and announces a healthy boy. Rhine still worries about Cecily, who has lost a lot of blood, and the baby. That night, Linden comes to Rhine for sex. She tells him there are many things she wants to see and do before they start having babies. He accepts this for now, but Rhine realizes she is running out of time. The attendants start to crowd Rhine because she is the first wife, as indicated by the key card. She wonders if it was part of Vaughn’s plan to smother her. Rhine watches Linden, Cecily, and the baby - the perfect family because none of them realize they are captives. One afternoon, Cecily plays the piano with holograms floating around. She wishes they had a real piano. Jenna points out nothing is real in the mansion.
Jenna flirts with an attendant to steal his lighter. She uses that and one of Rhine’s candles to set the sitting room on fire so Rhine can get to the basement. Once the alarm sounds and everyone rushes to the sitting room, Rhine gets in the elevator and presses the panic button. She gets into a hazmat suit to search for Gabriel and he finds her whispering his name. He tells her Vaughn knows everything and drags her into a dark room. She tells him she found a way out through the tree illusion and asks him to leave with her. He starts to object, but she kisses him until he agrees to go. They agree they will run the next month when he takes out the hazardous waste. Rhine gets back to the wives’ floor. Cecily notices Rhine’s eyes are different and Rhine says she was trying out a new look to surprise Linden for the winter solstice party. Cecily tries to take care of her son, Bowen, but Vaughn seems to be taking over control of the situation. Deirdre gets Rhine ready for the winter solstice party. Linden takes her out in the limo and she tries to memorize landmarks and streets. She notices parties on boats in the ocean and wonders if Gabriel could sail them away. Linden says he gets seasick. At the party, they snack at the buffet table and then Rhine gets Linden to dance. Several people talk with her and she finds the conversations pleasant (unlike the architecture expo). Rhine is told how much better Linden looks. She takes home treats for Cecily who is arguing with Vaughn over where Bowen’s nursery should be. Rhine has trouble sleeping and goes into Jenna’s room to lay with her. Jenna coughs and Rhine turns on the light to find blood.
Vaughn checks over Jenna and determines it is the virus come early. Rhine and Cecily lie in bed with her. When the baby cries, Cecily goes to feed him even though Vaughn never lets her. Rhine tells Jenna she got to see Gabriel and they have a plan to leave the next month. Rhine wants to take Jenna with her, but Jenna knows she will be dead by then. They talk about how they have trouble remembering their siblings’ faces. Linden starts spending more time with Jenna. She starts to tell him things, but not whole truths. Rhine thinks it is Jenna’s revenge that Linden never knew her. Rhine decides she won’t fill him in. Linden upsets Rhine by talking about Jenna in past tense at dinner. When she goes back to the wives’ floor, she finds Jenna holding Bowen. She hands the baby to Rhine and barely makes it to her room before a coughing fit starts. Rhine dreams of all the things she misses that night. Cecily wakes her up because Jenna is much worse. Rhine and Cecily spend all day with Jenna, sending away any attendants except her domestic, Adair. Linden brings Bowen in and seems worried about the closeness of his wives and what Jenna’s death will do to them. Cecily sends him away and Rhine confirms the order. Jenna mumbles about it not being safe there. Rhine doesn’t know if she is talking about the mansion or dreaming about her sister in the truck.
Rhine and Cecily stay with Jenna until she dies on January 1. Rhine screams and cries in her room and has trouble even looking at Cecily. Linden says he has never seen her like this and she remembers she is playing the good first wife. He invites her to a party and she agrees to go even though she’d rather stay in bed. Deirdre and Adair get her ready and Cecily comes to watch. Rhine sees she is lost without Bowen and asks Adair to do her hair and makeup. The limo takes Linden and Rhine to a bar for the party. While they are dancing, an unpleasant man asks Linden to swap wives for a dance. Linden agrees. Afterwards, Rhine is disgusted and slips away. She gets some treats packed up for Cecily and dances with a few other wives until it is about to be midnight and they all are whisked away by their husbands. Linden finds her and explains they allow the extra New Years parties because they get so few of them these days. She asks about the girl he danced with and realizes she is jealous (though she shouldn’t be). He assures her he’s only with Rhine tonight. He says he loves her and kisses her. Rhine says she loves him too.
They return from the party early in the morning. Rhine can’t sleep, so she goes into Jenna’s room. The only trace she was ever there is a romance novel with a candy wrapper bookmark. She crawls into the bed and pretends Jenna is there. Rhine starts to have nightmares the following nights. She dreams about Bowen being grown and taking Linden’s place while Rhine and her sister wives’ bodies are frozen in the basement for Vaughn to find an antidote. Rhine wakes up screaming and it wakes up Bowen. Linden tries to comfort her, but she goes to the baby. Cecily gets up and tries to breastfeed, but he won’t take it. Rhine tells Cecily about how babies that feel love develop quicker to reassure Cecily that Bowen knows she loves him. Rhine feels bad for planning to leave Cecily behind, but she can’t stay and waste what is left of her short life.
The morning of Rhine and Gabriel’s escape, she goes outside to Jenna’s trampoline. Cecily joins her and asks her not to run away. Rhine plays dumb, but Cecily knows. She was the one who told Vaughn about Gabriel and Jenna helping them see each other. Rhine tells Cecily she killed Jenna. She tells Cecily there isn’t a cure and she is fooling herself. Cecily seems to realize she is Vaughn’s pawn, and Rhine is telling the truth. Rhine runs away from her until Cecily stops following. That night, Rhine has Deirdre do her makeup and talks to her, wondering what will happen to her once she is gone (Adair was sold shortly after Jenna’s death). She asks Linden to take her to the verandah and he does. She tells him to stop looking for Rose everywhere and just keep her in his heart. He takes her back inside when it gets too cold. She watches Cecily trying to breastfeed Bowen, but knows it won’t work because Vaughn has been feeding the baby from a bottle. She slips away to Jenna’s room, which has nothing left of her sister wife except the lighter, which Rhine takes. She can practically hear Jenna telling her to go.
As Rhine goes through the kitchen, the head cook stops her and gives her a hot thermos for her “walk.” Rhine expresses her gratitude and then makes her way to the trees while doing her best to cover her tracks in the snow. She waits for Gabriel. She is about to go back for him when he grabs her wrist. They make their way to the gate, but can’t find a way to get past it. They resign themselves to dying by the light of Jenna’s lighter when the attendant that replaced Gabriel comes and opens the gate. Rhine asks why he is helping them. He tells her Cecily asked him to.
They make their way through the wind and snow. Rhine starts to worry they are lost, but they eventually find the city. They go the the theater, which is hosting an all-night zombie movie marathon. They sneak in with a crowd and spend all night in the theater. When morning arrives, they go to the docks and Rhine lets Gabriel pick out a small fishing boat to steal. He steers it out into the water and they start heading up the coast. Gabriel points out a lighthouse in the distance