Painted by the Sun
I’ve not read this author before, but my understanding is that she writes a more mainstream style romance – stories that have a lot more going on than just the relationship between the hero and heroine. In this manner, Painted by the Sun is no exception.
Irish emigrant Shea Waterston is a lady photographer. Her late husband taught her the skills, so she travels through the West along with her assistant, Owen Brandt, a Civil War veteran with emotional scars too deep to heal, earning a meager living selling her photographs to a studio back in New York. While Shea shoots portraits and landscapes to pay the bills, her real purpose is to follow the route of the orphan trains in the hopes of finding the son she gave away ten years earlier.
Judge Cameron Gallimore has just sentenced a man to die. When he catches Mrs. Waterston readying her camera to take a photograph of the event, he has her arrested and thrown in jail. He hates what he does, and doesn’t want to see the gruesome culmination of his sentence immortalized on paper for all to see.
Shea and Cam each harbor deep regrets for the choices they have made in their respective pasts. For Shea, nothing is more important than finding her little boy. Yet, she wonders what impact she will have, just showing up after all these years to claim her son. Does she even have that right anymore? What if he is with a loving family that won’t let him go? As for Cam, the war forced him to do things he would never have done under any other circumstances, and his guilt eats away at him, especially since someone he loved dearly was forever scarred as a result of his actions.
With the help of a young local boy named Tyler, Shea and Owen depart to take photographs of a mining town in the hills, but on their way back, they come across a neck-tie party, where Judge Gallimore is the unwilling guest. In an attempt to save the judge’s life, Shea is seriously wounded, so Cam takes Shea back to his ranch so he and his sister, Lily, can help nurse Shea back to health. It is there Shea meets Cam’s son, Rand, whom she comes to believe may be her long-lost son.
Painted by the Sun is a complex character study of deeply wounded people. There is little humor here, and the focus is often more on Cam’s relationship with his sister than with Shea. However, the writing is very good, and the author’s knowledge of 19th century photography is evident, adding a richness to the story that I enjoyed.
Of course, with two young boys the same age as the son Shea gave away in the plot, the reader knows one of them must be Shea’s lost child. The question is, which one, and how will Shea’s arrival after so many years affect the life of the boy and his adoptive family?
Secondary characters Owen and Lily are both well drawn and timid individuals. Through the course of the story, Shea’s presence changes both their lives. There is a mystery (who is behind the effort to keep Shea’s photography venture from succeeding?), and of course, the love story between Cam and Shea.
For a lengthy book, the hero and heroine don’t spend as much time together or thinking about each other as I would have liked. I found the book curiously lacking in sexual tension. When they make love, they are completely focused on each other and those scenes are really nice, but other than that, their outside activities keep them apart to a such a degree that the reader tends to forget this is a romance novel. That, and the constant tone of angst that permeates the book, are the only things that kept me from awarding this book keeper status.
If you are looking for a more complex novel with many layers to it – a little romance, a little joy, a little sorrow, a handsome but rather quiet hero and a heroine with a past, give this book a read. Elizabeth Grayson is a good writer and I enjoyed her style very much.