When Lauren Drake takes a job redecorating a house, she never dreamed her life was going to change so drastically. She is given a room with a large mural on the wall depicting a world much different from her own. One day she steps through the mural into Starfane. In this strange and beautiful world she finds herself having to choose between two men – one very good, and one very bad. In the meantime, she is working desperately to help a man in her own world find out why he has lost the ability to feel. Lauren finds love, desire, anguish, and danger in Starfane…but she never could have imagined the real truth behind the mural and the three men in her life.
Lauren sang along to an old Beatles song as she drove through the colorful trees in the beautiful state of Vermont. She had never been this far north before and New England was breathtaking. She was from Atlanta, Georgia, so she was used to the hustle and bustle of the big city. This was a welcome change. Life was good.
For seven years, she had worked for a large interior decorating firm. Now, at age 30, she had just started a business of her own and was going to her first big job. She was excited and a little scared. She had already seen pictures of the house she was renovating and had discussed plans over the phone with the owner of the house. The renovations were to be so extensive that she was going to live at the house while all the changes were being done.
When she pulled up to the house, she took one look and sighed with pleasure. This was going to be fun! The pictures hadn’t prepared her for the immense size of the house. One could say a house is so many square feet, but it’s hard to imagine, sometimes, until you actually see it. This was going to be a challenge.
When she rang the bell, the door was answered immediately by a tall, thin woman of about 50. She was attractive in a simple sort of way and was dressed in a plain black dress.
“Ms. Drake?” the woman said. “I’m Jane Dawson, Mrs. Wilder’s housekeeper. Please come in. I’ll have someone get your bags and put your car into the garage. I’ll show you to your room in just a bit, but first, Mrs. Wilder would like to meet with you.”
“Thank you. I left the keys in the car because I wasn’t sure where to park.”
“We have a large garage at the back of the house. I’ll give you a door opener and will get you some keys to the house. Come this way and I’ll take you to Mrs. Wilder.”
Ms. Dawson led the way down a rather dreary hallway into a room that must have been a library, considering the number of books inside. The problem was that the books were not all shelved. They were stacked everywhere – in the floor, on the tables, even on the window sill. Lauren smiled to herself. This was worse than the pictures had shown. She loved a challenge!
Mrs. Wilder rose from her chair by the fireplace where a cheerful fire was burning brightly.
“Lauren Drake? It’s so nice to finally meet you!”
Maude Wilder was a small, attractive woman in her mid sixties with gray hair and twinkling blue eyes. Lauren immediately liked her.
“It’s nice to meet you, too, Mrs. Wilder. And I’m so glad to finally see the house.”
“I’m afraid it needs a lot of work. My mother and father lived here all their married life and my grandparents before them. I inherited this house when my mother died two years ago. I moved in a few months later, but I put off doing anything about it. It really needs a lot of work, and I’m glad I waited, since I might not have found you back then. You saw all the pictures I sent, but now you can really see why I need the work done.”
“It’s really a beautiful house. There’s a lot that can be done. If the walls and floor are solid and sturdy, and I bet they are, everything will be cosmetic. I’ll get some guys to come and look at it and see if it’s structurally sound. If so, we can go over again the ideas we talked about and get started as soon as possible.”
“I have a name of a construction company that will come and look at the house. The owners are friends of mine.”
“That’s great,” said Lauren. “I don’t know anyone in this area, so we’ll have to find some people to do the renovations. I don’t like to use contractors. I’ll contract all the painters, carpenters and so forth myself.”
“You’re the expert. I’m leaving it all to you.”
“This library has a lot of potential. We need more shelves, for starters. And I would like to use a cherry stain for all the wood in here.”
Mrs. Wilder laughed. “No working yet! It’s time for dinner and I can imagine how hungry you are. Traveling always makes me hungry.”
“Come to think of it, I’m famished. I was just so excited about seeing the house for the first time that I wasn’t even thinking about food.”
“Wait until you taste it. My cook is the best. You’ll see.”
Lauren and Mrs. Wilder went into the dining room and sat down at the table and a short, stout woman came through a swinging door from the kitchen. She was carrying a soup tureen. She ladled out the soup into the bowls that were on the table.
“Mmm, that smells wonderful,” exclaimed Lauren.
“And it will taste just as wonderful, I promise.”
The cook beamed at her.
“Agatha, I would like you to meet Lauren Drake. Lauren, this is Agatha Barns, the best cook in New England.”
“Now, Maude, you are just flattering me so I’ll keep making my famous apple pies!”
They all laughed and Agatha went back into the kitchen. Lauren tasted the soup, which was a hearty potato soup with chives.
“Oh, my! This is excellent. If this is any indication of what the rest of the meal is going to be like, I don’t know if I can stand it!”
