Aldric is nearing the end of his rope. With no job and no income, he’s about to lose the crappy little apartment he lives in. Already Aldric’s had to choose between electricity or water, bills or food, and it’s only by chance he sees the hand-drawn Help Wanted sign in the shop window. Intrinsic Value isn’t anyplace Aldric thought he would — or could — get a job. It’s an antique store, and the only thing Aldric knows about antique shops is that he can’t afford anything in them.
Elliot, the owner, is a gracious man who takes a liking to Aldric instantly, handing over not only a job (and lunch), but health insurance as well. But while working late one night, Aldric ends up being attacked and left unconscious in the alley. Has his dream job suddenly become something too good to be true? And why is the handsome detective assigned to his case — the one with the amazing green eyes — suddenly all Aldric can think about? What is it about Darrel Williams that makes Aldric feel safe and loved for the first time in forever?
Aldric is an odd duck. And not necessarily in the quirky and fun way. He has no hobbies, no friends, and no sense of self-worth. He’s eager to please, and comes into work even on his days off, but his main talent and personality seems to be being cute. Darrell, on the other hand, feels like a much more fleshed-out and developed character. Coming from a strict and resolutely military family, his choice to go into law enforcement has left him the least liked of his father’s three sons, all of whom are ruled over with an iron fist. Handing out disapproval more readily than praise, Darrell’s father has instilled in him a firm sense of Right and Wrong. Being straight is Right. Being gay… is very, very wrong. Even as he struggles to be his own person and stand on his own feet, Darrell has internalized a lot of his father’s opinions, such as the heteronormativity of the relationships he enters into. Darrell is the top, the big, strong, and macho man. He’s there to fuck and get out, no gushy emotional stuff to gum up the works. But with Aldric, it’s an instant desire to cherish and protect the other man. Aldric is soft, gentle, and needs to be taken care of, which fits perfectly into Darrell’s understanding of how the world works. Aldric is also a virgin, which makes Darrell even more determined to protect and cherish him.
The book is strongest, for me, in those moments between Darrell and his family, such as Darrell watching his brother announcing his girlfriend is now his fiancé, something Darrell will never have. Or his conversation with his father as they both dance around the truth neither of them want to acknowledge, and the pain Darrell feels at knowing his place in his family. These scenes feel emotional and grounded in reality, which only serves to make the rest of the book, from Aldric’s point of view, feel so much more feather-light and … fictional.
A lot of Aldric’s scenes with Darrell feel plot-driven rather than real. The sudden about faces gave me whiplash. The fact that — during business hours with his boss only a room away — Aldric not only lets, but encourages Darrell to give him a blowjob in his boss’s office feels … well, silly. Aldric, who is so concerned with losing his job because he was attacked, suddenly doesn’t care what Elliot thinks when he drags the police officer his boss doesn’t like past him and into the back room.
There’s a lot of hand waving in this story regarding police procedure. A lot. And while the big reveal of who did what to whom and why at the end feels logical and understandable, the way the story took me there left me confused. The writing is stiff and stilted with repetitive sections filled with exposition and adverbs with more exposition than introspection. When combined with several fourth wall breaking sections (such as the reader simply being told that Aldric has been suffering from a bout of depression), it continually left me feeling one length removed from the whole story and unable to fully dive in and immerse myself in the lives of the characters.
This is the first book in the Intrinsic Values series, but as uneven as this first one is, as unbalanced as the characterizations are, you might want to hold off and wait to see how book two turns out.