This is a pre-Seaview story occurring seven years before Lee joins NIMR and was born out of a small plot bunny dropped in my story Duty's Reward where I state that ONI had chosen Lee for a past assignment because his looks were an asset to the mission.  I was sure when I wrote that line I would pick it up later as a story and so here it is!  ; )


The Princess of Sambrini


by Lynn



The young dark haired Lieutenant JG (junior grade) sat in the transport wearing headphones taking a bumpy ride to Washington DC.  He had been airlifted off the USS Sam Houston, a nuclear ballistic submarine where he had just been assigned three months earlier.  His airlift out by way of Seahawk helicopter signaled an important ONI assignment.  Lee Crane had been accepting ONI assignments for the last three years, having been recruited only a few months out of graduation from Annapolis.  Even with three years under his belt, the missions still stirred up butterflies in his stomach, but he figured that was a good thing.  Once a field operative gets cocky then the game gets even more dangerous, he reasoned to himself.  Even with his “butterflies” an onlooker would be hard pressed to see any trepidation in the young officer as he kept himself calm and schooled.  He had passed from “Rookie” to “Field OP” but he was a long ways from “Seasoned” and Lee always took each mission with great respect for the unknown danger that lay ahead.


The transport took another turbulent jolt as Lee sat back enduring the bumpy ride with ease as he thought about his second job in the Navy.  His heart was with the sea so when the Office of Naval Intelligence offered him full-time field work he respectfully declined, but the agency had been keen on his participation.  He had a knack for languages, particularly the European languages and with his boxing experience he had adapted well in field combat training.  In the end, ONI was happy to settle for a part-time commitment and Lee found himself accepting three to four missions a year. 


Nothing in his orders gave him a clue to his current assignment and there wasn't anything to do but wait until he arrived in DC.  So he leaned his head back and closed his eyes determined to get some rest before the inertia of the assignment took full affect.  Soon he was asleep despite the turbulence, resting for whatever lay ahead.


* * * * *


Lee was escorted to the office of the new head of ONI, Admiral Gerald Johnson.  Johnson received his fourth star with the appointment as the Director of ONI, but Lee had worked with him briefly on a previous mission in the Admiral's prior posting as Deputy Director.  He entered the office and stood erectly at attention, delivering a crisp salute and holding it for the Admiral's response.  Johnson was slow in returning the salute, but Lee made no indication of uncomfortableness.  It wasn't unusual to be ignored by Flag Rank until they were ready to be addressed.


Admiral Johnson delivered a quick salute from his desk as he spoke, “At ease.  Have a seat, Lieutenant.”


Lee completed his salute and only slightly relaxed his demeanor as he moved to the visitor chair directly across from the Admiral.  He placed his cover on the edge of Johnson's desk and reached across for the folder the Admiral was passing to him.


“We're going to have to move fast on this Lieutenant,” Johnson explained as he began the briefing. 


“The Princess of Sambrini* is traveling by ocean liner to deliver an important trade agreement on behalf of her country.  There have been recent threats made and the King has asked the United States to help guard the Princess in her journey.”  At the last statement Lee's eyebrows rose in question.  The King had plenty of guards and resources, what did they need ONI for?  Johnson cracked a small tight smile as he recognized Lee's understanding and proceeded to explain.  “The King suspects that his elite guards have been infiltrated and is looking for added security.  Though the country is small they have large natural resources of manganese, a vital element used in the production of stainless steel and thus a threat to America's economy should the country change its current export agreements with the United States, a distinct possibility if certain people have their way,” Johnson said, explaining ONI's involvement in the situation.  “There will be two other Operatives on board working with the King's bodyguards.  You will be the third Operative...”  Johnson's voice trailed off as he took a slight breath and continued.


“You will be inserted Cloaked as an officer on-board the ship with access to the Princess.” 


Lee nodded his understanding.  “Cloaked” meant that neither the two ONI Operatives, nor the King's bodyguards would know of his presence on board.  The fact that the operatives didn't know Lee wasn't unusual since he was only used on occasion by the agency.  


Johnson motioned for Lee to open the folder where he found an 8”x10” photograph of the King's daughter along with her Profile.  The fifty-two year old Southeastern European beauty was the only remaining child of the King of Sambrini, with her three older brothers having passed years before in an unfortunate war.  The King was preparing her to take over the duties of the monarchy; however Princess Farina was a young widow who lived a carefree life with little regard for the role she was expected to play when her father passed.  Still, she would assume the role as the ruling Monarch if for no other reason, than to keep the lavish lifestyle she had grown accustomed to.


Lee scanned the Profile and raised his head, his eyes showing some confusion despite his schooled face, somehow he thought he was missing something in the mission parameters.


Johnson sat back in his chair as one side of his mouth registered satisfaction at the Lieutenant's perception.  “Your role as an officer will place you in a position to be noticed by the Princess.”  Lee's face registered another question as Johnson continued.  “Frankly Lieutenant, you fit the profile for the type of man the Princess is attracted to.  Tall, dark headed, young and I'm told by the female staff we've conferred with, other features that will ensure her 'interest' in you.”


The dossier of Princess Farina definitely revealed a woman with a fondness for male companionship, as her escorts seemed to change on a weekly basis.  Lee's face registered slight embarrassment as Admiral Johnson continued.


“If she's interested, stay as close as she allows.  If not, observe and protect from afar,” Johnson finished.


Lee fidgeted in his seat, in an unusual gesture for his Annapolis decorum but schooled his shock at the fact that he was expected to entertain a woman twice his age in an undercover operation.  The uncomfortableness of the thought gave way to his need to further understand the mission parameters.


“Sir, is there a reason why I'll be cloaked to the other operatives?”  Lee asked straight forward but still respectfully.


Johnson nodded, “Yes.  There's too much money and power involved.  You're there to ensure that no one from either the King's guards or the U.S. assets involved sell out the Princess.  Obviously we don't use tainted Operatives, so your role is purely a failsafe to the mission.”


“And just how far am I expected to go to keep the Princess's attention?”  Lee asked, hoping to clarify the Admiral's expectations.


“Stay as close as you are allowed, Lieutenant...I'll leave the details up to you.”  Johnson added in a slight tongue and cheek fashion as Lee nodded his understanding.


“Aye Sir,” he replied in complete compliance.


