Page 49 of Staking His Claim

She even possessed a degree of sensitivity and self-awareness he’d never expected—she knew she was changing.

Like one of his babushka’s matryoshka dolls where every layer opened to reveal something different. Something unexpected and new. Another layer that entranced him even further.

His chest tightened.

Yevgeny shook his head to clear the confusion. He must be dreaming...having such thoughts, such feelings about Ella.

But Ella was right about one thing: he knew far too little about her. And that was something he intended to remedy.

Starting now.

“What’s your star sign?”

Her head lifted, and her attention switched from Holly to him. “My what?”

“Your star sign.”

“I heard you, but I can’t figure out why you’d want to know. Surely you don’t follow astrology?”

He shrugged. “All women know their star signs.” Some that he’d dated consulted their horoscopes every day. He couldn’t understand why she was fussing about it.

“Because they hope that some vague prediction of good fortune will get them something that usually takes plenty of work.”

His mouth quirked up. He suspected that assessment fit a couple of women he had known. “You’re talking about finding a husband?”

“No! I’m talking about career and the financial benefits that come with hard work.”

“Ah, I should’ve known.” He had known. Of course that’s what she meant. But he couldn’t resist teasing her. She rose to the bait so beautifully. Every time.

She cast him a suspicious look. “I don’t read my daily horoscope.”

He didn’t grin. “I imagine you read the financial pages.”

“What’s wrong with that? At least I have a better idea where the real financial advantages lie.”

He held his hands up in surrender. “I’m not arguing with that logic.”

“Really?” She tipped her head to one side. “Are you saying you actually agree with me?”

“You’re surprised?”

Her lips curved up into a smile that attracted his attention to her mouth—her very kissable mouth, a mouth he was rapidly becoming addicted to. But with Holly now awake he had no chance of exploring that new obsession anytime soon.

Better to focus on getting to know what other surprises Ella had in store....

Holly chose that moment to squeak and reach out a hand to tug at Ella’s bracelet. As soon as she had Ella’s full attention the baby started trying to blow raspberries.

“Oh, Yevgeny, look!”

She laid the baby back down on the blanket and spent the next few minutes playing peekaboo. Holly was wide-eyed with interest.

Ella was laughing.

And Yevgeny knew he needed to get to know this woman better.

“What’s your favorite color?”

She stopped giggling at Holly’s attempts to blow raspberries and blinked at him. “Why?”

“Just answer.”

“Why do you want to know?”

The familiar frustration rose. “Are you always this suspicious?”

“Of you? Yes.”


“Because you’re not the kind of man who engages in careless conversation. There’s always a reason behind everything you say. But I can’t figure out why you’d want to know what my favorite color is.”

He lowered his voice to a purr. “If you tell me gold, I can tell you it matches your eyes. Or if you say rose, I could compare it to the flush on your cheeks.”

Her cheeks flamed. “Why would you want to say such things?”

“You are a beautiful woman—when you allow yourself to be.”

“Is this part of the same conversation about my not having feelings?”

He took her hand in his and turned it over. “Rounded nails. Your nails are carefully tended.”

She snatched her hand away.

“Wait. I haven’t finished.” He retrieved it from where she’d laid it back in her lap. “No nail color.”

“I’m sorry that displeases you.”

“It doesn’t displease me, but it tells me plenty about you.”

“What? That I’m not trying to capture a man’s attention?”

“There are many ways to capture a man’s attention. Painted nails are only one.” He stroked the back of her hand. “Your skin is soft. That’s very attractive. You take care of it.”

Her lips parted, but she didn’t utter the words that he could see bubbling. Instead, her breathing quickened.

God. He was only touching her hand....

Yevgeny let it go. “When is your birthday?”

“Why? Do you want to read my horoscope? Or do you want to buy me a present?”