Page 25 of Staking His Claim

“Of course I have.” She met his outraged gaze as calmly as she was able. “I have a job to get back to.”

“You’re due maternity leave.”


Ella shook her head. “I work for myself, so any leave I take is scheduled long in advance. This time I only allowed myself a few days off.” And that had been next week. When the baby was supposed to arrive—not long before Christmas. “Anyway, I wasn’t keeping the baby, remember? So I certainly didn’t need maternity leave.” And now, since Keira’s bombshell, Ella knew she definitely didn’t want to be sitting around with time to think.

His eyes glittered with disbelief. “And none of that has changed since bringing the baby home?”

She struggled with another wave of weariness and searched for words to explain her feelings to the man watching her as though she were some two-headed alien.

“How can it? I have to work.” She stared back at him. Attack was the best form of defense. “You employ women—some of them might even be executives.” Although she doubted it. Men like Yevgeny Volkovoy didn’t take women seriously enough to give them significant responsibility. One only had to look at the women he dated—models, socialites—to see that. Although she had to admit that Nadiya had shown more spunk than Ella would’ve expected from one of his conquests—certainly more than Yevgeny wanted. “I can only imagine what you’d say about a woman who planned to be back at work, then decided to take several months off instead.”

He blinked, and Ella saw the truth of her argument register.

He shrugged.

“Maybe.” Then he added, “But I would’ve understood. Eventually.” Putting his hands on his hips, he tilted his head to one side. “And that argument doesn’t apply here—you are your own boss.”

“Which means I can’t just disappear from the office—I need to carefully plan the times away and arrange for someone to cover for me.” And most important, she wanted to avoid becoming too attached to the child. “I want to go back to work.”

“So when do you plan to do that?”

“As soon as I can.” Ella didn’t say “tomorrow,” which was what she fully intended—so long as her body obliged and the fatigue that was starting to make her feel dizzy wasn’t too much of a factor.

“And dump the child you haven’t even given a name on the nanny?”

Ella stifled a yawn. “Holly will be perfectly happy.”

“Holly? Holly?” He reared back. “You’ve named the baby?”

“Obviously.”

He looked surprised. “Just now? To prove me wrong?”

“Not to prove you wrong! I picked her name earlier.” She wasn’t admitting to those minutes of scouring websites—after all, she couldn’t even fathom what had driven her to do a Google search for baby names. It was all too uncomfortable to absorb. And why did he think she’d done it merely to prove him wrong? Let him think it had been an arbitrary name plucked out of the air. “You shouldn’t assume an importance you don’t have in my life.”

But instead of causing Yevgeny to puff up with annoyance as she’d intended, her comment made him laugh.

“Bravo,” he said.

Ella stared. Tiredness must be befuddling her. Because with his white teeth flashing and laugh lines—which she’d never noticed before—crinkling around his eyes, he caused her breath to hook in her throat. In the wickedly sparkling eyes, Ella got a glimpse of his appeal. This must be the reason women hung around him like bees around a honeypot.

The man looked devastating.

And all because she’d tried to put him in his place!

She couldn’t help smiling back.

But his next words wiped the smile off her face.

“I came expecting to find you ready to beg me to take her away.” His light eyes grew cloudy. “I should’ve known you’d hire a nanny.”

He’d expected her to fail at the first hurdle.

That stung!

Because even though she’d hired a nanny to keep the baby at a distance, deep in her heart she knew he was right. She had failed. She was dangerously ignorant about babies, and it didn’t help that her ignorance came because she’d never intended to have children of her own. It only served to underscore her secret, deeply held conviction that she would make a terrible parent.

Mostly his criticism stung because the truth of it was Ella wasn’t accustomed to failure. Whatever task she undertook she saw through to the bitter end.

And arranging for the baby’s adoption would be no different—once she’d had a good-night’s sleep and gotten herself back to normal.

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