by Ali Hazelwood
Published by Little Brown Books
Book 3 in The Love Hypothesis series
The many lives of theoretical physicist Elsie Hannaway have finally caught up with her.
By day, she’s an adjunct professor, toiling away at grading labs and teaching thermodynamics in the hopes of landing tenure. By other day, Elsie makes up for her non-existent paycheck by offering her services as a fake girlfriend, tapping into her expertly honed people pleasing skills to embody whichever version of herself the client needs.
Honestly, it’s a pretty sweet gig—until her carefully constructed Elsie-verse comes crashing down. Because Jack Smith, the annoyingly attractive and broody older brother of her favorite client, turns out to be the cold-hearted experimental physicist who ruined her mentor’s career and undermined the reputation of theorists everywhere. And that same Jack who now sits on the hiring committee at MIT, right between Elsie and her dream job.
Elsie is prepared for an all-out war of scholarly sabotage but…those long, penetrating looks? Not having to be anything other than her true self when she’s with him? Will falling into an experimentalist’s orbit finally tempt her to put her most guarded theories on love into practice?
I love Ali Hazelwood's books.
If you have read my reviews for The Love Hypothesis, Love on the Brain, and the three novella's, you know I adore her work.
If you have ever listened to her in interviews and podcasts, or read her posts on Instagram, you know how adorable and quirky she is in real life, and how it translates to her books.
I love how different her female MC's are compared to other writers. I love how scientific they are. It's refreshing after reading so many other books where the characters start to bleed together.
I just have one, teeny little problem.
They are all starting to feel too similar to one another. All the love interests are feeling too similar.
While this does take me out of the story a bit, overall, it's not a deal breaker for me.
She is still an instant buy author.
In fact, she is just doing what many other authors do. Write what you know, what you are comfortable with, and what sells. Obviously, her formula has worked since The Love Hypothesis. I can't fault her for that.
And I get it.
These books are centered around women in science. I'm expecting a little quirky, incredibly intelligent, and socially awkward. I think it's safe to say that not all women in STEM are that way though. So a little diversity wouldn't hurt.
After all, Ali Hazelwood is great with adding diversity in regards to sexuality. Which is one of the things I love about her books. LGBTQ+ side characters (although I would love for her to write an LGBTQ+ main couple book for this series), and something not often explored in romance, Asexuality. Whereas it's been more hinted at in her other books, this book comes right out with it, with Elsie pretty sure she is on the spectrum of Asexuality. We have a side character that knows he is. I love this, because it shows two different ends of the spectrum (one being they need an intense emotional connection before feeling sexual attraction, and the other not opposed to emotional connections, but doesn't feel sexual attraction at all) and gives many readers who don't know a lot about Asexuality a little insight into it.
Do you know what else I loved about this book?
Well, everything else.
First of all, I found the overall storyline interesting. Elsie competing for a job that she absolutely needed was an interesting plotline that got her and Jack in the same room multiple times. The reasons behind needing the job she didn't feel overly passionate about - besides income - being health insurance to pay for insulin felt realistic. I can't forget the overall arc of Jack, Elsie and her mentor, and everything that went on in the past and present. While I felt infuriated with Elsie and how naïve she was in regards to her mentor, I also understood her reluctance and loyalty to a degree. After all, she is a people pleaser. To the extreme degree. Which is another reason I love Jack, because he recognizes this, and forces her to think and do things for herself.
Then there is the romance.
And I. Loved. It.
Jack and Elsie are just so ... healthy together. There is an obvious chemistry. Their banter - even when they were not getting along - was amazing. Jack, considering he isn't Asexual himself, understood was Elsie needed from him. Building on their new friendship and mutual respect. He was respectful of her and her needs. In turn, after she learns the truth behind the infamous Jack Smith - destroyer of Theoretical Physics - and not only does she want more, but they build a healthy, loving relationship built on respect and honesty.
What is not to love?
For those of you who love a steamy romance, don't let the Asexual representation scare you away. After all, being Asexual doesn't mean you don't like sex. It just means that in Elsie's case, it means that much more. And it doesn't disappoint. Ali Hazelwood writes great sex scenes, after all.
