SE­RIAL Win­ner Takes All by Jan Snook

Tyler won­dered if he ought to share with Ellen the in­for­ma­tion he had about her boss . . .

The People's Friend - - Contents -

AF­TER his brief and none too wel­com­ing greet­ing, Tyler dis­ap­peared into his room and Ellen didn’t see him again un­til the following morn­ing.

Which hadn’t stopped his face from float­ing around in her head all night, she ac­knowl­edged crossly. His mother had been right – he

was very good-look­ing. But good looks weren’t ev­ery­thing, and he’d made it clear – to his mother, if not to her – how un­wel­come she was as a house guest. It was only the end of June, and he was a pro­fes­sor. He might be stay­ing with his mother all sum­mer.

With a heavy heart Ellen show­ered, dressed and made her way down­stairs.

Bar­bara was in the kitchen.

“Hi, there!” she said cheer­ily as Ellen walked in. “Waf­fles! I thought they’d be a treat for Tyler.”

Tyler was at the kitchen ta­ble, in­vis­i­ble be­hind a news­pa­per.

“Mother, I’ve told you – I’m happy with just a cup of cof­fee for break­fast.”

“C’mon,” Bar­bara ar­gued. “A cup of cof­fee isn’t go­ing to keep you go­ing till lunchtime. Any­how, you say you don’t want any waf­fles, but you still seem to eat them! Where else will you get proper, home-made waf­fles? Who even has a waf­fle iron these days?”

Bar­bara care­fully poured more bat­ter into the smok­ing, heart-shaped waf­fle iron on the hob.

“I’ve never even seen one,” Ellen said, in­ter­ested. She went over to watch Bar­bara en­clos­ing the bat­ter within the hinged waf­fle iron, then turn­ing it

over on the heat. The re­sult was noth­ing like any waf­fle Ellen had tasted, and even Tyler couldn’t help smil­ing as he watched her take her first but­tery, fluffy mouth­ful.

“They’re hard to re­sist.” He looked at his watch. “I said I’d meet Steve at the cam­paign of­fice. See what he wants me to do.”

“Tyler’s come home to help with the cam­paign,” Bar­bara said, giv­ing Ellen a mean­ing­ful look, “so you’ll be see­ing a lot of each other, I imag­ine.” She turned her gaze on to her son. “Won’t that be nice?”

“Great,” Tyler said from be­hind his pa­per again.

“Tyler?” his mother per­sisted, and he put the news­pa­per down. “Ellen is Cindy’s as­sis­tant, the As­sis­tant Cam­paign Man­ager. She’s got a de­gree in Mar­ket­ing and Pol­i­tics, so she re­ally knows what she’s talk­ing about.”

A small flicker of in­ter­est shot across Tyler’s face.

“I was un­der the im­pres­sion that Bri­tish pol­i­tics were rather dif­fer­ent from ours,” he said with a touch of con­tempt. “Don’t you still have hered­i­tary lords mak­ing de­ci­sions?”

“I spe­cialised in the Amer­i­can elec­toral sys­tem,” Ellen said coolly, think­ing that she prob­a­bly knew a lot more about it than he did. “I seem to be man­ag­ing to keep up, thanks.”

Not that there’d been much to keep up with. Cindy was still re­luc­tant to let her do more than put leaflets in en­velopes or an­swer the tele­phone.

Tyler seemed to be able to read her mind.

“You mean Cindy lets you take the reins from time to time? That doesn’t sound like her.” He gri­maced. His mother glared at him. “What­ever you may think, Tyler, Steve trusts Cindy, so don’t go shoot­ing your mouth off, do you hear me?” Bar­bara was look­ing at Tyler as though he was ten years old.

“Mom, Steve’s a re­ally nice guy. He’ll make a great con­gress­man. He cares about peo­ple. Of course he trusts her – he trusts every­body. Which means some­one else has got to watch out for him. So I’m go­ing in to­day.”

“On a Satur­day? I was hop­ing you’d take Ellen to the game. You can teach her the rules of base­ball!” “Mom!”

Tyler was look­ing fu­ri­ous. Ellen hur­ried to fin­ish her mouth­ful of waf­fle.

“Bar­bara, I’m here to work. You’ve been so kind, but you don’t need to treat me like a guest. In any case, I’m go­ing in to work to­day as well. Cindy said there were a cou­ple of things she wanted me to do.”

