by Ali Hazelwood
Published by Berkley
Book 3 in the STEMinist novellas
It will take the frosty terrain of the Arctic to show these rival scientists that their chemistry burns hot.
Mara, Sadie, and Hannah are friends first, scientists always. Though their fields of study might take them to different corners of the world, they can all agree on this universal truth: when it comes to love and science, opposites attract and rivals make you burn…
Hannah’s got a bad feeling about this. Not only has the NASA aerospace engineer found herself injured and stranded at a remote Arctic research station—but the one person willing to undertake the hazardous rescue mission is her longtime rival.
Ian has been many things to Hannah: the villain who tried to veto her expedition and ruin her career, the man who stars in her most deliciously lurid dreams…but he’s never played the hero. So why is he risking everything to be here? And why does his presence seem just as dangerous to her heart as the coming snowstorm?
Below Zero is the conclusion to Ali Hazelwood's STEMinist novellas, and I wish it wasn't. Not only because I adore these novellas, and Ali Hazelwood's work in general, but because I feel like Below Zero is the weakest of the three stories, and I wish it didn't end on its weakest link. Where the last two stories, I genuinely felt there was chemistry between the characters, I didn't feel it here. While I felt it started off strong, I didn't understand where the feelings came from. They had one hang out together, that ended in a steamy make out, and after a time jump, where there is no contact between the two of them, they have all the feels for one another after he saves her? It just felt rushed, and kinda meh compared to the other two, in my opinion. I still enjoyed it, but it wasn't Ali Hazelwood's best.
While Below Zero is the weakest of the trilogy of novellas, I truly enjoyed all three of them. It's full of Ali Hazelwood's charm and personality, and I can't wait to read more from her in the future.
I do the least I can to pull a low B—which, in the unjust scam of graduate school, is the minimum passing grade—until week three or four of classes, when Dr. Harding introduces a new, cruel assignment that has fuck all to do with water.
Dr. Harding: “Find someone who has the engineering job you want at the end of your Ph.D. and do an informational interview with them. Then write a report about it. Due by the end of the semester. Don’t come to me bitching about it during office hours, because I will call security to escort you out.” By then, through means that I am still unable to divine, Mara and Sadie have managed to worm their way into my heart, causing me to amend my previous I did not come here to make friends stance to a slightly altered I did not come here to make friends, but hurt my weird Cheez-It friend or my other weird soccer friend and I will beat you up with a lead pipe till you piss blood for the rest of your life. Truculent? Perhaps. I feel little, but surprisingly deeply. So I say it—
Hannah: “I look okay”
—which should sound confident but comes out a bit petulant. It’s not that I think I’m hot shit, but I refuse to be insecure about my appearance. I like myself. Historically, the people I’ve wanted to sleep with have liked me, too. My body does its job as a means to an end. It manages to let me kayak around California lakes without muscle aches the following day, and it digests lactose like it’s an Olympic discipline. That’s all that matters. But his reply is:
Ian: “You don’t look okay,”
and . . . no.
My tone is icy. Is Ian Floyd trying to imply that he’s out of my reach? Because if so, I will slap him.
Hannah: “How do I look, then?”
Ian: “Just . . .”
He swallows again.
Ian: “I . . . Women like you don’t usually . . .”
Hannah: “Women like me.”
Wow. Sounds like I’ll actually have to slap him.
Hannah: “What’s that? Because—”
Ian: “Beautiful. You are very, very beautiful. Probably the most . . . And you’re obviously smart and funny, so . . .”
He gives me a helpless look, suddenly looking less like a genius NASA team leader built like a cedar tree and more . . . boyish. Young.
Hannah: “Is this some kind of joke?” Hannah: “It’s a—it’s a storm, Ian. Are you—please, tell me you’re not just strolling outdoors when the worst storm of the year is just hours from starting.”
Ian: “I’m not.”
Ian: “It’s more of a brisk walk.”
I close my eyes.
Hannah: “In a storm. A blizzard. Winds of at least thirty-five miles per hour. Heavy snowfall and no visibility.”
Ian: “You might be wasted in engineering.”
Ian: “You’re really good at meteorology stuff.”
I cannot feel my legs; my teeth are chattering; every time I breathe, my skin feels like it’s been chewed on by a horde of piranhas. And yet, I find the strength to roll my eyes. At least the cranky bitch inside my heart is holding strong.
Hannah: “You’d love it, wouldn’t you? If I were busy giving the weather on local news instead of at NASA with you.”
The winds are blowing holes through my eardrums. I honestly have no idea how I can hear a smile in his
Ian: “Nah.” hannah arroyo, it says. And underneath: who almost died and didn’t even tell us. also, she always forgets to replace the toilet paper roll. what a little shit. Sadie: “But things have changed, right? I mean . . . last night he carried you upstairs for seven floors because the elevator was broken. It’s obvious that he has a thing for you.”
Mara: “Yes. Are you going to break my blood relative’s heart? Don’t get me wrong, I’d still side with you. Hos before bros.”
Hannah: “He’s not your bro in any sense of the word,"
Mara: “Hey, he’s my cousin-or-something.” Ian: “Hannah, if that changes. If you ever find yourself able to believe that someone could care about you that much. And if you wanted to actually . . . have dinner with that someone.”
He lets out a laugh.
Ian: “Well . . . Please, consider me. You know where to find me.” Ian: “Hannah.”
He unbuckles his seat belt and angles himself toward me, so that I have no choice but to look him in the eyes. He looks earnest and nearly offended.
Ian: “I have thought about what happened in my office every day for the past five years. You offered to go down on me, and I just . . . embarrassed myself, and it should be the most mortifying memory I have, but for some reason it’s turned into the axis every fantasy of mine spins around, and”
—he reaches up to pinch the bridge of his nose—
Ian: “I want to fuck you. Obviously. Always have. I just don’t want to fuck you once. I want to do it a lot. For a long time. I want you to come to me for sex, but I also want you to come to me when you need help with your taxes and moving your furniture. I want fucking to be only one of the million things I do for you, and I want to be—”
He stops. Seems to collect himself and straightens, as if to give me space. To give us space.
Ian: “I’m sorry. I don’t want to crowd you. You can . . .”
He pulls back a few inches, and all I can do is look at him openmouthed. Shocked. Speechless. Absolutely . . . yeah. Did this really happen? Is it really happening? And the worst part is, I’m almost positive that his words have dislodged something in my brain, because the only thing I can think of saying in response to all he said is:
Hannah: “Is that a yes on dinner?”
He laughs, low and beautiful and a little rueful. And after looking at me like no one else ever has before, what he says is,
Hannah: “Yes, Hannah. It is a yes on dinner.”
Hannah: “Um, I could make us a . . .”
I scratch my head, studying the contents of my open fridge. Okay, so it’s full. The problem is, it’s full exclusively of stuff that needs to be cooked, chopped, baked, prepared. Stuff that’s healthy and doesn’t taste particularly good. I am now 93 percent sure that Mara was the one who went shopping, because no one else would dare to impose broccoli on me.
Hannah: “How does one even . . . I could boil the broccoli, I guess? In a pot? With water?”
Ian is standing behind me, his chin on top of my head, chest hovering right behind my back.
Ian: “Boil them in a pot with water,”
Hannah: “I would salt them afterward, of course.” Ian: “Do you have condoms?”
Hannah: “No. But I’m on the pill. We can do it without anything if you’re not giving me gross STDs. But I trust that you wouldn’t save me from the walruses just to have me die of chlamydia, so—”
I think he likes the idea of us doing it without anything. I think he loves the idea, because first he kisses me breathless, then he gets to work on taking everything—every last layer—off both of us.