Emerald Brent and Lesley Hillerby were best friends, and had written a novel together that was being published by The Gotham Press. Emerald, eight years older than Lesley, was an advertising copywriter in Northern California and married to Terry Brent. Lesley, divorced from millionaire playboy Adam Hillerby, was the author of one bestselling novel, published eight years before, when Lesley was twenty.
Upon signing the contract for her novel with Emerald, Beyond the Glass Rainbow, Lesley moved to New York to work on another novel of her own and embark on a relationship with Charley Murphy, a photographer. When Lesley and Adam begins, Emerald is worried about Lesley because she hasn't heard from her in a month. When she receives a letter from her, it seems somewhat vague about what is actually going on in New York; but it does tell Emerald that there are problems at The Gotham Press, and Lesley thinks it could mean trouble for Beyond the Glass Rainbow.
Following her letter to Emerald, Lesley returns home one night to discover that Charley has decamped, taking nearly everything she owns (including her nearly-finished novel, The Playboy's Bride). She has very little money left, so she calls Adam, who comes and takes her to stay at his studio loft. Unknown to Lesley, Adam has a need for her that only takes hold in his mind when he realizes she is in desperate straits. He is planning to return to San Francisco (where he and Lesley lived when they were married) and run for the Board of Supervisors. In his campaign, he could use a wife, and Lesley comes to mind.
When he tells Lesley of his plan, she thinks he is crazy, but she agrees to accompany him back to San Francisco.
Halfway across the world, in Copenhagen, Denmark, rock singer Johnny English is, like Emerald and Lesley, experiencing the disintegration of his dreams. His band, White Noise, was very successful with their first two albums, and at 25 Johnny felt his life was assured. Engaged to his childhood sweetheart, Johnny envisioned nothing but blue skies on his horizon. But when he returns from a business trip, his fiancee, Indra, is waiting with the news that she has met another man at the school where she teaches, and fallen in love with him. She feels the kind of life Johnny has chosen to live is not what she wants.
Lesley and Adam resume their married life, with one notable exception. They only spend one night together, then Lesley makes it clear to Adam that their arrangement is to be a platonic one. The reason they divorced in the first place was Adam's extremely promiscuous lifestyle -- he was not so much immoral as amoral -- Lesley knew he loved her, but couldn't seem to comprehend the meaning of the word fidelity, much less learn to live with it. They become close friends, however; and since Lesley has no interest in finding anyone else at the time, the arrangement suits them both.
Lesley and Emerald begin the search for a new agent -- they are in general agreement that the situation with Beyond the Glass Rainbow had been handled very badly by Tara Engel, their former agent. And they begin work on a new novel they hope will be the first of a series of four -- a fantasy novel based loosely on an idea originally formulated by Lesley's ex-lover, Charley. It pleases Lesley to think she might be able to take something from Charley, since he took so much from her.
Lesley, in her search for a male lead character for The Land of the Wand, takes Johnny English from an MTV video, renames him and invents her hero. Lesley, who is an avid wildlife lover, spends a lot of her time volunteering for causes most people shy away from, like bathing oil-soaked birds after an oil-tanker springs a leak in San Francisco bay. Adam catches her enthusiasm for 'causes' and decides to sponsor and finance a benefit rock concert to aid the homeless of San Francisco.
It is not until July (six months after they start looking) that Lesley and Emerald finally find an agent they feel they can trust. They sign a year's contract with Eliza Goodfellow, and go on waiting. In August Emerald announces she is pregnant; she and Lesley name the baby Elizabeth and immediately begin to plan a nursery to rival Princess Di's.
On a whim, Lesley writes to Johnny English and tells him about The Land of the Wand, not seriously expecting a reply. It is not until September that Johnny receives Lesley's letter, as it sits in the offices of the band's management in London until the band goes there for a meeting with their lawyer/manager, Charles Baxter. Johnny is thrilled with the idea of being a hero in a novel, and he decides to write to Lesley.
Emerald is amazed when Lesley receives a long letter from Johnny, informing her that the band will be performing in San Francisco in January and he is hoping to meet her, then. It is after Lesley realizes that White Noise will be in San Francisco around the same time that Adam's benefit will take place, that she thinks to propose the band to him as a possible headliner. Emerald loses baby Elizabeth, and discovers that, before she can carry a baby to full-term she must have an operation to strengthen the floor of her pelvis. Lesley and Emerald are offered a contract for The Land of the Wand and fly to Arizona to meet with Eliza Goodfellow. A sporadic mail and telephone communication continues between Johnny (who has become infatuated with a photograph Lesley sent him) and Lesley.
While Lesley and Emerald are trying to decipher their contract with Eliza, Johnny and White Noise are performing in Sydney, Australia. Charles tells Johnny that he has spoken to Adam Hillerby by telephone, and Adam has invited the band to headline at his benefit in January. Adam will be flying to Berlin to meet with the band when they arrive there.
Lesley and Eliza fly to New York to meet with the editor of Pageant Books, and Emerald returns to California, where she is scheduled for her pelvic operation. When she arrives in New York, Lesley decides to find Charley Murphy and attempt to retrieve her novel manuscript. She hires a female private detective, Annalisa Szalisky, and within a week's time (and some not-so-subtle persuasion on Annalisa's part, plus a thousand dollars) Lesley has The Playboy's Bride back in her possession.
Adam's first meeting with Johnny is anything but cordial, -- the singer decides immediately that he doesn't like the millionaire philanthropist, and wonders why Lesley remains with him. He decides it must be for the glamorous lifestyle and the money, and he thinks less of her for it. Lesley's first advance check for The Wand arrives, and she opens a bank account with it. She is planning, once she sells The Playboy's Bride, to move into a place of her own. Calliope decides she needs help in prying Adam away from Lesley, and recruits his mother, Lavinia Hillerby, into her camp.