“Now, the rest of the mission details are in your Profile Kit and you'll be fully briefed by your handlers on the details of your insertion into the ocean liner.  Any questions Lieutenant?”  Johnson asked as he stood, a clear indication that the meeting was over and any questions Lee had would now be addressed by the handlers.


Lee rose retrieving his cover and tucking it neatly under his arm.  “No Sir,” he answered, delivering a sharp salute as Johnson reciprocated and Lee left his office wondering just what ONI had gotten him into this time.


* * * * *


Lee stood on the Bridge of the small but luxurious ocean liner The Rhapsody.  As the Third Officer, he was assigned to the Princess's comfort and because of his important role was taking his instructions directly from the Captain, the only man aboard who knew his true identity.


Lee's white high collared uniform was decorated with one full gold stripe on his black epaulets.  He wore his uniform sharply, and at 24 years old presented himself as a striking young officer in uniform, exactly what ONI needed. 


“Have you seen to the Princess and her entourage's staterooms?”  The captain asked, aware of Lee's mission.


“Yes Sir.  The rooms are secure and ready for the Princess to board.”  Lee had already passed the bug-finders through the staterooms and found them clean. 


“Very well, Mr. Carver.  Our guests will be arriving soon, I suggest we prepare to meet them.”


“Aye Sir,” Lee answered as he followed the captain from the Bridge to the main deck to greet the Princess of Sambrini.


* * * * *


Lee watched as the royal entourage boarded across a private gangplank.  She had twenty in her group with her personal attendants, bodyguards and state aides.  Lee played his part and checked each member of Princess Farina's party in, assigning their cabins as they boarded.  Though Lee was cloaked, he was well aware of the two ONI Operatives in the entourage.  Travis Clark was 5'8” and slightly on the pudgy side.  His sandy blond hair was thinning and he wore dark black rimmed glasses.  He was as good an operative as they came, his unassuming appearance giving him access to many situations without any suspicion of his true identity.  Today, he was attached to the entourage as a secretary to the head bodyguard.  Lee smiled inside, Travis Clark could likely take on three bodyguards at one time and come out on top, but the role he currently played made him appear weak and awkward.  He played the part well as Lee pretended not to know who he was, as he gave Travis the cabin assignments for all the bodyguards.  Next came the state aides, three of them.  Lee watched as Cheryl Lin walked forward, her dark hair styled neatly on her head.  She was a small framed woman of Euro-Asian mixed descent and her business suit, a smart powder blue skirt worn just above the knee and matching jacket accentuated her role as the Princess's Personal Assistant.  Lee continued to give cabin assignments as each member was greeted on the deck.  Then the Princess and her personal attendants walked forward.  Princess Farina was a tall blond haired woman with light brown eyes.  Though fifty-two years old, she was well trimmed and wore her expensive stylish business ensemble with grace.  She was as beautiful in person as in her photograph and it was apparent the photographer hadn't had to “brush out” facial flaws.  Lee pasted on his ship-board smile and greeted the lovely Princess as the Captain made the introductions. 


“Princess Farina, I'm Captain Thorpe.  Welcome aboard The Rhapsody, we're honored with your presence.”


“Why thank you Captain,” the Princess said as she shook his hand in a very poised and polished movement.


Captain Thorpe turned toward Lee, “This is my Third Officer, Lee Carver, he will be responsible for your comfort on board The Rhapsody.”


Princess Farina raised an eyebrow as she obviously made an appraising sweep of her eyes over the officer before her.


“Hello Mr. Carver.  Yes, I think he'll do nicely, Captain,” she added in a tone indicating a definite double meaning as Lee tried not to blush.  He flashed a smile back putting his own self-consciousness aside, determined to play the part assigned to him.  The Princess was old enough to be his mother, but she was still a desirable woman and though uncomfortable, he didn't see his role as unpleasant.


“Very well.  Mr. Carver would you see the Princess to her stateroom?”


“Aye Sir,” Lee replied and swept his arm forward to allow the Princess to step ahead of him.  He wasn't too surprised when she stepped forward and hooked her arm around his in a dignified but definite indication that she intended Lee to escort her on his arm.  Lee smiled and escorted the Princess to her stateroom as the entourage followed behind.


As they walked along, Lee could feel the appraising eyes of Travis Clark, as the ONI Operative watched him.  Travis had been given a dossier for Lee Carver, and as far as he was concerned he was just a young officer aboard the ocean liner.  Still, Travis would keep a sharp eye on the officer, especially with the Princess' obvious attraction for the young man.


Cheryl Lin followed behind blending in perfectly and Lee felt confident that Princess Farina was well protected on this week long cruise.


Lee conducted a tour as they walked along, pointing out areas of interest to the Princess and her group.  She hung on his arm gracefully but possessively as they approached her cabin.  He opened the door and ushered her in as her body guards did a quick sweep over the large stateroom.  Farina ignored all the activity and headed straight for the wet bar where she was met by one of her attendants who popped the cork of a bottle of red wine and poured it for the Princess.  Lee stood by the door having not been invited in, as her bodyguards left one by one.  Travis followed behind Gafur the head bodyguard and eyed Lee on the way out.  Lee acted like he didn't notice and waited until Farina turned her attention back to him.


As she turned toward him, he smiled warmly.  “I'm at your disposal Princess Farina.  If there is anything you need.  Anything at all, please don't hesitate to call,” he said in a pleasant and helpful tone.


Princess Farina took a sip of her wine and smiled seductively, “I'll do that Mr. Carver.”


Lee nodded and took the door knob in his hand to pull the door closed behind him and started to step out when Farina called to him.


“Mr. Carver...oh that sounds so terribly formal.  May I call you Lee?”


“But of course Princess,” he answered politely and with a smile to assure her he approved.


“Wonderful, Lee.  Can I expect you to escort me to the Captain's table for dinner tonight?”


“Thank you Princess, it would be my honor,” he said employing all the gentlemanly decorum Annapolis had instilled in him.  He kept his face pleasant and pulled the door closed behind him.  Cheryl would keep tabs on her now and he knew Travis wasn't far away, so Lee left to make his first radio contact with ONI.


* * * * *


Princess Farina took another sip of wine and laughed delightfully as she addressed Cheryl.


“My dear Miss Lin, I thought this trip was going to be dreadfully boring but now I think it will be delightfully fun,” she said with girlish mischief in her voice.


