Page 15 of Staking His Claim

“Ella?” Concern darkened Jo’s eyes as she failed to respond. “Research has shown open adoptions are far more beneficial because—”

“They give the child a sense of history and belonging, and help prevent the child having identity crises as a teen and in later life,” Ella finished. She knew all the benefits. She’d had a long time to ponder over all the arguments. “We’d planned an open adoption with Keira and Dmitri. The baby would always know I was her tummy mummy—” now the affectionate term for a surrogate rang false in her ears “—her birth mother...even though Keira would be her real mother.”

“So it will still be an open adoption?”

Ella nodded slowly. “It’s in the baby’s best interests.”

But dear God, it was going to kill her.

Ella was relieved that Jo hadn’t asked whether she would consider keeping the baby. She’d already emphatically told both Keira and Yevgeny she couldn’t do it. A third denial would’ve been more than she could handle at this stage.

Jo’s head was bent, eyes scanning the wish list Ella had given her.

Finally she looked up. “I have several sets of IPs—intending parents—” Jo elaborated, “who might fit your requirements. I’ll pull their profiles out and bring them back for you to look through.”

“Thank you.” Gratitude flooded Ella. “You have no idea how much of a help it is knowing you are here for support.”

“It’s my job.” But Jo’s warm eyes belied the words. “When will you be going home?”

“Probably tomorrow.”

“And the baby?”

“The baby will go to a foster carer.” Ella was determined not allow any opportunity for a maternal bond to form.

“I know you probably don’t want to hear this, but you should reconsider your decision not to have counseling after you sign the final consent to give the baby up.” Without looking at her, Jo shuffled the wish list into the manila file. Getting to her feet she pushed the visitor chair back against the wall before turning to face Ella. “I know you said previously that you didn’t feel you’d need counseling because she was never intended to be your baby—that it was your gift to Keira and Dmitri. But given that circumstances have changed, I think it would be a serious mistake. You’ll be experiencing a lot of emotions, which you never expected.”

Ella resisted the urge to close her eyes and shut out the world. Signing the consent could only be done on the twelfth day. She didn’t want to even think about the approaching emotional maelstrom.

So she gave Jo a small smile. “I’ll think about it,” she conceded. “But I don’t think it will be necessary. I’m tougher than I look.”

Before Jo could reply, footsteps echoed outside the ward.

A moment later, Yevgeny appeared in the doorway.

Ella’s heart sank.

“This is Dmitri’s brother, Yevgeny.” She made the introduction reluctantly, and hoped that Jo would depart quickly.

To her dismay Jo and Yevgeny took their time sizing each other up. Only once they’d taken each other’s measure, shaken hands and exchanged business cards, did Jo finally walk to the door. Ella let out the breath she’d been holding. Neither had even mentioned the baby’s adoption.

Disaster averted.

For now.

“We’ll talk again,” the social worker said from her position in the doorway, giving Ella a loaded look over her shoulder. “I’ll be back.”

* * *

This morning Yevgeny was wearing a dark gray suit that fitted beautifully.

Towering over the chair she sat on, with the light behind him, Ella could see that his dark hair was still a touch damp—evidence of a recent shower, perhaps.

It was only as he tilted his head to look down at her that she noticed the stubble shadowing his jawline. A dazzling white shirt with the top button undone stood in stark contrast to his dark face.

Ella was suddenly desperately glad that she was not in bed.

Yesterday she’d felt at a terrible disadvantage as he’d towered over her while she’d been clad in a nightdress. She’d felt exposed...vulnerable. Even now, seated, his height was intimidating. But at least she could rectify that...

She rose to her feet. “The baby is in the nursery.”

“I know—I have already been to visit her.”

Annoyance flared. She had not been consulted. “They let you in?”

The staff would have to be told he was not welcome in the future—she wouldn’t put it past him to try and take the baby. This was a man accustomed to getting his own way. But not this time.