Page 55 of Staking His Claim

An uncomfortable pause followed, and then Yevgeny caught sight of Ella’s blond head on the other side of the room. “Good to see you again, Jerry.”

“Call me—perhaps we can play golf sometime,” Jerry said.


Yevgeny nodded. “I’ll do that.” Then he made his way over to Ella and handed her a glass.

After a few minutes the bell signaling the end of intermission sounded.

Ella turned away and handed her still-full flute to a passing waiter.

Yevgeny sensed a black hole opening between them. Widening with every second that passed. Yet he couldn’t find the words to bridge it.

What to do? To say? Yevgeny wasn’t used to floundering for words. He was decisive. A leader.

He wasn’t accustomed to this rudderless uncertainty.

Carefully he inched forward. He rested his fingers on her arm. She jumped. He let her go at once.

“Time to see what the second act holds.” Ella threw the comment back over one pale exposed shoulder as she made her way back to the theater. “Let’s see what the ghosts of jilted brides intend to do to the lying, faithless Albrecht.”

That jolted him back to the present.

What was Ella going to say when she learned about the deception Keira, Dmitri and he had been engaged in?

The baby deserved honesty from all the adults around her. Not just from Ella. Holly was the innocent in this situation. Yet, ultimately she would suffer most from any deception.

Shame smothered him.

                      Ten

“You’ve booked a table for dinner?” Inside the confines of the cockpit of the stationary Porsche, Ella stared at Yevgeny in horror.

What to do now? How could she possibly tell him about the couple who wanted to adopt Holly amidst a room full of diners having a wonderful time? How could she kill his hopes in such a public arena?

It seemed too callous.

But if she asked him to take her home, and invited him in for a nightcap back at her town house, the night nanny—and Holly—would be waiting....

They needed somewhere private.

“Aren’t you hungry?”

“A little.” But she wasn’t up to enduring two hours of polite pretense in a high-society restaurant while she sat on new information that involved Holly’s adoption.

Maybe she should simply insist he take her home...and wait until tomorrow, then ask him to meet at her office? That would be appropriate. Yet Ella didn’t want to leave this any longer—Yevgeny deserved to know of her decision.

Holly.

It was all for Holly.

Her chest ached, and she felt quite ill. Ella knew her heart was breaking. Her glasses had misted up. She couldn’t possibly be crying?

Ella ducked her head and fished in her purse for a tissue. Removing her glasses, she gave them a perfunctory polish then put them back on. The mist had cleared.

Yevgeny was watching her.

“Don’t you feel like going out? Would you prefer to have something light to eat at my apartment? With a glass of wine? I have a fabulous cellar.”

That was a solution, although wine might not be such a good idea—not now that Holly was drinking breast milk.

And Ella discovered she was curious to see where he lived, to find out what lifestyle he would be shedding when he moved into his new home. The next wave of pain washed over her.

Goodness, she was behaving like a goose.

“That sounds like a good idea—but I had a late lunch so don’t go to any trouble. I’m not that hungry.”

“Hold on.” The Porsche growled. They started to nose forward out of the theater’s parking lot. “Won’t be long now.”

Ella pulled out her cell phone to text Holly’s night nurse not to wait up for her.

The talk to come might take a while.

* * *

Yevgeny’s penthouse apartment was perched high above Auckland City like an eagle’s nest.

From the private elevator, Ella alighted onto a steel mezzanine bridge spanning the length of the penthouse. Two steps down, and Ella found herself in the living area with Yevgeny right behind her.

Black marble floors gleamed under blindingly bright track-mounted spotlights. The immense space stretched miles to the left and right. In front of her a wall of glass framed the unfolding cityscape like an enormous, dramatic work of art.

“This is awesome.”

Yevgeny touched a panel on the wall and music swelled.

One end of the vast living space was filled with a high-tech kitchen dominated by jet-black marble and the brash shine of stainless steel. In the center of the space, a slab of glass suspended on white marble blocks and surrounded with designer ghost chairs gave a highly luminous, yet strangely floating, transparent take on a dinner table. To her left, a sitting area was furnished with sofas constructed of blocks of black and gray leather artfully arranged to take advantage of the view beyond.

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