“Yes Princess, but please remember that we need to be close to protect you,” Cheryl added, reminding the Princess that she had a job to do.


“Oh pooh!” Farina sighed, “And just when I thought I could take my mind off this dreadful business of someone wanting to kill me.”  She thought just a moment and raised her glass to her lips, “I think that young Mr. Carver will be a perfect diversion to all this intrigue.”  She was well aware of the age difference between herself and the handsome young officer, but she had discovered years ago that her wealth was a great equalizer and the young men in her life never seemed to mind her age.  She sighed taking her next sip and then resolved herself to whatever business of state that was required for the next few hours.


* * * * *


Lee arrived at Princess Farina's door dressed in his formal dinner attire, a short waisted white uniform that fit him exquisitely.  He was met at the door by one of the bodyguards who promptly frisked him as he raised his arms in compliance and endured the search.  When he was cleared his presence was announced via a radio.  The guard received his reply through his earpiece and opened the door for Lee to enter. 


He entered the room smiling politely and getting a pleasant view of Cheryl in her long evening gown, tasteful, unassuming but very appealing on her trim figure.  His eyes swept the room as he waited for the Princess to make her appearance from her private quarters.


“Hello Mr. Carver, I'm Miss Lin,” Cheryl introduced herself as she approached him with her hand extended.  Lee returned the gesture and smiled warmly.


“Miss Lin.  I hope you've found your cabin assignment satisfactory?” Lee inquired, keeping with his job aboard The Rhapsody.


“Completely.  I noticed from your file that you're originally from Kansas?” She offered in polite conversation.


“No, you must have me mixed up with someone else.  I'm originally from Chicago,” Lee answered without any hint that he knew she was checking out his background information.


“Oh, I'm sorry.  You're right, I must have mixed you up with someone else.”


Lee nodded pleasantly as the door to the bedroom opened and Farina made her grand entrance with her personal attendant following closely behind.  Her black sleeveless gown was dramatic with a plunging neck line and a rather long slit up one leg.  Her diamonds were dazzling on her wrist as her diamond tennis bracelet shimmied and sparkled picking up the light in the room as she moved.  She wore a rather long thin gold chain with a large tear drop shaped diamond hanging strategically low and just above her ample cleavage.


She reached out to Lee who didn't miss his queue to bow and kiss her hand in an eloquent move that delighted her.  Then taking both his hands in hers, she drew herself out at arm's length taking in his attire.


“My Mr. Carver, you look dashing!” She cooed.


“Thank you Princess,” he answered shyly but with a smile, making sure that he wasn't too forward as he was sure that the Princess enjoyed the challenge of winning her prey.


She motioned for her attendant who carried her mink stole over and offered it to Lee.  Lee took the stole and placed it over her shoulders as the Princess took in the feel of his body so close to hers.  When he was through he offered his arm which she took with a smile as the group headed to the dining room.


* * * * *


The sounds of pleasant dinner conversation filled the table as the Princess and the Captain kept the table occupied.  The Princess explained her preference of ocean travel as she was dreadfully afraid to fly.  She laughed at her own phobia and declared that traveling in luxury aboard a ship was much more fun at any rate.  She accentuated her point with a squeeze to Lee's knee under the table.  Lee shot a small smile toward her but otherwise politely ignored her gesture.  He took a drink of water and then scanned the room as he raised his eyes counting off the Princess' bodyguards positioned at key points in the opulent dining room.  As he did a sweep across the room he caught direct eye contact with Gafur, the head bodyguard.  Gafur's eyes held extreme contempt and if Lee was any read of people, something else... jealousy. 


Lee broke his eye contact as Farina hinted her desire to dance.  Lee smiled and offered his services as he pulled the chair politely for the Princess to rise.  He escorted her to the dance floor and held her at an appropriate distance for two people who hardly knew each other, but she quickly closed the distance and snuggled up close for the slow dance.  As Lee waltzed her across the floor he thanked Heaven that he had taken the etiquette classes seriously and learned to ballroom dance at Annapolis.  It was also the perfect opportunity for Lee to continue to scan the dining room as he caught the very distinct displeasure on Gafur's face.  Gafur didn't even try to hide his contempt for Lee and used every bit of his considerable height and weight to intimidate Lee with his glare.  Lee ignored it, filing it away for future reference.


“You really are a divine dancer Lee,” Farina said with a smile.


“Thank you Princess,” Lee answered, making sure he made eye contact with her.  She responded with a seductive smile and Lee was glad that he'd never have to tell his mother that he was allowing a woman twice his age to seduce him.  The music ended and Lee guided the Princess back to the table.


“Mr. Carver is very charming, Captain,” Farina cooed.


Captain Thorpe nodded and laughed, “Well lucky for us he's as good a seaman as he is a dancer, Princess.”  The table responded in laughter with Lee joining them.


“Well, I for one am ready for a nice stroll on deck.  Would you care to escort me, Lee?”  Farina asked.


“Certainly,” he responded, wondering just how far the Princess would go their first night out to sea.


Lee escorted her to the coat room and retrieved her stole placing it on her shoulders and allowed his hands to linger a moment longer than necessary and then offered his arm.  All the while he was aware of Gafur as he and his bodyguards positioned themselves to follow the couple out to the deck.  Lee realized he had elicited something strong in the head bodyguard as Gafur's jealousy was becoming perfectly obvious.


Lee and Farina strolled the deck pleasantly as she hung on his arm as if they had known each other for years.  It was hardly romantic with the bodyguards walking along five feet behind, which was fine with Lee.  They stopped along the deck rail to look out at the moon reflecting off the ocean creating shimmering glimmers of light on the waters below.  Lee figured she was ready to make a move and wasn't surprised as she turned toward him and caressed his cheek.  He smiled in return as she leaned upward to kiss him, Lee wrapped his arms around her and responded in kind.  They parted and she took her wrap and pulled it higher on her shoulders and stepped away coyly.


“Thank you for a delightful evening, Lee.  I think I'll retire to my stateroom now.”


“Would you like me see you there?” He asked politely.


“No thank you,” she laughed.  “With all my 'shadows' I'm sure I won't get lost.”  She reached up and kissed Lee on the lips in a quick movement and backed off seductively.


