Page 8 of Staking His Claim

It felt better to spell it out so firmly.

The surrogate agreement had been signed, the adoption proceedings had been started. All that needed to happen to formalize the situation had been to get through the twelve-day cooling-off period the New Zealand adoption laws provided. Once that period had passed, and the mother was still sure she wanted to give up the baby, the adoption could go ahead. But Ella had never contemplated reneging on the promise she’d made to her sister. And she’d certainly never expected Keira to be the one to back out!

“She was created for your brother and my sister—to satisfy their desire for a family. By assisting with her conception and bringing her into the world I’ve kept my part of the agreement.” Damn Keira and Dmitri. “In fact, I’ve gone way beyond what was expected of me.”

His mouth slanted down. “That is your opinion.”

“And I’m entitled to it.” Ella drew a steadying breath, felt her stomach rise under her hands, then calmness spread through her as she slowly exhaled. “You shouldn’t expect me to even consider keeping the baby. Keira and Dmitri changed their minds about becoming parents—not me.” She’d had enough of being blamed for something that wasn’t her fault. And she was furious with Keira, and Dmitri, for landing her in this predicament—probably because the man standing beside the bed had caused it with his initial resistance to the baby in the first place.

But before she could confront him with his responsibility for this mess, he was speaking again, in that staccato rattle that hurt her head. “Stop making excuses. It tells me a lot about the kind of person you are—that even in these circumstances you can abandon the baby you’ve carried for nine months...the baby you’ve just given birth to.”

What was the man’s problem? Hadn’t he listened to one word of what she’d been saying? She drew a shuddering breath. “Let’s get this straight. Regardless of the position in law, this is Keira’s baby, not mine.” Where was her sister? She’d landed Ella in this mess, now Keira had disappeared. She’d been here a few minutes ago, but now Ella couldn’t even hear her voice in the family room next door. The loneliness that seared her was as unexpected as it was alien. For once in her life, she could do with her younger sister’s moral support. But of course, that was too much to expect. “I never intended to have children.”


“That’s right. Never.” Under the bedcovers she clenched her hands into fists.

He shook his head and this time the look he gave her caused Ella to see red.

“And what about your precious brother?” It burst from her. “What about his part in this? He’s the baby’s biological father. Why don’t you harangue him about his responsibilities? Why pick on me?”

For the first time, his glance slid away. “This has nothing to do with my brother.”

Her anger soared at the double standard. “Of course not. He’s male. He gets to donate his seed and walk away scot-free from all responsibility. It’s the woman who carries the baby—and the blame, right?”

Yevgeny shot her a strangely savage look. “I’m not discussing this any further. I will absolve you from all blame and responsibility—I will adopt the baby.”

* * *

“She will become my responsibility,” continued Yevgeny, rather enjoying seeing cool, icy Ella looking uncharacteristically shaken. “And I do take care of my responsibilities.”

Her mouth opened and closed, but no sound came out. Yevgeny’s pleasure grew. How satisfying to discover that the always eloquent Icicle Ella, like other mere mortals, could suffer from loss of words.

“ live in a penthouse.’re not married...” she finally stuttered out. “A baby ought to be adopted by a couple who will care for it.”

It was a great pity she couldn’t have remained speechless for a while longer.

“I can buy a house.” Yevgeny was determined to ignore the jab about a wife. “And the baby is not an it,” he rebuked gently.

Her brown eyes were wide, dazed. “What?”

“You said the baby should go to a couple who love it—she’s not an it.”

“Oh.” A flush crept along her cheeks. “Of course she isn’t. I’m sorry.”

It was the first time he’d ever heard Ella McLeod apologize...and admit she was in the wrong. Yevgeny refused to acknowledge even to himself that he was secretly impressed. Or that it made him feel a little bit guilty about enjoying her confusion.