Author's note: Slightly altered from it's first appearance on The Sub Pen List
The sound of approaching voices alerted her to their imminent arrival… gently she smiled to herself but schooled her features to display only polite interest as they entered her temporary office.
“Good morning, Miss. Ryan.” the two officers announced in unison, then laughed with each other.
“Good morning, Captain Crane, Commander Morton.” she replied softly, her expression displaying only cool efficiency.
For the past ten days she had worked in the capacity of secretary to Admiral Harriman Nelson, head of the Nelson Institute and renowned owner of the private submarine, Seaview. His permanent personal assistant, Angie Hamilton, had requested emergency leave to be with her mother after an accident, so Admiral Nelson, having personal knowledge of her eminent suitability for the position, had prevailed on her better nature to manage his office while he was away in Washington. Under the circumstances, she could hardly refuse.
“Still insisting on formality,
“Oh, I think that you have worked very hard to earn your rank, Captain, and should therefore be accorded it, don’t you?” Her calmly spoken reply was accompanied by a dazzling smile.
“I don’t mind a little informality on occasions, say tonight, over dinner?” Lee invited and not for the first time, since they had met.
“Miss. Ryan already has an invitation to dine with me tonight, Captain.” Chip Morton smiled confidently at his friend.
“R.H.I.P., Mr. Morton.” Lee mocked.
“Depends on which rank impresses the lady most, Captain.” Chip retorted quickly.
“Your concern for my welfare is very flattering gentleman. Indeed, you have both been so attentive that you make it very difficult for a girl to choose between you.” She assumed an attitude of consideration but her beautiful eyes reflected pleasure as she looked at them with approval, “So it would seem fairer to you both, not to try. Thank you very much for asking, but I think I will dine alone tonight.
“Miss Ryan… Candace … it is Candace isn’t it?” the captain asked gently.
“My friends call me Candy.” She answered with amusement. “You may call me Candy if you both wish…”
“I’m sure we’d be honoured. Personally, I’ve always had a partiality for sweet things.”
“Oh boy, I’m so glad you said that and not me,” teased his grinning exec as he broke into laughter.
Lee looked immediately chagrined as he realised how corny that sounded but was cheered with the sound of Candy’s light melodic laughter joining Chip’s.
“Please Captain, do not be embarrassed, I understood and appreciated the sentiment,” she assured him kindly.
“In that case, are you sure I can’t persuade you about dinner tonight?” Lee continued smoothly concentrating all his charm on her.
“Or I?” Chip murmured softly leaning forward intentionally, to also engage her attention.
She gently nibbled at her lip with pearl white teeth, as she watched both of them; the temptation was almost irresistible when he looked at her like that.
“No, I’m not sure… nevertheless, for my own protection, I will still decline both of your gracious invitations.” She replied warmly.
Both men glanced at each other and shrugged with rueful acceptance for now but silently promised themselves not to give up.
“Now, was there something in particular that I can help you with today, gentlemen?” Candy Ryan asked, attempting to divert their disturbing attention from her.
“Here are the latest reports on the repair schedules.” Blue eyes twinkled mischievously as the owner handed the reports into her hands and accidentally managed a caress, so fleeting as to be almost imaginary.
Lee saw the movement and caught the boyish grin that Chip bestowed on her. Oh, Morton was good!
Lee coughed pointedly and frowned disapprovingly at his friend who merely looked back at him innocently.
Watching their by–play from behind her professional countenance, made her want to laugh aloud. She was under no illusions as to their frequent excuses for so many official visits… neither man was that subtle. She was flattered by their undisguised interest but as male awareness of her had never been lacking, she chose to disregard the obvious attention they tried to lavish on her. She was not vain in any way …but she did accept that if ‘beauty was in the eye of the beholder’ then she had more than an average advantage. Her mother’s Burmese ancestry, combined with her American father’s height and good looks had produced an amazingly beautiful young woman.
Slightly taller than average height for a woman, she had flawless bronzed skin, with the most entrancing velvet brown eyes and a heart shaped face that was framed by long, shining black hair that hung down her back, like a rippling waterfall. Her slim form was generously endowed and men unashamedly admired her long shapely legs with evident desire.
She never encouraged male attention, in fact often found it intrusive but she could not deny that Mother Nature and genetics had been incredibly kind and her appearance was like a magnet to most of the male population.
“There was nothing that you needed in particular was there Lee? Why don’t you go check on your grey lady, while I go through the technical details with Candy? Just to be sure she understands our technical, navy jargon.”
Chip sat casually in the chair next to her desk and openly assessed her. She was cool, calm and collected, everything a good secretary should be. Her efficiency and skill impressed him and he knew instinctively that behind that incredibly beautiful persona, was an extremely well honed intelligence.
When the admiral had informed them of Angie’s family crisis, he had also told them that he had already arranged for her replacement. He knew of an excellent candidate who was about to start a year’s study sabbatical and she had agreed to delay it in order to fill the temporary post. Neither officer had expected the incredible vision that had appeared two days later.
