In 1916, Bill (Gere), a Chicago manual laborer, knocks down and kills a boss (Stuart Margolin) in the steel mill where he works. He flees to the Texas Panhandle with his girlfriend Abby (Adams) and his young sister Linda (Manz). Bill and Abby pretend to be siblings to prevent gossip. The three hire on as part of a large group of seasonal workers with a rich, shy farmer (Shepard). Bill overhears a doctor apparently telling the farmer he has only a year to live, although the nature of the illness isn’t specified.
After the farmer falls in love with Abby, Bill encourages her to marry him so they can inherit his money after he dies. The marriage takes place and Bill stays on the farm as Abby’s “brother”. The farmer’s foreman suspects their scheme. The farmer’s health unexpectedly remains stable, foiling Bill’s plans. Eventually, the farmer discovers Bill’s true relationship with Abby. At the same time, Abby has begun to fall in love with her husband. After a locust swarm and a fire destroy his wheat fields, the incensed farmer goes after Bill with a gun but Bill kills him with a screwdriver, fleeing with Abby and Linda. The foreman and the police pursue and eventually find them. Bill is killed by the police. Abby inherits the farmer’s money and leaves Linda at a boarding school. Abby leaves town on a train with soldiers departing for World War I. Linda runs away from school with a friend from the farm.