The Whole Package
The Whole Package is the first book in Marie Harte’s new Veteran Movers series, featuring a premise that’s a little different to any I’ve encountered before, focusing on former servicemen who have built a company that only employs veterans. While there were some things that didn’t work for me about the main couple, I enjoyed the larger story about the business, and may pick up further books in the series.
Reid Griffith built his moving business, Vets on the Go! in order to improve his brother’s life. Reid, his brother Cash, and their cousin Evan are all co-owners of the company, which Reid proposed when he saw that Cash was having trouble staying employed outside the military. Cash is brash, stubborn, and has a heart of gold hidden deep down, but his personality has gotten in the way of his keeping jobs before, which led Reid to the idea that the only way for Cash to maintain a steady job would be if he was self-employed As the book opens, Vets on the Go! is a popular new company with a small team, and is on the brink of having to turn down customers after they become local heroes; Cash and his team stop a burglary while on the job, and the resulting news coverage is sure to lead to an increase in business.
Cue Naomi Starr, a hotshot PR manager who recently started her own firm after a breakup (with her boss) forced her to leave her old job. Naomi saw the piece on Vets on the Go! on the news and inferred that they might be ready for a little assistance. She stops by their office to make them an offer, and in the process makes quite an impression on Reid. Thanks to her, they are able to put together a realistic growth plan. They hire additional employees and create a PR campaign for the weeks after the first news segment, so that they can capitalize on the public’s interest on a timeline that works for them. Naomi exudes sleek professionalism, while Reid’s vibe is one of competence that comes from calloused hands and hard work. They’re simultaneously opposites and yet kindred souls in their desire to grow their small businesses. More importantly, there’s a sort of insta-lust between them that only grows as they work together.
The central conflict in the relationship comes from Naomi, but I think she’s fair to be cautious. After the relationship with her boss went sideways, she’s understandably hesitant to start things with Reid. Not only is he her client, which makes him her pseudo-boss, but as one of her first clients, he also has the power to ruin the reputation of her small firm. Ms. Harte does a good job of building a level of trust between Naomi and Reid before they officially begin a romantic relationship, which allowed me to feel that Naomi’s concerns were addressed and that she wasn’t blindly making the same mistake twice.
That’s not to say Naomi wasn’t tempted to jump into bed with Reid almost immediately after meeting him. During their first encounter, both Naomi and Reid are so struck by each other that a whole bevy of romance novel clichés about physical attraction come out. I’m relatively used to men conveniently adjusting their pants, but I do think Naomi’s nipples tightened a few too many times. Once, I could’ve ignored, but that same expression is repeated multiple times after their first encounter. It hit the wrong note for me, constantly serving to remind me of the disconnect between myself and the characters. Naomi and Reid seem to feel a lot of chemistry between them, but I wasn’t sharing in it.
That lack of chemistry mainly has to do with Reid. He’s a great guy, but after a while he began to seem too perfect. He’s understanding and supportive with Naomi, rescues his brother from himself, and is a good leader to his employees. It’s easy to see why Naomi falls for him. However, watching their relationship felt a lot like watching my sister fall in love. I can see she’s happy, I can see he’s good enough for her, and I’m happy for them, but I feel no interest in the man myself. That’s ideal in real life, but not so much when you’re trying to enjoy a romance novel. Reid lacked the grit I like in a main character, that je ne sais quoi that pulls you into a romance. Ultimately, every time that Naomi’s nipples puckered in desire, I was reminded that she was feeling something I wasn’t.
The good news is there was a character who interested me even when Reid didn’t: his brother Cash. Where Reid seems naturally good at everything he does, Cash constantly has problems. He comes off as abrasive, gets into fights, and yet clearly has deep feelings and vulnerability hidden beneath his gruff exterior. He’s a mess of contradictions that I’m looking forward to reading about. So, while I can’t call The Whole Package a resounding success, Ms. Harte has at least managed to really pique my interest in one of her characters. It’s just too bad it couldn’t have been the main character of this book.