Page 12 of Staking His Claim

Yevgeny still harbored resentment toward his brother for the shocking about-face on the baby—not that he’d ever admit that to Ella—and he found it confounding to witness her warmth to her sister. He’d expected icy sulks—or at the very least, reproach. Not the concern and fondness that turned her brown eyes to burnished gold.

So Ella was capable of love and devotion—just not toward her baby.

Something hot and hurtful twisted deep inside him, tearing open scars on wounds he’d considered long forgotten.

To hide his reaction, he walked to the bed stand where a water pitcher sat on a tray. Taking a moment to compose himself, he poured a glass of water then turned back to the bed.

“Would you like some water? You must be thirsty.”

Surprise lit up Ella’s face.

But before she could respond, a vibrating hum sounded.

“That will be Jo Wells. I left an urgent message for her earlier.” Ella’s hands dived beneath the covers and retrieved her phone.

In the midst of perching herself on the edge of the bed, Keira went still.

And Yevgeny discovered that he’d tensed, too. Given Ella’s reluctance to keep the child, she should’ve been grateful for his offer to take the baby. She could wash her hands of the infant. He’d never contemplated for a second that Ella would actually turn him down.

Her insistence on getting in touch with the social worker showed how determined she was to see through her plan to adopt the baby out. Evidently she wanted to make sure it was airtight.

The glass thudded on the bed stand as he set it down, the water threatening to spill over the lip. Yevgeny didn’t notice. He was watching Ella’s brow crease as she stared at the caller ID display.

“No, it’s not Jo—it’s my assistant,” she said.

The call didn’t last long. He glanced at his watch—7:00 p.m. on a Friday night. She’d be charging overtime rates. Ella’s tone had become clipped, her responses revealing little. Another poor bastard was about to be taken to the cleaners.

Ella was already ending the call. “If you wouldn’t mind setting up an appointment for early next week I’d appreciate that,” she murmured into the sleek, white phone. “Just confirm the time with me first, please.”

That caught his attention.

As soon as she’d killed the call, he echoed, “Early next week? You’re not intending to go back to work that soon. Have you already forgotten that you have a newborn that needs attention?”

“Hardly.” Her teeth snapped together. “But I have a practice to run.”

“And a newborn baby to take care of.”

“The baby wasn’t supposed to arrive for another week!” Ella objected.

Keira laughed. “You can’t really have expected a baby to conform to your schedule, Ella. Although, if you think about it, the baby did arrive on a Friday evening. Maybe you do already have her trained.”

Ella slanted her sister a killing look.

It sank in that Ella had expected the baby to conform. Clearly, she rigorously ran her life by her calendar. Why shouldn’t a baby comply, too? Yevgeny started to understand why Ella could be so insistent that she’d never have a baby.

Her selfishness wouldn’t allow for it.

The woman never dated. She didn’t even appear to have a social life—apart from her sister. Keeping the baby would mean disruption in her life by another person. Ella was not about to allow that. Everything he knew about her added up to one conclusion: Ella was the most self-centered woman he’d ever met.

Except there was one thing wrong with that picture...

Keira must have begged to get her sister to agree to be a surrogate in the first place. Ella carrying the baby for nine months was the one thing that went against the picture he’d built in his mind. Allowing her body to be taken over by a baby she had no interest in was a huge commitment.

But Yevgeny knew even that could be explained—Ella was a lawyer. She knew every pitfall. And she was such a control freak she wouldn’t have wanted to risk some other surrogate changing her mind once the baby was born. This way she could make sure that Keira got the baby she and his brother had planned.

Ella was speaking again. He put aside the puzzle of Ella’s motivations and concentrated on what she was saying. “Well, that’s when I planned my maternity leave to begin,” she was informing Keira. “Another week and everything in the office would’ve been totally wrapped up—I planned it that way.”

“Oh, Ella!” The mirth had faded from his sister-in-law’s face. “Sometimes I worry about you. You need the trip to Africa more than Dmitri and I. In fact, you should visit India, take up meditation.”