Changing the Rules (Judge # 1) by Catherine Bybee

“I heard he invested a lot when he was a bodyguard for the Harrisons. And Gwen has family money.”

“A lot of family money,” Claire added.

“Why work, then?”

“Can you see Neil on a golf course enjoying retirement?” Cooper asked.

The image had them chuckling. Neil didn’t idle well. None of them did.

“I guess not.”

Claire and Cooper switched places at the pool table, and she changed the subject. “Are you glad to be back?” she asked him.

He stopped concentrating on the game and looked her in the eye. “Yeah. I am.”

“So what did you do for six years? I’m surprised you didn’t pay us a visit once in a while.”

He blinked away, took a shot, and missed. “Neil had me busy. I helped set up the new team. Coordinated different things that will make it easier if we ever find ourselves with a Richter situation again.”

The Richter Situation was a hell of a lot more than a “situation.” Assassins and murder disguised as a military boarding school where the bad guy recruited kids to do his dirty work. Now that Claire had a moment to think about it, she realized it wasn’t so different from the case they were about to dig into. People being manipulated and eventually blackmailed into doing something they didn’t want to do. Only the punishment for murder was a hell of a lot more than for prostitution. Both would mess up a person no matter how you looked at it.

“Is it awful of me to look back on that and miss the adrenaline rush of it all?” Claire found herself asking.

“You wouldn’t be a part of the team if you didn’t.”

She sighed.

“We’re going to be seeing the inside of the classroom again, not jumping around on rooftops and crashing parties,” Jax said.

Cooper went back to playing pool. “What self-respecting high school kid didn’t crash a party or two?”

Claire and Jax looked at each other. “Never happened.”

Jax shook her head. “Not once.”

“Well, you’re going to get your chance.” Cooper took his aim and sunk a ball.

“Hey, wasn’t it my turn?”

“No.” Cooper narrowed his eyes, looked at the table.

“Yes, it was. You missed on the six ball.”

He glanced at Jax, who pointed a thumb to Claire. “She’s right.”

“Whatever. Makes up for the cheap shot to the groin yesterday.”

She placed a finger to his chest and pushed him away from the table. “Yesterday you were the bad guy running away with stolen gems. A knee to the goods is expected. And since you were wearing a cup, it doesn’t count as a cheap shot.”

“That was Sasha’s suggestion.”

Claire laughed. “We were taught by the same instructors.”

“Nothing polite about a fistfight,” Jax added, sending a fist bump to Claire.

“I’m not singing soprano today, so I’m thankful for the advice.”

Claire winked before scooting one of the stripes into a corner pocket with her hand. “One free for me and the next two turns.”

Cooper sent her an indignant look. “Changed the rules of the game while I was away?”

She pointed her cue at him. “Or we could call it and you just pay up your twenty bucks now?”

“Not in this lifetime, Yearling.”

She winked and leaned over the pool table, pulled her pool cue back. Right as she took the shot, Cooper did his best to interrupt her concentration.

“You hold that stick like you enjoy it.”

Her eyes moved to his, the smile that teased lingered on her face. “Wouldn’t you like to know?”

Neil handed out driver’s licenses and cell phones like he was dealing cards.

“You are no longer Claire Kelly, you’re Claire Porter. Cooper Lockman is now Cooper Mitchel. Jax Simon is now Jax Livingston.”

Claire looked at her driver’s license. They’d done a good job of making her look like she was sixteen. The age she would have been if she’d been in California when she’d obtained her first license.

“Both your addresses are out of the area to coordinate with a new student transfer. We’re working on a location that we’ll use as a base. You will not be driving directly from your home to the school. Claire, your aunt is a flight attendant.” He pointed to Sasha, who looked bored. “Jax, your parents are newly divorced, and your dad works nights.” Lars waved. “These roles are contingent. The desire is to avoid parental involvement altogether, but we have it in place should we need it.