VOYAGE TO DISCOVERY - CHAPTER 6
Author's Note: All I have to say is "Wow! Has it been two years since the last update?" Time certainly flies! I must apologize for the delay. There were many family and work issues preventing me from getting back to this story. Although I'm sure that many of you have forgotten about it by now, it never strayed far from my mind. I promise this story will be finished. There are just too many good ideas in the works to stop now! I hope that this chapter makes up for your long wait.
Much of the heart and soul of this chapter came from my good friend "Summer39" . This is truly a collaborative effort and she deserves much of if not more credit than I do for this chapter. GF, I applaud your bravery, admire your brilliant writing skill, and thank you once again from the bottom of my heart! You are truly the best!
"What just happened back there?" Princess exclaimed as the car continued to race down the road, heading for the on-ramp to the highway. As Mark released his arm from her shoulder to shift gears, Princess shifted her body towards the passenger door. As much as she tried, it was difficult to maintain a great distance between them in the small vehicle.
"What do you mean?" Mark stated with a flagrant air of denial.
"You've got to be kidding! You just left my boyfriend with the impression that you and I are going on this cruise as a couple!"
"Well, aren't we?" Mark knew this was a loaded question, but he just couldn't help himself. His encounter with Jeff brought his feelings about Princess to the forefront. He realized even more so how important it was to use this trip to his advantage.
"Of course but for the mission only!" Princess said in an exasperated and somewhat panicked tone, "I thought we had an agreement on how we were going to handle this. I can only imagine what he's thinking right now!"
Mark could definitely imagine what was on Jeff's mind and could barely suppress the small smile of satisfaction that crossed his lips.
"Look I can't help it if Malibu Ken is a little sensitive about his girlfriend going off somewhere on her own. He was practically begging me to watch over you. I was merely assuring him that I would."
"This is unbelievable! How can you possibly think what you did would reassure him? It only made things worse!"
As if on cue, Princess' cell phone erupted into a melodic ring tone. She recognized the caller's number instantly.
"See, that's him now! How can I explain this?"
As Princess picked up the phone and put it to her ear, Mark couldn't help but overhear a muffled, yet jarring voice on the other end.
"Jeff…I'm so sorry….No, nothing is going on between us…..Believe me….I don't know what got into him….Yes….but….I mean no….I mean….it's complicated….I….." Princess was at a loss.
Fed up with the direction the conversation was going in and Princess' indecisive handling of her boyfriend, Mark decided to take charge. "Let me take care of this," he said irritatingly as he reached over to grab the phone out of her hand.
"Hey Jeff. I really have to apologize if I gave you the wrong impression back there," he lied. "There is nothing going on between me and Princess."
"Are you also denying that there ever was anything between you? Because the guy I saw seemed to have some very strong feelings and they were clearly more than brotherly!"
Since it didn't look like Jeff was going to buy this story, Mark realized his best option was to come clean on their past, yet continue to be deceptive about his plans for the future. At the very least, it would redeem himself at some level in Princess' eyes. Unfortunately, to reach his ultimate goal, Mark had no choice but to make it appear as if he was in support of Princess' relationship with Jeff. She continued to watch him disbelievingly apologize to her boyfriend.
"O.K. Yes, we were together in the past, but it was a long time ago. It's over and it was my decision to end it. I guess old habits die hard and I just had trouble seeing her happy with someone else. But you have to believe me when I'm telling you that I do want to see her happy. If she's happy with you, then I guess I will just have to accept that."
A look of relief appeared on Princess' face and Mark thought that maybe he finally salvaged something from the conflict that he had initiated. There was a moment of silence on the other end of the line. Mark felt the need to continue with his fictitious apology in order to insure Princess and Jeff's relationship remained intact….at least for now.
"Please don't blame Princess for my actions," he continued, laying it on as thick as he could. "It was entirely my fault. She asked me on this cruise with completely innocent intentions. She had no idea that I was going to react the way I did. She was upset with me and very concerned about you when we drove off. Can we just clear the air between the both of us, at least for her sake?"
A brief moment of silence was followed by a tight and assertive response. Jeff hadn't bought Mark's sincere act one bit.
"Listen, I'm going to get back on the phone with Princess and let her believe that I'm OK with all of this for now because I trust her and I want her to have a good time on this trip. But don't think for one minute that I trust you and that this is over between us, because it's not."
