Page 11 of Staking His Claim

“Not a final name.”

It had puzzled Ella, too. Keira had spent weeks pouring over books, searching websites for inspiration. But she’d never even drawn up a short list. Now Ella knew why: Keira had been dithering about motherhood. Choosing a name would’ve been a tie to bind her to the baby.

To rid herself of that critical, disturbing gaze, Ella said, “I can ask Keira if there’s one she particularly liked.”

Yevgeny’s gaze didn’t relent. “You were supposed to be the baby’s godmother, yet you have no idea of the names your sister might have been considering?”

She was not about to air her theory about why Keira hadn’t picked a name in order to jump to her own defense. She simply stared back at him wordlessly and wished that he would take his big intimidating body, his hostile pale blue eyes and leave.

“Why don’t you ask Dmitri what they planned to name the baby?” Let him go bully his brother. Ella had had enough. “Anyway, the baby’s new parents will probably want to pick one out. Now, if you don’t mind, it’s been a long day. I’m tired, I need to rest.”

The baby chose that moment to wake up.

At the low, growling cry, Yevgeny scooped her up in his arms and came toward the bed.

No. Panic overtook Ella. “Call the nurse!”


“The baby will be hungry. Call the nurse to bring a bottle—they will feed her.”

He halted. “The nurses will feed her? From a bottle?”

Ella swallowed. “Yes.”

Disbelief glittered for an instant in his eyes, then they iced over with dislike. He thrust the waking baby at her. “Well, you can damn well hold her while I go and summon a nurse to do the job that should be yours.”

“She’s not my baby...” Ella’s voice trailed away as he stalked out of the private ward leaving her with the infant in her arms.


The baby let out a wail.

Ella stared down at the crumpled face of the tiny human in her arms and tried not to ache.

How dare Keira—and Dmitri—do this to her?

She’d barely gotten her emotions back under control when, a minute later, Yevgeny swept back into the ward with the force of an unleashed hurricane. Ella almost wilted in the face of all that turbulent energy. In his wake trailed two nurses, both wearing bemused, besotted expressions.

Did he have this effect on every woman he encountered?

No wonder the man was spoiled stupid.

At the sight of the baby in her arms, the nurses exchanged glances. Ella looked from one to the other. The baby wailed more loudly.

“Feed her,” Yevgeny barked out.

Instead of rebuking him for his impatience, the shorter nurse, whom Ella recognized from the first feed after the baby’s birth, scurried across to scoop the baby out of her arms, while the other turned to the unit in the corner of the room and started to prepare a bottle in a more leisurely fashion. Freed from the warm weight of the baby, Ella let out a sigh of silent relief...and closed her eyes.

They would take the baby to the nursery and feed her there. Ella knew the drill. All she needed to do was get rid of Yevgeny, then she could relax...even sleep...and build up the mental reserves she would need for when the baby returned.

“Do you want the bed back raised higher?”

That harsh staccato voice caused her eyelashes to lift. “If you’ll excuse me, I plan to rest.”

“No time for rest now.” He gestured to the nurse holding the bundle. “You have a baby to feed.”

Ella’s throat tightened with dread.

“No!” Ella stuck her hands beneath the covers. She was not holding the baby again, not feeling the warm, unexpected heaviness of that little human against her heart. “I am not nursing her. She will be bottle-fed. The staff is aware of the arrangement—we’ve discussed it.”

The nurse holding the baby was already heading for the door. “That’s right, sir, we know Ms. McLeod’s wishes.” The other nurse followed, leaving Ella alone in the ward with the man she least wanted to spend time with.

* * *

Yevgeny opened his mouth to deliver a blistering lecture about selfish, self-centered mothers but the sound of light footsteps gave him pause. Ella’s gaze switched past him to the doorway of the ward.

“Can I come in?”

The tentative voice of his sister-in-law from behind him had an astonishing effect on the woman in the bed. The tight, masklike face softened. Then her face lit up into a sweet smile—the kind of smile she’d never directed at him.

“Keira, of course you may.” Ella patted the bedcover. “Come sit over here.”