Page 14 of Staking His Claim

“I knew you’d ask. So I’ve already listed the qualities I’d like to see in the couple who adopts her. It would be wonderful if the family has an older daughter—perhaps two years older.” That way the baby would have a bond like the one Ella shared with Keira, but the age difference would be smaller. Hopefully the sisters would grow up to be even closer than she and Keira were. “If possible, I’d like for her to be the younger sister—like Keira is. But above all, I’d like her to go to a family who will love for her...give her everything that I can’t.”

Another nod. Yet instead of reading the long wish list that had taken Ella so much soul-searching in the dark hours this morning to compile, Jo pulled the second chair up. Propping the manila folder she’d brought with her against a bent knee, she spread the handwritten pages Ella had given her on top.

Then Jo looked up. “I spoke to Keira before coming here. She and Dmitri haven’t had second thoughts.”

Ella had known that. From the moment Keira had told her of their decision yesterday, she’d known Keira was not going to change her mind. But deep down she must have harbored a last hope because her breath escaped in a slow, audible hiss.

“Is there anyone else in the family who would consider adopting the baby?” Jo asked.

“My parents have just reached their seventies.” Ella had been born to a mother already in her forties and Keira had followed five years later. “They’ve just moved into a retirement village. There’s no chance that they’re in a position to care for a newborn.”

Even if they’d wanted to adopt the child, she wouldn’t allow it. Her parents had already been past parenting when she and Keira had reached their teens. She was not letting this baby experience the kind of distant, disengaged upbringing they’d experienced.

“And we have no other close family,” she tacked on.

“What about the biological father’s family?”

An image of Yevgeny hovering over the bed last night like some angel of vengeance flashed into Ella’s mind. His pale, wolflike eyes filled with determination. His expression downright dangerous as she resisted what he wanted.

She dismissed the image immediately and said, “There’s no one to my knowledge—his parents are dead.” A pang of guilt seared her. Reluctantly she found herself correcting herself. “He does have an older brother. Yevgeny. But he’s far from suitable.”

Jo tilted her head to one side. “In what way is Yevgeny not suitable?”

“He’s single—for one thing. The adoption laws don’t allow single men to adopt female babies.” Ella didn’t mention Yevgeny’s rash vow to marry to flout her plans.

“Except in exceptional circumstances...” Jo’s voice trailed away as she bent her head and made a note on the cover of the manila file resting in her lap. “The court may consider his relationship to the baby sufficient.”

“It’s unlikely.” Ella didn’t want Jo even considering Yevgeny as a candidate—or learning that he intended to get married for the baby’s sake.

But Jo wasn’t ready to be deflected. “Hmm. We could certainly consider interviewing him.”

Jo would discover that Yevgeny was determined to adopt the baby.

Ella’s heart started to knock against her ribs. No. This wasn’t what she wanted for the baby. Even if he did marry, Yevgeny would farm the baby out to a series of stunning Russian nannies and continue with his high-flying, jet-set lifestyle. Growing up with Yevgeny would be a far worse experience than the distracted neglect she and Keira had suffered.

“He’s a playboy—he has a different woman every week.”

That assessment was probably a little harsh, Ella conceded silently. He’d been linked to Nadiya for several months and before that he’d been single for a while—according to Keira. Although that hadn’t stopped him from dating a string of high-profile women.

“And he’s a workaholic,” she added for good measure just in case Jo was still considering Yevgeny. Then she played her trump card. “He certainly won’t provide the kind of stable home that I always intended for the child. I don’t want the baby going to him.”

“Being the legal mother, your wishes will take precedence.” Jo tapped her pen against her knee. “This is still going to be an open adoption, right?”

An open adoption meant keeping in touch with the new adoptive parents, watching the baby grow up, being part of her life, yet not a parent.

Ella swallowed.

This was the hard part.