After the body of well-known racketeer and gambler Nick Prenta is found in Desert Springs, California, the investigating sheriff discovers some home movies in Prenta's house and identifies oil heiress Lorna Hansen Forbes, who has been renting a house in the area, as one of Prenta's guests. When the sheriff tries to question Lorna, however, he learns that she has left town. On further investigation, it becomes evident that the woman has been using a pseudonym and is not who she claims. In fact, her real name is Ethel Whitehead, and she has returned to her poverty-stricken parents, who live in the Texas oil fields. There she remembers her earlier life: Living with her parents and married to Roy, with a young son named Tommy, Ethel is dissatisfied with her life. After Tommy is killed in an automobile accident, Ethel leaves home. In New York City, where she finds a job selling cigars, Ethel meets Wally Talbot, a dress salesman, and soon is working as a dress model. Part of her job is to accompany out-of-town buyers to Grady's, a local gambling club. Later, Ethel meets Martin Blackford, the dress company's accountant, who takes her to dinner at Grady's. After Martin gives Grady some financial advice, Ethel finagles a permanent job for him with the gambler. Grady introduces Martin to other friends of his, and eventually, invites him to a meeting at the home of George Castleman, the head of the syndicate. Although women are not invited, Ethel accompanies Martin, but Castleman will not allow her to attend the actual meeting. Martin is disturbed when he learns the nature of Castleman's business, but Ethel convinces him to take the job he has been offered as a front for a bookie wire service. The following day, Ethel visits Castleman at his office and reveals that she knows he used to be a small-time hood named Joe Cavany. Impressed by her boldness, Castleman offers Ethel a job. Later Ethel turns down Martin's marriage proposal, even though he only agreed to work for Castleman for her sake, because she has fallen in love with the married Castleman. Castleman then hires socialite Patricia Longworth to give Ethel social polish and, using the name Lorna Hansen Forbes, Ethel becomes Castleman's mistress and hostess. When Castleman becomes suspicious of the loyalty of his west coast representative, Nick Prenta, he sends Ethel to California to spy on him. Unexpectedly, Ethel and Nick fall in love, and she neglects to report on his activities. One day, Martin flies to California to warn Ethel that a jealous Castleman intends to kill Nick. That night, Nick holds a meeting to announce his plans to form a rival syndicate. Ethel is recognized by one of the men, and after she leaves, he tells Nick about her relationship with Castleman. When Ethel returns home, Castleman is waiting, but she pretends to know nothing about the meeting until Castleman beats the information out of her. Castleman then forces Ethel to lure Nick to her house so that he can kill him, but before she can telephone, Nick drives up, planning to confront her about her relationship with Castleman, and is killed in her house. Ethel flees to her parents, where she now waits for Castleman to track her down. Martin follows her there, hoping to help her, but before they can escape, Castleman arrives. Martin kills Castleman and Ethel is wounded. Later, a group of reporters speculate that she will again try to leave her past behind.