Changing the Rules (Judge # 1) by Catherine Bybee





CHAPTER ONE

Claire Kelly maneuvered around the auction table, her eyes in constant motion as she watched for anyone who might think to take one of the many pricey trinkets on display. A form-fitting black dress hugged her frame and stopped before her knees. She wore her strawberry blonde hair straight, and only a minimal amount of makeup dusted her features. Claire silently swore at the pain of her feet pinched into shoes that brought her to a height three inches taller than what her driver’s license said she was.

The guests at the charity auction were dressed to impress. The women wore cocktail dresses, and the men wore suits. Because the event was invitation only, the philanthropic, star-filled guest list mandated serious security. That was where Claire came in. Well, she and her colleagues at MacBain Security and Solutions.

She preferred the solutions part of the job as opposed to a security detail, unless the security detail gave her the opportunity to kick someone’s ass for breaching it. When the guest list was drawn from Hollywood’s famous, Billboard’s top artists, and people who frequent the Forbes list of richest Americans, ass kicking would have to wait for another day.

“Ready for a break, Loki?”

Claire smiled at the use of the nickname she acquired in her boarding school. A name she had needed to keep her identity ambiguous should the headmistress stumble upon the covert communications between her and her best friend, Jax. “Yes, please,” Claire said into the small microphone none of the guests could see she was wearing.

After rounding the table, Jax smiled at her briefly and took Claire’s position so she could step away.

Everywhere Claire looked she saw bling. The women wore dangling earrings encrusted in diamonds, and necklaces sporting every possible gemstone out there. “There’s some serious money here,” Claire said into her microphone to everyone on the team who cared to listen.

“I’m not sure why this surprises you,” Sasha replied.

“If they didn’t have money, we wouldn’t have jobs,” Lars added.

Twilight settled into night, and strings of lights illuminated the outside venue in a magical way. The massive Victorian had coastal views and a large piece of property. The charity event was raising money for a home for orphaned children and teens. It had grown through the years, according to Neil, and with it the celebrity guest list that made the event a who’s who of the rich and famous.

In the six and a half years she’d been employed with Neil MacBain, Claire had met several of the people milling about the lawn. No longer did she feel starstruck when she saw a familiar artist or celebrity. She was numb to it, in all reality. Between the famous people that Neil and his wife knew, and all of their close, personal friends, it appeared that he knew just about everyone.

Claire walked around the back of the house to where the small mobile office was parked. She pressed in the code on the keypad and smiled at the camera focused on the door before making her way inside.

Lars was one of the oldest members on the team. He was not quite five ten with a bit more of fluff around his middle and a sprinkling of gray hair, but that didn’t fool her. The man could move if he needed to. She’d seen him do it. He sat at a desk filled with monitors that displayed livestreams from all the cameras around the venue.

“It’s perfectly boring out there,” Claire announced.

Lars pushed the microphone in front of his lips out of the way. “Just the way we like it.”

She motioned toward the door. “You need a break?”

He shook his head. “I’m good.”

She glanced at the monitors again. “We could use someone trying to smash and grab right about now,” she said almost to herself.

Lars chuckled.

“Be careful what you wish for.” The voice in her ear belonged to Neil.

“I thought you weren’t working this event,” Claire said.

Lars pointed to the monitor. Neil stood beside his regal blonde bombshell of a wife. He wore a suit, but his clothing was the only thing that blended with the crowd.

Neil was a brick house of a man. The perfect bodyguard. Which was what he leaned on after he left the Marines. He hid behind the title of bodyguard until he married. Then he branched into a team environment. Years later he had the crew here in California, and another one in the United Kingdom.

“Look who cleans up well,” Claire teased Neil through the microphone.

“What have I said about chatter on the line?”