Love on the Brain
by Ali Hazelwood
Published by Sphere
Bee Königswasser lives by a simple code: What would Marie Curie do?
If NASA offered her the lead on a neuroengineering project - a literal dream come true - Marie would accept without hesitation. Duh. But the mother of modern physics never had to co-lead with Levi Ward.
Sure, Levi is attractive in a tall, dark, and piercing-eyes kind of way. But Levi made his feelings toward Bee very clear in grad school - archenemies work best employed in their own galaxies far, far away.
But when her equipment starts to go missing and the staff ignore her, Bee could swear she sees Levi softening into an ally, backing her plays, seconding her ideas... devouring her with those eyes. The possibilities have all her neurons firing.
But when it comes time to actually make a move and put her heart on the line, there's only one question that matters: What will Bee Königswasser do?
Love on the Brain is the second full-length novel in Ali Hazelwood's STEMinist line of books. It features Bee, a neuroscientist, and Levi, an engineer. When Bee is offered a lead position on a neuro-engineering project at NASA, she is ecstatic. After years of being underappreciated, she is finally getting recognized in her field. Of course, when she learns the engineer she has been partnered with is none other than Levi, the only person in her grad class that didn't like her. When the project isn't going her way, equipment goes missing, and the staff ignores her, she believes Levi is at fault. But when she sees all the ways Levi steps up and makes sure she is recognized for her work, her role in the project, all the little conversations, and the lingering glances her way, Bee starts to wonder if she was wrong about Levi.
I adore The Love Hypothesis. Hell, MOST romance readers do. So, I was excited about Love on the Brain. That being said, I was alittle let down by this one. I liked it. I can't deny that. I really did like it. I just didn't love it. It was predictable. I called everything before it happened, which takes the excitement factor out of it. Then there is Bee. I liked her character, but reading in her point of view was .... exhausting. Her inner thoughts are chaotic. That aside, Ali Hazelwood writes a good romance, with wonderful characters, and best of all doesn't dumb down the science for her readers. She writes in a way that the reader can gloss over the science if they want to, and get down to the meat of the romance, but also in a way that gives respect to the science she is writing about. I appreciate that. As a woman in STEM herself, she could dumb it down to appeal to more readers, but she doesn't. I respect that.
While I didn't love Love on the Brain as much as I did The Love Hypothesis, I did enjoy it. I still love Ali Hazelwood's work. And if you love steamy and smart romance, with a strong emphasis on female empowerment, I don't doubt you will like this book too!
Bee: "Do you remember Levi Ward?"
Reike: "Is he some guy I dated who's trying to reach me because he has gonorrhea?"
On weekdays, I usually set my alarm for seven a.m. - and then find myself snoozing it anywhere from three ("Raving success") to eight times ("I hope a swarm of rabid locusts attacks me on my way to work, thus allowing me to find solace in the cold embrace of death").
Bee: "It checks out. Emails that should be delivered, aren't. Emails that shouldn't, are. It would explain the one that canceled the order for my TMS equipment. It probably just sent itself. Vigilante emails going rogue. Uh-oh, Outlook's in trouble."
Bee: "No. I ..."
God, this apology is going to be painful. Humiliating, too. The colonoscopy of apologies. Better get it over with.
Bee: "Listen, you should have been more forthcoming about what was going on, but I probably shouldn't have called you a ... boob. Or a walnut. I'm not sure what was in my head and what I actually said out loud but ... I'm sorry about coming to your office and insulting you."
There. Done. Colonoscopy's over. My intestines are sparkling clean.
Oh my God. Am I a damsel in distress?
Bee: "How will we retrieve the ladder?"
Levi: "I'll drive by tomorrow morning and pick it up."
Bee: "What if someone steals it?"
Levi: "I'll have lost a precious heirloom passed down my family for generations."
Levi: "Were you shocked that someone would marry me?"
he asks, biting back a smile.