“Until tomorrow, dear,” she said and slinked off.  Lee smiled inside recognizing her “strategy”:  Always leave them wanting more.  Lee was happy to see her return to her stateroom as he wasn't looking forward to her next moves.  He stood a moment more watching the moon when he was aware of someone behind him and turned to see who was there. 


“A word of caution, boy.  You're just a distraction for the Princess, don't get any ideas of any long term association with Her Highness.” 


Gafur delivered his speech darkly hovering his 6'4” frame over Lee and then turned and walked away as Lee stood his ground.  It was curious, but it appeared that Gafur took his protection for the Princess to the extreme.  Something told Lee that Gafur bore further watching, but he couldn't decide if Gafur was simply a dedicated bodyguard or if it was something else.


* * * * *


The next morning Lee found a white linen envelope with the Royal seal placed in his door frame with an invitation to join the Princess for breakfast.  He had to chuckle to himself, She was a fast worker that was for sure.  Still, this is what ONI was counting on, so he headed to her stateroom.


When he got there, he found breakfast waiting on the private balcony.  He pasted on his smile and walked out finding Princess Farina sitting in a silky morning robe that did little to cover the silky spaghetti strapped nightgown she wore.  On her feet were heeled matching slippers and when she crossed her legs her robe slid down leaving a dramatic view of her leg.  Lee was supposed to be impressed so he allowed a mischievous smile to cross his face as he sat down to the table.


“My dear Lee, you are a bright spot to my morning,” she said with vigor.


“Why thank you Princess, may I say that you're looking very beautiful this morning?”  He asked politely, still trying to stay within the proper boundaries; she was after all, royalty.


She laughed as she answered, “My dear, you may definitely say so!”


“Thank you for your kind invitation, Princess.”


“Well, my days are well ordered and I'll be very busy later, so I stole this moment for us,” she responded as if the two were lovers instead of new acquaintances.  They ate their breakfast and Lee played the part as if he enjoyed her advances. 


“My dear, you've been simply delightful this morning, but alas, these matters of state seem to follow me where ever I go,” she said as Cheryl Lin walked in with a pile of unopened envelopes for her to review.


“Thank you again for your invitation this morning, it was quite pleasant,” he said as he rose delivering a very sexy smile as he caught her direct eye contact.


“If you'll excuse me?” He said turning to leave.


“Of course dear, but I do expect you to escort me to dinner this evening,” she reminded him.


“I'd be honored,” he replied as she began to open the envelopes that Cheryl was unsealing with a letter opener.


Lee had barely reached the door when he heard her gasp.


“Oh dear,” she said, somewhat off balance.


Lee turned sharply as Cheryl reached for the letter she held in her shaky hands.  Lee recognized the ship's stationary and closed the distance back to Farina as Cheryl read the letter out loud.


“Princess, you will never reach the island alive! 

Love your Admirer 


The note was written in large red letters that were meant to imitate blood and intimidate the Princess.  Lee reached for the discarded envelope, also ship's stationary, looking for any clue as to who had sent the note.  Princess Farina's pile of state business was brought aboard with the group yesterday, but this letter had obviously been written and delivered aboard The Rhapsody.


“Call Gafur,” Cheryl instructed an attendant as she took the envelope from Lee's hand.


“I'm sure the Princess' own bodyguards can handle this situation, Mr. Carver,” she added curtly.


“A threat made against a passenger is my business as well, Miss Lin,” Lee assured her, not backing down as Gafur and Travis Clark entered the room.  Gafur took in the shaken and disturbed look on Farina's face as Cheryl presented him with the letter.


“Who brought the mail to the Princess?”  Gafur questioned.


“I did,” Cheryl answered.  “I brought the work aboard yesterday and we didn't receive any deliveries from the ship this morning,” she added as the situation got tenser.


“Obviously someone with access to Miss Lin's cabin deposited the letter,” Lee supplied, stating the obvious but also trying to stay in the loop of information.


Travis listened intently as Gafur conducted the investigation.  “When would your cabin have been empty Miss Lin?”


“Whenever I'm with the Princess, and last night at dinner.  I didn't notice anything out of place.  I had no idea my cabin had been compromised.”


“Gentleman,” Farina interrupted, having composed herself.  “I will leave these details to you.”  She stood as Lee closed the distance to her chair to move it as she rose.  She turned toward him and he caught a true sincere moment as her eyes betrayed the fact that she was indeed shaken by the threat.


Lee took her hand in his, “Are you alright, Princess?”  He asked with concern.


She responded with a small smile, “But of course, dear.  I'm afraid this is nothing new.”  She patted his hand and allowed him to escort her to her private suite door and then leaned over and kissed him gently on the cheek before disappearing inside as her attendants followed.


The mission had just escalated as it was clear that whoever threatened the Princess was not only on board, but had access to the Princess' aides, and perhaps her stateroom as well. 


“Mr. Carver,” Lee turned toward the sound of his cover name as Gafur addressed him.  “I want a list of any ship's personnel who would have reason to enter Miss Lin's cabin; maids, stewards, whoever,” Gafur instructed.


Lee nodded, “Right away, and I'll inform the Captain.”  He left knowing that Travis and Cheryl were on the Watch and worked his way to the Bridge to inform the Captain and to make a transmission to ONI.


* * * * *


Lee arrived at the Princess' stateroom to added security as he endured another “pat down”.  He was dressed for dinner again and entered finding Farina in the sitting room wearing a dazzling sequenced gown which accentuated her curves.  Her two inched spiked heels placed her nearly at Lee's height as she crossed the room to meet him.


“Lee darling, you look dashing.  Simply dashing!”  She exclaimed, obviously having put behind her the earlier events of the day.


“Gafur wanted me to take dinner in my suite, but then we'd miss out on all the exciting ship's gossip, now wouldn't we?”  She added, making light of the threats made against her.


Lee smiled back in kind as he offered her his arm, which she took possessively once again, obviously determined to enjoy her little “diversion” from the reality that someone wanted her dead.


“Are you ready then?” He offered with confidence, knowing that the Princess was on the prowl again.


“But of course, dear,” she offered as he led her to the Captain's Table in the dining room.


The dinner followed the same as it had the evening before, though the Princess spent more time on the dance floor and didn't seem to be in a hurry to return to her stateroom.  She was entertaining the table with her tales of her many adventures when she noticed a beautiful ballad being played by the orchestra.


