The Whole Package--Chapter One

 

So much for a relaxing evening at home after a hellacious day at work. Reid Griffith bolted upright in his chair and stared wide-eyed at the television. “What the hell?” He leaned closer to the set. “Is that you?”

“Huh?” His older brother lay sprawled sideways on the sofa, taking up the entire couch, his back propped up on a few pillows and the armrest. His size-thirteen feet hung over the opposite edge while he downed a beer and shoved a hand in the family-size bag of chips that would serve as Cash’s one-sitting snack.

“You. On the news.”

Cash shrugged. “Thought I told you about that when I got home.” He shoved a handful of potato chips in his mouth.

“No, you didn’t.” Reid stared at the television in horror. All the work they’d been doing to grow the business, all the effort to dress as a team, to act and appear professional, to ignore rude customers while delivering quality service to the stressed-out Seattleites planning a local move.

All of it out the window as his brother let fly with f-bombs and violence while he beat the crap out of two strangers, broadcast for everyone to see on the local news—spotlight to come.

“You’re such an asshole,” Reid growled, his patience worn thin. “Didn’t I tell you to keep it together? Who the hell is going to hire us if you keep—”

Cash, still eating, turned up the sound and drowned Reid out.

“It’s an amazing story,” the newswoman was saying at a volume that hurt to hear. She turned to the old woman standing next to her and shoved a microphone in her face. “Tell us, in your own words, Reva, what happened.”

Reid snapped, “Turn it down, damn it.”

Cash did, and Reid watched as the excited old lady waved her hands around, gesticulating wildly, and nearly smacked into her teenage grandson. “I couldn’t believe it. I was supervising the movers when I—”

“When we, Grandma,” Reva’s grandson cut in. He had shaggy hair and wore grungy clothes. A typical young Seattle hipster.

“Yes, we noticed some commotion across the street. The de Gruyters were broken into already once earlier this year. So when Asher pointed out the men going in and out of their house and moved in to take a closer look—way too close, young man,” she addressed her grandson before turning back to the reporter. “I knew there’d be trouble. I yelled for him to come back and started calling the police. Then one of those criminals saw Asher watching and dragged him close. I think he was going to hold him hostage or something. He shoved a knife in my grandson’s face!”

The boy brightened. “He did. That guy totally tried to cut me. But I moved back just as Cash and Hector came in. They took those guys down like it was nothing.”

Reva continued, “They raced right over there, not even thinking twice. They saved my grandson and stopped a burglary before the police arrived.”

Behind them, the white moving van with a bold VETS ON THE GO! logo was clearly visible. Whether that remained a good thing or a bad thing was yet to be determined.

“Your movers tackled the assailants?” the reporter asked with a glance at the many people standing around, their focus on the movers and the spectacle of police cars. “Let’s see that footage your neighbor captured.”

The station played it once again, bleeping out the obscenities. Reid watched as his brother disarmed two men then put them down, hard. Hector grabbed the third man before he could escape, clotheslining him then shoving him face-first into the sidewalk. Then they duct-taped the trio together and waited for the police to show.

Flash forward back to Reva, the reporter, and the police. “I can’t believe how fortunate we were,” the old lady was saying, fanning herself. “Not everyone would’ve stepped in to save my grandson. Those thieves had a knife and who knows what else.”

“And a gun, if I’m not mistaken,” the reporter commented. “But your movers disarmed the thieves pretty easily. Amazing. Let’s see that again.”

The footage replayed in slo-mo. Yep, there went Cash charging in to save the day and pounding the crap out of two guys while Hector held the other criminal down easily. With any luck, the burglars wouldn’t sue Cash and end up sinking the company. Reid sighed. Cash had done the right thing. If only it hadn’t been caught on camera.

“I look good,” Cash rumbled smugly.

“You look lethal. I hope we don’t lose clients because they’re scared of us.” Reid waited out the rest of the segment as the reporter interviewed a few more witnesses.

