1974 and Elena Damiani lives a gilded life. Born to wealth and a noted beauty, no door is closed to her, no man can resist her. At twenty-six, she is already onto her third husband when she meets her love match. But he is the one man she can never have, and all the beauty and money in the world can't change it. 2017 and newly-graduated Francesca Hackett is living a year of la dolce vita in Rome, teaching English before she starts a new job in London and settles down to the Rest Of Her Life. When she finds a stolen handbag in her dustbin and returns it, she is brought into the orbit of her grand neighbour who lives across the piazza - famed socialite Viscontessa Elena dei Damiani Pignatelli della Mirandola. Though the purse is stolen, Elena greets the return of the bag with exultation for it contains an unopened letter written by her husband on his deathbed, twelve years earlier. Mutually intrigued by each other, the two women agree to collaborate on a project, with Chesca interviewing Elena for her memoirs. As summer unfurls, Elena tells her sensational stories, leaving Chesca in her thrall. But when a priceless necklace found in an ancient aqueduct below the Trevi fountain is ascribed to Elena, Chesca begins to suspect a shocking secret at the heart of Elena's life.