Dr. Rowan Mayfair is a gifted neurosurgeon in San Francisco, California. When her estranged birth mother dies in New Orleans, she begins to learn about the old Southern family to which she belongs. Michael Curry is a contractor who specializes in the restoration of old homes while dreaming of his childhood in New Orleans and yearning to return there. Rowan gradually realizes that she has the psychic power to either save or destroy lives. But it seems to be Rowan's practical training as a doctor which allows her to revive Michael from death by drowning. His experience bestows an entirely new and unwanted clairvoyant ability upon him. They fall in love, and when Michael decides to return to New Orleans, Rowan follows him to learn the secrets of her past.
Aaron Lightner, a psychic scholar and member of the Talamasca, has studied the Mayfairs from afar for years. The matriarchal family—known by the Talamasca as the "Mayfair Witches" — have a long and sordid history. Among the supernatural events surrounding them is a mysterious man, seen by Michael in his childhood and by other members of the family over time. Rowan and Michael marry, and as the designee of the Mayfair legacyshe assumes control of the family's affairs. Soon the mysterious man reveals himself to her: he is Lasher, a spirit with wicked motives who has plagued the Mayfairs for centuries. His wish is to be made flesh so that he may walk the earth for the very first time in the permanent physical form of ahuman being, and he sets about slowly seducing Rowan.
Secretly thinking that she can outwit Lasher, Rowan sends Michael away from the house on Christmas Eve. Her plan to bind Lasher to "weak matter" which she can destroy with her mental killing power backfires, however. Lasher enters her womb and makes himself at home in the fetus. Rowan immediately goes into labor, which is violent and bloody, and Lasher enters the world as a human infant. But the hybrid baby immediately grows into a full-sized, intelligent man. Michael returns and tries to kill the creature, but Lasher is too strong and drowns Michael in the pool. During this second, near-death experience, Michael ends up losing the unwanted psychic sensitivity in his hands. For what may very well be multiple complex reasons, Rowan jets away in style to Europe with a dapper-looking Lasher by her side.