Page 45 of Staking His Claim

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Once back at her town house, Ella made a hasty escape on the pretext of checking on the baby, the memory of his unexpected kiss in that wonderful house still numbing her mind.

Ella was in turmoil. Joining Yevgeny for a romp in the park with Holly had been beyond her.

Ella knew that Yevgeny was going to pressure her again.

To try and convince her that he would be the best thing for Holly. She was so confused. Yevgeny offered none of the qualities she wanted in the family who’d adopt Holly.

He was a bachelor. A type-A billionaire. He wasn’t even in a stable relationship. Sure he had a stable full of centerfold supermodels at his disposal, but that was hardly the same thing....

Yet, as she entered the nursery, Ella found herself wondering whether she’d leaped from the frying pan into the fire.

Holly was awake, gurgling happily to herself in the white cot.

Coping with Yevgeny was child’s play compared to this....

“She’s just woken,” Deb told her from the depths of the rocker where she sat surrounded with the Sunday newspapers. “I swear she knew you’d come home. I might go to the kitchen and warm a bottle for her.”

“Thank you.” Moving slowly across the room, Ella paused beside the cot and glanced down at the baby inside.

Holly moved her head...then chuckled.

Ella told herself it wasn’t possible. The baby was too young to be laughing. And she hadn’t spent enough time with Ella to form a bond. The baby couldn’t possibly recognize her...could she?

Yet Ella couldn’t resist.

She bent down and laughed with the baby, an ache in her heart. Her brea**sts felt hot and tight. Ella tried to convince herself that Deb’s mention of the milk bottle had stimulated the need to express. That was better than the danger of the instinctive age-old maternal response at the sight of her child.

Holly kicked her bare legs in the air, and Ella grasped the perfectly shaped little foot. Her fingertips brushed the soles, and the baby crowed with delight.

“You’re ticklish! I’ve discovered your secret.” She leaned closer and whispered, “Never fear, it will be safe with me.”

Warmth rose within her, fierce and unfamiliar. What spell was Holly weaving about her? Why could she no longer think of the baby without a smile curving her lips? How was she ever going to let the baby go?

This was precisely what she’d fought so desperately to avoid. This...this emotional tug that went all the way to her womb.

As if feeling her straying attention, the baby gurgled and pumped her legs. Ella smiled again but this time there was a tinge of sadness in the smile.

She would not be privy to all Holly’s secrets as she grew up. That would be a role taken by someone else...a woman who could love Holly with all her heart, a mother who wasn’t crippled by fear—and pain.

“I’m going to find you the best mother in the world, I promise.”

She was so intent on the exchange with the baby, that she didn’t sense the arrival of the man in the doorway. Nor did she see him hesitate before exiting, a stormy frown darkening his face.

* * *

The Porsche purred as it swept through the bends along Tamaki Drive. On the right, white sails fluttered in the wind in the bay as locals enjoyed the Sunday summer evening, while across the sea the menacing volcano of Rangitoto Island slumbered.

So Ella was going to find his baby the best mother in the world?

Yevgeny braked and geared down for the next curve. He slowed as a pack of cyclists came into sight, throttling back the powerful engine to a throaty roar.

Ella was still determined to give Holly away to strangers. Despite everything he had done to show her that Holly belonged with him....

Watching as one cyclist cut to the center lane, he dropped farther back. A moment later the bikes were bunched up together again, the cyclists in their bright attire pedaling furiously.

Maybe not everything.

The time had come to use all the weapons in his armory.

And that meant confronting his brother.

It was not the path he had ever intended to take—for his brother’s sake. But Ella’s talk of transparency on Friday night had set him thinking.

Ella was right about one thing: Holly came first. The bond—because that’s what it was, a fast, blood bond—that tied him to the baby was as vital to him as breathing. He would not risk losing her.

Tonight, when he announced to his brother what he was going to do, there was a very good chance it was going to cost him their relationship. But Dmitri had Keira.

And Holly had no one...except him.

He already knew his actions were going to alienate Ella. He’d hoped to gain her cooperation by letting her see how much the baby meant to him, but it was finally starting to sink in that Ella would never be swayed from her viewpoint. She was not prepared to recognize what he had to offer Holly.