Shadowed by her tortured past, Dawn has a bright new life of glimmering hopes...
Dawn can hardly believe she's a student at one of New York City's best music schools. Now her most precious wish, to become a singer, can come true. But Dawn still dreams about Jimmy, her strong, intense boyfriend, and the love and anguished secrets they share.
Then Michael Sutton arrives, a new teacher at the school, a singing star and the most wonderful-looking man Dawn has ever seen. Together they create a world of feeling Dawn has never known. In his embrace Dawn awakens to disturbing, unfamiliar desires, and Michael's promises offer a vision of music and romance forever... until he disappears.
Dazed by his cruelty, alone with the bitter fruit of his betrayal, Dawn becomes, once again, a victim of her grandmother's twisted schemes. Desolate, she clings to the tender hope that Jimmy will return and renew with her their deepest hearts' dream...
Secrets of the Morning picks up where Dawn (Andrews' novel) left off, with Dawn Cutler arriving in New York City after leaving her family’s hotel, Cutler's Cove, located in Virginia. Her family is filled with untrustworthy liars who only care for themselves. Her sister Clara Sue is very jealous of Dawn, her brother Phillip who raped her, and her mother who is a severe hypochondriac. When she arrives at the boarding house, she meets the owner, Agnes - an aging actress who remains obsessed with the stage. Agnes immediately thinks bad of Dawn due to a letter from Grandmother Cutler saying Dawn is promiscuous and spoiled after years of having her way at the hotel. After much effort, Dawn earns Agnes's trust. Dawn forms a strong bond of friendship with her roommate, a dancer named Trisha. Dawn and Trisha both attend a performing arts school, Bernhardt School For The Arts.
During Dawn's first year in the boarding house, she meets more residents, including Mrs. Liddy, Arthur Garwood, The Beldock Twins, and Donald. Dawn is enrolled in special lessons with her piano teacher, a very famous opera singer named Michael Sutton. Sutton is holding auditions for six people to be admitted to his singing class. Dawn is selected to be in this prestigious class at the beginning of her senior year. As time goes on Dawn and Michael develop a relationship that grows into something sexual. After spending many forbidden weeks together, Dawn falls in love with Michael but feels like she’s betraying Jimmy. After Thanksgiving break ends, she discovers, much to her dismay, that she is expecting Michael's child.
Michael said that he would marry Dawn and take her with him on tour, but instead he flees the country to London. Dawn, mistakenly believing that he wants her with him, goes to his apartment to discover he is gone. She finds out that Michael was just subletting the apartment from an old man and the gifts he bought for Dawn were just empty boxes. Then after leaving the apartment in shock, Dawn thinks she sees Michael, and she runs into oncoming traffic to catch him. Right after realizing that it wasn't Michael, she is struck by a taxi. Dawn wakes up in the hospital after four days. After her friend Trisha leaves Dawn's doctor then tells her that luckily she and her baby are all right. Grandmother Cutler comes a few days later and tells Dawn she is sending her to The Meadows, Grandmother Cutler's childhood home, where her sister Emily is going to take care of her until after she delivers the baby.
Upon arriving, she meets Luther. A handyman and hard worker, Luther picks her up from the station, and drives her to the isolated plantation. Emily is waiting for them and with her is her younger sister Charlotte. Charlotte is mentally disabled, but quite friendly. Emily is very harsh to Dawn and tells her she is an embarrassment to her family thus her reason for being sent to The Meadows is to avoid scandal. She instructs Dawn to call her Miss Emily. She then shows her to her room which is a little stuffy room with no windows and just enough kerosene to last her one week. Emily doesn't allow the electricity to be used because of it's expense. Emily is a trained midwife and she makes Dawn submit to an embarrassing and rough examination. Emily then gives Dawn two outfits to wear all the time. Emily takes all of Dawn's things and does not return them even when Dawn nearly begs. The next morning Emily tells Dawn she is to do all the chores in the old plantation. They sit down to breakfast, and Dawn realizes there is vinegar in the food. Emily explains that the vinegar is to make them mindful of the bitterness of life and sin. Dawn makes it through the next few months with only simple-minded Charlotte as a companion which is limited due to Emily never really allowing them to converse. The times Dawn and Charlotte are alone for a few moments Charlotte reveals she had a child and tells Dawn sometimes Emily lets the child visit. Emily tells Dawn that her baby will be born deformed and of the Devil, just like she told Charlotte of her baby. Dawn is intrigued and sets out to the west wing, a place where Dawn is forbidden to venture. She goes to the nursery and is startled by Emily. The two argue and the fight nearly becomes physical. Dawn stroms off and trips over a lamp cord, and the resulting fall starts her into labor.
After giving birth she holds her daughter once and then the baby is whisked away so she can rest. When Dawn wakes up she asks for her baby, Emily tells her her baby was born too small leading Dawn to believe the baby has died. Secretly, Grandmother Cutler has planned an adoption of Dawn's baby and while Dawn sleeps, the baby is taken to her new adoptive parents. When she wakes up again, Emily gives Dawn back her clothes and tells her that Luther is going to take her to the bus station so she can leave. To her surprise, Jimmy shows up to get her and the two leave. They set out to find Dawn's baby starting with Grandmother Cutler. To their shock Grandmother Cutler had just suffered a deadly stroke and is in the hospital. Dawn and Jimmy go see her to question her regarding the whereabouts of Dawn's baby. They find out that Grandmother Cutler is paralyzed from her left side but they see her for only five minutes and Dawn starts asking her “Where’s my baby?” Grandmother Cutler just murmurs so Dawn gets closer to her and listens to what her grandmother tells her: “You’re my curse”. And then dies.
At the reading of her grandmother's will, Dawn finds out that her grandfather was really also her biological father, because her mother had an affair with him years earlier and that is what led to the kidnapping plot. A portion of his will that he had specified only be read after the death of his wife revealed this and the fact that he left a significant amount of his fortune to Dawn. After hearing about her real father Dawn confronts her mother about it and after they argue Dawn and Jimmy leave to go get Christie, her daughter.