She tossed her long blond hair and nodded at the van. “What makes this story so fascinating is that Vets on the Go! is a local moving company that only employs veterans.” She walked up to Cash and Hector, who’d been talking to a cop.

Reid glanced over at the lug lying on the couch.

“Man, we really look badass,” Cash said, smiling.

“Shut up.”

On TV, the cop left Cash and Hector to the reporter, who asked, “Cash Griffith? You run Vets on the Go!, is that right?”

Cash nodded. Said nothing.

The reporter tried again. “So you employ veterans?”

“Yep. Vets know how to follow orders and get the job done. We’re honest, and we don’t mess around.” Cash planted his hands on his hips, and Reid saw bloody knuckles. At least the dark shirts they wore didn’t show stains. Then Cash added, capping the interview, “Semper f**kin’ Fi.”

Lovely how he’d had to be bleeped on the news. Next to him, Hector laughed.

More bleeping followed as Cash added, “Mother***kers think they can rob honest people. What horse***t. I’d love to kick their as**es all over again.”

The reporter gave a weak smile, but she stayed close to Cash all the same. Reid hated to admit it, but his brother did look good on camera. If he could just shut up and keep looking big and strong, they might actually reap something positive out of this mess, like more business they could desperately use.

Hector cleared his throat, and the reporter gratefully turned to him. “You know, it’s tough for a lot of military folks to find civilian jobs after they get out. You leave the service and return home with nothing lined up. Vets on the Go! gave me and my brother a job, and we love it. We work hard, and we do the job right.”

“Thank God someone has a brain,” Reid muttered and ignored the finger Cash shot him.

The reporter looked at Hector in awe. Nearly as large as Cash but much more affable, Hector drew notice without trying. His dark skin showed off his bulging biceps. Whereas Cash looked like a bruiser you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley, Hector had the look of a guy you wanted to trust. That smile nailed it.

The reporter took a step closer to him, and Cash ducked away, ignoring the cameras to return to work. Hector continued to schmooze the reporter while Cash lifted boxes and moved furniture into the van. He moved at a steady pace, and watching him, Reid admitted to being impressed at how much his brother could carry.

Thank God he’d insisted the team start wearing the new Vets on the Go! shirts last week. They were dark blue with red-and-white lettering, which showed a lot less mess than the white shirts they’d started with.

The reporter wrapped up the segment, and Cash yelled for Hector to “Hurry the hell up and help; we haven’t got all damn day.”

Reid groaned again. Next to him, Cash chuckled. “What? He was taking forever flirting up that chick.”

“Please tell me you didn’t call her a chick to her face.”

“Not to her face. But maybe I did later, when we got hot and heavy after the broadcast.”

Reid blinked. “Are you serious?”

Cash snorted. “No, dumbass. I was too busy moving shit to hit on the woman. Look, we had a job to do. Sorry if I wasn’t as smooth about it as you would have been. But that mess put us behind schedule. We have to go over tomorrow morning and finish up, so we won’t get to our next job until the afternoon.”

“Great.” Reid blew out a heavy breath. “Well, with any luck we won’t lose customers because of your inability to resist a fight.”

“Hey.”

That wasn’t fair, and Reid knew it, but today was just one more “incident” to add to the bucketful belonging to Cash.

After fourteen years, Cash had separated from the Marine Corps due to a hell of a mess with some commanding officers. Though Cash had no doubt been in the right, he’d mouthed off at the wrong time and offended someone with influential friends.

Reid had known Cash would need help on the outside, so he’d left the Corps as well. Truth be told, though he missed it, he liked the challenge of adapting to the civilian sector. He’d done well since leaving the military. Cash, not so much. Creating Vets on the Go! had begun as a way to help Cash earn a living. That it also provided jobs for other vets was a bonus.

Reid and Cash had brainstormed the idea and used Reid’s savings to invest. Their cousin had fronted them more funds to get started, and Cash put in what little he could. Five trucks later and the demand was growing. Now they just had to adjust to their tenuous new growth…before Cash ruined the business with his big mouth and even bigger fists.

