Page 4 of Staking His Claim

The baby...

Ella’s hand crept to her stomach.

Mindful of how much her sister hated it when she nagged, Ella     tempered her outrage. “You can’t just leave a baby for a few months...or even a     year...and hope it will be there when you get back.”

“I know that, Ella.” Keira’s brows drew together. “Don’t try to     put the guilts on me. I’m not ready for a baby—neither of us are.”

Ignoring her sister’s unfair accusation, Ella tried to fathom     out what Keira’s response meant. Did she intend to give the baby up for     adoption? Shock chilled Ella. Had her sister thought this through? She would     hate to see Keira suffer when it one day came home to her what she’d lost.     Perhaps Keira needed to be reminded of that.

“If you’re thinking about giving the baby up for adoption, just     remember it’s not going to be easy to find a surrogate again if you decide you     want a baby when you come back from Africa.”

She certainly wouldn’t be doing it again. She shouldn’t even     have done it this time. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb decision. That’s what came of making     decisions with her heart rather than her head.

Keira flicked back her pale silver hair. “We can do what     Yevgeny suggested when we first talked about you being our surrogate—put our     names down to adopt a baby.”

She’d known Dmitri’s high-handed brother was behind this!

The ache in her lower back that had been worsening all day,     intensified. It wasn’t worth arguing with Keira, pointing out that putting down     your name didn’t guarantee a baby because so few became available for adoption.     And when one did, the legal mother had the final say. She alone could choose     whichever couple she wanted—there was no waiting list, no way to predict who she     would choose.

But right now Keira’s future plans were not her concern.

“And what about this baby?” Ella knew she sounded angry. But,     damn it, she was angry. Yevgeny made her blood     bubble—even when he wasn’t present. Just the mention of the man was enough! “You     can’t just dump it—”

“I’m not dumping it— You’re the legal mother. I know you’ll     make the best decision for the baby.” There was an imploring expression in her     sister’s eyes that caused the hairs at the back of Ella’s neck to stand on     end.

Oh, no! Keira had planned to leave     the baby with her and come back to claim it. Panic prickled through her. “I         can’t keep the baby.”

Keira’s eyes teared up again. “I know I shouldn’t have expected     you to. But you always wanted the adoption of the baby to us to be an open one.     So I hoped you would consider...”

“No!” Panic swamped Ella. “We have a surrogacy     arrangement—”

Keira was shaking her head. “But Ella, you explained we can’t     actually adopt the baby until after you sign the consent to give her up on the     twelfth day. As the legal mother, you’re entitled to change your mind—but so are     we.”

She’d explained the legalities too well to her sister. Ella     swallowed a curse. “You can’t change your mind—because I can’t keep this     baby.”

A wave of sick helplessness engulfed her.

Keira sighed. “We already have. We’re not ready to raise a     child. I don’t even want to think about the decision you’re going to have to     make, but you have to do what you feel is right, Ella. It’s your body, your     b—”

“Don’t tell me it’s my baby!”

Keira looked doleful. “I think I always knew deep in my heart     that you wouldn’t agree to keep her, and I’ve made peace with that. Even though     I had so hoped...” Her little sister’s voice trailed away.

Dear God.

Did Keira not know how much this hurt? What she was

asking? The pain that pierced her chest was     sharp and unforgiving. And guilt made it worse. Ella wished she could burst into     tears...weep and wail. But she couldn’t. Instead, she fought for composure.