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Excerpt (Chapter One):
Bennett Saville stood at the window of his hotel room looking out over the Hengduan Mountains surrounding the mystical town of Shangri La in Tibet. He’d been there nearly six weeks now filming his new movie, and had yet to tire of the view of the valley and the towering mountains that seemed to surround the hotel like a massive rock shield. The October sun shone down on the valley and the green fields surrounding the hotel.
Across the river in the distance he could see the small figures of farmers as they went about their business. Small white forms of sheep were speckled like popcorn about the grassy hills. He sighed, stretching his lanky frame, wincing as his muscles protested against the activity.
The day’s filming had taken its toll on him, not least of which was his backside from sitting on a mule most of the day. The mule had not particularly taken to him. He supposed wryly that when two immoveable and stubborn objects met there was bound to be some friction. He turned as someone swore behind him, and saw his fiancée, Cassie Wallace, struggling under the weight of her now packed suitcase as she manoeuvred it off the bed. She strained to pull the suitcase over to the door where it would wait to be taken down by the hotel porters in the morning.
He observed her with raised eyebrows. Despite his suggestion that she get a suitcase with wheels, she’d insisted on taking her tried and trusted old green one -the one with no wheels and which in itself was a fair weight even without the mountain of clothes inside it.
Cassie muttered as she gave the case one final kick in annoyance and looked up at him. Her eyes challenged him to say something, anything. He turned away with a hidden smile.
She flopped down onto the bed and groaned. “I can’t believe we have to leave tomorrow.”
She opened her arms and spread them out behind her, her t –shirt straining at the move and showing the generous curves beneath. Seeing Bennett’s predatory look, she hastily sat up again lest he get any ideas about pouncing on her. They were due downstairs for their last lunch together with the rest of the cast and crew in about five minutes.
“I thought you were looking forward to getting home?” Bennett said. “You’ve been itching to get back to business. That phone of yours hasn’t stopped since we left London.”
He sat down on the bed beside her, his green eyes observing her, admiring her tanned skin from the sunshine of the Tibetan summer and the small freckles scattered across her cheeks and nose. Her strawberry blonde hair, worn long but now even longer past her shoulders, had streaks of gold where the sun had bleached it.
All in all, he thought the six weeks holiday she’d had whilst he was filming had done her good. After the events of the last twenty one month’s together, it was good to see her looking so perky, healthy and downright sexy.
She nodded. “I know. I am. It’s just that it’s so peaceful here. I know you’ve been filming but I’ve never seen you look so relaxed either. This trip has been good for both of us.”
He regarded at her ruefully. “What with all the past events, you and your car accident, Eric’s death, Mum’s psychotic episode and you landing up in hospital again and that bloody Laura woman stalking me, I’m surprised we’re not both basket cases.”
She sighed. “I can’t believe our Tibet trip is nearly over. I know when you get back you’ll be busy filming in the London studios- Waverly is it?”
Bennett nodded. “It’s a huge and very sophisticated studio in Chalk Farm. It’ll be great seeing how the rest of the film comes together there.”
“Perhaps, Bennett, when we get home, I might be able to convince you not to fall asleep with such regularity at your desk.” Cassie said drily.
He grinned. Whilst he’d been in Tibet, many were the nights he’d fallen asleep in front of his laptop, his script open, various research websites being bookmarked and copious notes in his untidy, almost illegible scrawl in the margins of his script. He knew it drove Cassie to distraction.
“You know me, Cass. I’m a little obsessive.”
Cassie stared at him in amusement. “A little? Bennett, you disappear in the middle of the night to God knows where, for hours on end, stalking about talking to yourself and looking like a crazy person.”
He smiled, knowing this to be true.
Cassie continued her diatribe. “You wander up into the mountains, down by the river and I never quite know where I’m going to find you or when you’ll be back. It can be quite dangerous out there.”
He shrugged. “When the muse is on me, Cass, I can’t help it. I need to get things perfect or it doesn’t work for me.”
“That’s all well and good, sweetheart, but if you hadn’t noticed, ignoring me doesn’t make me go away. And you can be such an autocrat. It’s your way or no way.”
He raised his eyebrows at her. “An autocrat? Cassie, that’s a bit cruel.”
Bennett grinned at the exasperated face of his fiancée. “I guess we should be getting downstairs for lunch. I was planning on an afternoon siesta with you but judging from the sound your stomach is making, I imagine you’re hungry again. I can’t make love to a starving woman. It’s too distracting.”
He stood up and reached out a hand to her. She took it as she stood up and they walked out of the bedroom, closing the door behind them.
