When a beautiful, yet unassuming woman boards a transatlantic cruise bound for New York to marry a wealthy tycoon, she meets a captivating playboy, and discovers something she never expected: true love in a — Love Affair.
It’s 1936, and Terry McKay, an American bookkeeper, meets French painter / notorious playboy, Michel Marnet, aboard a luxury liner crossing the Atlantic. Both are engaged — Michel to heiress Lois Clark, Terry to Kenneth Bradley, and both financially dependent on their affianced. A taboo new friendship with Phyllis, an African-American Broadway singer, lands Terry and Michel together on the ship. They discover their similarities and develop an irresistible chemistry. Michel’s notoriety and reputation precede him, however, and their friendship is the talk of the crossing. They decide not to further associate with each other on the ship, but agree to tour Michel’s hometown, Marseille, and visit his grandmother, Madeleine. She recognizes their budding feelings, and while regaling her colorful life as a chanteuse, Madeleine warns Terry about the dangers of waiting for love. Back aboard the ship, Terry and Michel succumb to their carnal desires and admit they are lost in a love affair. As the ship docks in New York City, they make a pact to separate from their affianced, and become financially independent in order to make a new life together. They plan to meet again, six months later, atop the Empire State Building.
It’s 1937, and Phyllis lands a job in a Broadway review, while managing to get Terry a job as a cigarette girl. Michel breaks off his engagement with Lois, begins painting portraits of Terry, and creates one that is far too special to sell. He becomes a billboard painter, a gallery artist, and remains devoted to Terry. The day comes for them to head to the Empire State Building, but, in a cruel twist of fate, Terry is struck by a car before arriving. She is told that she may not be able to walk, though her prognosis will remain unknown for several months. Terrified of how Michel might take the news, and refusing to be loved out of pity, she does not contact him, preferring to let him think the worst. Six months go by as Phyllis helps Terry in her recovery. Kenneth gets engaged to another woman, and Michel tries to conceal his broken heart. However, after learning of the death of Madeleine, Michel is moved to give his prized portrait of Terry to a tragic accident victim made known to him by Courbet, his art dealer. The very next evening, during Terry's first outing, the two couples (Michel with Lois, and Terry with Kenneth) meet by chance at a restaurant where Phyllis is singing: Terry manages to conceal her condition, but without her knowledge, Phyllis gives Michel Terry’s address. Later, he visits her apartment, discovers his prized portrait, and learns the truth of her accident. She believes, “true love is worth waiting for”, but Michel now realizes that was their first mistake! He vows never again to wait for love — knowing that if it’s a million to one shot, there’s still a chance... He offers her a ring, she accepts, they kiss; cementing their love as more than any affair.