Sara and Ariel are cousins who look exactly alike, but the resemblance ends there. Sara is the daughter of a Southern belle who was disowned by her family for marrying beneath her, while Ariel is wealthy and so pampered that she's never worn clothing that wasn't made specifically for her. Ariel's mother has already chosen Ariel's prospective husband: David, the best friend and closest companion of her childhood. When Ariel sees Sara's boss, R. J., she falls for him and coaxes Sara to swap lives with her so she can be closer to R.J. and get to know him. Sara, longing to meet the family she's been estranged from all her life, agrees to the switch. With a little help from Ariel, both couples end up in Arundel, North Carolina (Ariel's hometown) as R.J. explores the possibility of buying a small offshore island to develop as a resort.
Once on King's Isle, which the quartet have been warned is peculiar and dangerous, the four are soon locked up in the local jail, charged with running over a dog in the street. Outraged, because the dog had clearly been mistreated and starved, R. J. tries to argue, to no avail. Released on bond, the four are warned not to try to leave the island before their appointment with the local judge. They find rooms at a boarding house run by an aging, predatory woman, but that's not all they find. Someone has murdered Nezbit, the owner of the dog they supposedly killed, and R.J. and Sara realize that the plot to swindle money from R.J. has escalated. With a handful of local oddballs helping them, R. J., Sara, David, and Ariel determine to try to locate Nezbit's legendary cache of hidden treasure. As they get closer to their goals, Sara and Ariel find themselves re-evaluating exactly what they want out of life and love.
Jude Deveraux has always had the ability to weave magical tales that tinge humdrum reality with a sheen of fantasy, and CAROLINA ISLE has that same fey quality. As Sara and Ariel impersonate each other, it becomes clear that although they are remarkably alike, they are also not as different as they thought they were. R. J. is a nice change from Deveraux's usual heroes, not especially good-looking (although fabulously wealthy), but older and a bit more sarcastic, too. David turns out to be more than just a pretty face, blessed as he is with diplomacy and focused on his political ambitions. One does not enter Jude Deveraux's universe expecting things to be as they are in real life, but that escapism is her trademark and one she has honed to perfection. CAROLINA ISLE is a nice vacation destination for the homebound.