On Christmas Eve Adam and Lesley hold a big party, and Lesley is amazed by the arrival, sometime in the middle of the evening, of Johnny English and the members of White Noise (who had been playing dates in Southern California). The evening culminates with a confrontation between Adam's ex-lover Calliope Sussex and Johnny, Emerald and Terry -- but not with Johnny and Lesley in the same bed, which had been his intention.
Adam's Benefit for the Homeless takes place on New Year's Eve, at The Oakland Coliseum. There are three bands before White Noise, and before Johnny goes onstage that night, he tells Lesley that the band is moving to Southern California on the advice of their record label; and Lesley tells Johnny that she is going to be moving to her own place as soon as she sells The Playboy's Bride. Johnny asks Lesley to come and live with him, but she tells him she wants to live alone for awhile. At the after-benefit party, Johnny and Adam get into an argument about which of them will end up with Lesley. Adam seems to view the entire situation as some kind of a contest between them, which annoys Johnny. Lesley leaves the party with Johnny, which seems to signal he has won the first skirmish. Johnny and Lesley become lovers that night.
The White Noise tour continues on, and Lesley flies to New York to spend some time with Johnny and meet with an editor about The Playboy's Bride. That weekend Johnny and Lesley go to a big publishing party at the new club, Mars. When Johnny continues on, Lesley returns to San Francisco to discover that Adam has hired an assistant, Miranda Dunn. His rock benefit generated enough proceeds to buy a derelict hotel in the Tenderloin and rebuild it into a homeless shelter; one far above the specifications of any the city had been able to provide thusfar. Overjoyed by his success, Adam decides to continue on, and sets his sights on another benefit -- one that will, this time, tap into the coffers of the rich and society-minded (people he knows only too- well and is coming to despise). Miranda becomes a permanent fixture in the house, and Lesley begins to notice a pronounced difference in Adam. Though she first attributes this to Miranda's influence, she soon realizes that Miranda is the result of this change and not the cause. Finding a path for his life has made Adam lose interest in the extremely dangerous, uncaring way he had been living and approach adulthood. Lesley and Emerald manipulate Adam and Miranda into becoming a couple, thinking Adam needs a woman in his life who isn't grasping and self-centered like Calliope. But Lesley is a little wistful that Adam couldn't find himself while he was still married to her. When the White Noise tour ends, Johnny and the band go home to Copenhagen to arrange for their move to Southern California. After he has been there several days, wondering whether to sell his house or rent it, Johnny is stunned when Indra appears on his doorstep. When Johnny realizes that Indra is unhappy with her life and wants to come back to him, he is so taken aback that he allows her to seduce him. During this time Lesley is so busy with Emerald, finishing The Land of the Wand, that she doesn't realize Johnny hasn't telephoned her until a week has passed. When she telephones him, she gets Indra -- and their conversation reveals that Indra is now living in Johnny's house (something that Johnny wouldn't be able to explain even if he tried -- all he could remember was that one day she was there, and never left).
When Johnny arrives home that night from a meeting with the band, it is with the determination to explain to Indra that he has a new life now, and she can't be a part of it. Before he can begin, however, she tells him that Lesley called, and he realizes that a part of his new life has just moved beyond his grasp. This propels Indra and Johnny toward a messier breakup than he had planned, but his frustration and desperation to reach Lesley (which he cannot do, since it is 5:30 in the morning in California) make him callous and cruel. During the week he has remaining until his departure for California, Johnny is unable to reach Lesley.
Moving quickly after her conversation with Indra, Lesley takes her new-found riches and begins the search for a townhouse she can buy, somewhere near Emerald and hidden enough in the country so Johnny won't be able to stumble across her accidentally. When Johnny arrives in California, Adam tells him that Lesley has chosen not to have children -- news that shatters Johnny's dreams of a family. He goes to Los Angeles, and doesn't attempt to contact Lesley.
Emerald becomes pregnant again, and she and Lesley make a trip to New York, and on the way back they make a side-trip to Los Angeles. Charles, the White Noise manager, takes them to a party at Phoenix Records, where Lesley sees Johnny. Though he asks her to come and live with him in Santa Barbara, she realizes they aren't meant for one another -- they aren't looking for the same things in life.
Lesley and Emerald begin work on their second fantasy novel, The Crystal Chalice, and Adam continues working on his second benefit. A large group of international stars assemble in San Francisco, and Lesley becomes friends with two of them, Cameron and Diana Prince. Miranda plans her own abduction by an inept group of urban terrorist/reformers, and Lesley is taken in her place, accidently. The entire mess is straightened out within 24 hours, but it is Cameron Prince who realizes that Miranda is behind the plot. Thus ends Adam's engagement.
After the abduction, Lesley never returns to the townhouse she bought in Santa Rosa. She becomes involved in the benefit, and Adam hires another assistant -- a married friend of Diana's with a small baby and a very present husband. Johnny becomes infatuated with another friend of Diana's who hosts a television show, and spends most of his time following her around or attempting to convince her to go out with him. After a fight and reconciliation between Diana and Cameron over one of her ex-lovers, Lesley feels the absence of Adam in her bed (she is surprised that it's not Johnny she misses), and she becomes Adam's lover again, on Thanksgiving morning. They have now become closer in every way, and Adam wants Lesley to re-marry him. She realizes this is what she wants, also, but can't bring herself to make the commitment.
By the end of the book, Adam and Lesley have realized their need for one another (he a little sooner than she) and reconciled. Johnny makes some progress with Jamie Sullivan and comes to the realization that he must base his happiness on himself before he can be happy with anyone else, and Terry and Emerald are so happy with their new baby they are thinking of having another child, sometime in the future.