“It’s not that I have a problem with you stopping a robbery,” Reid said. “That was great. It’s just that you manage to find trouble wherever you go.” And had since he was a kid.

“It’s a gift.”

“That just keeps on giving.” Reid groaned. “With any luck, this too shall pass.” He got no response from his brother and sighed. “Don’t forget you have someone to interview tomorrow. The background check is good. With this one, we’ll have our last hire to round out the team.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Cash waved his  concerns away. “Jordan something-or-other. I’ll get to him after the job. Or you could—?”

“Nope. We’ve talked about this. I screen ’em on paper, you interview ’em in person. And that way I don’t have to hear you bitching about the idiots that you have to work next to.” A complaint Reid had addressed before. Cash hated anything he considered administrative. I’m a field Marine, not an office jockey, he liked to say. “Besides,” Reid added. “I’m busy enough as it is making sure we don’t miss anything. This company is a logistical nightmare without the right supplies on hand, the right scheduling, the—”

“You lost me after ‘Nope.’” Cash crunched his way through the rest of the newscast.

“Asshole.” A picture of their moving van flashed on the screen, their phone number in big red numbers. The reporter turned back to Hector, who had the presence of mind to talk up the company as trustworthy and disciplined. Then he made a comment about sacrificing even their safety to protect their clients’ prized possessions, which made the reporter laugh and the camera zoom in once again on the criminals being arrested.

Bull’s-eye. Something good finally had come out of Cash’s ability to land in the thick of things. Not only had he saved the kid, but he’d made the company look heroic by stopping a robbery. Movers who cared enough about your possessions to put themselves in jeopardy. Reid could spin that.

He considered the new branding ideas he’d been tossing around. Vets on the Go! needed something more to sell it than just hiring veterans. Perhaps with time, he’d—

His cell phone buzzed. He didn’t recognize the number. “Hello?”

“Hi. Just saw you guys on the news. Way to go helping out that woman and her grandson.”

Reid realized he hadn’t taken the office phone off forward from earlier, when he’d had to leave for an appointment during work hours. After-hours calls typically went to the company’s voicemail. “Oh, yeah, thanks.”

“We’re moving out of Seattle to Tacoma and have been looking for someone reputable to move us.” The guy gave Reid details, which had Reid scrambling to take notes. After hanging up, he noticed he’d missed a call.

“See?” Cash threw a chip at his head. “You should be thanking me for looking so fine while doing my civic duty. Got us a new customer.”

“Whatever.”

Cash just grinned at him before changing the channel to a reality show that made Reid want to leave the room. Cash guzzled his beer then tossed the empty on the cluttered coffee table with a thunk. “Oh man. Chandra did not just tell Buffy to step off.”

Reid rolled his eyes and went into the spare bedroom he’d set up as a study. Sharing the three-bedroom house with his brother had been a practical decision. They could better afford it, and living together just made sense since they poured all their efforts and money into the business. In the year and a half they’d been up and running, they’d managed to buy two more trucks, giving them a total of five, and added five employees.

But if—

His phone buzzed again. Great. Now he’d missed two calls and had someone trying to get through while he checked. It seemed Cash’s citizen’s arrest had done the trick. Reid didn’t recognize any of the numbers coming through. He took the next call, then listened to the messages on his cell.

Every one of them had been a request for moving services and a “well done” for stepping up to protect young Asher.

And the calls kept coming. He grinned, vowing to make it up to Cash with pizza at the end of the week. He answered the next call and scheduled in another family needing reputable movers. And then another.

Hmm. Make that an extra-large pizza with all the trimmings…

***

Naomi Starr stared at the television and could almost feel the hamster in her brain running in his big wheel pick up pace. The little bugger was racing like mad.

She tried to thread a hand through her hair, but it got caught in the tangled mass. A glance down at her holey sweatpants only confirmed the sloth of her rare day off. God, she had so much to do. What had she been thinking to take a day to herself? Especially since her self-care of yoga and a smoothie had devolved into chocolate and couch lounging while she channel surfed.

