Three days before Christmas, Regan Reilly, the dynamic young sleuth featured in the novels of Carol Higgins Clark, meets Alvirah Meehan, the famous lottery winner and amateur detective who has appeared in several previous books by Mary Higgins Clark, when they both arrive at a New Jersey dentist's office. Alvirah is to accompany her husband home after a particularly grueling session, while Regan is there in hopes of connecting with her busy father, who is scheduled for a routine visit.
Once it becomes apparent that Luke Reilly is not going to keep his appointment, Alvirah offers the deeply troubled Regan a lift home. When a call comes through on Regan's cell phone, telling her that her father and his driver, Rosita Gonzalez, are being held for $1,000,000 ransom, Alvirah insists that Regan allow her to lend a hand in trying to gain their release, for while Regan may be a licensed private detective, based in Los Angeles, Alvirah has many valuable contacts among the ranks of New York's law enforcement community.
Further complicating the situation is the fact that Regan's mother, the popular and very successful mystery writer Nora Regan Reilly, was hospitalized only the day before with a badly broken leg, and Regan must comfort her while trying to meet the harsh demands of her father's kidnappers -- and their tough deadline.
With Alvirah's help, Jack Reilly, head of the NYPD Major Case Squad, is called back from his Christmas holiday to lead the investigation, which becomes more and more tricky as the kidnappers, two men who are not just rank amateurs but also laughably inept -- and, therefore, all the more dangerous and unpredictable -- make known their demands.
Meanwhile, Luke and Rosita, held captive in a decrepit houseboat moored in the Hudson River, become increasingly concerned not only for their welfare, but for that of their loved ones as well. Luke's wife is in the hospital, and Rosita's two small boys are with a young, unreliable babysitter, while a winter storm gathers force, further endangering them and complicating events.