Downstairs in the outside courtyard the lunch buffet was in full swing. The full cast and crew of Lost Horizon were helping themselves to a spread of both Chinese and Tibetan local fare including roasted yak which Cassie hadn’t wanted to try. Bennett found it delicious. But despite that, Cassie refused to taste it. He acknowledged that neither of them had developed the taste for the local butter tea.
Mingmei Cheng, Bennett’s co- star and love interest in the film, smiled when she saw them, wandering over to join them. She was stunningly beautiful, a slim exotic Mandarin woman with long black hair and small hands that waved like butterflies when she talked. Bennett was well aware that the one part about the making of the film Cassie couldn’t get used to were the on-camera love scenes and intimate moments between him and Mingmei.
Although John managed them tastefully and there was only what was needed on show,
nothing gratuitous, he knew she still couldn’t bear to watch Bennett and Mingmei together in that way.
“Most of the time you’re half naked.” she’d grumbled when they’d talked about it recently.
He’d smiled at her discomfort. “Cassie, mostly I have my shirt off. My pants and everything else are still on for most of the scenes. And when they’re not, well, there’s not really any contact. Honest.”
She’d scowled. “Well, I still don’t like watching it. Mingmei is so beautiful and tiny and it just looks wrong when she has her hands all over your bare chest. Sometimes I want to scratch her porcelain face. That makes me a really bad person, Bennett.”
It hadn’t helped that he’d chuckled loudly at her comments. “You jealous harpy. You know I’m acting. I promise.”
Seeing them now, Mingmei smiled at them sweetly. “Bennett, Cassie,” she said softly in her lilting dialect. “I’m glad you decided to join us. I thought perhaps you might be having a siesta.” She smiled slyly.
Bennett smiled, watching Cassie’s face flush instantly. He did tend to have a proclivity towards afternoon ‘siestas’ with her when he could get them and it appeared the whole crew knew about them
“No, we were hungry and looking forward to lunch. I shall miss all of this when we get home.” Cassie waved a hand around at the tables laden with food.
Bennett looked at her with raised eyebrows “The way you’ve been eating whilst we’ve been here I shall have to employ you your very own chef when we get home to keep you stocked up on Kung Pao chicken and roast pig.”
He frowned worriedly. “Actually, thinking about it, I think we should call the airport and pay to increase our baggage allowance. We might need to offset it against the extra weight in the plane when you get in.”
Cassie punched him hard in the arm making sure her knuckle was extended. He yelped and rubbed his arm but the smile didn’t leave his face. Mingmei watched on with amusement.
“You bastard!” Cassie hissed. “I can’t believe you just said that to me.”
Bennett realised he’d perhaps overstepped the boundary. Cassie was sensitive about the fact that she was older than him and always told him she had to work harder to keep her figure in shape. He loved it just the way it was.
He pulled her close, planting a kiss on top of her head. “You look wonderful to me, Cassie, just the way you are. I love your curves.”
She wasn’t mollified by his words, glaring at him fiercely. She was stopped from responding as John Lammington came up and slapped Bennett on the back.
“Bennett! Glad you could join us. We thought you’d gone for a lie down. I thought you might have been a bit stiff after riding that crazy animal this morning.”
He winked at Cassie who felt her face blush red. The double entendre was not lost on anyone. Mingmei looked down, smiling.
Bennett chuckled softly as Cassie went even redder. “No, no siesta. The woman needed feeding again.”
He made sure to stay out of the way of Cassie’s fist as he wandered over to the table to pile a plate with food. Cassie muttered a rude but very audible swear word at him under her breath, making sure she piled her plate high. She sat next to Bennett at the long communal table. He was amused at her defiant stand.
“So, Bennett. Looking forward to getting back to London and the dreary October weather?” John took a swig of the local Lhasa beer he was partial to.
Bennett shrugged. “I’ve enjoyed it here. It’s been an incredible experience. But Dylan is chomping at the bit to get his latest production up and running. He opens in December and needs some help. So I’ll be giving him a hand at the Val in between filming the rest of Lost.” He looked at John wryly. “Assuming I have any free time at all, that is. You can be a real slave driver.”
The Val as it was lovingly known, real name the Valedictorian, was the theatre that Bennett, Cassie and Dylan owned in London. Bennett had given Cassie thirty five percent of his shares when they got engaged last year. He’d thought it was the perfect engagement gift. He knew she loved the ambience, the quirkiness, camaraderie and drama that went on there.
John chuckled. “Now, Bennett. That coming from one perfectionist to another.” John helped himself to another beer. “Isn’t Dylan’s play some sort of musical about some Australian lady gang?”
