Page 68 of Staking His Claim

“Until you change your mind again next week?”

“We won’t.”


“Ella and I are hardly convinced. Until you turned up here today we haven’t received one call from the pair of you to find out how the baby was.”

“I called,” objected Keira. “Only once but at least I called.”

“This is true?” Yevgeny spoke into Ella’s ear.

She nodded slowly, and waited for him to stiffen, to release his hold and withdraw his support.

But he stayed exactly where he was.

Before she could say anything, Keira started to speak. “Yes, Ella told me she’d hired a nanny, that she was back at work. I felt so guilty. I knew the baby was screwing up her life.”

Ella closed her eyes. “Things changed.”

She’d changed.

And Yevgeny had noticed the change even as she’d started becoming aware of it herself. She thought back to their visit to that magical house...the day he’d kissed her for the first time.

Ella placed her hands on his forearms, emphasizing their unity in the face of her sister and his brother. What they were doing was right. They both loved Holly.

They would make this work.

It had to.

Her resolve hardened. “I’m sorry, Keira. I got pregnant for you originally. Then you and Dmitri decided you both needed time and space for yourselves. But now I can’t give her up. I’m her mother.”

Saying those words freed something deep inside her. All the hurt of the past softened, eased and floated gently away.

For the first time in many years, Ella felt...whole. At peace.

“After my first baby died, I thought I’d never smile again...” Her voice trailed away.

Behind her the rise and fall of Yevgeny’s chest slowed. His arms tensed into bands of steel around her.

Keira’s face crumpled. “None of us could reach you.”

“I’m happy now. Holly has brought me happiness. Please be happy for me— I don’t want to fight you on this,” she said to her sister.

There’d been enough fighting. Against Yevgeny. Against herself. But she would fight no longer.

“Keira, I haven’t discussed this with Yevgeny, but why don’t we talk about you and Dmitri becoming Holly’s godparents? That way, you can both have a significant part in her life.” When Keira’s eyes brightened, Ella started to think about the old saying that it took a village to raise a child. Holly would never be short of family. She glanced from Keira to Dmitri and finally to Yevgeny. “What do you all think?”

Yevgeny nodded, his expression unfathomable.

“We’ll discuss it,” said Keira. “But first I want to be matron of honor at your wedding.”

Ella knew she should come clean and reveal there might be no wedding—she hadn’t yet given Yevgeny his answer, even though she’d told Keira and Dmitri they were getting married.

Ironically, she now desperately wanted to marry Yevgeny—but there was still a stumbling block.

He didn’t love her.

                      Thirteen

Red. Yellow. Green.

The Christmas tree lights lit up Ella’s pale face.

Holly was having her afternoon nap, and they’d finally seen Keira and Dmitri off after they’d stayed for Christmas lunch. Yevgeny had given the pair the keys to the Porsche and the freedom to stay in his penthouse. He would’ve done anything to get rid of them.

Because he needed to talk to Ella.

She’d announced to his brother and her sister that they were getting married—that she was keeping Holly. He should be pumped...everything he wanted was falling into place. But he didn’t like the quiet air that had settled around her like a shroud. It was a far cry from the happiness expected of a bride-to-be.

“Ella, are you okay?”

Her hands paused in the act of picking up the shredded wrapping paper that lay on the carpet, left over from the orgy of unwrapping that had taken place earlier. Holly had gotten a treasure trove of gifts. The eyes that looked up at him held confusion—with none of the honey-gold tones that indicated happiness. She pushed her glasses up her nose in the way she had when she was uncertain.

“Do you think I’ve been too hasty?” she asked. “Holly was born for Keira and Dmitri—should I give her back to them?” The pain in her eyes was blinding. “It would give Keira the gift of happiness I intended all along.”

“But what about you?”

She stared at him. “Me?”

“Yes, you.” This lay at the heart of the matter, he realized. He came to stand in front of her. “What do you want?” Ella blinked up at him. “I think, for once in your life, you need to think about what you want. And go after it.”

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