But she was able to stand it, even as the main course was savored and found to be even better than the soup. There was a roast which had been marinated in spices and slow cooked all day. Complimenting that were herbed asparagus and corn with red peppers. All of it was cooked to perfection.
After the main course, Lauren sat back in her chair and said, “I don’t think anything could possibly top this meal.”
“Just wait,” said Mrs. Wilder with a twinkle in her eyes.
Out came Agatha with an apple pie still steaming. The crust on top was sprinkled with sugar and juice was bubbling out of the slits on top. There was whipped cream to put on top of the pie, and Lauren thought she had never had anything so delicious in her life.
After they were finished eating, Lauren sighed with satisfaction.
“That had to be the best meal of my life. If you keep feeding me like this, I’ll be too big to fit through the doorway!”
Maude Wilder smiled at her. “Don’t worry. You’re going to be so busy you’ll burn off every calorie that you take in.”
“I plan to work hard, that’s for sure. I can’t wait to get started. I can already see what I want to do with this dining room. From the picture you sent, I couldn’t tell how little light there was coming in here. I would love to see two large windows over there on that wall. I think windows that come down to the floor would look great in here.”
“I like that idea. That’s the main thing that’s wrong with this house. Everything is so dark and dreary. I love light and would like to see this house full of sunlight during the day.”
Lauren frowned. “I was expecting just to do cosmetic work. We may end up knocking out some walls to do more windows. The cost would be higher.”
Mrs. Wilder laughed. “Dear, I have more money than I’ll ever be able to spend in my lifetime. And my son will never be able to spend the money I’ve already given to him. So do whatever you need to do to make this house cheerful and bright!”
Mrs. Wilder retired to her room to take care of some correspondence and Jane showed Lauren to her room.
“Mrs. Wilder asked specifically that you be given this room. This is the only room in the house that she doesn’t want changed at all. I think you’ll see why.”
Lauren walked in the room slightly ahead of Jane. What she saw made her gasp with surprise. Along the long wall of the room was a mural that covered the entire wall. She walked nearer to it and studied it closely. It was a scene in a forest with all kinds of people and creatures. There were elves, unicorns, dragons, and other creatures that she couldn’t identify. The scene was so realistic that she felt as if she could step right through into this other world.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Jane asked from behind her.
“It’s breathtaking! Who painted this?”
Jane smiled. “This was done by Mrs. Wilder’s son, Alex. He owns an art gallery in New York. He sells his own paintings there, but he also takes paintings of artists that are talented, but as yet unknown. He feels like he was lucky to get the breaks he has gotten and wants to help other struggling young artists. Everyone goes to his gallery to find art from the latest newcomer. It’s almost like a status thing now to own the first painting of one of Alex’s new artists.”
“He sounds like a really great guy.”
“He is. He’s had his troubles and has fought his demons like many people have, but he has really come a long way. He’s very successful.”
“I would like to meet him sometime. Anyone who could have painted this has to be interesting.”
“You might be surprised,” said Jane as she turned to walk out the door.
After Jane left her, Lauren started putting away her clothes and other personal items. But she kept being drawn to the mural on the wall. She studied it closely, taking in all the details. She couldn’t help wondering what was going through Alex’s mind as he painted this. She touched the wall lightly, running her fingers over the figures in the painting. It was a strange sensation to be touching something that seemed almost real, yet obviously was not. Her eyes were drawn particularly to a lone figure standing by a stream. He was tall and beautiful, with long blond hair, a lock of it braided and hanging by his face. His ears were slightly pointed and he seemed delicate and strong at the same time. She touched this figure who was probably supposed to be an elf. He really was beautiful. He had a wistful expression on his face. It was amazing to her how this painter had captured an emotion like this in a painting. There was no doubt about it. This painter was talented!
After Lauren had finished putting away all of her things, she went into the bathroom that adjoined her room and took a long, hot bath in the green marble tub. All the fixtures were the same green marble. It was really a beautiful room, just like the bedroom with its green walls and green patterned bedspread. It all seemed to match the mural and she suddenly realized that this room had already been redecorated by Alex Wilder. That’s why this one wasn’t to be touched. Although she would never dream of doing anything to disturb the mural on the wall. It was too beautiful to even consider changing.
She went downstairs and walked around the different rooms with a notebook, making notes on the different things she could see that needed to be done. Although she and Maude Wilder had made a lot of decisions through phone calls and correspondence, she could now see that there were a lot of other things that needed to be done. Especially the additions or changes made to the windows.
By the time she had finished with the first floor, it was eleven o’clock, so she went upstairs and got ready for bed. Just before she got in the bed, though, she went over to the mural and touched it again. There was just something about this scene that drew her to it. She sighed and got into the bed and fell asleep almost immediately. She dreamed that night of a land of elves and fairies.