Ellen had trou­ble not blushing. Cindy had ac­tu­ally told her not to come in – so firmly, in fact, that Ellen won­dered whether she was up to some­thing.

If Tyler was go­ing to be there, she didn’t want to have two peo­ple gang­ing up on her and not let­ting her do any­thing. She’d bet­ter go and fight her cor­ner. Tyler gave a slight shrug. “There you are, Mom. Prob­lem solved.”

But Bar­bara didn’t give up that eas­ily.

“Ellen walks to work, Tyler, so I’m sure you’ll be of­fer­ing her a ride.”

Tyler pursed his lips and spoke evenly.

“Of course. Ellen, would you like a ride to work? I’m leav­ing in fif­teen min­utes.” And he left the room. Ellen let out the breath she hadn’t re­alised she’d been hold­ing.

“I am so sorry about my son,” Bar­bara said sadly. “He’s usu­ally so friendly.”

She low­ered her voice to al­most a whis­per.

“I asked him last night whether he’d be go­ing back up to Maine next week

– you know, for the In­de­pen­dence Day cel­e­bra­tions. The fourth of July is a re­ally big thing here. It’s a hol­i­day.”

Ellen nod­ded, and Bar­bara car­ried on.

“I thought he might be go­ing up to see his girl, but ap­par­ently that’s all over.” She looked up to check that Tyler hadn’t re­turned. “I guess that’s what’s mak­ing him so grumpy.”

She raised her eye­brows at Ellen, and Ellen man­aged a weak smile back.

“At least it means he’ll spend the sum­mer here help­ing Steve with the cam­paign, so that’ll be some­thing. We can al­ways use ex­tra hands!”

“Right.” Ellen took a deep breath. “Bar­bara, now that Tyler’s here, you re­ally could do with­out hav­ing to look af­ter a lodger as well. I thought maybe I should find some­where else to live?”

Bar­bara’s eyes flashed with in­dig­na­tion.

“Ab­so­lutely not. I’m lov­ing hav­ing you here.” Then her face fell. “Un­less you’d rather not be stay­ing with a woman my age who in­sists that you learn to quilt and make waf­fles and know the rules of base­ball, I mean. I guess I’ve been a bit too pushy.”

“You haven’t at all!” Ellen be­gan. “It’s just, well . . .” She took an­other deep breath. “I heard you tell Tyler yes­ter­day about only tak­ing me in very re­luc­tantly, and –”

“Oh, honey!” Bar­bara’s face was a picture of mor­ti­fi­ca­tion. “That’s aw­ful! What must you think of me? I mean, yes, I was re­luc­tant be­fore I met you, I ad­mit. And I don’t like be­ing rail­roaded into do­ing things by Cindy-aren’t-iWon­der­ful-ward.

“But as soon as I met you, well, I love hav­ing you here!”

She gave Ellen a big hug. Over Bar­bara’s shoul­der Ellen saw Tyler in the door­way. He was shak­ing his head in dis­be­lief.

“If you’re ready?” he drawled. “It’s time to go.”

Tyler slid a side­ways glance at Ellen, who was sit­ting be­side him in his sports car. She had been look­ing out at the road­side as they drove the short dis­tance to the cam­paign head­quar­ters.

She an­swered his cou­ple of per­func­tory ques­tions with mono­syl­labic replies which, he re­flected, he prob­a­bly de­served. None of this was her fault.

But he re­ally didn’t need this com­pli­ca­tion in his life at the mo­ment. He’d had it with women, even if they were rather pe­tite and very pretty. What was that ex­pres­sion he’d heard? She was an English rose. She even blushed charm­ingly.

But that was hardly the point. There had been enough bossy women in his life re­cently. And if the jury was still out on the ques­tion of whether Ellen was bossy or not, well, you could bet she was. They all were. Start­ing with his med­dling mother!

He’d for­got­ten how per­sis­tent she could be. She hadn’t rested till she’d got ev­ery de­tail about his break-up with Lisa.

Not that there was that much to tell. Lisa’s fa­ther was a se­na­tor, and Lisa seemed to want to be the wife of a se­na­tor as well. Which was fine, as long as Tyler didn’t have to be the se­na­tor in ques­tion!