Bennett nodded. “It’s about the Razor Gang wars in the mid nineteen twenties in Sydney. He’s done a hell of a job in getting something like that into a musical, but I think it works.”
John grinned. “I understand you aren’t contributing to the stage show. Not your ‘cup of tea’.” He mocked Bennett’s accent.
Bennett shook his head ruefully. “I’m not fond of singing in public and I’m not the greatest dancer. I’ll stick with drama rather than make a fool of myself trying to belt out a tune.”
“I can vouch for that statement,” muttered Cassie. Bennett saw she was still unforgiving about the weight comment. “Bennett has a tendency to be very noisy when he’s trying to sing Pavarotti in the shower.”
“But I do have other talents you like in the shower, sweetheart.” Bennett regarded her lazily, not wanting to be outdone. He sniggered as Cassie once again blushed pink.
John gave a great laugh. “You two really keep us all amused with your bickering, you know that? It’s been like having two teenagers on set.”
He stood up. “Well, packing beckons. I still have a ton of things to sort out before we leave tomorrow afternoon.” He looked gloomy. “I suppose we’ll be taking that dodgy tour bus to the local airport and then flying to Lhasa Airport for the flight home. It’s going to be a long couple of days to get home.”
John hadn’t enjoyed the bus ride to the hotel, having white knuckled it all the way due to the driver’s fairly erratic driving narrowly missing the long drops over the side of the mountains. He sighed. “See you kids later.”
Bennett sat back in his chair, closing his eyes, enjoying the rays of the sun on his face. Hearing a little voice beside him, he opened his eyes to see little Soong Li, the daughter of one of the Hotel Managers, smiling shyly at Cassie as she held out a small carved wooden bird.
Cassie smiled at her as she sat up. “Hello Soong Li. This is beautiful. Is it for me?” She leaned over and took the small bird gently from the child’s outstretched hand. “Did you make this yourself?”
The little girl nodded. “I want you to take it back home with you.” she said in slightly broken English. “To remind you of me and Shangri La.”
Cassie often took the child on her travels with her, mule riding, climbing the nearby mountains and wading down in the river collecting any item of interest the pair could find. The little girl had taken a shine to Cassie and was constantly fascinated by the colour of her hair and the freckles appearing on her face.
Bennett watched the two together now, seeming so comfortable with each other. Cassie couldn’t have any children of her own. She’d been unable to do so even before his mother had attacked Cassie one evening and injured her so badly that it had simply cemented the fact that Cassie would never be a mother.
The closest they’d get would be Bennett’s five year old nephew, Sean, who lived with Bennett’s father at the family home. Bennett and Cassie enjoyed taking him out on the occasional day out but were always glad to see him home to Edward’s.
Cassie hugged the child and Soong Li ran off to join her friends playing nearby. She looked over at Bennett, smiling. “If you’re finished stuffing your face, I suppose we could go for a walk down by the river. It’ll be the last chance we get.”
He extended his arm to her and they walked out of the hotel courtyard into the dusty road leading down to the river. It was quiet, the clouds settling low upon the horizon and the warm breeze slightly unsettling Cassie’s hair, causing it to blow across her face.
She brushed it back absentmindedly as she walked. “Have you spoken to Sean recently?”
Bennett was in the habit of calling his nephew with an update on how many yaks he had seen, what the stupid mule had done next and generally painting a vivid picture for the child of what it was like to be in Shangri La.
Bennett nodded. “I spoke to him last night. Apparently he’d had a bad day at school, some kid pinched his lunch and when Sean found out, he punched him in the nose. Mary had to go down to the school and placate them.” He grinned. “I’d say he’s definitely a Saville.”
Cassie kissed him affectionately on the chin. “Given his uncle’s temper, it sounds like the fruit hasn’t fallen far from the tree albeit a little removed.”
Bennett’s temper was legendary, something he sometimes struggled to control. The last year had certainly tested this to the limit. More than once Cassie had found herself having to defuse him.
They’d reached the river now, sitting down on the grassy bank, taking off their shoes and planting their feet in the cool running water.
“Did you ever think we’d be where we are now?” asked Bennett suddenly. “I mean sitting here together in Shangri La in Tibet. Sometimes it all seems rather surreal.” He glanced at Cassie as she watched the water run over her feet.
“You know I believe things happen for a reason.” she said slowly. “Everything has a purpose. I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing now than sitting here with you in this magical place. January last year I was just plain Cassie Wallace. Now I’m Cassie Wallace, fiancée with a young, filthy rich, sexy man in her bed. Who could possibly have seen that coming?”
