Cimarron Creek is a town nestled in the Texas Hill Country in 1881. It is a close-knit community — friendly, but not immune to gossip and mistrust of the occasional newcomer. Catherine Whitfield is the town’s schoolteacher.
Although she has a compassionate nature, especially with her students, she can also be unforgiving. Since the death of her mother four months earlier, Catherine has harbored a distrust for doctors. She believes the town doctor, Doc Harrington, and his archaic treatments of bloodletting and purging, directly led to her mother’s death.
Austin Goddard is a young widower with a 6-year-old daughter, Hannah. Once a prominent plastic surgeon in Philadelphia, he fled to Cimarron Creek to escape the machinations of Sherman Enright, a criminal. Sherman wanted Austin to operate on his face to change his appearance so he could evade capture by the police. When Austin refused, Sherman threatened Hannah’s life. Desperate to protect his daughter, he must keep his identity and his former trade a secret so Sherman’s men will not find them. Austin now runs a ranch outside of town.
Hannah has grown melancholy during the move to Texas. Her mood is especially troubling because her mother committed suicide. Austin hopes that starting school will help her make friends and break her out of her depression. Austin accompanies her on the first day and is immediately smitten with Catherine’s beauty and open nature.
When Seth Dalton, one of her older students, complains of feeling ill, Austin witnesses her aversion toward doctors. She insists that she can take care of Seth at her house, as she has recently overcome the same ailment. She stubbornly refuses to let Austin call for Doc Harrington. Austin visits the Dalton farm to tell Seth’s father, Boone, that his son will be remaining in town for a few days while he recuperates from his illness. Austin learns that Boone is an abusive alcoholic who cares more about his cows than he does his son.
Austin finds himself the object of attention for every mother who has an unwed daughter. He tries to evade their notice at church but to no avail. As he dodges invitations to dinner, his eye is drawn toward Catherine. They enjoy their conversations when he picks up Hannah from school. Austin feels he must be careful to avoid romantic entanglements until he knows that Sherman has stopped his search.
Catherine and Austin share their concerns about Hannah. Austin also admits that he has been giving Seth rides to and from school so the boy can get some much needed rest. Catherine shares that the extra time Seth has at school allows him to sketch, something his father does not allow him to do at home.
Catherine believes Seth is very talented and encourages his artwork. Although Catherine confesses to her friend Lydia that she is attracted to Austin, she feels he would never love her the way he loved his first wife, and she will not be any man’s second best.
Hannah’s mental health worsens while her father is out on the range, tending his cattle for days on end, and she is left in care of their housekeeper. Austin tells Catherine about his wife’s extreme moods and eventual suicide. Catherine assures him that Hannah does not have mood swings, but is chronically melancholy.
She asks him about his wife’s appearance and then shares how she had dreamed about a woman matching her description. Catherine had tried to help the woman, but she refused her and jumped in the river. Austin is shocked when Catherine describes the dress his wife was wearing when she died. He is comforted by Catherine’s interpretation of the dream that there was nothing he could have done to prevent his wife’s suicide. He was not to blame.
Catherine sends her students home from school early when a surprise winter storm moves in quickly. She takes Hannah and Seth to her house, as they live too far outside of town to make it home before the snow. Hannah’s demeanor changes when she finds Catherine’s mother’s music box. It reminds the child of her own mother’s music box, which she had to leave behind.
This pleasant memory is the key to unlocking Hannah’s true personality, and she begins talking with Catherine and Seth. When Austin arrives the following day, Hannah announces she wants to live with Catherine. He agrees to let her stay for the coming weeks, as he will be out on the range, but she will come home to the ranch on the weekends. Worried about Seth, Austin talks to Boone and asks to hire the boy to do chores on the ranch so he can keep an eye on him.
One afternoon, Hannah calls Catherine to the window to point out a veiled stranger walking through the town cemetery. Catherine approaches the woman and offers her a place to stay for the night. The woman’s name is Grace. She is a widow. She wanted to visit friends in town, but she found that they had died.
The stranger says she wears the veil because her face is severely scarred from smallpox. She is afraid it will bother Hannah, but Catherine assures her all will be well. Catherine warns Hannah about Grace’s disfigurement, and the little girl exclaims that her father could make Grace pretty again. Although he recently helped Catherine set a student’s broken arm, she doubts he could repair someone’s skin.
Grace offers to cook for Catherine in exchange for letting her board at the house. Grace remains veiled and secretive around the rest of the townspeople, but the two women share a pleasant friendship. Catherine is surprised to learn that they even share the same dream about walking the streets of Paris.
Their friendship grows, and soon Grace feels comfortable enough to share the truth of her identity. She is Joan Henderson, Catherine’s cousin. When she was 15 she was raped and became pregnant. Her father refused to believe her story, and Joan was sent away to have the baby and give it up for adoption.
Distraught by her parents’ treatment, Joan never returned and instead took the name Grace Sims and made a new life for herself. She had returned to Cimarron Creek, hoping to reconcile with them after so many years, but they had died. She admits to not knowing the identity of her attacker, but fears he may be someone who still resides in town.
The only thing she knows is that he had a scar on the back of his neck. Catherine secretly begins to search for Grace’s adopted daughter. She also confides in Austin that she would give all of her inheritance to pay a doctor to fix Grace’s scars so she would not feel the need to hide her face. He swears Catherine and Grace to secrecy about his identity so that he can perform the surgery necessary to heal Grace.
Several weeks later, Grace unveils herself for the first time at church. Catherine notices her Uncle Charles’ reaction to seeing her and suspects he was Grace’s rapist. She confirms it when she sees the scar at the back of his neck. The two women confront him at his house. At first, he and his wife deny the accusation, but the truth soon comes out. Distraught, his wife shoots him and then herself.
Catherine receives notification that Seth won a contest for one of his drawings. Boone beats his son almost to death when he learns the news. He did not want Seth to pursue his artwork. Austin carries Seth to his ranch in order to care for him.
One of Sherman’s minions, Tucker, sees the picture of Austin in a magazine and tracks him to Texas. Tucker comes upon Boone and enlists his help to punish the doctor. Sherman arrives in Cimarron Creek. Tucker kidnaps Catherine and Hannah after school and takes them to a dilapidated building on Boone’s land where Sherman is waiting. Tucker kills Boone on his way to get Austin.
Catherine helps Hannah escape. She tries to flee as well but knocks over a lantern, which catches the barn on fire. Sherman starts to strangle her, but she thrusts her fingers in his eyes. Sherman stumbles into a hot stove and burns himself.
Austin arrives. After knocking Tucker unconscious, he saves Catherine and then pulls Sherman from the barn. The sheriff arrests Sherman and Tucker. Austin treats Sherman’s wounds while Catherine cares for Hannah.
Relieved to be free of Sherman’s threat, Austin asks Catherine to marry him, and she readily agrees. As Boone is dead, they agree to adopt Seth into their new family. For their honeymoon, they decide to go to Paris.
Catherine received word that Grace’s daughter was adopted into a family that moved to France. They will take Grace and the children with them to Paris to celebrate their new life and search for Grace’s child together.