How­ever, it seemed that was ex­actly what she had planned. He told her he didn’t want to be a car­bon copy of her fa­ther, and she said that wasn’t likely, he was too much of a loser.

Then Tyler did the re­ally adult thing of jump­ing into his car and driv­ing away into the night. He drove home to his mother, vow­ing that he’d have noth­ing more to do with women for a very long time.

Yet now he was do­ing his mother’s bid­ding, driv­ing yet an­other woman around! A woman who looked at his sports car – his pride and joy, a sil­ver Corvette – with thinly dis­guised dis­dain, sug­gest­ing in her brit­tle English ac­cent that it “surely wasn’t very prac­ti­cal”. Well, she could walk next time!

“Seems ev­ery­one’s here,” Tyler said as he drew into the park­ing lot out­side the shabby cam­paign head­quar­ters. He nod­ded to­wards the other cars al­ready parked.

He jumped out of the

Cindy clearly didn’t want Ellen in the of­fice to­day. Why?

car and went up the rusty fire-es­cape that led to the cam­paign head­quar­ters two at a time, not look­ing to see whether Ellen was be­hind him.

“Great! You’ve brought Ellen,” Steve said, greet­ing his brother-in-law. “Cindy said she was stay­ing home with Mom to­day.”

Tyler barely had time to reg­is­ter that Ellen wasn’t ex­pected to be there when Cindy walked up.

“Tyler! It’s great to see you,” she said, but her smile, he no­ticed, didn’t go any­where near her eyes. She turned to Ellen. “I thought I told you to stay home to­day. I can’t get on with my work if you’re con­stantly ask­ing me ques­tions.” She was barely able to keep her voice level.

“It’s not a help to come in when I don’t need you, Ellen. Any­way, it’s Satur­day. You should be hav­ing a day off.”

Tyler looked at Ellen. Hadn’t she said that Cindy had told her to come in to­day? But she didn’t meet his eyes.

Steve was look­ing at Cindy, clearly sur­prised at her rude­ness, and seemed about to speak.

Ellen opened her mouth to re­ply as well, but Tyler got there first.

“Sorry, Cindy, I dragged her along. I thought maybe Ellen could give me a few jobs to do, see­ing as how she’s your as­sis­tant. I didn’t want to get in your way when I knew how busy you must be, what with fundrais­ers and all.”

“Good think­ing!” Steve said hap­pily, never a man for con­fronta­tion.

Cindy nar­rowed her eyes, but couldn’t very well ar­gue. Ellen was smil­ing serenely, as though this was ex­actly what they’d planned. You had to hand it to her, she had com­po­sure.

Which was all very well, Tyler thought, but now he was stuck with her for the day, which was not what he’d planned at all.

Tyler fol­lowed Ellen to her desk and pulled up a chair.

“What fund-rais­ers are there? I gather there was a bar­be­cue last Satur­day. Did that raise much?”

Ellen opened her lap­top and pro­vided all the fig­ures. “What else is planned?” He lis­tened with mount­ing hor­ror as Ellen, her face im­pas­sive, ex­plained about Cindy’s heavy bor­row­ing from the bank and her plans to re­coup the money at the Septem­ber fund-raiser.

“Have you got all the cater­ers and sup­pli­ers in place? How are ticket sales go­ing?” he asked when she’d fin­ished.

“Cindy’s deal­ing with the sup­pli­ers, and wants to keep that very much in her own hands,” Ellen said. “I only got au­tho­ri­sa­tion to make pay­ments yes­ter­day, and then only if they’re very small amounts,” she added with a small smile.

“My job is to sell the tick­ets and get peo­ple to do­nate raf­fle prizes, that sort of thing.”

Tyler looked at her. Poor girl. Cindy had re­ally given her a raw deal.

“You mean to tell me that she gets to spend all the money, and you have to make sure you raise it? So it’s your fault if the din­ner doesn’t make a profit?”

“That’s about the size of it, yes,” Ellen said, in her pre­cise English ac­cent that was be­gin­ning to grow on him. “And, of course, Cindy keeps telling me how ex­pen­sive and un­nec­es­sary I am to the cam­paign.

“Yet I’m told it was she who in­sisted on hir­ing me! She’s sug­gested a cou­ple of times that I might like to cut my stay short, and I’m sure she’s look­ing for an ex­cuse to fire me.”