“Lee darling, I simply adore this song.”


Lee smiled and rose, pulling Farina's chair and escorted her to the dance floor where she snuggled up tightly into his chest resting her head on his shoulder as they danced the slow dance.  He was feeling pretty self-conscious, though he wouldn't let it show and allowed the pretty Princess to sink comfortably in his arms.


The song ended as the couple clapped politely for the orchestra and then headed back to the table. 


“Thank you all for a delightful evening, but I think I'm ready for a stroll on deck if my dashing young escort will accompany me,” she announced as Lee agreed and soon they found themselves walking quietly arm in arm on the deck.  He guided her over to the rail as she took in the sea air and Lee leaned against the rail casually.


She turned toward him as she spoke raising her hand to caress Lee's face with her perfectly manicured fingers, “You know Lee, you're simply delicious in the moonlight.”


Lee smiled, about ready to deliver a compliment back when he heard a “pfittt” sound followed by the sound of wood splintering.  Lee threw the Princess to the ground, recognizing the sound of a gun report muffled by a silencer as another “pfittt” was heard along with more wood splintering.  That time, he felt the “whiff” of the bullet too close to his head as Lee covered the Princess with his body and called out to the bodyguards.


Within seconds bodyguards descended from all over as Lee uncovered Farina and helped her to her feet.  She was visibly shaken as she worked to keep her bottom lip from quivering.  A few moments later and Cheryl arrived taking the shaky Princess from Lee's arms and guiding her back to the stateroom as Gafur and Travis arrived to investigate the shooting.  Lee answered all Gafur's questions but silently kept to himself his own question.  How did someone get close enough to take two shots without being spotted by the Princess' many bodyguards?


“I'd like to see the Princess before I retire,” Lee informed Gafur as he walked towards her stateroom.


“I'm sure that won't be necessary,” Gafur added darkly.


“I'll let the Princess tell me that,” Lee challenged and continued to walk forward.  Behind him walked Travis, and Lee could tell he had something on his mind.  He wished he could confer with both operatives to compare notes, but his job was to stay cloaked until he knew what he was dealing with.  Still, he was sure that Travis had similar concerns about the shooting.


* * * * *


The next day Lee made himself available to the Princess for the afternoon as she was determined to enjoy her ocean cruise.  Later the ship would make port for the evening so guests could explore the night life on the tourist island; The Rhapsody would resume its journey at ten hundred hours the next morning.  The bodyguards stayed close as the Princess sunned herself on the pool deck.  She had invited Lee for a swim, but he informed her he was still on duty which she responded to with pouty lips.  She had so looked forward to seeing him wet in swim trunks!  So she settled for sunning herself which gave her an excuse for Lee to apply her sunscreen. 


The afternoon wore on and the attendants reminded the Princess that she had a dinner engagement that evening with the island dignitaries.  She excused herself and left with her entourage to ready herself.  Lee needed to get ready as well.  He wouldn't be attending the evening affairs and had to rely on the fact that both Cheryl and Travis would be there to protect her.  Still, he planned on leaving the ship to shadow as much as possible.  It wasn't going to be easy shadowing in his white officer's uniform, but he couldn't slink around in black slacks and a turtleneck without blowing his cover; he'd just have to make do.  His concerns were solved however, as he opened the door and found another note stuck in the door frame.  Lee recognized the white linen stationary, along with the royal seal and as he opened the envelope the scent of Princess Farina's perfume filled the air.  The type-written note was as formal as his breakfast invitation, and contained an invitation to meet Farina after her dinner meeting with the island dignitaries.


Perfect, thought Lee.  Cheryl and Travis would be close by to guard the Princess during the dinner meetings and he would be even closer afterward.  The thought brought a smile which he schooled back; he was glad Chip wasn't here to watch him flirt with a woman twice his age.  He'd never hear the end of it!


Lee had a little time to kill so he took his time knowing that the Princess would be occupied for the next several hours.  Then he left the ship and headed for their rendezvous at a nightclub across town.  The dock was quiet as most of the passengers had already disembarked for their evenings out on the town.  The dock was well lit as Lee strolled along to meet the limousine that Farina indicated would be waiting for him.  He spotted the limo up ahead and moved toward it.  His internal alarm began to ring as he realized how dark the area was where the limo was tucked away, nearly in an alley.  His fears were put to rest however, when he recognized several of Farina's bodyguards.  One opened the backdoor for him and he slid in as the limo pulled away. 


Lee had never been to this port before and wasn't familiar with the town, but he was keenly aware that something wasn't right.  The route they took was dark and narrow, and before long Lee felt the limo come to a stop inside an out-of-the-way alley.  The door opened as Lee recognized Gafur standing outside. 


“Get out Carver,” Gafur ordered as Lee complied looking for a clue as to what was going on.  All he knew for sure is that it wasn't good.


“What's this all about?”  Lee asked without any hint that he was concerned for his personal well-being at the moment.


“You'll find out,” Gafur answered as two rather large bodyguards took up flanking positions on both sides and manhandled Lee further into the dark alley.  Gafur towered over Lee by three inches and his body mass indicated a man who pumped considerable iron.  Yep, this is definitely not good, he thought as he turned to face Gafur.


“Let's see what the Princess sees in you when you're not so pretty anymore, Carver,” Gafur said menacingly and drew back for a solid blow to Lee's jaw.  Lee nearly saw stars as Gafur delivered more blows whipping his head back and forth as he was held securely in place by Gafur's goons.  Lee's grunts were the only indication of the work over he was getting as each punch was delivered sharply and with power, doing damage each time he connected.


Gafur stepped back and viewed his handiwork as Lee's face already began to show bruises and blood ran from the side of his mouth.


“I don't think the Princess will need your services on this cruise anymore, Carver,” Gafur said as he closed the distance again and began delivering blows to Lee's gut and sides.  Lee's moans became more pronounced and then let out a cry when he felt several pops and then the excruciating pain of broken ribs.  Gafur just smiled and continued to pound away as Lee's legs gave way.  The goons allowed him to fall to the ground as Lee tried to curl into a ball and breathed hard into the dirt filled alley.  Gafur leaned over and raised his head by the hair speaking darkly.


“In fact, I think we should terminate your services now.”


