Page 17 of Staking His Claim

Was that a threat?

Ella carefully assessed his motionless body, the face with the high Slavic cheekbones, skin stretched taut across them. Yevgeny needed to know she wasn’t going to let him bully her.

“Unlikely. This morning I gave Jo a list of the qualities I’m seeking in the prospective parents. Nothing you can offer meets the criteria. She’s going to bring me portfolios of prospective parents to look at—and I’ll choose a couple from there.”

The tension in the air became electric. “When?”

“Shouldn’t you be at work doing whatever it is that high-powered billionaires do?” Ella knew she was being deliberately provocative, but she’d never expected him to be this concerned about the baby.

“When?” he repeated, his face tight.

He wasn’t going to relent, she realized. “As soon as I’m back home—tomorrow probably.”

“And then what happens?”

“The couples have already been interviewed and screened. Police checks have been done. Once I choose a couple and the consent is signed, then the paperwork for the adoption can be filled in and submitted.”

“The consent?”

“Yes.” Ella explained further, “The legal mother can only sign the consent—that’s the formal document where she agrees to give up the baby—on the twelfth day. And yesterday, the day the baby was born, counts as the first day.”

From where she stood Ella could sense the intensity of his gaze. He wasn’t smiling anymore. He was watching her, his head tipped slightly to one side, his brain working overtime. Yevgeny was busy hatching a fiendish plot. She was certain of it.

There was something curiously exhilarating about being the focus of all that raw, brilliant energy. He might come in a devastatingly well-groomed, freshly scented and well-built male package, but it was his mind that Ella found fascinating. That ability to concentrate with such single-minded intensity. The ability to conjure up solutions no one had come up with before.

She could kind of understand why women might be attracted to that....

“So you can change your mind anytime up until that twelfth day?” he asked.

Ella blinked—and wrenched herself away from her fancies. “In theory. But I wouldn’t do it. It wouldn’t be very fair to do that to a couple once I’ve told them they’ve been chosen.”

Determination fired in his eyes. “This baby will be mine—I will do everything in my power to make sure that happens.”

Despite the morning sunshine spilling through the windows of the ward, Ella shivered.

* * *

It was evening.

The sun was setting beyond the distinctive silhouette of the Auckland Bridge transforming the Waitemata Harbour to liquid gold. Turning his head away from the magnificent view, Yevgeny dropped down onto the king-size bed in Nadiya’s hotel suite and gazed contemplatively across at the woman standing in front of the dresser, the woman he planned shortly to reduce to screaming satisfaction.

Yet instead of dwelling on the pleasures of seduction, his mind was already elsewhere.

It was the end of day two. He had only ten days left. Yevgeny knew he needed to act—and fast.

He had to get engaged—and he needed to convince Ella to change her mind about his suitability to be a father.

That was going to take some doing.

It was enough to make him grind his teeth with frustration. Yet he was a long way from conceding defeat. He’d never been the kind of man to back away from a challenge—and this was the most important challenge of his life.

Now or never.

Taking a deep breath, he gave Nadiya his most practiced smile and patted the bedcover beside him. “Come make yourself comfortable.”

Nadiya glided across the room. Kicking off her high heels, she settled herself on the bed beside him. Long fingertips reached for the buttons of her silk shirtdress, and she gave him a pout.

“How do you feel about children?”


Nadiya’s eyes widened, and her fingers stilled in the act of undressing. Her lips, still plump with gloss, parted. Yevgeny could identify with her shock. He was shocked. This was a discussion he had never before conducted with a woman. It was breaking new ground. But not only had he always desired Nadiya, he’d always liked her, too—even though, for the first time, he struggled to focus on their approaching lovemaking.

She hesitated, and then said, “I’ve always wanted children.”

This was good.

Coming up on his elbow, he propped his hand under his head. “I am pleased to hear that.”

From across the pale pink satin comforter, with her long legs folded beneath her, she watched him through those catlike eyes. “So you want children?”