"Well I'm glad we've come to an understanding," Mark said with a forced smile across his face in an attempt to appease Princess, who was still watching him closely to try to determine Jeff's reaction. This guy's smarter than I gave him credit for.
"Understand this…," Jeff continued, "I know you have something up your sleeve and whatever it is it's not going to work. You blew your chance a long time ago and the game's over. Princess and I are committed to each other. We belong together. She's moved on…. in every sense of the word. Got it?"
"Absolutely!" Mark replied with a false upbeat tone in his voice. He couldn't bear to think about what the man was implying. It was bad enough watching Princess and Jeff kiss each other goodbye. Picturing anything more between them was too much to fathom.
Clearly a challenge had been laid at his feet. Initially, as difficult as it was, he was going to take the high road for Princess' sake, but this guy was getting under his skin. Who does he think is telling me to back off? Deciding that the gloves were now officially off, Mark planned to get even with this Brad Pitt clone.
"Umm…I'll give the phone back to her now," Mark declared as he attempted to return the phone to Princess. It's on now you smarmy bastard!
The small device slipped from Mark's grasp and strategically fell into his lap. "Aww shucks! Would you look at that?" he feigned innocently. "I just dropped the phone between my legs." Adding insult to injury, Mark purposely shifted in his seat allowing the phone to do just that and decidedly chose to speak louder than usual to announce this recent occurrence.
Princess gave Mark a glacial stare while he continued in a seemingly beseeching voice, "Hey Prin…Could you reach down there near my junk…Umm…I'm sorry…I mean my crotch," he theatrically emphasized the references of his anatomy, "…and retrieve your phone? I mean I wouldn't want good ol' Jeff to think that he couldn't trust me behind the wheel of this car with his best girl sitting right beside me."
Princess silently fumed with balled fists as Mark jokingly tormented, "Come on Prin. Jeff's waiting. Besides it won't bite." While Princess gestured for Mark to return her phone, he lowered his sunglasses, winked his right eye, and shook his head in refusal of her request.
Having no choice but to take part in Mark's crass joke, Princess closed her eyes and reluctantly reached for her phone. The sounds of an outraged Jeff cursing angrily at him from his seat spurred Mark even more as he sputtered to keep a straight face, "That's it. Right near the man berries." He couldn't hold it in any longer and let loose with a juvenile whoop of laughter at the absent Jeff's expense.
Princess snatched the device quickly and went into damage repair mode. She was immensely apologetic for Mark's behavior and for not telling Jeff of her relationship with their tormentor. Her green eyes were visually combative while Mark attempted to regain his composure adjusting his Ray Bans. He'd won that round.
A minute or two passed as Mark watched Princess struggle with her conversation and the temporary vindication he felt from fueling Jeff's jealousy was immediately replaced by a wave of guilt. Here he was, the man who dumped her several months ago, now trying to sabotage any hope she had in her current relationship. True, he meant to eventually make this up to her when they got back together, but it suddenly dawned on him that Princess had no way of knowing his intentions. In her eyes he looked even more like a jerk than he did before!
Although he could barely hear what Jeff was saying, he could tell that the tone of the conversation had changed. He breathed a small sigh of relief knowing that at least for the moment, Princess had succeeded in pacifying him.
"Yeah, I'm OK…..No, I can handle him…..Yes, I'll remember…."
"Oh geeze…now I'll have to listen to another prolonged goodbye," he thought to himself in silence as he rolled his eyes.
Then, just when he thought it couldn't get any worse, he happened to overhear Jeff say something that rocked him to the core.
"I love you…."
Damn! Just those three simple words. Words that he struggled with in the past, but apparently flowed effortlessly from someone else. Maybe Jeff was right; maybe it was already all over for him. Mark waited anxiously for Princess' response.
Before she could answer, Princess cautiously eyed the driver across from her. She was painfully aware that her conversation with Jeff was being heard and she hesitantly gave him an honest response. "I….I'll miss you too."
'Pay dirt!' Mark exclaimed victoriously to himself as he clenched his right fist onto the steering wheel before moving his hand to the gearshift. 'She can't even bring herself to say it to him! I've still got a chance!' Wanting to conceal his interest in their conversation, Mark looked into his rearview mirror, pretending to watch the line of cars behind them. Princess bade a somewhat satisfied Jeff goodbye.