Lee watched as Gafur pulled out a Glock automatic and stood up pointing it squarely at his head.  This was it, Lee thought, he was going to die alone in a dark alley.  Gafur pulled the trigger and laughed as the “click” sound caused Lee to jump.  It was a sick game he was playing.


“Do yourself a favor Carver, don't go back to the ship or I'll finish the job.” 


With that Gafur jumped into the back of the limo, obviously feeling that his diplomatic immunity would protect him should Lee call the police and equally sure that Lee wouldn't risk coming back on board anyways.


The limo sped off and Lee curled tighter into a ball breathing hard into the dirt below his face.  He didn't think the limo had been gone long when another car pulled up.  He opened his eyes to see if Gafur had changed his mind but caught the expressive brown eyes of Cheryl Lin instead.


“Carver!” she said trying to help him rise, but the movement nearly put him under as she called him again.  “Lee!”  He responded to his name and helped her to lift him to his feet as he staggered toward the car and she piled him in the passenger seat.


“I'll take you to a hospital,” she said as she sat in the driver's seat.


“No,” he said in a pained breath.


“Then I'll take you back to the ship,” she offered.


“No, I just need a place to rest... any place.”  Lee needed to think things through, and right now all he could think about was the pain.


* * * * *


Cheryl bit her bottom lip making a decision and put the car in gear.  She drove about thirty minutes and parked the car looking over at Lee, he had passed out and was breathing raggedly.  There was definitely something strange going on here and she needed to know how Carver played into it, so she left for the motel office coming back with a key.  Lee was still out as she drove around the building and pulled the car in front of their room.  She opened the door and then moved to the passenger side to retrieve Carver.


“Carver?” She called.  Lee stirred, not quite coherent but able to help her as she guided him into the room and over to one of the double beds in the unassuming cheap motel room.  She closed and locked the door and then went to the bathroom returning with a wet wash rag as she began to clear away the blood and dirt from Lee's face.


Carver moaned as his awareness began to return and apparently his coherency as well.


“How did you find me?”  He asked, knowing that the out-of-the-way alley Gafur had dumped him in was way off the beaten path.


“First tell me who you are?”  Cheryl said knowing that he wasn't what he seemed to be.


He studied her face.  ONI missions had taught him to be a good read of people and he was pretty sure that both she and Travis were good guys, and quite frankly he needed help. 


“My name is Lee Crane, Admiral Johnson sent me in cloaked.”


That was enough information for Cheryl to sit back and sigh.


“What specifically was your mission?”


“To stay as close as the Princess would allow and monitor all assets in place,” Lee answered, finding it hard to talk without moaning.


Cheryl took the wash cloth and blotted his face.  She was in her early thirties and obviously a well-seasoned operative.


“Tell me the ONI assets in place,” she said as she cleaned his face, further testing his story.


“You and Travis are the only ones I was told about,” he breathed out as a sudden spike caused a gasp.


She nodded her acceptance of his story.  “Travis thought something was up with you, he had me follow you since Gafur sent him on with the Princess,” she paused a moment.  “I see now why Gafur wanted Travis busy on the other side of town.  I'll call Johnson for your extraction...”


“No,” Lee breathed out, “my cover's not blown.  Gafur was jealous...” Lee's voice trailed off as the exhaustion from his injuries took over.


“Alright Lee you just rest now, we'll figure out what to do before we return to the ship.”


Lee closed his eyes and nodded, succumbing to the pain as Cheryl continued to clean his face and opened his tunic to ascertain his injuries.


* * * * *


A small moan preceded Lee's wakefulness as his eyes fluttered open.  He turned his head to view the clock alongside the bed as it read 0100, by the darkness of the room he figured it was one a.m.  He moved his legs and held his side as he sat up on the bed.  He heard the key in the door and looked up to see Cheryl coming in with an ice bucket in her hands.


“Lee, I didn't expect you to be awake just yet,” she said as she closed the distance.  “You really should lie back down and let those ribs rest.”


Lee allowed her to guide him back down as he realized that she had taped his ribs under his t-shirt. 


“Only for a minute, I think we need to get back to the ship.  The Princess should be back any time.”


She nodded in agreement as she put some ice in a wash rag and placed it high on his cheekbone where a particularly deep bruise had formed.


“What about Gafur?” She inquired.


“For right now I'll just get on the ship.  He doesn't have to know I'm on board yet.”  Lee registered the question in her eyes and finished, “Gafur warned me not to return to The Rhapsody.” 


“He's a little over-protective of Farina, I'd say.  Especially when she was doing the pursuing.”


Something clicked and Lee sat up pulling his legs over the side of the bed, obviously thinking.


“The threatening letter was among the envelopes in your cabin,” Lee stated reciting the facts.


“Yes,” Cheryl replied trying to follow the rabbit trail Lee was obviously on.


“I got a note on Farina's private stationary laced with her perfume, inviting me to meet her tonight and instructing me to wait for her limo.”


Cheryl's eyes widened as she realized that Gafur would have access to all the cabins of the royal entourage as well as Farina's suite.


“You think Gafur sent the death threat?  But why, money?”


Lee stood and paced the floor in spite of his recent beating as he thought through the possibilities and shook his head in the negative.


“No, not money.  Gafur threatened me on the ship earlier, and I caught his facial expression several times on the dance floor,” Lee turned toward Cheryl.  “Jealousy.  He's in love with Farina.”


“That explains his actions towards you, but what about the death threat?”


“He invented a danger that requires him to stay especially close to the Princess, maybe even feels that it slows down her prowling.  I don't know for sure, but I'd bet my bottom dollar that he's behind the threats.  Think about where the shots came from on deck.  How could anyone have bypassed all the bodyguards to get two shots off like that?”  Lee asked, slowing down his pacing.


“Travis suspected something odd about the angle of the bullets lodged in the railing.  I think he might agree with you.” 


Cheryl noted the competency in the young ONI Operative as he weathered the beating and then was poised enough to work through the possible scenarios of the mission.  It was hard to believe he was only twenty-four, if the profile on “Carver” gave his correct age, and he couldn't have more than two or three years experience under his belt.  She was sure that was why Johnson had picked him for the Cloaked role.  That, and the fact that he really was gorgeous, even with the bruises he now sported.


“Okay,” Cheryl said, breaking her own self-contemplation, “I need to bring Travis in on all this.  Let's get back to the ship.” 


Lee nodded in agreement as she took an appraising view of his injuries.


