Late at night, glamorous playgirl Vivian Bowers walks the streets of Manhattan's meatpacking district alone. When she realizes someone's following her, she runs for her Mercedes. But then she recognizes the man at her car window, smiles and tells him to get in. Sometime the following morning, a maid at a seedy motel knocks and opens the door to a room, only to find Vivian dead on the bed, with a distinctive abrasion on her cheek. Later, Vivian's father Robert, CEO of Bowers Pharmaceuticals, is in a meeting when the police call with news that Vivian overdosed. Devastated, Robert calls his beautiful, tough-as-nails wife Sofia. Promising to take care of everything, Sofia phones Robert's son Julian, a hedonistic playboy who is leading Bowers Pharmaceuticals' charge to develop the revolutionary cancer drug, Lyritrol.
Julian finds Robert and Sofia's 15-year-old daughter Mia in Central Park with her friends. She cries in his arms, begging to see her sister, but Julian won't allow it. It's big brother Edward, the embittered CFO of Bowers Pharmaceuticals who reports to the morgue to identify his sister. Spying a morgue tech taking cell phone photos of Vivian's naked body, Edward attacks and destroys the phone, daring the man to come after him. He looks tenderly at his sister, saying, "I'm sorry honey. I tried." Across the country in San Francisco, tomboyish Detective Joanna Padget Locasto is working the narcotics beat, taking down junkies. After work, she's surprised when her former partner and ex-lover Will Moreno, now an FBI agent, knocks on the door with bad news and a proposition...
Will comes bearing news of the death of Joanna's childhood best friend, Vivian Bowers. Joanna excuses herself to cry in the bathroom, flashing back to when both girls were 15 and their futures seemed bright. After pulling herself together, Joanna pours some scotch and listens to what Will has to say: the FBI is working with the NYPD on the theory that Vivian was murdered. The Bowers family is worth $10 billion, and they're fighting over money while being investigated for stock fraud; apparently, Edward was trying to get Vivian taken out of the will. Joanna's mother used to work for the Bowers, and she grew up in the family home, which makes her uniquely qualified to go in undercover to investigate the family.
Will seems to suspect Edward of foul play; after all, 15 years ago, he was mixed up in the rape and murder of Kimberly Yaeger - even if he was found not guilty. Now separated from his wife Samantha, he's back living at the family estate. Using the cover story that she's escaping from a bad marriage, Joanna can wear a wire to the funeral, which is in a few days. Joanna insists Will doesn't know what he's talking about. It's complicated, and at the end, Vivian hated Joanna. Pulling out all the stops, Will pulls out photos of Vivian's corpse. What could have made the distinctive abrasion on her cheek? And doesn't it seem odd that the motel's security cameras broke the day before her death? Within seconds, it's clear Joanna is going to take the case.
Julian's eyes open wide when he sees Joanna walking into the Bowers' family home for Vivian's funeral ceremony. Apparently, their history includes first love... The family gathers in the living room to hear Robert speak about his beloved daughter, who had such an incredible appetite for life and always wanted more of it. Afterwards, Will and NYPD officer Gabe listen from a nearby van while Joanna catches up with Robert. She plants the cover story of her past with an abusive husband, which earns her an invitation to dinner. But while Robert is happy to have her as a guest, the rest of the family isn't. Edward's wife Samantha excuses herself early, earning criticism from Sofia, who drinks heavily. When Joanna announces her plans to stay in New York and look for work, Robert invites her to stay at the house. Julian loves this idea, but no one else does, especially Edward. Is it really a good idea to have a stranger in the house - especially when TMZ is reporting that Vivian was murdered?
That night, Joanna is awakened to the sounds of an argument outside. She sneaks out to find Samantha and Edward fighting in the driveway. Clearly, Samantha is done with their marriage and the entire Bowers clan. She wants to take her daughters to live with her family in California. The next morning, Joanna's home alone, so she calls Will while searching the house. She's surprised to find baby pictures of Mia tucked into Vivian's high school yearbook. Joanna flashes back to teenaged years, remembering a secret stash spot she and Vivian had on the roof. Further investigation yields a flash drive.
Voices draw Joanna downstairs, where she finds Mia arguing with a scruffy guy, who leaves quickly. Mia rebuffs Joanna's questions with teenaged sarcasm, though she does admit drug addict Vivian was sober when she died and regularly attending AA meetings. Joanna reports back to Will, who wants to know why she and Vivian stopped being friends. Joanna flashes back to a late-night fight with Vivian, who seems drunk and near hysterical. Aware Joanna's in love with Julian, Vivian insists he doesn't care about her - it's all drunken horniness. When Vivian throws up, a worried Joanna runs off screaming for Robert, foiling Vivian's plan to escape the family home. Back in the present, Will turns the conversation personal. They had a good thing going before Joanna broke up with him. But Joanna didn't break up with Will; she let him off the hook to pursue his FBI job - and they were only together for a week.