“But you’re not go­ing?” Tyler asked more gen­tly.

“No!” she said spirit­edly. “Why should I go back home with my tail be­tween my legs? And in case you’re won­der­ing, I’m be­ing paid peanuts even by UK salary stan­dards, which are a lot lower than here.”

There was some­thing about the way she spoke that made him think he wasn’t the only one who’d come to his mother’s house to es­cape.

Ellen and Tyler spent the morn­ing on the phone, sell­ing tick­ets to the din­ner. The ticket prices seemed as­tro­nom­i­cal to Ellen, and she’d had trou­ble not apol­o­gis­ing to prospec­tive buy­ers about the cost, but lis­ten­ing to Tyler non­cha­lantly rat­tling off the fig­ures to the party sup­port­ers he was ring­ing gave her new con­fi­dence, and by lunchtime they had sold al­most 100 tick­ets be­tween them.

“Can I have an­other look at the over­all bud­get?” Tyler asked as he ticked an­other name off on the list of party mem­bers.

“Of course,” Ellen said. “I’ll just – where’s my lap­top gone?” She looked around dis­tract­edly.

Tyler stood up and looked round the room.

“That’s not what’s Cindy’s us­ing, is it?”

How dare the woman, Ellen thought as she saw Cindy con­cen­trat­ing on the screen. Her screen!

“Ex­cuse me, Cindy? Have you got my lap­top?”

“I’ll be with you in a minute,” the other woman said im­pa­tiently.

Then she looked up. “You made me lose my place. I was scrolling down a col­umn of fig­ures.”

“My lap­top,” Ellen said, keep­ing her voice even.

“Yeah. I’m hav­ing trou­ble with my com­puter and you weren’t us­ing yours. Is there a prob­lem?”

“Well, I wish you had asked,” Ellen said bravely. “Any­way, how did you know my pass­word?”

Cindy shrugged.

“I didn’t need it. You hadn’t logged off. I’ve fin­ished with it, any­how. You can have it back. Steve and I have to go out.”

She picked up her bag and headed for the door.

Ellen frowned af­ter her, then turned back to Tyler.

“Right. You wanted to see the bud­get.”

She re­trieved her lap­top and opened the rel­e­vant file, then turned the screen to­wards him so that he could study the fig­ures.

He spent a long time ex­am­in­ing the ac­counts, then stood up.

“Do you want to go out and get some lunch? There’s a deli just down the street. I was go­ing to buy a cof­fee and a sand­wich to eat in the park. It’s too nice a day to be cooped up in here.” Ellen hid her sur­prise. “Good idea.”

Was the great Tyler Cady soft­en­ing?

By the time they reached the park, armed with smoked salmon bagels and cof­fee, Tyler was look­ing grim again.

“There were some things I wanted to say – out­side the of­fice,” he said, sit­ting down un­der a tree.

“OK,” Ellen said. “I mustn’t be too long, though. I don’t want Cindy to think I’m slack­ing.”

“For what they’re pay­ing you you’re prac­ti­cally a vol­un­teer,” he said, “so I don’t think you need to worry about ‘slack­ing’. And, yes, I saw your salary. It’s all there in the bud­get.” He gave a small smile. “Be­sides, I thought Cindy had told you not to come in to­day?”

Ellen felt her­self blush. “What was it you wanted to dis­cuss?”

“A few things, re­ally. Firstly, I think you ought to change the pass­word on your lap­top.”

Ellen looked up at him. “You hadn’t left it on, had you? Cindy must know your pass­word.”

Ellen nod­ded.

“I don’t know how she’d know it – I’m pretty care­ful. But I’m equally sure I’d logged off.”

“So she must have been watch­ing you pretty closely to find out what it was. Which con­firms what I’ve been think­ing. I’m not happy about Cindy be­ing Steve’s cam­paign man­ager, as you’ve prob­a­bly gath­ered.

“I mean, to me it just doesn’t make sense to hire some­one who used to work for your op­po­nent.

“I re­ally don’t buy all this stuff about her chang­ing her po­lit­i­cal views, see­ing the light, all of that.

“Cindy’s not like that. I just don’t trust her. Some­thing fishy’s go­ing on. And then there’s the fact she’s hired you . . .”

“What does hir­ing me have to do with it?”

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