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A doctor in a small town in Scotland, Peter Ashe has been exploited by his senior partner for seventeen years. When, suddenly, the older man dies Peter and his wife Elizabeth welcome their chance to enjoy life with their two children like any other family.
But the arrival of Jacky Carstairs and her sister Anne introduces new and unexpected complications. With Jacky, Peter establishes a curiously delicate relationship which goes beyond the strange intimacy of doctor and patient in the face of death. His attachment to Anne is an extension of this bond; and it also brings home to him the truth that he has reached middle age.
Elizabeth understands her husband's dilemma but cannot help him; their children, young adults determined to break the restraints of childhood, stretch their parents' tolerance to the limit. As the tension within the Ashe family mounts to near tragedy, the human demands of the close-knit community are told with great sympathy and skill.