Joanna returns to the estate, walking into an argument between Sofia and Mia. When Mia stalks off, Joanna suggests she's just like Vivian, earning Sofia's wrath. Mia is NOT at all like Vivian, who was a narcissistic black hole of need. Who does Joanna think cleaned up all Vivian's messes? And how long does Joanna intend to stay with the Bowers? Once Sofia stalks off, Joanna plugs the flash drive into her laptop to discover a sex tape featuring Vivian and an unidentified guy. Not only was Vivian in love with this guy, but also she was pregnant with his child when she died! Even stranger, the guy says, "It's going to be different this time; it's going to be on your terms." Does this mean Vivian was pregnant once before?
When Joanna steps outside to call Will, she hears the clicking of a camera shutter. Finding the sketchy guy up a tree outside Mia's window, Detective Locasto swings into action, taking him down. Joanna's shirt rips open exposing her wire, and her cover is blown. Later at a cafe, the guy introduces himself as tabloid reporter Remy Colville. Vivian called him a few weeks ago, asking for help to expose the problem with Lyritrol, which caused 27 deaths during testing in Thailand. What's worse, Julian is the guy who developed the drug - how can he not know about this? Remy was waiting on Vivian for proof that never came, and now he's convinced she was murdered. Rather than blow Joanna's cover, Remy wants to work with her.
Joanna lays into Will - why didn't he tell her Vivian was pregnant when she died? From now on, Will needs to tell her everything! Will agrees, then asks Joanna to send him Vivian's sex tape, so they can start looking for her as-yet-unidentified baby daddy. The phone conversation continues as Joanna walks back to the Bowers' estate, bumping smack into Julian, who wants to know why she's wandering outside at 1:30 in the morning. Joanna accepts Julian's invitation to kill a bottle of wine on the dock, then turns the conversation to Vivian. Julian explains that his father sent Vivian to a boot camp for misbehaving rich kids called Beacon of Change after Joanna and her mother left the estate. When he turns the conversation personal, Joanna disconnects her wire, then deflects Julian's kiss and ends their conversation.
Running upstairs, Joanna's surprised to find Edward sitting up with a bottle of beer and a burning question: what the heck does Joanna think she's doing? Edward's well aware of Vivian and Joanna's falling out. So why come back now? One thing's for sure; Edward doesn't trust Joanna. The next morning, Joanna starts making calls, trying to track down Vivian's record at Beacon of Change. When she spots Mia in the driveway, she starts a conversation, asking about Remy. It turns out Remy showed Mia photos of her father with his assistant, which is making her think her dad may be a really bad guy... Moments later, Robert tells Joanna that his assistant is being promoted. How would Joanna like to fill the position? Julian urges her to take the job, and Joanna promises to think about it, then excuses herself to take a phone call.
Remy calls Joanna from an empty beach parking lot, claiming he's figured out who Vivian's contact was at Bowers Pharmaceuticals. Joanna promises to meet him in a few minutes, which is all the time needed for two men to repeatedly crash into Remy's car. By the time Joanna arrives, Remy's car is on the beach, and his fresh corpse is floating in the water. It's night by the time Will arrives to pick up Joanna. He wants to take her off the investigation and instructs her to call the Bowers and tell them she's spending the night with a friend in the city. Will takes her back to his apartment for a steak dinner... and a sexy invitation to pick up their intimate relationship where they left off.
The next morning, Will tells Joanna he wants to see where their relationship will take them, then hops in the shower. That's when a woman named Susan Warwick calls with news that Vivian wasn't at Beacon of Change, but Serenity Passage, a home for unwed mothers. Vivian had a baby girl, born November 19th, 1997... which just happens to be Mia's birthday! Joanna recalls her last big argument with Vivian - who threw up because she was pregnant - not because she was drunk! Later, Will tells NYPD Lieutenant Frank De La Sol that he wants to take Joanna off the case, but Frank tells her to stay if she wants to. And does Julian like her? Because her wire cut out the other night when she was talking to him. Will is suspicious, but Joanna diverts his attention. She wants to stay on the case for Mia's sake, because she may be in danger.
Upset with Joanna's decision and suspicious of Julian, Will tells her to do whatever she wants, then walks out, passing the close-up photo of Vivian's cheek abrasion. Joanna tells Frank that she'll be accepting the position as Robert's assistant and heading back to the estate tomorrow. Meanwhile, back on the dock at the estate, Julian cries, thinking of Vivian. He takes off a college class ring, which features an arrangement of stones that clearly could have made the abrasion on Vivian's cheek, and drops it into the water.