“Are you up for this Lee?” She asked with concern, the kid had looked totally done in earlier.


“Yeah, I'm fine,” he answered and reached for his tunic putting in on gingerly and then buttoning up.


* * * * *


Lee needed to contact Admiral Johnson at ONI, and the motel phone wasn't secure as the out-going phone number could be traced on the phone bill, so he used a pay phone along the dock. 


The shadows of the poorly lit phone booth draped over Lee as he dialed ONI, effectively concealing some of his bruises in the darkness.  After several call signs, Lee was connected to Johnson and even though the call had most likely been forwarded to his home, there was no indication in Johnson's voice of the early morning hour.


“Johnson,” the Admiral answered, identifying himself.


“This is Crane, Sir.”


“Go ahead Crane.”


“Sir, I have reason to believe that the threats made against the Princess originate from her head Bodyguard.  He seems to have a romantic attachment to the Princess and is extremely jealous.  I can't tell at this point how far he'd go in his obsession for her, but I tend to think she is safe for the time being.  He thinks he's gotten me out of the way...”


“How?” Johnson inquired.


“He worked me over pretty good and played Russian roulette with me, threatening me if I went back to the ship.  I'm sorry Sir, but I had to reveal my identity to Cheryl Lin, I was a bit overwhelmed physically and needed some extra help.”


Johnson seemed to ignore Lee's last statement and moved on.  “What's your next move, Lieutenant?”


“I'm ready to board the ship now, Sir.  It should get Gafur's attention.  I'll play up the injuries, I'm pretty sure Princess Farina will respond and that should elicit some response from Gafur... maybe draw him out in the open.”


“Good.  Keep me posted.”


“Aye Sir.”


With that the phone went dead as Lee pondered how Gafur might react to seeing him.  He couldn't help the slight shudder he felt as he remembered the large bodyguard's powerful blows to his body.  Lee shook off the thought and hung up the phone. 


Next he contacted The Rhapsody and spoke with Captain Thorpe giving him the details of what he needed.  Time to play the part of a battered mugging victim.


* * * * *


“Princess Farina!”  Cheryl cried entering the stateroom excitedly.


Though it was two in the morning the Princess had her late night out on the town following her dinner meeting and was just now settling into her room.  She was still in the sitting room, though she was dressed in her silk gown and robe with the fuzzy faux pink fur wrapping around her neck and trailing down the seams of her robe.


“What in the world has gotten into you, Miss Lin?” She asked, not accustomed to seeing her bodyguard posing as her Personal Assistant flustered.


“It's Mr. Carver, he's in a bad way,” Cheryl said with a slight quiver in her voice.


Farina rose to her feet, “What do you mean, dear?”


“They said he was mugged.  He's completely covered in bruises and out cold in the infirmary.  I knew you had an attachment for him and I just thought you should know,” Cheryl added.


“Yes of course!” 


Farina called for her personal attendant and within a few minutes was dressed and left her stateroom.  The infirmary was in a buzz as Farina caught her young officer lying on a gurney with his chest bare and dark angry bruises covering his mid-section.  His face was battered and bruised even though he had already been cleaned up and laid still with a white sheet draped over his legs 


Captain Thorpe stood nearby and addressed the Princess filling her in on what information they had.


“He was attacked somewhere on the dock and managed to make his way back here.  Our shore crew found him and brought him in, he's been unconscious and unable to tell us what happened.  The Doctor is examining him now.”


Princess Farina's heart was deeply touched as the young man she had chased and prowled after lay motionless on the gurney looking terribly damaged and very vulnerable.  She walked up to the gurney and took his hand in hers and then brushed some errant curls from his forehead.


“You're going to be okay now, Lee.  The doctor is taking care of you and whoever did this can't hurt you anymore,” she promised not knowing if the young officer could even hear her.


Off in the corner stood a very agitated Gafur.  Not only did he have a loose end with Carver showing up, but Princess Farina was attending him like he was an injured lover home from a war.  Gafur's mouth tightened as the Princess continued to caress Carver's face, moving his hair off his forehead in a most familiar way... holding his hand, even brushing her hand against his chest!  Gafur could hardly stomach his Princess's attention over Carver, but he couldn't leave.  He had to make sure that Carver didn't implicate him.  He should have killed Carver, he realized that now.  So he decided to wait it out and seize a moment to silence the young man.



* * * * *


Gafur had stayed watching over Carver.  He woke once, but was incoherent as they questioned him so the doctor sedated him stating that rest was the best thing for the Third Officer.  Princess Farina finally left his side at Miss Lin's insistence as Gafur assured the Princess that he would look after young Carver. 


As part of the Princess's entourage, Gafur was nearly invisible with complete access to the infirmary.  He knew that sooner or later Carver would be left alone, and then he could silence him forever.  So he waited.


* * * * *


Lee lay on the gurney motionless.  The doctor had feigned a sedative, even so Lee was finding it hard to stay awake.  His body was battered and the mild pain relievers the doctor had given him weren't keeping up with pain.  He had backup on this one, and so even though he tried to stay awake, his body had other ideas.  He felt like a sap not letting Farina in on the fact that he was in better condition than he was letting on, but they needed Gafur to make a move.  It was risky, but perhaps they could get Gafur talking and get a confession out of him.  Either way, while Gafur was in here with Lee, Cheryl was working her way through his cabin looking for evidence of his participation in the death threats.


As the room got quiet, Lee thought it was time to play his hand and feigned like he was waking.  This would force Gafur into doing something.  He let out a small moan, it actually wasn't hard to let his pain escape and tossed his head as if coming out of a bad dream, then fluttered his eyes open.  He was greeted by the dark eyes of Gafur as he stood over Lee.


“I told you to stay off the ship, Carver,” Gafur said darkly.


“I won't tell them anything,” Lee pleaded.


“It's a little late for that,” Gafur threatened as he pulled a pillow from a nearby gurney.


“No wait!”  Lee said insistently.  “I've got insurance, if you kill me now the Princess will know everything.”


Gafur backed off.  “What kind of insurance?”


Lee allowed a sigh of relief to enter his voice as he went on, “I know you're the one who sent the death threat to the Princess.  I've got proof in my cabin, and if anything happens to me it will be forwarded straight to Farina.”


“What kind of proof?”  Gafur said stepping back.


