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By´╝ÜKristen Ashley

I turned to her.

“Offer one hundred K lower than asking,” I demanded.

Her face paled and her eyes got big.

“I want the three additional acres,” I went on, ignoring her reaction. “I also want a friendly approach made to the neighbor. If he’s not actually ready to sell, he’s going to be my neighbor, so I don’t want to start that relationship in a bad place. I can wait for that to happen, or not. But if he’s willing to let five to fifteen acres go, I want it. And I’ll need this Maxwell guy’s contact details.”

“One hundred K off?” she asked. “The owners have already come down twenty K.”

“And the property has been on the market for ten months, they’re in the midst of a messy divorce and they need to unload it. Offer one hundred K lower than asking, but be nice about that too. We’ll jump off from there.”

She wasn’t far away but she shifted closer.

“With due respect, Justice, it’ll be hard to be nice about offering that far under asking price. They’ll be offended and shut us down. And they’ve had other offers so they know that there’s interest. But if you want to settle around these parts, there isn’t much that’s available to you with the specifications you’re searching for, including land on which to build.”

“I don’t know what these other offers were,” I returned, “but beyond that three acres that’s for sale is a ranch with twice this much acreage with a fully-functional house on it that’s only fifty square feet less than this and it has a stable. It sold for what I’m going to offer to start. It’s not a slap in the face. It’s a healthy comp.”

“That house was built in the seventies and needs an entire upgrade.”

“That house is livable,” I countered. “This one is not.”

“You haven’t seen the master and it’s amazing.”

I was certain it was. I saw everything this house could be.


“Joni, with that comp’s acreage and stable, it’s a healthy comp,” I returned firmly. “Communicated appropriately, it won’t be insulting. And by that I’m saying keep the door open.”

“Perhaps we should start with a more substantial offer so that…”

“Joni,” I said low and she shut her mouth.

I stared into her eyes.

“You know who I am,” I stated.


She knew. I knew she knew. With my name, even if she didn’t know because of who I was and what I’d done, she’d still know.

So I didn’t let her continue.

“You do and you think I’m a whale. But I know I’m not a whale so I know how to guard against being taken advantage of. You’re my agent, not theirs. I want this property and I’m willing to negotiate something fair with the current owners. It’s over-priced and we both know that. Their agent also knows that. If they have a solid offer, cash, closing in two weeks, they will not shut you down. That’s our starting point. This means you communicate that so we can start at that point and we’ll move on from there. But the deal you negotiate will be the best deal for me. Not them. Not you. Me.”

“Of course,” she returned, clearly annoyed and not good at hiding it.

Not offended.


I knew her kind. I could smell it a mile away. I’d learned that at age six.

However, she was the fifth real estate agent in that area I talked to and the only one where the stench wasn’t overwhelming.

Precisely why I needed that forest oasis away from everything.

“Thank you,” I said politely. “Now, I’ll take a look at the rest of the space and wander the property.”

“At your leisure, Justice,” she mumbled, throwing out a hand.

At my leisure, I did just that.

* * * * *

Two Weeks, Three Days Later

I sat in my beat-up, red Ford pickup that I’d backed into a spot opposite the building and I stared across the space at said building, which was a bar.

Across the top, Bubba’s, in neon.

Parked to my left, eight bikes—seven Harleys, one Indian slightly removed.

Parked to my right, a truck more beat-up than mine, a shiny black Escalade, a shinier red Camaro and black Dyna Glide Harley.

Other vehicles dotted here and there, all pickups and SUVs, except one silver Camry that had seen better days.

It was late day, but still hours before normal work time was over, and the bar had a good crowd.

This was the life of a number of bars.

Especially biker bars, which this one was. I could have sensed that even without the line of bikes sharing that intel and even with practice turned rusty.

It had been years since I’d been to a biker bar. Lacey getting on with her career. Bianca’s journey taking an alarming turn. Me following in Dad’s footsteps only to feel the quicksand of that life slurping at my feet, sucking me under, terrifying me to such an extreme I jumped right off that path and never went back.