Greenville - fictional town on the coast of northeastern Brazil, built in the image of old England, due to the influence of the British, long before there had built the Great Western Railway. Proud of his city, said to be "a piece of England in Brazil," the greenvillenses strictly adhere to the British traditions, not abdicating or the afternoon tea, the five o'clock tea, and getting to mix English with Portuguese, always with the unmistakable northern accent.
For decades, manufacturers of sugar and molasses made this region a very wealthy place. Among them was the Monguaba Factory, owned by the richest and most traditional family in Greenville, the Mendonça e Albuquerque.
It all starts when Eulalia, the heiress of Monguaba, falls for the cane cutter Zé Leandro, and they have an intense romance. Suspicious, Eulalia's older brother, Pedro Afonso, doubting the true intentions of Zé Leandro, forbids their relationship, even threatening the boy to death. Fearing for the life of her beloved, Eulalia helps him escape, while he vows to return one day to get her back and bring her with him. Months later, Eulalia gives birth to a daughter, Lucia Helena (known only as Helena), whom she teaches to wait for her father.
Fifteen years later, a stranger named Teobaldo Faruk, son of an Egyptian father (deceased) and a Brazilian mother, comes to town and soon becomes fascinated with Eulalia. However, she is still waiting for Zé Leandro. On the other hand, Maria Altiva, Pedro Afonso's wife, humiliates Teobaldo, saying that a stranger without a penny is not worth approaching a Mendonça e Albuquerque. Teobaldo vows revenge. He finds out that Pedro Afonso, a gambling addict, owes money to several people to whom he signed promissory notes.
One day, Zé Leandro returns, ready to flee with Eulalia and Helena and start a new life with them, with a fortune in precious gems that he managed to gather working in mining. After arranging the flight, he teaches Helena the value of land, which she will never forget. However, the fleeing boat sinks and Zé Leandro drowns on the spot. Eulalia also dies, asking Helena to trust Theobaldo, who had gotten rich.
The machiavelic Altiva convinces Pedro Afonso that his sister hated him and betrayed him for fifteen years. Hurt, her husband refuses to hold Eulalia's wake in his home. Theobalds finds it out and decides to take action: he buys all the notes of Pedro Afonso, becoming his sole creditor and therefore owner of all his possessions. Knowing him unable to pay the debt with money, he requires a different type of payment: the funeral will be at the mansion of the Mendonça and Albuquerque and Helena will marry him in the future.
In return, Pedro Afonso and his family can continue to live in the mansion and receive an allowance from Theobaldo to support themselves. Maintaining dignity, Pedro Afonso lets Helena decide, and the girl agrees to marry Theobaldo. They combine to send her to London to finish her studies, and only then should she return to marry the stranger. Theobald counts on having a son with Helena, in order to mix his blood with the blood of the Mendonça e Albuquerque, in order to complete his revenge against Altiva.
Ten years later, Helena and returns home with Teobaldo, who gives her the Factory (which he won from Pedro Afonso and has been keeping closed for years) as a wedding present. Their idea is to re-enable it to give value to their lands and plantations of sugar cane, thus fulfilling the ideals of Helena's father. However, after the marriage to Theobaldo, she refuses to consummate it, which makes him mad. The conflict lasts the entire novel and the two live a story of hate and love, which revolves around the city.
Altiva was always a bad person. Twenty-eight years ago, her sister, Santa Maria, or Santinha as she is known, then a teenager, lived a romance with the owner of the British Club, Richard da Silva Taylor. Vexed with the happiness of her sister, who always she hated for her kindness and sympathy, Altiva (already married to Pedro Afonso and mother of a son, Hercules) took advantage of a drunken Richard and in the dark, pretended to be her sister to sleep with him. Santinha surprises them in bed and Altiva said he was the one taking advantage of her. Desperate, Santinha breaks up with Richard, who vows never to love another woman.
Altiva finds out she is pregnant and travels with Santinha to hide the pregnancy. Traumatized, Santinha drinks to forget, and keeps looking for a new love, but only gets involved with married men. Altiva gives birth to a son, Artemio, and intends to leave him in the trash die of hunger and cold. Shocked, Santinha proposes to bring the baby home, pretending it was the son of a mill worker who abandoned him for not having the means to sustain it. Altiva reluctantly agrees, but forces her sister to hide the truth and swear that if someone is suspicious, Santinha will assume the motherhood of Artemio herself.
He is raised by Florencia, the maid of Mendonça e Albuquerque, that knowing the truth, constantly threatens to reveal it. Currently, Artemio is a shy and skittish young man, in love with Helena, and who suffers for having been abandoned and because of the marriage of Theobald with his beloved. Altiva ignores him and always refuses to pronounce his name. She humiliates Santinha constantly and will do everything not to let her and Richard reconnect.
Embittered by what has happened in his life, Pedro Afonso is dominated by Altiva. Every night he loses money at the tables of the British Club, then heads to the brothel, the Casa de Campo, where he finds solace in the arms of the dreamy Dinorah. She dreams of marrying in a veil and wreath, in the church, to someone who loves her for who she is. It is then that you know Sergio Murilo, a stranger, whom she falls in love with at first sight. Sick, he needs a blood transfusion, and she, having the same blood type, serves as a donor. Since then, she refuses to work in the brothel, and Pedro Afonso, without her, ends up falling in love with Zenilda, the energetic owner of the brothel. She, however, rejects the idea of getting involved with the husband of her greatest enemy, Altiva.
However, Pedro Afonso will do everything to live that love. Sergio Murilo promises marriage to Dinorah, who sees her dreams closer to becoming reality. But not all is flowers: he needs a kidney transplant. It is then that the passionate Dinorah decides to give him her kidney. The two marry and undergo surgery. However, when recovering, Sergio Murilo disappears, leaving the desperate woman behind.
Hercules is the son of Pedro Afonso and Altiva. Mysterious, he only appears in Greenville from time to time. At one point, tired of being sustained by Teobaldo, Altiva asks Hercules to marry Dorothy, a shy and awkward daughter of the richest man in town, Pitagoras Williams Mackenzie, who is eternally in love with Altiva and thus despizes his wife, Cleonice. As addicted to gambling as his father, Hercules is in misery and runs away from creditors threatening to kill him and his family as he is secretly married to the niece of Florence, the beautiful Ines, with whom he has two children, and Vivinha and Junior.
Pitagoras promises a large sum if he becomes engaged to Dorothy. To save his family, Hercules eventually agrees. It is then that Ines discovers everything and heads to Greenville, revealing herself. Dorothy gets desperate and tries to kill herself. Artemio saves her and the two fall in love.
Judge Mirandinha is her secretary Egidio's great love. A widow, she was never on any other man, until Egidio call her attention and the two enter into a romance disliked by the people of Greenville, as he is twenty years younger than her. The judge's own son, Philip, becomes revolted at the situation, although he also lives a forbidden romance. He is dating Carolaine, the daughter of the mayor Ypiranga Pitiguary, a megalomaniac who hates the judge, with her being the only person who can stop his crazy ideas. The politician will do anything to separate his daughter and Philip. The judge and Egicio marry against everything and everyone and he becomes a model man, coveted by women, primarily because of his culinary skills