While I do wish that Ali Hazelwood would change up her female characters personalities a bit, it doesn't deter me from her books. I loved Love, Theoretically. It's my second favorite of the series so far (I doubt anything will beat out The Love Hypothesis). It won't stop me from purchasing her books on release days and quickly devouring them. Because while similar in nature, it doesn't change the fact that she is a great writer, and her romances are refreshing.
Greg: "Uncle Paul will try to rope us into a threesome, again,"
Greg tells me, soulful brown eyes full of apologies, and I don't hesitate. I don't act annoyed. I don't shudder in revulsion thinking about Uncle Paul's sewage breath or his oily comb-over, which reminds me of pubic hair.
Okay, maybe I do shudder a bit. But I cover it up with a smile and a professional
Elsie: "Got it."
he continues, running a hand through his messy curls,
Greg: "Dad recently developed severe lactose intolerance but refuses to ease up on the dairy. There might be ..."
Elsie: "Gastrointestinal events."
Understandable. I'd resist giving up cheese, too.
Greg: "And my cousin Izzy - she's known to become physically aggressive when people disagree with her over the literary value of the Twilight Saga."
I perk up,
Elsie: "Is she pro or against?"
Greg says darkly.
I love Twilight even more than cheese, but I can withhold my TED talk on why Alice and Bella should have left all those idiots behind and ridden off into the sunset.
Team Bellice 4evah.
Elsie: "I'll say I'm feeling poorly, and we'll duck out. And when the threesome offer comes, heavily imply that I have gonorrhea."
Greg: "That wouldn't deter Uncle Paul."
Elsie: "Genital warts?"
Greg: "Mmm. Maybe?"
The birthday girl is opening presents by the fireplace, telling one of her daughters-in-law,
Millicent: "A coupon for a mud bath? Lovely. It'll feel like practice for when I'm lowered in my grace and you all fight over my money."
It's on brand: the first time I met Millicent Smith, she put both hands on my shoulders and told me,
Millicent: "Having kids was the worst mistake of my life."
Her eldest son was standing right next to her. I have yet to ascertain whether she is a malevolent hag or just unintentionally cruel. Either way, she's my favorite Smith character.
Cece: "Think of the future. Of your livable salary, which will allow us to hire some brawny lad to come lift the top part of the credenza."
She points at the hutch in the corner of the living room. Cece and I hit a wall mid-assembly. Three years ago.
Cece: "And of course it will keep me in the cheese lifestyle I am accustomed to."
It's easy, with Cece, to smile and let myself believe.
Elsie: "Unlimited pecorino romano."
Cece: "All the insulin your worthless pancreas desires."
Elsie: "Concrete bricks. To squash the Raid-resistant crab-hornet spiders."
Cece: "A little plasma TV for Hedgie's terrarium."
Elsie: "Matching 'Academia sux' tattoos." Cece: "A golden toilet."
Elsie: "A golden bidet."
Elsie: "It's just as well - I need to answer emails. And buy pantyhose. And call my mom."
Cece: "No, no, no."
Cece lifts her hand.
Cece: "Do not call your mom. She'll just dump all her problems on you. You need to focus, not listen to her bitch about how your brothers are punching each other over the last hot dog."
Elsie: "Woman - they're considering fratricide over a woman."
The Hannaways: prime Jerry Springer material.
Cece: "Doesn't matter. Promise me that if y our mom calls, you'll tell her about the interview. And that your childhood was mediocre, at best."
I mull it over.
Elsie: "How about I promise to avoid her for a few days?"
Cece: "Fine. So you're going out for pantyhose?"
Cece: "Can you stop at the store to get me cereal?"
I don't really have time for that. But what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Or makes you resent your pathological inability to set boundaries, one of the two.
Elsie: "Sure. What kind -"
She slaps her hand on the table.
Cece: "Elsie, you have to learn to say no."
Elsie "You do not want to come at me."
Jack: "Oh, Elsie."
His hands on me are incongruously gentle, and yet we're on the verge of the academic equivalent of nuclear warfare.
