Page 41 of Staking His Claim

“She was a lawyer, wasn’t she?”

He laughed again.


This time with relief, Ella suspected. Okay, so she wasn’t quite there yet, but she was definitely on the right track. She was certain of it when Yevgeny said, “You’re making too much of this—”

“Because you never let anyone in,” she interrupted. “No one gets close enough.”

His reaction was recognizable. She did the same thing. It was what she’d been doing ever since she was nineteen. She guarded her emotions zealously, only letting Keira past the barricade of her defenses.

“What did she do?”

“Stop trying to psychoanalyze me.”

“Why?” She leaned across the dining table, and rested a hand on his arm. Beneath her fingers his flesh was firm, the muscle taut. For a moment she marveled at her brazenness. “Am I getting warm?”

“Warm?” He recoiled from her touch. Ella let her hand fall. The skin stretched across his cheekbones until his face resembled a death mask. “You’re as cold as ice.”

She got the double meaning at once. Yevgeny considered her cold. It hurt.

Ella swallowed and looked away, determined not to let him see what his words had done to her.

What did it matter that he thought that she was as cold as ice? He wasn’t the first to think so, and he wouldn’t be the last. It was what she’d wanted, wasn’t it? She’d cultivated a cool, distant manner to keep men like him at bay. She certainly didn’t want him to feel she was approachable, or God help her, receptive to his compliments and flattery and the advances that would inevitably follow.

Or did she?

That thought was the most horrifyingly painful of all.

Escape became a necessity for survival.

“I think I’ll go and check to make sure the baby is sleeping.” She stumbled to her feet before he could comment on her sudden maternal urge. “I’m sure you’re ready to go. You can close the front door behind you.”

It was only after she heard the front door softly close long minutes later that Ella realized that she hadn’t discovered what Yevgeny had wanted to ask of her.

                      Eight

Yevgeny wasn’t certain of his reception when he rang the doorbell to Ella’s home on Sunday morning. So when she finally opened the door and the warm summer sun fell on her face, he experienced an unfamiliar, giddy surge of relief.

“You never did say what you wanted to ask me on Friday night.” Behind her spectacles, her honey-brown eyes were wide with wariness. “I expect that’s why you’re here today. Or have you come to see Holly?”

It shouldn’t surprise him that she’d guessed what he was doing here. But it did. The way in which she was so attuned to his thoughts, his actions, should’ve driven a stake into his heart. He didn’t need Ella of all people possessing the ability to read his mind. There was too much that was private—and some information was not his alone to share.

Yet, instead of bolting in fear as he had on Friday night, he stood his ground.

Nor did he take refuge in half-truths and claim that he’d only come to visit Holly, although the baby did play a big role in his presence here today. But, to be fair, he’d played with her when he’d passed by yesterday. Ella had been out. “I wanted to ask you if you would come with me to look at a house I’m thinking of buying,” he said, deciding that directness would be the best policy.

Whatever she’d been expecting, clearly, it hadn’t been that.

“You’re buying a house?”

He nodded. More than a house, a home. For him...and Holly.

With the sun playing across her features Ella looked warm and approachable. For a moment he had a vision of...

Then he pulled himself together.

What was he considering? Was he mad?

He tried to get a grasp on his thoughts...and answer her so that she wouldn’t get a whiff of the crazy notion he’d experienced. “It’s time. The penthouse apartment has never been more than a place to sleep after a long day’s work. I want a building with space around it. A garden. And I’d like a woman’s opinion on the house I’ve seen.”

Ella rested one arm against the doorjamb, blocking his entry. “Why not take Nadiya— Why me?”

He gave her a disbelieving look. “Do you think Nadiya would want to come and look at houses with me after the humiliation of our last encounter?”

He didn’t want to take Nadiya—or any other woman. It had to be Ella. No one else would understand....

“You haven’t seen her since?”

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