Darcie, 16, seeks her father, Paul, and is befriended by handsome, intriguing Roman during a summer that climaxes with a startling tragedy. With Darcie's mother honeymooning in Europe, Darcie stays with Uncle George and Aunt May, helping out at their zoo restaurant. Taciturn and alcoholic, George is furious at Darcie's curiosity about Paul. Reluctantly, May tells Darcie that Paul was a local boy? a teen-ager as was her mother. Meanwhile, Darcie is fascinated by Roman, a warm, imaginative sealkeeper with a gift for communicating with animals, though his empathy with their captivity and grief when one of them dies border on bizarre. Darcie finds him her one comfort, although, at 28, he scrupulously tries to keep her at arm's length. Still, he helps her find Paul's father and provides solace as she pieces together her sad origins: George had bribed Paul to join the Army; Paul returned the money but went anyway, planning to return and marry Darcie's mother, but was killed. Darcie's feeling for Roman is so strong that she "would do anything for him"; their single kiss is yearningly sweet, but when his favorite seal is killed by a prankster, his ultimate request reveals his dangerous depths. Conrad's characters are so tautly drawn that readers should willingly suspend disbelief at the more melodramatic moments of her plot. The parallel threads of Darcie's quest and her gradual entwinement with Roman, in whose charming vitality a frightening flaw is implied from the beginning, should keep readers enthralled. Darcie's final escape from what has become an evil spell is heart-stopping.