She leaned over and kissed him. He pulled her towards her and the kiss grew deeper and more intense. Bennett wound his fingers through her hair, pulling her closer, enjoying the feel of her warm body and the sunshine on his back. After a few hot and heavy moments they pulled apart.
“I think it’s time for that siesta.” Cassie said huskily, running her fingers down his chest, pausing on his flat stomach and slipping her hands under his loose shirt.
He drew a breath as her hands found the warm skin beneath. “I certainly don’t think we should carry on here, we have an audience.” he murmured, kissing her ear, his tongue darting in and out causing her to shiver.
Cassie looked up in panic and Bennett chuckled. “There’s no one watching, Cassie. I mean that lot over there.” He pointed to where a half a dozen curious yaks were congregating by the river bank, observing them through large brown eyes. Cassie giggled when she saw them.
“Whilst I could quite gladly ravish you here and now, I don’t relish the thought of doing so with them watching me. I don’t like competition.” Bennett stood up, picking up his shoes.
Cassie did the same and together they walked back up to the hotel. The lobby was fairly quiet. Everyone was probably in their rooms packing for tomorrow’s early get away. Their hotel room was cool and the breeze wafted in through the open windows.
No sooner had they closed the door, than Bennett pulled Cassie towards him, his mouth finding hers again, his tongue running its way across her top lip and finally finding its way into her mouth.
She pressed against him, her hands wrapped tightly around his neck, her hands buried in his curly auburn hair. His mouth moved away from hers, down her throat to the swell of her breasts. He felt her nipples harden as he kissed them, his tongue lightly teasing them through her t-shirt. She raised her arms and he slipped off the t-shirt. She wore nothing underneath. He undid her jeans and they fell to the floor as he slipped her panties down her legs. She was naked now, pressing herself against him with an urgency he could feel.
“God, Bennett,” she groaned. “How can you still do this to me? I never get tired of you.”
“Ditto.” he whispered, watching as she unzipped his chinos and undressed him. He heard her give a hiss of satisfaction at what she found. She pulled him over to the bed, her movements urgent and desperate, lying down, desperate to get closer to him.
He continued his body tasting, kissing the inside of her thighs, up her stomach to her breasts again, finally to her mouth. She stroked him as he sighed in pleasure. Her hands moved across his back down to his backside and back up again. Bennett’s fingers softly stroked her where the sensation was incredible and he felt her tremble and moan softly. He kept her waiting, teasing her until she ground her mouth into his.
She moaned. “God, Bennett, now, I can’t wait.”
He raised himself above her, watching her face as he slowly filled her, hearing her groan of pleasure and feeling the intense sensation himself as she clenched her inner muscles around him and rocked beneath him. Her nails scratched his back and he winced in anticipation, remembering a previous love making session where she had almost torn him to pieces.
She remembered too and gasped, “I promise I won’t damage you, Bennett, not like last time.”
He thrust harder into her as they both felt the rising explosion between them and when it arrived, they cried out and shuddered, their mouths grinding together as they reached their peak and collapsed, satiated for the moment, into a heap of limbs on the bed.
“Jesus, Bennett, sex with you just gets better and better every time. Are you sure you’re not practising with anyone else in your spare time?” Cassie leaned over to kiss his nose.
He pretended to consider that before answering. “Not unless you count the ladies at the coffee house near the theatre, the all night strip club or the Woman’s League ladies. Other than them I have to say you’re the only other one.”
“Do you think we are sex addicts like everyone seems to think?” asked Cassie seriously, causing Bennett to splutter with laughter.
“Cassie, I hardly think a healthy sexual relationship like ours is a sign of addiction. And if it is then I’m all for it.” He leaned over, kissing her again. “I can’t help it that I have this amazingly sexy and beautiful woman who just can’t get enough of me. It’s just you being Cassie that does it for me.”
She cuddled into him. “What about when I’m old and wrinkly and my boobs sag? Will you still want me then?”
Bennett tried to be careful how he answered this one. He knew Cassie was still a little insecure about their age difference.
He pulled her closer, stroking her back and nuzzling her hair. “I’ll be growing older too, Cass. Hell, I’ll be forty next year. Who knows, my equipment could stop working and then where would you be? You’d have to trade me in for a younger model. It’s all relative.” He kissed her tenderly. “I love you, silly woman. Isn’t that enough for now?”
“I suppose.” She didn’t sound convinced but it was the best he could do.
He sighed and stood up. “I’m going to go take a shower. I think we’re all meeting for drinks at eight tonight.”
He disappeared into the bathroom. She joined him a few minutes later and managed to convince both of them beyond any doubt that his equipment was definitely still working.