An Unexpected Distraction (Judge # 3) by Catherine Bybee

Jax turned to see Sven gathering his chute as the others reached the ground.

They descended on the happy couple.

Claire turned to Jax. “Did you know about this?”

“Not a word.”

They both turned to Neil.

Claire’s semiadoptive father stood to the side. “I think Cooper had help.”

Jax held back while the team moved in to congratulate the couple. She couldn’t be happier for her friends. But even as that thought entered her head, she knew their marriage would mean a complete change in all of their lives. They were roommates, all three of them, but marriage would change that. As it should.

The image of what that life looked like left Jax slightly . . . empty.

Swallowing that thought, Jax pushed forward and pulled Claire in for a hug.

Thirty minutes later, with champagne in hand, a toast was given and Jax’s phone rang.

Her brother’s name on the screen caught her off guard.

She answered and put the phone to her ear as she walked away from the group. “Harry?”

“Hey, little sister.” His voice sounded strange.

“I’m in the middle of something. Can I call you back?”

“Are you at a party?”

Jax smiled. “I just jumped out of a plane.”

“You just what?”

The connection wasn’t great. Or maybe it was the noise in the room. “A plane. Skydiving.”

“No wonder Mother takes so much Xanax.”

That, Jax had heard before. “I’ll call you back in an hour.”

“Sure, but, uh . . . I need you to come home.”

Home was London.

And not a request Harry ever made.

“Is something wrong?”

“Not yet . . . but . . .”

Jax shook her head . . . his words difficult to hear.

“Is anyone ill?”

“No. Call me back when you’re not risking your life for fun.”

She laughed. Her brother had never ridden a bike without a helmet, let alone jumped out of a plane. “Give me an hour.”

Jax tucked her phone away.

“Who was that?” Sven slid up next to her, an easy smile on his face.

“My brother.”

Sven’s grin faded. “You have a brother?”

“Crazy, right?” Jax didn’t talk about her family.

“Everything okay?”

“I don’t know.” The thought of going home didn’t give her any warm-and-fuzzies. In fact, it always made her squirm and look for a distraction to prevent the trip. Pushing her family out of her mind and putting them into the little box hidden under her bed had always been a gift. So, when the laughter in the room grew, Jax’s attention returned to the celebration at hand.

She walked over to Claire and wrapped her arm around her shoulder. “You’re getting married!”


“I can’t believe you’re leaving.” Claire leaned against the doorway, her arms crossed over her chest.

“It’s only for a couple of weeks. Less if things get sticky.” She shoved another sweater into the plastic bag she’d suck the air out of before closing the suitcase. It was spring in the UK, which meant rain with bouts of warm, the occasional hot if she was lucky, but guaranteed cold most of the time. It made packing a bitch.

“It always gets sticky,” Claire said.

“I know. But Harry never makes requests. I have to go.” Jax looked up to find Claire frowning. “Stop it, you’re making me feel guilty.”

“I just got engaged. I want to go shopping.”

“Is this you whining?” Jax asked, laughing.

Claire stepped in the room and plopped on the bed. “Yes.”

Jax stopped pushing clothes into bags, shoved the suitcase aside, and sat beside her friend. “Okay, how about this . . . join me in a week. Sweet-talk the boss, get sexually exhausted with your new fiancé, and then join me in Europe.”

“And stay at your parents’ house?”

Jax cringed. “God no. Only if we have to. Ask Gwen if we can crash at the Harrison house.” Gwen was Neil’s wife, and the Harrison house was a family property occupied primarily by staff.

Claire looked at the ceiling as if it held the answer to going to Europe the following week.

“It will be awesome. Maybe we take a quick trip to Milan and try on some Italian wedding dresses.”

Claire shook her head. “I can’t afford that.”