They rode for several minutes in stone silence with Mark catching brief glimpses of an angry Princess out of the corner of his eyes, hidden beneath his Ray Bans.
"Alright...out with it. Tell me what you're thinking," Mark asked as he maneuvered the car through city traffic.
Princess turned to him and gave him the wisp of a humorless smile. "That you're a jerk." She fingered several loose tendrils of hair away from her face before adding, "And a hypocrite."
"I said I was sorry," Mark added shrugging his shoulders matter-of-factly. "George seemed to be OK with it."
"It's Jeff alright! His name is Jeff and stop pretending as if you don't already know that," Princess responded, deliberately choosing to look at the buildings they passed rather than at Mark. "That was beyond the valley of good taste even for you. My relationship with Jeff is based on trust and now, because of your frat boy antics, you've cast doubt in his mind." She admonished him; tossing her ponytail over one shoulder as she grumbled, "Thanks a whole lot."
"How come you never told him about us?" Mark asked simply. "If trust is such a factor in your relationship then why not mention me?" He really needed to know. He couldn't help but notice that Princess didn't tell Jeff that she loved him as he so emphatically told her. That piece of information would definitely work to his advantage on this trip.
Princess studied Mark's profile, noting that at a muscle was twitching near the corner of his mouth. "I told him I had been involved with someone but that it didn't work out. I told him that the guy didn't return my feelings," she answered somberly; wishing she could see his eyes. She could always gauge his emotions through those expressive blue eyes of his. "Was I wrong?"
Pride shielded Mark from answering that question. Pride and guilt. He'd never told Princess that he loved her, although he physically reciprocated it often, he never actually confessed it. If he could turn back the hands of time, he'd leap at the chance to tell her how he really felt. But Mark couldn't do that now. He had to start over; hoping to re-establish the trust he'd lost from her. The trust she'd given to Jeff.
Princess continued to watch Mark; waiting for the response that never came. 'Why am I tormenting myself this way?' she though miserably. It was hard enough working with Mark; he was constantly within her reach. She should've known he'd avoid answering the obvious. Each time she dared to hope, he left her feeling hollow inside. Feeling rejected, like all the other times before, Princess turned her head away. "Typical," she muttered beneath her breath.
Mark chose to change the subject; knowing that the assignment should be of their main concern he decided to hold out an olive branch. They still had to work together after all. "Truce," he commented quietly, extending his right hand to her after shifting gears.
Princess suspiciously eyed Mark's extended hand but chose to ignore the intended sentiment. "Fine ...Commander," placing heavy emphasis on his status as being an officer first; a man second. "We mustn't deviate from our reasons for being here. Truce." Refusing physical contact, she then returned her attention to the scenery.
Dropping his arm on the armrest, Mark sighed heavily. "Well this is going to make for one hell of a long trip." Feeling slighted after Princess' refusal to meet him more than half way, Mark pressed on. "The others should be on board ship by now; preparing for the assignment."
Princess nodded. "Right. I guess now is as good a time as any to get into character." She pulled out a small blush pallet from her clutch tote and a tube of lip-gloss while reaching for the mirrored visor above.
"Before I forget, Jason stopped by and briefed me earlier today" Mark explained as he pulled from his shirt pocket the folded sheet of paper that had been given to him and handed it to Princess
"Apparently we need to be on guard when we encounter anyone on this list," Mark stated.
Princess scanned the details of what appeared to be a list of small time criminal offenders, each with some minor arrests and prison time. Nothing that was remotely close to the high level kidnappers and assassins that she was expecting to see.
"Hmmm…Doesn't look too bad," Princess said confidently knowing that the two of them had successfully thwarted more dangerous looking individuals in the past. "I'm surprised some of the big guns from Spectra aren't on this list."
"No sign of them yet," Mark said skeptically as he continued to bring Princess up to speed on Jason's report, including the information about their bodyguards.
"Well, I guess the ISO is taking every precaution to make this look like an genuine honeymoon trip for Dr. and Mrs. Shay!" Princess exclaimed as she returned to her task of applying her make-up. She added a sweep of color along her cheekbones and outlined her full lips with the lip gloss' moist tip applicator. A quick application of smoky eye shadow along with mascara and Princess was pleased.
