Page 7 of Staking His Claim

She stared back at him, managing to look haughty and removed in     the hospital bed. So certain of the rightness of her stance. “Identifying     suitable adoptive parents from Jo Wells’s records is the only feasible     option.”

“‘Feasible option?’” Was this how his own mother had reasoned     when she’d divorced his father and lied her way into sole custody, only to turn     around and abandon the same sons she’d fought so hard to keep from their father?     “This is a baby we’re talking about—you’re not at work now.”

“I’m well aware of that. And my main concern now is the best     interests of the child—exactly as it would be if I was at work.”

Yevgeny snorted. “You’re a divorce lawyer—”

“A family lawyer,” she corrected him. “Marriage dissolution is     only a part of my practice. Looking after the best interests of the children     and—”

“Whatever.” He waved an impatient hand. “I’d hoped for a little     less business and a little more emotion right     now.”

From the lofty position of the hospital bed she raised an     eyebrow in a way that instantly rankled. “You don’t transfer skills learned from     business to your home life?”

“I show a little more compassion when I make decisions that     relate to the well-being of my family.”

She laughed—a disbelieving sound. Yevgeny gritted his teeth and     refused to respond. Okay, so he had a reputation—

well-deserved, he     conceded silently—for being ruthless in business. But that was irrelevant in     this context. He’d always been fiercely protective of those closest to him. His     brother. His father. His babushka.

He studied Ella’s face. The straight nose, the lack of     amusement in her light brown eyes—despite her laughing mouth. No, he wasn’t     going to reach her—he doubted she had any warmth to which he could appeal.

Giving a sharp, impatient sigh, he said, “You’ve got blinkered     vision. You haven’t considered all the feasible     options.”

For the first time emotion cracked the ice. “I can’t keep the     baby!”


Ella’s desperation was followed by a strained silence during which Yevgeny looked down his perfectly straight nose at her. Something withered inside her but Ella held his gaze, refusing to reveal the fragile grief that lingered deep in her most secret heart.

But she wasn’t going to keep the baby.

And she’d hold firm on that.

For her sanity.

Finally he shook his head. “That poor baby is very fortunate that you will not be her mother.”

The contempt caused Ella to bristle. “I agreed to be a surrogate—not a mother.”

“Right now you’re the only mother that baby has—you’re the legal mother.”


This was never supposed to have happened. She stuck her hands under the bedcovers and rested them on the unfamiliar flatness of her belly. After so many months of having a mound, it felt so odd. Empty.

And, with the baby no longer moving inside, so dead.

Why had she ever offered to donate her eggs—and lend her womb—to create the baby her sister had so desperately wanted?

The answer was simple. She loved her sister...she couldn’t bear to see Keira suffer.

Ah, damn. The road to hell was paved with good intentions. Now look where it had landed her—in an entanglement that was anything but simple. Ella knew that if she wasn’t careful, the situation had the potential to cause her more pain...more hurt...than any she’d ever experienced before. The only way through the turbulent situation was to keep her emotional distance from the baby—not to allow herself to form that miraculous mother-baby bond that was so tenuous, yet had the strength of steel.

But there was no need to offer any explanation to the insensitive brute who towered over the hospital bed.

Rubbing her hand over her strangely flat stomach, Ella pursed her lips. “I’m well aware that I’m her legal mother.”

Mother. Just one word and her heart started to bump roughly. She couldn’t keep the baby. She couldn’t.

Carefully, deliberately she reiterated, “It was never the plan for me to remain her mother. This. Is. Not. My. Baby.”