Nicole Gunther-Perrin is a modern young professional, proud of her legal skills but weary of childcare, of senior law partners who put the moves on her, and of her deadbeat ex-husband. Following a ghastly day of dealing with all three, she falls into bed asleep - and awakens the next morning to find herself in a different life, that of a widowed tavernkeeper in the Roman frontier town of Carnuntum around 170 A.D.
Delighted at first to be away from corrupt, sexist modern America, she quickly begins to realise that her new world is as complicated as her old one. Violence, dirt, and pain are everywhere - and yet many of the people she comes to know are as happy as those she knew in twentieth-century Los Angeles. Slavery is a commonplace, gladiators kill for sport, and drunkenness is taken for granted - but everyday people somehow manage to face life with humour and good will.
No quitter, Nicole manages to adapt to her new life despite endless worry about the fate of her children "back" in the twentieth century. Then plague sweeps through Carnuntum, followed by brutal war. Amid pain and loss on a level she had never imagined, Nicole finds reserves of strength she had never known.