"There." She then looked down at her state of dress and felt that something was missing."Oops. Almost forgot." Princess adjusted her sweater and opened a few buttons along her bosom, exposing a bit more cleavage that left little to the imagination.
Mark watched Princess' transformation through hungry eyes. Appreciative that he was wearing sunglasses, he tried to avert his eyes from the delicate bones of her face...the very suppleness of her clinging to the soft sweater. Though she looked sexy as hell, her appearance did disturb him.
"Don't you think you're overdoing it a bit?" He tried to come off as nonchalantly about Princess' appearance as he could. But something in his voice didn't quite pull it off.
Princess noticed it immediately and chose to be deliberately coy. She leaned over to press her hand to his shoulder, her lips barely touching the ear, as she whispered provocatively, "Why Mark I do believe I'm having an effect on you.'' Mark's mouth twisted slightly and he gripped tighter at the steering wheel. 'Damn it! This woman is toying with me!' he thought maddeningly to himself. He fervently wished that the breeze he was feeling against his face, while driving the convertible, would ribbon over the arousal stirring at his groin. 'Think about the mission Eagle! Think about the mission!' his mind screamed as his body began to return to normal.
Satisfied with the hot and bothered look she'd placed Mark's face, Princess sat back in her seat. "Besides this is how Sabrina Shay looks, not me. Stop being so uptight about it." She grinned as if in remembrance of something while crossing one shapely leg over another. "Then again this really shouldn't come as some sort of surprise."
Mark took the bait. For whatever reason, Princess continued to goad him and appeared to be on the verge of laughing, "How about letting me in on the joke. What's that supposed to mean?," he asked defensively while trying to maintain his focus on the now winding road that lead to the pier.
Princess grinned. "Mark you've always been a little rigid. Even when we were together, there were times I thought you could stand to lighten up. I mean really…"
"You…you're calling me rigid?," Mark questioned daringly. "That's real funny. You're dating 'Captain America' and have the nerve to call me rigid. Your boyfriend is so freakin' rigid I'm surprised rigor mortis hasn't set in."
Mark had hit a nerve and he laughed uproariously at the look of contempt on Princess' face. "Don't get mad at me. You started this," he added while down-shifting the car's gear before stopping at an intersection.
Princess agitatedly tossed her ponytail over her shoulders and spoke haughtily, "Well, I happen to know from very personal experience that he's rigid where and when it matters; which is more than I can ever say about you." Implying that at least her relationship with Jeff had been consummated.
In seconds, the sports car veered momentarily into the opposite lane of traffic; the driver barely missing an oncoming car before regaining control of his own vehicle. They came to a brief stop at another intersection and Mark then turned to stare at Princess for a full ten seconds.
It was Princess' turn to smirk at the surprised expression on Mark's face. The furrowed brow and open-mouthed gape was testament that she'd scored a direct hit into Mark's bruised ego. She wanted to hurt him as he'd hurt her moments before.
Her victory was short-lived, for the brief stricken look she'd seen on Mark's face didn't satisfy her as much as she thought it would. She thought she could be sophisticated and flip once she dangled the lie in front of him. The truth was it was the one area of her relationship with Jeff that suffered because of her unresolved feelings for Mark. Feelings she hadn't admitted still existed to herself until now.
Princess and Mark had never shared the ultimate physical intimacy she craved. Although they came awfully close on several occasions; it had been Mark who put the brakes on, not her. Perhaps knowing that their relationship wouldn't last, he spared her the last shred of dignity that was left by not sleeping with her. How could she possibly continue to work with him after sharing his bed? Maybe Mark did us both a favor, Princess considered thoughtfully.
Now she was ashamed of herself. Dammit!
How could she retract the lie without looking like …a liar? Even worse, by admitting she did it to hurt him would give Mark the emotional leverage she wasn't ready to relinquish.
Princess opened her mouth to speak but bit her bottom lip instead. Traffic had picked up as they were nearing the pier. Mark again down-shifted the car into low gear, while easing up on the clutch, as the vehicle idled alongside the train of cars all heading into the same direction.
It was now or never.
"Mark listen…" she began but Mark cut her off obtrusively.
"Forget it," he remarked tightly. "What you do …and who you do it with… is your business; not mine." Mark didn't think it was possible to hurt as much as he did.