Bee: "Not at all! You're smart. And, um, tall. Still have all your hair. And I'm sure that with women you don't hate you're nicer than you have historically been with me!"
Levi: "Bee, I don't -"
He exhales hard.
Levi: "Get in the truck."
Levi: "I'm driving you back to the cemetery and feeding you to the coyotes."
I hurry to say,
Bee: "You've been nice to me today! You saved me from a zombie attack, for sure."
Bee: I know but you're my sister and I'm human I NEED LOVE AND COMPASSION NOT JUDGEMENT
Reike: You need a full psychiatric evaluation.
Reike: But <3 <3 <3
Bee: Oh, I got it! Your mug? The one that says Yoda Best Engineer?"
Bee: "I want one. But it needs to say 'neuroscientist,' of course."
He lifts one eyebrow.
Levi: "This is the equivalent to someone buying their own World's Best Boss mug. Congratulations, you're officially NASA's Michael Scott."
Levi: "If I win, you're going to sign up for a 5K here in Houston."
Bee: "Sure. I'll sign up for a -"
Levi: "And you're going to run it."
I burst into laughter.
Bee: "There is no way."
Levi: "Because I'm currently on step four of my program, and still unable to run more than half a mile without collapsing. Running a 5K sounds about as pleasant as bloodletting. By leeches."
Levi: "I'll run with you."
Bee: "You mean, you'll walk next to me with your seventy-mile-long legs?"
Levi: "I'll train you."
Bee: "Oh, Levi. Levi. You sweet summer child."
I point to myself. Tonight I'm wearing a nose stud, galaxy leggings, and a white tank top. My purple hair is loose on my shoulders. I'm pretty sure one of my back tattoos is visible. Everything about me screams Levi's kryptonite.
Bee: "You see this scrawny, stunted, unmuscled body? It's built to live in parasitic symbiosis with a couch. It resists training with the force of many million ohms."
Levi: "Bee? Are you .... crying?"
I lie. Poorly.
Levi: "Is it about female singer-songwriters?"
he says, panicky.
Levi: "I'll buy an album. Just let me know which one is best. Honestly, I don't know enough about them to -"
Bee: "No. No, I - There was a dead possum. On the side of the road."
Bee: "I ... have issues. With roadkill."
Bee: "It's just ... animals are o cute. Except for spiders. But spiders are not really animals."
Levi: "They .... are."
Bee: "And who knows where the possum was going? Maybe she had a family? Maybe she was bringing home food to kids who now wonder where Mommy is?"
I'm making myself cry harder. I wipe my cheek and sniffle.
Levi: "I'm not sure wildlife abides by the rules of traditional nuclear family structure -"
Levi notices my glare and instantly shuts up. He scratches his nape and adds
Levi: "It's sad."
Bee: "It's okay. I'm fine. I'm emotionally stable."
His lips curl up.
Levi: "Are you?"
Bee: "this is nothing. Tim used to make me play this stupid "Guess the Roadkill' game to toughen me up, and once I literally ran out of tears."
Levi's haw hardens visibly.
Bee: "And when I was twelve we saw a family of splattered hedgehogs on a Belgian highway and I cried so hard that when we stopped to get gas, a Federale Politie agent questioned my uncle on suspicion of child maltreatment."
Levi: "Got it. No stops until New Orleans."
Bee: "No, I promise I'm done crying. I'm an adult with a shriveled, hardened heart now."
Levi: "I had more social interactions in the past twenty minutes than in the last ten months."
Bee: "I saw you smile at least four times."
I pat his arm comfortingly.
Bee: "That can't have been easy."
Levi: "I might have to lie down."
Bee: "I'll get an ice pack for your cheeks."
Bee: "I hate this."
Levi: "I know. "
Bee: What gave it away?"
I push a sweaty purple strand from my forehead. My hands are shaking. My legs are twigs, but made of slime. There's a distinctive taste of iron in my throat. A sign that I'm dying? Possibly. I want to stop but I can't, because the treadmill is still going. If I collapse, the walking belt is going to swallow me in a vortex of clammy darkness.
