Page 39 of Staking His Claim

Then Ella told herself to lighten up. It was Friday evening, she wanted to relax...but his presence nixed any chance of that.

Holly gave a squeak, and Ella instantly dropped to her knees beside her. The baby appeared to be fascinated with her own hands. She gave another high-pitched shriek.

Ella’s heartbeat steadied.

Of course there was nothing wrong!

Except that she was hovering too close to the baby....

She shifted and glanced away.

Straight into Yevgeny’s curious eyes.

It was a good time to remember that she hadn’t forgiven him for likening her to a vulture circling a kill yesterday.

Which led her to one of the many questions that his visit to her offices had raised....

“I never did find out what you were doing at my offices yesterday. I take it you didn’t simply arrive planning to call me a vulture?” Ella raised a questioning eyebrow.

He looked discomforted. Sitting up, he said, “I ordered in dinner—I thought you might enjoy not having to cook tonight. You could give Deb the entire evening off.”

“Then I’d have to look after the baby instead of cook,” she pointed out, not sure that she liked the fact that he’d walked in here and taken over her life. She held her breath, waiting for him to accuse her of all the motherly shortcomings he usually did.

A furrow creased his brow, and she tensed. He surprised her by saying, “I intended to play with the baby. I thought you might want to relax. Keira once said you like to take Friday evenings easy.”

Ella blinked.

He was trying to be considerate?

Was that possible? Her gaze slid to Holly. The baby was wriggling her fingers and making cooing sounds. She looked wonderfully content. It shouldn’t be too difficult for Yevgeny to look after her.

“You ordered dinner in?” she asked in case she’d misunderstood.

“Yes, Italian.”

That really got her attention. She loved Italian food. How did he know that? Had he pumped Peggy for information about her yesterday? Or had he been cross-examining Deb? Another thought struck her....

“Should I consider this an apology for your rudeness yesterday?”

A flush seared the high, Slavic cheekbones. “The food is from La Rosa.”

The diversion worked. “I didn’t know La Rosa does takeout—much less that they deliver.”

“They don’t.”

So he was pulling out all the stops. “But you convinced them?” His sheepish nod confirmed it. “Who told you it’s my favorite restaurant?”


“You spoke to Keira today?”

“No—she mentioned it a while ago.”

“Before they left?”

“Yes.” The word was dragged out of him.

What interpretation was she supposed to put on his reluctant confession that he’d remembered—and acted on—something Keira had most likely mentioned in passing?

Ella grew impatient with herself. It probably meant nothing more than that Yevgeny Volkovoy had a frighteningly good memory.

Something she’d be wise to keep in mind.

* * *

True to his word, Yevgeny tended to Holly. He even helped Deb bathe and change the baby before the nanny left. He played with the baby, waving toys and rattles to stimulate her interest. Before she could become too caught up in watching Holly interacting with her uncle, Ella excused herself to express milk from her aching brea**sts for the baby’s next feed and to enjoy a soak in a bubble bath before the meal arrived.

By the time she emerged, dressed in comfortable skinny jeans and a T-shirt, wonderfully relaxed and scented from her fragrant hot bath, Yevgeny had set her dining table for two and, more miraculously, gotten Holly off to sleep. The handset from the baby monitor lay on the table.

Ella was impressed by his efforts—even though her eyes lingered on the second place setting.

Yevgeny intercepted her gaze. “I am staying. I want to assess whether La Rosa’s cuisine lives up to your high recommendation. And I have something I wish to ask you. But I think I hear the food arriving. Let’s eat first.”

To Ella’s delight the meal was excellent—well up to La Rosa’s high standards, even without the ambience of the restaurant setting. Even better, Yevgeny graciously declared it to be among the best Italian he’d eaten in a long time.

“As an apology, that meal was most certainly acceptable.” Ella set down her dessert spoon after savoring the last spoonful of tiramisu and smiled at him.

Rather than take umbrage at her gentle ribbing, he laughed, but once his laughter died away, an awkward silence settled over the table.

Ella broke it first. Pushing her spectacles up her nose, she said, “Are you ready to tell me why you came to see me yesterday?”