Princess flinched, knowing she'd gone too far. "But I need to explain…" Princess attempted but was interrupted by a priority red light flashing from the car's GPS screen. A signal indicating an incoming call from Chief Anderson. A small holographic image of the Galaxy Security Chief appeared and hovered above the dashboard. The roof of Mark's sports car rose and quickly enveloped them within the confines of the car. To further maintain privacy, Mark quickly pulled into a remote parking spot near the edge of the pier. He removed his sunglasses and focused on the image before him.
"G-1...I take it you and G-3 are together?" Anderson asked in all seriousness, although he knew the answer before it had been provided to him.
"Yes sir, we are here," Mark stated as both he a Princess somehow managed to put aside their personal conversation and quickly revert into officer mode.
"I'm happy to inform you that all preliminary steps have been executed to begin this mission. Key operatives have been put in place and the rest of your team have taken their positions," the Chief relayed.
"G-1, G-2 informed me that he briefed you this afternoon on the initial searches and the security strategy. Have you reviewed this information with G-3?"
"Yes, we've discussed and also memorized the key passengers of interest." Mark replied continuing to focus on Chief Anderson's image and avoid any eye contact with Princess.
"I have an update to that list," the Chief informed them. Instantly another image appeared next to Chief Anderson. It was a photograph of a bearded gentleman in his mid-fifties.
"This is Dr. Martin Reiger, a German scientist, world renowned in the field of Quantum Physics. He and his team have been working for the past three years on a weapon defense system, similar to the work being done by Dr. Shay's team."
"I thought Elliot's findings were unique in this area," Mark questioned, not recalling the work of Dr. Reiger mentioned in the numerous documents he had recently reviewed.
"It is," the Chief responded. "Although investments have been heavily made in Dr. Reiger's team, their progress has been slow and their technological findings have been limited. When Dr. Shay began pursuing this same line of research last year, his progress quickly advanced well beyond that of Reiger's team. Yet, the German operation continues to be funded as they insist they are close to a significant breakthrough."
"I'm not sure I understand," Princess stated with confusion, "Wouldn't it make sense to pool their resources and work together if they have the same goal? Western Europe is our ally in the war against Spectra."
"Yes, but it appears that this is a matter of pride when it comes to Dr. Reiger. He insists that his team continue to work independently without influence from the competing theories of Dr. Shay's team. There are significant academic awards at stake including the Nobel Prize. Reiger is determined that his team reach that milestone before Dr. Shay. It would be the ultimate victory in his lengthy career. Now that Elliot is working with our team, its clear who will come out ahead."
"This information is interesting Chief, but how will this impact our cruise?" Mark asked.
"Apparently Dr. Reiger and his wife are also on this trip," Chief Anderson explained as a photo of the couple was displayed before them, "It was booked months ago by his wife under her maiden name. It was meant to make up for the numerous vacations the doctor has neglected to take over the past few years. It wasn't until the final passenger list came through with both Dr. Reiger's and his wife's names where we were able to make the connection to Elliot Shay."
"Have Dr. Reiger and Dr. Shay ever personally met?" Mark asked with concern.
"Thankfully, they have not. The Shay's have reviewed the complete passenger list and fortunately other than Dr. Reiger, there is no one else listed that they have met or is connected to their families or work."
Mark breathed a sigh of relief. He knew he looked enough like Elliot to pass himself off to the remote observer, but he doubted his ability to convince anyone who directly knew Dr. Shay.
"However," the Chief continued, "There is some concern that Dr. Reiger will approach Dr. Shay in an attempt to discuss the progress of his work and determine exactly how far behind the German team is in relation to the US team. You need to avoid any detailed technical discussions at all costs. Dr. Reiger is one of the few people who could easily trip up an imposter."
"How do you suggest we keep Dr. Reiger and any other individuals who want to discuss Physics at bay?" Princess asked.
"As I've told the both of you before, do whatever it takes to make yourselves appear to be an authentic couple. This is your honeymoon cruise. If the conversation takes a significant technical turn, turn your attentions towards each other. The only thing that holds Dr. Shay's interest more than Physics is his wife. It's expected that his focus will be on her and not his work during this cruise."
"Of course," Mark returned in a dutiful and unemotional response, "You can trust that G-3 and I will present a convincing cover. It's our goal to insure that this mission is successful and Dr. Shay's work with the Federation can continue when his honeymoon is over."