Jack: "I think that's exactly what I want."
Elsie: "I always had a bad feeling about him, and last night - that's why he's so good at Go. He was a physicist all along, that - that piece of Uranus -"
Cece: "Science insult. Nice."
Elsie: "I bet he thinks in Fahrenheit -"
Cece: "Ooh, sick burn."
Elsie: "-and spends his free time flying to Westminster Abbey to dance on Stephen Hawking's grave -"
Cece: "Hawking's dead?"
Elsie: "-and won't even bother calling Greg to ask for an explanation, because he's a sadistic, egotistical, ignorant black hole of shi -"
Cece: "Elise, babe, do you need us here for this, or should we go to our room to mourn Stephen?"
Cece: "For all Jack knows, you're in the witness protection program. Or you mispoke when you were first introduced. Or you and Greg have a role-play kink you expand out of the bedroom: you pretend to be a librarian at his grandma's birthday, he spanks you with a Billy the IKEA bookcase, orgasims are had. Consensual, Swedish, and above all: private."
Elsie: "That's ... intense."
Elsie: "I'm so excited to tell you about Wigner crystallization. Feel free to interrupt again at any point, because what you take out of the lecture, that's what matters."
A beat. Then I deliver my final blow.
Elsie: "Unless you multiply it by the speed of light. In which case it energies."
I need a new nervous habit. nail biting. Fidget spinners. I've heard great things about crystal meth.
I shiver in pleasure at the idea. Unlike my apartment, no coconut-crab bugs would try to crawl in my mouth. My life would see a 900 percent reduction of May I pay this class's tuition in Dogecoins emails. And the salary ... I'd have personal finances. Real ones, not just dimes I forgot in my winter coat the previous year.
I want this office. I want this job. I want it more than I have ever wanted anything, including that Polly Pocket set at age five.
Jack: "Do you need some privacy? A mattress? Emergency contraception?"
I whirl around. Jack is leaning against the doorjamb, the set of his shoulders relaxed, his frame filling the entrance. He stares at me with that lopsided smile that almost has me forgetting that we hate each other.
Elsie: "It's ..."
I clear my throat.
Elsie: "A nice office."
Jack: "Just nice? You looked on the verge of something there."
Cece: "Either way, as a mother myself,"
Cece says with a meaningful glace at Hedgie,
Cece: "if my douchebag kid came to me whining that the rising star of theoretical physics denied him an eighty -"
Cece: "- seventy-dollar hand job - the audacity of that bitch - I'd exclusively be angry at my douchebag kid."
On Thursday night, halfway through loading the dishwasher, Cece catches me trying to unlock the home screen with my elbow.
Cece: "That's it."
She picks up the iTwat and slides it in her pocket.
Cece: "I'm confiscating this till tomorrow."
Elsie: "No. No, please! I really need it."
I sound defensive and whiny. What a combination.
Elsie: "It's my Linus blankie."
Cece: "You've developed a transitional object in your late twenties?"
Elsie: "A what?"
Cece: "Security blankets, teddy bears, you know. That stuff kids latch on to when they're anxious, they're called transitional objects."
Elsie: "Where do they transition you to?"
She gives me a consternated look.
Cece: "The merciless ravages of adulthood."
Jack: "We'll figure out a way."
There is no we, I think. And Jack says,
Jack: "Not yet, no,"
with a small sigh that lifts his big chest.
Elsie: "Maybe this rejection will be my supervillain origin story."
Jack: "It won't."
Elsie: "How do you know?"
Jack: "Because this is not your character arc, Elsie. More like a ... character bump."
Elsie: "I can't believe I woke you up at four and you didn't murder me."
Jack: "Why would I murder you?"
Elsie: "Because. It's late."
Jack: "Nah. I'm kind of into it."
He yawns against the crown of my hair.
Elsie: "You'll really enjoy the thrill of frequent nighttime urination as a senior citizen, then."
Jack: "It's not that."
I think he might be about to conk out.
Jack: "This ... It fits nicely in a bunch of really weird fantasies I have about you."