Bee: "Is it the wheezing? The near-puking?"
Levi: "Mostly the way you've said it eight times since starting to run - which, by the way, was exactly sixty seconds ago."
Bee: "Okay, Reike. Let me know when you're done."
My sister yells "What?!" eight more time.
Reike: "Okay, it's out of my system. Let us resume. So, you and The Wardass smooched -"
Bee: "Feels like there should be a better word for that."
Reike: "You sucked faces. Exchanged germs Swapped saliva. Canoodled. Snogged."
Bee: "The other day you told me in great detail about that Ukrainian guy you pegged, and I didn't make half the fuss."
Reike: "Of all your colleagues, this girl is my absolute favorite."
Bee: "She was caught porking. On my desk."
Reike: "How does she constantly top herself?"
Penny: "That was so cool! Levi, I love your girlfriend soooo much!"
Levi: "I know the feeling."
Bee: "I just want to be as honest as possible -"
Levi: "Here's the honesty: I'm in love with you. But that's not news. Not to me, and not to you, I don't think. Not if you're honest with yourself - which you say you are, right?"
My eyes widen. He powers on, ruthless, merciless. Levi Ward: force of nature. Sucking the air out of my lungs.
Levi: "Here's something else that's honest: you're in love with me, too."
Levi: "I spent years - years - hoping to find another who could measure up. Hoping to feel something - anything - for someone else. And now you're here, and - I have had you, Bee. I know how it can be. You think I don't know what it feels like to want something so much you're afraid to let yourself take it? Even when it's in front of you? Do you think I'm not fucking scared?"
He exhales, running a hand through his hair.
Levi: "Bee. You want to belong. You want someone who won't let go. I'm it. I didn't let go of you for years, and I didn't even have you. But you need to let me."
Bee: "... Yeah?"
Levi: "Can you do something for me, sweetheart?"
Levi: "I want you to take a step to your right. Another. Another."
My knee hits the edge of one of the lobby couches. Levi smiles, like he's incredibly proud of me.
Levi: "Perfect. Now sit down."
I do it, confused. There's something wet on my hand. I look down: Felicette is licking my fingers.
Bee: "I ... Why?"
Levi: "Because I'll need to restrain Guy until security gets here. And I won't be able to catch you when you pass out."
Bee: "But I ..."
My eyelids flutter closed, and ...
Well. You know the drill by now.
Bee: "Not to be whiny,"
I tell the nurse with a desperate-yet-grateful-yet-really-desperate smile.
Bee: "I appreciate everything you're doing, but NIH has notoriously crappy health insurance, and if I told you what a recent Ph.D. makes a year, you'd discharge me immediately."
And give me ten bucks for the cab home.
Rocio: "Will you mention that I had sex at work with the most beautiful woman in the world?"
She glances at Kaylee, who blushes prettily.
Boris: "I -"
He rubs his temple.
Boris: "I actually forgot about that."
Rocio: "Is that a firm no? Because it's one of my proudest accomplishments."
Rocio: "I must thank you. For saving Bee's life. To me, she is like a mother. The mother I never had."
Bee: "You have an amazing mother back in Baltimore."
I point out.,
Bee: "and I'm only five years older than you."
I am ignored.
Rocio: "I want to give you a token. To acknowledge your contributions."
Levi: "There's no need."
Levi says, just as solemnly.
Rocio rummages in her jeans pocket and offers him an unwrapped, slightly squished red gumball.
Levi: "Thank you. This is ..."
He looks at the gum.
Levi: "A thing that I now have."
Rocio nods somberly, and then Levi and I are alone. Well. With the gumball.
Reike: "Are you actually going to do this?"
Reike asks, staring at the #FAIRGRADUATEADMISSIONS RACE, START LINE" banner above our heads.
Bee: "My heart says no."
Reike: "And your body?"
Bee: "My body also says no. But louder."