Princess couldn't help but notice the detached tone in Mark's response and the fact that he hadn't looked at her once during this entire briefing. The Chief was practically telling them to make love on the deck of the ship if it served the purpose of convincing everyone that that they were the Shay's, yet it didn't seem to phase him! He'd seriously do anything to follow orders and expected her to do the same. The Shay's would resume their normal lives after this mission and so would Mark and Princess. It was "All in a days' work" as far as he was concerned!
"Good," Chief Anderson returned, "I'm sure you will be successful. However, I must continue to caution you. As quiet as things may initially appear, do not let your guard down for a minute! Spectra has significant interest in the Shay's and they are bound to show up in some shape or form on this trip. They could be anywhere and they won't let anyone stand in their way."
"We are 100% vested in this operation Chief. We won't lose sight of that," Mark assured him. Yet his mind couldn't help but return to his recent conversation with Princess. He'd certainly seen the results of letting his guard down, and in that case it was devastating.
"Well, I'll leave you now so you can board the ship. While you are on this mission, your wedding rings will assume the function of your communicators. Use them should you need to reach anyone in an emergency. They will also be used to contact you. In the meantime keep the communicators with you, but hidden should you need to transmute."
Princess and Mark knew they couldn't use their communicators, but until now were unaware that they would be replaced by the rings.
"Good luck and we'll be in touch" the Chief quickly stated as his image disappeared from view.
"Well, I guess we better get going," Mark stated as he removed his driving gloves, searched for the ring in his pocket, and placed it on his finger. Princess reached for her purse and retrieved her rings to do the same. Upon closer inspection, they both realized the rings were more than what they appeared to be. Mark pocketed his communicator while Princess placed hers in her tote.
He started the car and moved it to a parking spot closer to the dock. As Mark prepared to exit the vehicle, Princess reached over to touch his arm.
"Mark….what the Chief said about us appearing as a couple….are you sure…"
Mark finally turned his head to face her, his deep blue eyes looking seriously into hers, "Princess, I know what Chief was implying, but I want you to know, that you don't have to do anything that you don't want to do. We have to maintain our cover for this mission, but if at any point you feel uncomfortable with what's happening, just let me know. I'd never do anything to intentionally hurt you."
Princess was somewhat taken aback by what appeared to be genuine concern, especially since she was certain she had upset him earlier when she implied that she slept with Jeff. Maybe she was wrong about Mark. Maybe he did know how to separate his sense of duty from the reality at hand. Maybe he had learned from his past mistakes.
"It's OK. It will be fine," she replied as it was now her turn to look away and avoid his gaze. She had trouble facing him knowing the lie that now stood between them.
Since it appeared that their conversation was over, Mark opened the door and headed to the back of the car to get their bags. He retrieved a navy blazer from his garment bag
After removing the bags and lowering the lid of trunk, he was met by an amazing sight. Princess slowly stepped out of the car, reached for the tie of her ponytail and pulled it out causing her hair to cascade in waves around her.
"She is killing me!" he thought to himself. Even after her admitting the full extent of her relationship with Jeff, Mark still couldn't let go. No matter what happened, he was certain that she belonged with him. He couldn't change the past, but he would definitely make sure he changed the future.
Looking for something to distract him, he donned the dark jacket and reached into his coat pocket to pull out Elliot's wire rimmed glasses. He wished the frames had magical powers to temporarily blind him from Princess' beauty. Unfortunately for him, that was not the case.
Princess admired him as he shrugged his shoulders into the blazer and commented, "You clean up nice Commander." She then walked towards him, adjusted his collar and patted his chest. For a brief moment, all the hurt and defensive behavior had been forgotten and it was just the two of them. The way Mark wanted it to be. He thanked her for the compliment.
Checking in had gone rather smoothly. Once Mark had handed his sports car over to a Federation agent, their luggage had been immediately and discreetly taken aboard ship to their cabin. The added benefit of being VIP's. The agent then gave the couple their sale and sign cards; complete with pics of the real Elliot and Sabrina Shay, so that no one had reason to doubt their identities when their cards were used during the cruise. He explained that their pictures were on file on the ship and should Spectran agents get a hold of the passenger listing they'd have no cause for doubt if their cards were scanned for ID confirmation. The plan was to let Spectra think they were actually on board. The Caribbean Splendor wasn't scheduled to leave the dock for another hour and a half, which gave Mark and Princess plenty of time to familiarize themselves with the cruise ship's festive environment. Island music could be heard thumping rhythmically in the background as people exchanged goodbye's and well wishes.
