Page 26 of Staking His Claim

But Yevgeny only saw a woman he didn’t particularly like, so he wrote her off as useless—like he’d written most of her sex off. He was definitely archaic... She’d dearly love to see him taught a lesson. Tempting as it was to daydream that she might be the woman to do that, Ella knew it wouldn’t—couldn’t—be her. Some other woman would have to have the pleasure of taking him down a peg or day. How she’d love to see the arrogant Yevgeny grovel.

“Didn’t you come to see Holly?” she asked, too exhausted to get drawn into another of their fiery exchanges.

“Thanks to the nanny, she’s probably been fed at least.”

Annoyance surfaced, exacerbated by the mind-numbing weariness. Did he believe she would neglect the baby? Just because she didn’t want a child didn’t mean that she’d ever see it harmed. No, not it...her. Holly was a little girl. Ella sighed inwardly. It was hard enough to keep her distance to stop an attachment forming; she didn’t need his cruel barbs. “I looked after her all night. The nanny only just arrived.”

“Then I’d better go check on her.”

Ella ground her teeth, and turned her head to stare blindly at her computer screen. Unable to help herself she blurted out, “None of the intending parents’ profiles Jo Wells left at the hospital fit what I’m looking for.”

It got so quiet, she thought Yevgeny must’ve already gone, that he hadn’t heard her.

That might be for the best.

She turned her head, glanced over her shoulder.

Yevgeny stood as unmoving as a marble statue on the office’s threshold, his pale eyes hungry and intent.


This was what he’d wanted to know, wasn’t it? But Ella refused to hold out false hope. “Jo has already brought another batch of portfolios for me to look at. There should be at least one set of suitable parents there.”

“You’re choosing them tonight?”

She shook her head, flinching inwardly at the thought of what lay ahead. Glimpses into the lives of strangers desperate for a baby. And not just any baby—the baby she had helped create.

More hopeful faces would smile out of the pages at her—with carefully picked words detailing their dreams. Each set of parents hoping they would be the chosen ones. And if she liked more than one set, it would only get harder. After meeting the couples, she’d have to choose one couple over the other. Right now she couldn’t face the mountain that lay ahead.

“I’ll do it tomorrow.” She turned away from the intensity that radiated from him, back to her laptop.

A moment later his footsteps receded. After the door closed softly behind him, Ella’s shoulders sagged. She could barely concentrate on the letters on the screen in front of her. Giving in, she rose and went to sit on the love seat beneath the window, her computer perched on her stomach. Much more comfortable.

For the next few minutes, she’d see what appointments she could reschedule...then...then, she’d go see what Yevgeny was doing. See if she could hurry him along. Once Yevgeny had departed, she’d be able to relax. She’d go lie down in her bedroom.

And welcome the sleep her body craved.

* * *

Yevgeny pushed the door to Ella’s office open with the flat palm of his hand and reentered the room. One glance caused him to pause.

The icicle had fallen asleep.

He crossed the room with silent steps, his footfalls muffled by the pile of the pale gray carpet until he stood beside the sofa.

Yet, instead of an icicle’s cold clinical perfection, Ella’s skin held a very feminine rosy flush. Her hair feathered across her forehead, the sharp-angled bob nowhere in evidence.

She looked younger. Prettier. Softer.

Yevgeny shrugged the illusion away.

Her laptop, angled across her midriff, was in danger of toppling off. She’d been working. Of course she had.

What had he expected?

That she’d been mothering? He suppressed a snort of disgust. The baby was where he’d just left her—in the arms of the nanny. His mouth compressing, he lifted the computer gently off Ella’s stomach and set it down on her desk. Turning back, he took in the uncomfortable way she was draped over the small couch. Her feet, one hooked over the other, dangled over the edge and her body was skewed so that her bottom cheek was pressed against the white leather cushions. It definitely didn’t look comfortable.

Bending over, he lifted her feet and laid them straight along the couch. Instantly they slid back over the edge. He stilled, fearing she might waken. But she didn’t stir.

The way her body was twisted suggested she was going to wake with a God-Almighty crick in her neck for sure. Yevgeny didn’t know why it was bothering him, but he couldn’t leave her like this. When he’d first arrived, she’d looked tired with gray shadows rimming her expressive eyes. Leaving aside her lack of motherly instincts, Ella had been through a lot in the past few days. She’d given birth to the baby that her sister had given up. She’d had to cope with deciding the baby’s future.