After his father walked out when Charlie was eight years old, keeping the Nielsen family together has largely fallen onto Charlie’s shoulders. He has spent years working a double grind as a professional cleaner and waiter, but still barely manages to keep a roof over his and his mother’s heads. Things are getting tight…so tight that Charlie talks himself into taking a five-finger discount on a couple of items from the lawyer’s office he cleans. Too bad the lawyer in question catches Charlie in the act…but rather than immediately running to the police, the lawyer cuts Charlie an unfathomably good deal. All Charlie has to do is work as the executive assistant to Innes Kent Esq., a demanding lawyer who has scared off more assistants that he has fingers. Too bad literally everyone who knows Innes soon points out to Charlie just how much of a selfish bastard Innes is.
Innes Kent’s hangups about interpersonal relationships formed at an early age, when he felt like his parents never loved or bonded with him. As if Innes could even fathom what it meant to be an unplanned surprise baby. Thirty-six years later, after an unplanned pregnancy of his own, and a lot of being weirdly out of sync with his much older siblings and much younger nephews, Innes copes by using his generational wealth to provide the comfort humans can’t. Until he meets a headstrong cleaner named Charlie who tries to steal a couple of knicknacks. Innes is drawn to the younger man simply because he refuses to put up with Innes’ bullshit. And if the feeling isn’t mutual, at least the attraction is. But it may not be enough when Innes’ long-held insecurities come to fore and Innes does what he’s always done: push away anyone who tries to get close because of his own belief that he is unlovable.
Worth Trying is the second title in Chloe B. Young’s Without Precedent series. The story centers on Innes, who readers may recognize as the sugar daddy who helped out one of the MCs from the first book in the series, Worth It. This is a great series for readers who enjoy seeing a story-verse expand, because each book focuses on a different set of characters rather than following a main pairing through a series of adventures. Yet Young works in some nods to Aiden/Elliot at various points. There is also the delightful tension that crops up when Innes’ inner circle know Innes typically avails himself of the services of sex workers (like he used to keep Elliot on a retainer), and assumes that Charlie is merely his assistant as a technicality. This idea that Charlie is a VERY personal assistant gets touched on somewhat, but is largely negated by how quickly their strictly professional relationship ignites into a mutually consensual, sexual one.
Personally, I had a very mixed reaction to the start of the romance story. There were times where I just adored the interaction between our two headstrong leads, Innes being a man used to throwing his money around to get his way and Charlie being a working stiff used to putting up with other people’s shit. At first, Innes sort of hides behind his “no one loves me, so I don’t love anyone” attitude and Charlie is all-hands-on-deck because Innes has promised to use his social currency to get Charlie a shot at his dream (a gig in something fashion related). But the chemistry felt startlingly strained at first. It was clear Innes was attracted to Charlie very early on, but Charlie’s thoughts on the matter were far less clear. I mean, when Charlie himself called Innes a “pervert,” that put a pretty big damper on my expectations. It wasn’t until Charlie himself initiated their first kiss that I really knew Charlie was really interested in Innes. Even as these two start to build a physical relationship—that, unbeknownst to both of them, develops into something a whole lot more—it was sometimes hard to understand if they actually liked each other or if they were just really good at using each other. Eventually, I feel like they are comfortable enough with “using each other” that they actually start liking each other; that was when I finally started viewing them with real potential.
In addition to a tumultuous relationship between our two MCs, there is also a strong thread concerning Innes’ daughter, Mimi. She crops up in ways that are completely unrelated to the romance aspect of the story, which helped me really understand how deeply Innes’ belief that he is unlovable goes. That is partly because Mimi’s mother has made it very clear to Innes and Mimi both that she hates Innes, and hates that Innes and Mimi can tolerate each other at all. There was also the strong correlation between Innes’ parents making him feel unloved and Innes himself being afraid to love his own daughter. His struggles to NOT repeat his parents’ mistake made Innes a super sympathetic character in my eyes. It’s worth mentioning that Charlie also has his mother on page, but I thought this relationship was more opaque and offered less clarity in how it shaped Charlie beyond the fact that his mother’s rosy memories of his father were a source of strife for Charlie.
Overall, I think this book is a great addition to the Without Precedent series. I really liked how intertwined these characters are with the universe (Innes and Aiden are uncle/nephew), but the character dynamics are wildly and satisfyingly different between the books. The clearly imperfect leads and the selfishness I saw in Innes were a delightful treat, almost like he’s an anti-hero who finds a way to redeem himself. The relationship that grows between Innes and Charlie starts off somewhat stunted in my opinion, but turns into something fantastic towards the end. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes problematic heroes, strong characters, lots of angst, and age gaps.