“Kill me now and you'll find out,” Lee threatened.  “But for starters, I pulled the bullet from the rail.  I'm pretty sure a forensics check will match to your gun.”


Gafur's countenance changed into a slight panic.  He was enraged to see Farina dancing so closely to Carver and he knew that she intended to bed him.  He took his shots at Carver without regard for the possible consequences.  Then his face darkened again.


“I could kill you now and look for the evidence myself,” Gafur reasoned.


“That won't be necessary, Gafur.”


Gafur turned sharply at the voice of his beloved Princess, his eyes widened as he realized that she heard everything.


“I trusted you,” she said as she entered the room completely.  “And you tried to kill me!” She added in unbelief.


“No my Princess, not you.  Him!”  He growled, moving closer and pulling Lee off the gurney.  Gafur placed Lee in front of him with his gun pointing squarely on Lee's temple as he pleaded his case with Farina. 


“I saw the way he seduced you, I wanted to protect you,” he said begging her to believe him.


The Princess was flanked on both sides by her ONI protectors, as Travis spoke up.


“And just how did it protect the Princess to send her death threats?”


“Believe me Princess, I would never hurt you.”


“But you frightened me, Gafur.  And look what you did to Lee.”


Gafur's face turned dark again at Lee's name and pushed the gun deeper into his temple.  Lee was completely at Gafur's mercy at this point, but stood ready to seize any moment of opportunity that presented itself for his escape and to protect the Princess.


“He means nothing!  I could have made you happy, Farina, if you would have let me.  The more scared you were, the more you look to me for help.  I could have made you very happy,” he answered with regret and then moved back into his jealous rage.


“But NO!  You always preferred these young worthless boy toys over a real man.”  Gafur's grip around Lee's neck tightened as he continued and elicited an unwilling groan from Lee.  Something changed, and Gafur's emotions turned from jealousy to unbridled rage.


Things were escalating and both Cheryl and Travis moved to protect Farina should Gafur begin firing, but Farina took a step closer.


“Gafur, you really don't want to do this.  You said you wouldn't hurt me,” she reached out for the gun as Cheryl cautioned using her name softly, but Farina ignored her and took another step forward.




Something seemed to register as Gafur's eyes softened and he pulled the gun from Lee's temple and dropped his hand to his side.  He relaxed the grip on Lee's neck when all of the sudden Gafur's mood changed violently as he began to raise the gun toward the Princess.  She had betrayed him, Gafur thought in his unstable rage as his obsession moved to the next level.   Cheryl lunged for Farina and Travis pulled his gun as Lee turned all his body weight into Gafur wrestling his gun hand up into the air.  Gafur was stronger and Lee's injured condition weakened him but the struggle was enough to give Cheryl time to rush Farina out the door as Travis trained his gun looking for a clear shot to take Gafur out.  Gafur threw Lee across the floor and raised his gun looking for the Princess when Travis took his shot.  The whole thing was over as quickly as it began with Gafur lying motionless on the floor.  Travis moved toward Lee who had recovered and was using the wall to rise as he called Cheryl back into the room. 


The Princess followed and took in the sight of Gafur's motionless form on the floor as well as Lee's battered body as Travis helped him move toward the gurney.  Her tears fell silently as she looked up.


“I really did trust him,” she whispered regretfully as Cheryl escorted her back to her stateroom.


* * * * *


Lee and Farina walked arm in arm across the deck, her bodyguards hanging close by.  He guided her to the rail to view the shimmering moon once again. 


“So, you were my third protector from ONI?”  She said, stating the obvious as Lee nodded in agreement.


“And your intelligence agency knew that you were just the type of young man to catch my fancy, didn't they?”


Lee responded by dipping his head and nodding shyly, his hazel eyes peeking through his long lashes in his sweet boyish charm.


“Well, I think perhaps I should reinvent myself, Lee.  Perhaps stop chasing handsome young men like yourself, and start taking seriously my duties...” her self-contemplation ended as well as her serious tone, as she added a chuckle.  “After all, a woman should be a deep cavern of mysteries, don't you think?”  She laughed referring to the fact that she had been so easily profiled.


Lee smiled, “I think you are a woman of mystery.  You were very brave to confront Gafur the way you did.”  This time Lee chuckled, “You know, I was supposed to be protecting you; not the other way around.”


Farina reached up and gently stroked Lee's face, bruised and battered for her sake as her familiar countenance of “woman on the prowl” gave way to sincerity.


“You know, you really are dashing, and sweet, and a gentleman in every way.  It was very easy for me to find you attractive.”


Lee started to respond with a polite nicety but she hushed him with a finger to his lips as she whispered, “Shhh.  Don't say a word.  Just do me one favor, will you?”


“Of course, Princess,” Lee answered curious about her request.


“Just don't tell your mother that the fifty-two year old Princess of Sambrini chased after you like a panther on the prowl!”  She laughed as she thought to herself, And would have bedded you if I'd had enough time!  But decided to keep that much to herself as she wrapped her arm around Lee's as they continued to stroll along the deck.


* * * * *


Lee found himself on a Seahawk headed back to his boat, his bruises were still apparent even after a week.  The mission was a success as Lee, Cheryl and Travis had safely escorted the Princess to her destination, Gafur's plot had been ferreted out and the trade agreement was in place, assuring the continuing of the two nations' business association.  Lee's ribs were taped securely and still gave him trouble, but he was cleared to take back up his duties as a JG aboard the Sam Houston.  


He was glad that the mission was deemed “Top Secret” and he'd never have to tell Chip or his mom about his association with the Princess of Sambrini.  He smiled to himself and schooled it back, not wanting the others on board to catch the mischief in his eyes as he thought about how much mileage Chip would have gotten out of the situation.  Still, he had to admit...the Princess was elegant and beautiful.  It hadn't been that difficult to respond to her advances.  He was just glad that neither Cheryl nor Travis had made mention of Gafur's “boy toy” comment in their After Action Reports!  If Chip ever found out about that, he'd never hear the end of it!  The thought was enough to make him chuckle as he settled in for his ride back to his real job aboard the ballistic submarine and back to the sea he loved.



The End


The Princess of Sambrini







* Sambrini – A fictional small country in the Balkans with a Monarchy rule

















Copyright 2014, All Rights Reserved

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and her main characters belong to Irwin Allen