Page 54 of Staking His Claim

They’d flown through the police checks. The family offered everything and more.

Jo was ecstatic. She was bringing the profile file for Ella to view immediately.

The family was so perfect that Jo’s biggest concern was that the biological mothers of two other babies currently waiting for adoption might choose this family. But Jo had said that the family was more than happy to let Holly spend Christmas with Ella—if that was what Ella wanted.

Ella knew she should be experiencing profound joy. But she could only feel the heaviness of dread.

When she examined the dark source of that heaviness she concluded that deep down she’d been secretly hoping that Keira would come to her senses and contact Ella to claim the baby. Was that why she’d been stalling? Was that why she’d vetoed every other couple?

Why she’d been so critical of every other solution available to Holly? Even the option Yevgeny offered? She closed her eyes. She didn’t even want to think about the house Yevgeny was going to buy. Every nook and cranny of her memory of that place was infused with imaginary visions of Holly running across the lawns, Holly playing on the swing Yevgeny intended to build, Holly curled up in the window seat while a fuzzy feminine figure read her a story—

But this would be an open adoption. No reason why Holly would not still have that... She would visit Yevgeny. This family clearly welcomed full participation for the biological family.

There was no reason to hesitate. Ella knew she had to breach the barrier and take the final, irrevocable step.

But she had to face that it wasn’t a case of Keira coming to her senses—Keira had made her own choice. She wanted to find herself—she wasn’t ready to become a mother. Keira was a grown-up. Ella could no longer make her decisions—live her life—for her. Keira had already had twelve days to change her mind.

But she hadn’t.

Ella knew it was time to stop clinging to a thread of hope that had already snapped.

She had to stop putting roadblocks up. This state of limbo was stressful for everyone. And it was unfairest of all to Holly— Every day that passed was taking away the opportunity for the baby to form a strong relationship with her new mother. Ella knew she had to finally let go of the secret dreams she’d been harboring and start working with Jo Wells to finalize the adoption.

For Holly’s sake.

She would look at the profile that Jo was bringing with an open mind...and try not to compare the home with the dream home she’d visited with Yevgeny on the weekend.

Then she would have to face up to Yevgeny himself when he collected her tonight, and tell him what she’d decided.

* * *

Applause thundered around the theatre.

The dramatic stage curtains came down as the first act of Giselle reached its dramatic conclusion. The lights came up. Around them the audience was already swarming up the aisles to take advantage of the intermission. Yevgeny was in time to catch the transfixed glow on Ella’s face, before she blinked rapidly.

“Glad you came?”

Ella shivered. “Good grief, of course! Thank you. It’s incredibly powerful.”

As Yevgeny got to his feet, Ella gave herself a shake. He could see her starting to come back down to earth.

“How can they possibly top that performance in the second act?” she asked as she rose. Her delicate chiffon wrap dropped from her shoulders, exposing the deep V-shaped back of her fitted black dress.

Yevgeny tucked his arm around her waist and ushered her into the aisle ahead of him. She didn’t shake his hand away, so he left it there. Nudged from behind, he pressed up against her, all at once aware of the warm softness of her body against his. His gaze lingered on the soft skin exposed by the dress.

He ached to touch that skin, run a finger down her spine, see the frisson of desire convulse her.

The emotions that had played out on stage in the first act had heightened all his senses. The love. The despair. And the intense passion.

His awareness of Ella leaped higher, blazing through him.

Yevgeny swallowed.

This was truly crazy!

As they emerged from the theater into the lobby he murmured, “Let me fetch us a couple of glasses of wine.”

She hesitated, then nodded.

In relief he swung away. Surrounded by the din of chatter, he took a moment to assemble his thoughts, to deal with his fascination for Ella. A waiter bearing a tray filled with tall, slim champagne glasses was coming toward him. Yevgeny took two glasses.

At a touch on his arm, he glanced sideways—and broke into a smile.

“Jerry, how are you?” Then his smile faded as he remembered the gossip. Jerry’s wife had left him for another man. Awkwardly he held up the glasses. “Sorry, no free hand to shake yours.”