Mark scanned the perimeter behind tinted lenses while Princess watched the multitude of people who would be boarding the ship. Princess lightly touched Mark's shoulder and pointed in the direction of the cruise ship's gangway, watching the captain and his crew greeting VIP passengers as they came aboard first.
As if on cue, Mark encircled his arm around Princess' shoulder and pulled her close as they walked towards the ship.
"Come across anything or anyone suspicious let me know," Mark whispered against Princess' ear; his lips brushing against the sensitive lobe as he moved his hand from her shoulder to the curved nape of her neck.
The intimate gesture, innocent as it was, was enough to unnerve Princess. Just to be near Mark in this manner was proving to be more unsettling than she thought. She breathed in the faint scent of sandalwood and closed her eyes at the feel of Mark's warm fingers gently massaging her neck.
"Sure thing," she replied; almost croaking on the words as they leisurely ascended the gangway.
"Hey," Mark nudged her towards him, his arm now firmly around her waist. "It won't be so terrible." He winked at her before adjusting his glasses. "Put on your game face baby. Time to pretend."
Princess responded with a curt nod and a half-smile as the line they stood in moved closer towards the main deck. If Mark could be infuriatingly calm, she knew that she could be as well.
The couple reached the deck's platform and were greeted enthusiastically by the ship's captain, who was flanked by the ship's cruise director, security chief, doctor and assistant purser who was actually Tiny,G-5, undercover. "Dr. and Mrs. Shay…welcome, welcome." A tall, solid figure in a crisp, white uniform smiled wholeheartedly at the newlyweds as he eagerly shook Mark's extended hand and offered a polite tip of his captain's hat in Princess' direction. "We are so very glad that you and your lovely wife chose to spend your honeymoon aboard the Caribbean Splendor. We trust that you will enjoy your accommodations and should you discover your need for anything, please inform us and we will respond promptly."
"Thank you very much…err…," Mark hesitated and feigned blurry vision as he took a good look at the officer's name badge through wire rimmed glasses, "Captain Stuart. Nice to meet you. I trust that everything is in order Chief Sawyer?" Mark directed this question to the security officer standing on the captain's left after catching a glimpse of his ID badge.
"Yes Dr. Shay. We were informed of your arrival and have discreetly and strategically placed security officers throughout the ship. They have been informed that they are to remain within close proximity yet watchful of you and your wife at a distance, thus respecting your privacy."
Princess turned to look at Mark adoringly, placing her hand to his chest. "Oooh…I think I'm going to like this trip sugar.
Tiny coughed and nodded respectfully as he added smoothly, "Please excuse me. I am the assistant purser, Yeoman Clark. We are so very pleased to have such distinguished guests aboard. Just moments before Dr. Martin Reiger and his wife arrived. He wanted to be certain that I mention their presence on board. He mentioned that he is a colleague of yours Dr. Shay."
Mark raised a satanic eyebrow at this. "Is that so?" Tiny suppressed a small smile to Mark's reaction.
Captain Stuart remarked, "He also asked that you do us the honor by joining us at my captain's table for dinner tonight. I am embarrassed by this, for my intention was to ask you and your wife at a later time during the cruise. I certainly understand if you choose not to accept and offer my sincerest apologies. But…," and the captain shrugged his shoulders sheepishly, "Dr. Reiger was adamant that I make the request."
Mark turned to look down at Princess' upturned face, which also reflected her surprise. Dr. Reiger certainly wasn't wasting any time.
"Captain Stuart surely you can understand that my wife and I are here to enjoy each other's company. We are on our honeymoon after all." Mark put his arms securely around Princess' shoulders while she wrapped her arms around his waist, leaning into his frame.
The captain opened his mouth to apologize but this time Princess intervened. "Honey, I don't see the harm in having dinner at the captain's table tonight. After all, we have the next two weeks ahead of us and…," she then reached under Mark's chin and kissed the side of his mouth, "…our whole lives to spend time with one another." She then snuggled into Mark, pulling on the lapels of his navy blazer while gazing into his spectacles. "Besides we can make up for lost time later tonight."