Doubts that her business would ever rocket out of its current orbit as boutique and “good for its size” returned.

Rex, the cat, gave her a baleful look, as if reading her mind. Then he set to ignoring her and licked himself, not even deigning to flick an ear her way.

She tugged at her tangles. “Look, you have no room to judge. You sleep twenty hours a day. I’m entitled to relax.” So why do I feel so guilty?

She ate another square of chocolate and forced herself to enjoy every bit of it. On TV, she watched some behemoth of a hunk single-handedly stop two burglars in broad daylight while his equally muscle-bound friend stopped a third.

The hamster in her brain shot off the wheel as inspiration struck. Vets on the Go! had “opportunity” written all over it.

Quickly googling the company, she took inventory of all its website did and didn’t show her. It looked like a small company. But her sixth sense told her it was sitting on a gold mine and didn’t know it.

Yet.

She felt a spark in the embers of her enthusiasm that had cooled since getting screwed over—both literally and figuratively by her ex-boss—no. Not going there again. She was done dwelling on Tanner. And good riddance.

Instead, Naomi jotted down a few ideas and made notes.

She just needed a boost to take her business to the next level. She used to be a marketing and PR high roller who’d rubbed elbows with the bigwigs in Seattle. She’d helped professional athletes, CEOs, and celebrity chefs launch their brands. She’s assisted with marketing strategies, advertising, and public relations solutions for her clients and left them satisfied with success.

An executive at Paulson, Pierce & Ryan, Naomi had worked her tail off to be seen as an intelligent go-getter, not just a great face for the company. As a leggy redhead with boobs, she was used to attention. It took hard work to be seen as more than a pretty girl who had a nice smile.

She’d been smart, never mixing business with pleasure. Then her older sister had scored one more victory in the family tally, putting Naomi way behind on the chart to success. Not that she ever thought she might catch up to her older siblings. She didn’t save lives or defend people from going to jail. She helped businesses grow for a living. As did her sister, Harley. But with Harley’s huge coup over some stupid account, Naomi had once again been left in the dust.

So Tanner’s attention had been welcome, a boost to her flagging ego. She’d known sleeping with the boss would be a bad idea. And she’d been right.

It had been a year and a half since she’d left PP&R and all that went with it. She dated sparingly, just to prove that she could. Mostly she poured all her effort into her new firm, Starr PR. She worked eighty-hour weeks since it was just her, Liz, and Leo doing everything. Fortunately, Naomi still had friends and contacts, and she used them to her advantage.

Word had spread. Starr PR was getting a reputation as thorough and easy to work with. They got results. Liz, her assistant, and Leo, their IT specialist, worked their tails off as it was. Naomi planned on adding a marketing expert to her tiny team soon. She had the funds to do it, but she needed to continue finding new clients to keep the momentum rolling.

She already had her eye on a cash cow, one that would put her fears of fading into oblivion to bed. Chris Jennings, CEO of a new and rising tech company, was her ticket back into the big leagues. A friend had clued her in that Chris was looking for someone to help him reach the next level. He’d been vocal about serving proudly in the Marine Corps, so she knew he had a soft spot for veterans.

Helping to make Vets on the Go! the huge business she had the feeling it could be would be just the thing to get Chris Jennings’s notice. Naomi had a nose for potential. Hunky men who’d served their country and stopped crime would be her ticket to the top.

She’d make them into a huge business, grab Jennings’s attention, and get the funds she needed to expand Starr PR into the powerhouse it should be. Then she’d take back the clients Paulson, Pierce & Ryan had stolen from her.

Because, yes, she was petty in her need for revenge. And hell, she needed to prove herself. Sometimes she hated being the youngest in a family of overachievers. Ignoring another call from her mother checking in, she threw off her proverbial mantle of sloth and jumped on the treadmill in her spare room. Sweating out her frustrations, she planned.

And knew just how she’d introduce herself to the hunky vets, long legs and all.

 

The Whole Package