Page 24 of Staking His Claim

Thank heavens she’d called an agency to engage a nanny before leaving the hospital yesterday. The agency hadn’t been able to send someone at once, and Ella had wished she hadn’t been so hasty in telling Yevgeny that she was taking the baby home, but pride hadn’t let her back down.

How much trouble could a baby be?

She closed her eyes, thinking about the night past...trouble didn’t even begin to describe the experience!

And after today there were still eight days to go before she could sign the adoption consent.

Ella didn’t even want to contemplate it.

Opening her eyes, she gazed down at the baby, who was now wiggling her legs. Ella knew her biggest challenge was going to be maintaining a healthy distance from this child. What she didn’t need was to form an attachment to a baby she had no intention of keeping. She’d hoped that the baby would spend most of the time asleep—after all, that was what had happened at the maternity unit.

But it certainly hadn’t played out like that last night....

Since they’d gotten home to Ella’s cozy town house, most of the baby’s waking time had been spent in her arms. It seemed to have forgotten what sleep was. Ella had walked her up and down for what seemed like the whole no avail.

Her cell phone beeped.

Ella reached for it and squinted at the hi-tech screen.

The messages had started early this morning—from colleagues and clients who had no idea of the baby’s arrival on Friday evening, and thought this would be a normal work Monday. Ella knew she faced a flood of calls and emails...and that she ought to divert them to Peggy, her assistant...but right now she was too tired to move—or to think of anything.

Except sleep...

The baby chose that moment to burp.

As tired as she was, it was impossible not to smile. Ella forced her face straight. This was not the way to maintain a healthy distance. She shifted her attention back to the cell phone. Another message beeped through.

Then it rang.

It was the childcare agency she’d contacted yesterday to let her know the nanny had been dispatched.

Ella sighed with relief as she killed the call. Wrinkling her nose at the child, she said, “Sleep is on its way.”

She’d have to summon the energy to call the office, check that Peggy had canceled all her meetings for the day, and then she could crawl into bed. It was the stuff fantasies were made of....

The nanny turned out to be a short, energetic woman named Deb Benson. Within half an hour she’d restored order, unexpectedly leaving Ella feeling inadequate. She was used to making decisions, doing deals, dispensing advice, but as far as babies were concerned, she was a rookie. It was hard to accept how inept she was. Explaining the situation to Deb had also proved to be difficult—so, too, the fact that the baby didn’t yet have a name. Yet Deb hadn’t even blinked.

It made Ella wonder what it would take to faze her.

A lot more than a baby created for a couple who’d decided to give her up...and a surrogate mother who avoided cuddling her.

But it was for her own protection, Ella reminded herself as she made her way to the sleek white-and-silver home office where she spent much of her out-of-office time. Yet once barricaded in the familiar space, Ella struggled to concentrate. It wasn’t the fact that she felt different—heck, it would’ve been impossible not to! Her stomach felt soft—no more gym-hard abs. Her brea**sts were swollen, tight and aching.

Having the baby had changed her body—and now, little as Ella wanted to admit it, the infant was changing her life.

Her silver laptop sat on the smooth, white desk. Ella flipped it open. She forced herself to call Peggy.

When she put the phone down she found that her ears were straining to hear what Deb was doing. She stared blindly at the screen in front of her. Against her will she found herself using Google to search “baby names” and faced with pages of websites. Most popular girls’ names of the seventies...eighties...nineties...noughties...and beyond.

There were websites for flower names, for foreign names. Her mind boggled.

Lily. Rose. Petunia.

With a click of the mouse the next webpage opened.

Manon. Jeanne.

Another click.

Eleni. Roshni.

Ella clicked back to the first website with the botanical girls’ names.

Or Holly.

The sound of the doorbell was an unwelcome interruption. Scant seconds later the door to her office burst open, and an even more unwelcome male presence filled the doorway.

“You’ve hired a nanny!”

Determined not to give Yevgeny more advantage than surprise had already afforded him, Ella shut the computer lid and rose to her feet. He dwarfed her. She swore silently. Next time she would wear heels.