That remark even made the captain blush and the crew exchanged knowing glances at one another. Tiny merely chose to look at the couple in admiration. Great acting you two!
Mark smiled directing his full attention towards his pretend wife as he spoke. "Well if my wife has no objection to having dinner tonight at the captain's table…" Choosing not to the complete the sentence, he gave the captain permission to come to the obvious conclusion.
"Wonderful. Absolutely wonderful," Captain Stuart declared and turned towards Tiny. "Please inform Dr. Reiger that the Shays will be joining us at the captain's table tonight."
"Yes sir Captain Stuart," Tiny nodded obediently before excusing himself. "Good day Dr. and Mrs. Shay. It was a pleasure."
Mark decided to take Tiny's lead and excuse himself and his wife from the company of the remaining crew members.
They began to make their way towards the bar on deck near the ship's Olympic sized swimming pool. Mark and Princess immediately caught site of Jason, as bartender, serving drinks to the other VIP guests. They were headed in Jason's direction when they were suddenly imprisoned by one of the ship's renegade photographers blocking their path.
"You two seem like a great couple; real photogenic!," he spoke hurriedly, adjusting his padded neck strap while aiming at them with his camera. "Why not let me take some shots of you near the pool?"
Sensing the photographer was about to shoot their picture, Mark impulsively jerked Princess towards him and lowered his mouth to hers as the first of several flashes began.
The shock of it sent them both in a kind of free fall. Princess had never expected it and Mark was grateful for the opportunity. Realizing that she couldn't resist, Princess opened her mouth to Mark as one hand slid down her back, pressing her closer to him while the other cupped her head from behind. What started out as a means to shield their faces from the camera, was now a full blown response to their feelings for one another; although neither had verbally expressed it.
Mark's tongue explored every bit of Princess' warm, moist mouth. The gliding touch of his tongue evoked a surge of heat and sweetness that had been missing from Jeff's kisses. And Princess responded with equal abandon, wrapping her arms around Mark's neck as he enveloped her within his arms. It was as if she'd been in a coma all this time that only Mark could awaken her from and she eagerly surrendered to this moment. She arched her body into his; her body eliciting a yearning for completion against Mark's solid frame.
Mark's need for Princess was literally bleeding from him while he held her in his arms. The kiss deepened as he continued to sip and pull at Princess' soft tongue with a need that far surpassed anything that he ever felt before. His body ached for this young woman and he silently vowed that he'd do whatever it took to win her back.
And just as suddenly as Mark had initiated the kiss did he also end it. He reluctantly pulled away from Princess' lips only slightly and held her at arm's length as she slowly opened her eyes. He became mindful of their audience; passengers who began clapping and whistling at their recent display of affection. And he became increasingly irritated after capturing Jason's amused and disturbingly pleased expression from the bar. He didn't want to be reminded that they were Federation agents. On a mission. Posing as newlyweds. On a cruise ship.
He looked at Princess' passion-drugged green eyes and kiss swollen lips before redirecting his attention towards the offending photographer. "Don't do that again," Mark warned. "My wife and I are on holiday and prefer that no photographs be taken without our permission."
The photographer apologized and was quickly overcome by two rather large gentlemen who escorted him towards the ship's chief security officer.
Giving Princess time to compose herself, Mark lifted his hand and silently requested drinks for the both of them. He didn't want to spoil the moment, but he felt immensely pleased with Princess' response to his kiss. She isn't as immune towards me as she wants me to believe. Princess still feels something for me.
Princess patted at her cheeks and hid her eyes beneath lowered lashes, painfully aware of Mark's shrewd blue eyes on her.
Jason sauntered over to them, carrying a small tray of mixed tropical drinks, and handed each a frosty glass adorned with tiny umbrellas and even tinier red straws. "Something to cool you off," Jason murmured jokingly; his eyes darting between the two suspiciously. He had no doubt that something had taken place between the two of them in the past, and this kiss only confirmed it. There was more going on here then just the mission!
Mark turned to touch the rim of his glass to Princess'; the contact making a sparse clink of sound before taking a sip of the fruity concoction. He watched Princess through hungry eyes as he whispered for her ears only, "Let's get the honeymoon started shall we?"
To be continued. Thanks so much for reading!