“Even better, Mr. Morton, why don’t you go and check the boat’s status and I will go through the report?” The captain grinned wryly at his friend and rival.
Lee watched as Chip raised one eyebrow too its fullest extent and flashed him a disparaging look that said plainly, ‘No way, Mister’.
“I’m sure after all this time there can be very little I will not be able to understand, gentlemen. Please do not allow me to detain either one of you unnecessarily.” Candy’s amused voice gently interrupted them.
Oh my! If only they knew her true qualifications! They would understand her complete confidence in this naval environment. But the admiral had suggested she keep them confidential, as she was not officially attached any longer, while she used her sabbatical to pursue her doctorate, with N.I.M.R sponsorship.
“Are you sure? I really wouldn’t mind talking you through it.” Lee assured her persuasively.
Candy observed both men’s enthusiasm with delight. She had expected their pursuit of her but had not anticipated it to be waged with such humour and subterfuge. They were incredibly handsome men, one dark, one light and the way they vied for her attention was immensely entertaining. Their command capabilities and dedication to duty were already well known to her but she had also been impressed by the evidently deep friendship that shone through, even their rivalry for her company. She appreciated the way they were willing to play the game according to her rules and neither man seemed about to break the unspoken code between them.
“I’m quite sure gentlemen, besides Admiral Nelson will be back later this afternoon, I’m sure he would be able to answer any questions that might arise.” She watched as each man accepted defeat stoically for now and rose to take their leave.
“We’ll be back later then, if you’re sure we can’t help.” Chip said ruefully as he cast her one more admiring glance.
“Quite sure.” She smiled gently in return at both of them.
“The admiral gets back about 15.30, doesn’t he?” Captain Crane questioned.
She nodded gracefully.
“Then we’ll report to him at 16.30, perhaps you’d tell him.”
“Indeed I will, sir.” Candy smiled confidently. “Good day until then, Captain Crane, Commander Morton.”
Both men grinned at her polite dismissal and left together. She could hear their friendly banter as they headed out, bound for the sub-pens and Seaview.
What had she gotten herself in to? Harry had warned her about ‘his boys’ and under different circumstances she would have welcomed their individual attentions but not this time. They were such close friends and although she suspected that if she showed partiality to one of them the other would bow out gracefully, she would not show him any hint of her attraction. He would never know just how he had stirred her emotions. She would be strong and resist the enormous temptation he posed to her equilibrium. In less than a month, she would be in the depths of the arctic winter, working to prove her theory on the changing nature of polar habitats and far away from those ‘come to bed’ eyes that could so easily rob her of all perspective and his smiling mouth that made her lips tingle at the very thought of passionate contact.
She swiftly put all such thoughts away and concentrated on her work, it wasn’t going to do her willpower any good at all to harbour such fantasies.
Much later that afternoon, Candace checked her watch and started to pack up her desk. Captain Crane and Mr. Morton had returned as promised and they had been with the admiral for well over two hours now.
Suddenly the door opened and the two officers emerged. They were smiling and approached her desk determinedly.
“Indeed, Captain, and which situation is that exactly?” She questioned mildly, her eyes glowing with enjoyment at their perseverance.
“You obviously can’t decide between our repeated invitations, so we wondered if you would honour us both with your company tonight… for dinner. We promise to be on our best behaviour and not to embarrass you in any way.”
“I see. Well… I’m sorry but…”
“Perfect gentlemen, we promise, just dinner and we’ll take you home whenever you request,” Chip interrupted her hesitant refusal.
She smiled regretfully at their eager faces. “I’m sure you would both be the perfect dinner companions but someone else ….”
She was interrupted as Admiral Nelson emerged from his office and came smiling towards the group. “Still here gentlemen… I would have thought you’d be anxious to get away home.” He looked at both men and continued. “I’ve just finished speaking with Angie. Her mother is much better and she will be returning in a couple of days. So Candy will be leaving us sooner than expected.” He then turned to his temporary assistant and stretched out a hand to hold her elbow and said. “Are you quite ready my dear? I thought we would have dinner before we go back to the house. I’m sure you’ll be more comfortable with me, than in a motel room for the remainder of your stay. Can’t think why I didn’t suggest it in the first place, there’s plenty of room…. ”
Candace Ryan swallowed her immediate urge to laugh aloud at the identical looks of shock that froze on the faces of the two men before her. Neither man moved but stood astonished by the implication.
Nelson appeared not to notice the effect his comments had made on his young officers and proceeded to walk his companion out. “Good night Lee, Chip, see you in the morning but not too early, I have some matters to finish up with Candy.”
As they quickly made their way to his car, both maintained a dignified silence but once inside the vehicle they glanced at each other and disintegrated into laughter. When they had composed themselves again Candace looked at her, temporary employer with delight and accused with tongue-in-cheek mockery, “ Why Admiral Nelson, I do believe you enjoyed that, didn’t you, …did it give you pleasure to outrank them? You know full well what they will be assuming, don’t you?”
“Yes, and they will be quite wrong… and I might tell them so… in a day or two….” Nelson smiled contentedly. “Rank should definitely have its privileges!”