I remember the picture in his nightstand. His earnest face in Greg's apartment. I'm breathing the same air as Jack Smith, but I don't feel scared or unsafe.
Just comforted. Warm and so sleepy.
Elsie: "Do these fantasies involve giant tentacle dildos?"
I'm yawning, too. Fading fast.
Jack: "Of course."
I can hear his wry smile.
Jack: "Way more outlandish stuff, too."
Elsie: "Milkmaid role-play?"
Elsie: "It's furries, isn't it?"
Jack: "You wish."
Elsie: "You have to tell me, or I'll picture necrophilia and dismemberment."
Jack: "In my weird fantasy, Elsie ..."
He shifts me till our curves and anglese match up. Perfectly.
Jack: "In my fantasies, you allow me to keep an eye on you."
I feel his lips at my temple.
Jack: "And when I really let go, I imagine that you let me take care of you, too."
It does sound outlandish.
Jack: "Because in my head, no one has done it before."
Jack: "She had a rough night. Let her be."
Millicent nods knowingly.
Millicent: "Dear, whenever they can't get it up, they sit on the edge of the mattress with their heads between their hands and whine like babies and turn it into our problem, but -"
Elsie: "Oh, no. No, no, that's not what we -"
Jack: "She just found out she didn't get a job,"
Jack explains, unruffled.
Jack: "But thank you for the vote of confidence."
Millicent: "Wait. She's not yours, is she? She's the girlfriend of the one who always looks like he just stress are a crab apple over a trash can."
Jack rolls his eyes.
Jack: "You mean Greg? My brother? Your grandson?"
Millicent: 'How would I know? I have four children and seven grandchildren. How many names do you expect me to memorize?"
Jack: "Eleven would be a good start."
P.S: I have been informed that I attempted to urinate on/near you. I am deeply regretful of my actions.
Elsie: "I feel ..."
What a good question.
Elsie: "Like all the plot balls that I was juggling have dropped to the floor. And I have no idea what comes next in my story."
Elsie: "As a scientist myself, let me ask you once again: Where does Kirk get the money?"
A spine-chilling thought occurs to me.
Elsie: "Please tell me he's not Elon Musk."
Cece: "You monster. Take that back."
Elsie: "He's the only rich scientist I can think of."
Jack: "I'll have one. Elsie doesn't drink."
I never told him, but of course he knows.
Sunny: "Anything else, then? Water? Soda? OJ? Maple Syrup?"
Sunny frowns into her fridge.
Sunny: "Two percent."
Jack: "Keep your white water."
Sunny: "You spoiled little Smith brat, raised with unpasteurized emu tit juice."
Jack: "Haven't picked a date yet?"
Adam: "She has not."
Adam whine. Sternly, though.
Jack: "Ol. Put him out of his misery."
Olive: "At twenty-eight? What am I, a child bride?"
Jack: "Ol, how did you and Adam meet again?"
he asks with the tone of someone who knows the answer full well.
Olive: "Why, Jack, Adam was a tenured professor. And I was but a lowly student."
Adam: "Graduate student,"
Adam injects, speaking to me.
Adam: "And not my student."
Olive: "But in his department,"
Olive adds impishly.
Olive: "It was all very, very scandalous."
Jack: "You should sell the movie rights, Ol."
Olive: "I'm hoping for a Netflix miniseries. Something sexy like Bridgerton, you know?"
Elsie: "Your friends are fun."
Jack: "I figured you would like them more than me."
Elsie: "I kind of do."
Elsie: "I get it, I think. How you feel about relationships. Because I also am not quite sure what I want. And ... I'd love to continue being friends."
Greg: "Good. Because now that I almost peed on you, we're bound for life."
Greg: "Oh my God. You know what I just realized?"
Greg: "That if you and Jack work out, Uncle Paul's going to ask you guys for threesomes till the day he dies."
I close my eyes. I might just be the one projectile-vomiting this time around.
George: "Jack's my closet friend. Hurt him, and I'm going full Tonya Harding. Though you're probably not as attached to your knees as Nancy was, so I'll do it on the knuckles. You won't be able to pick up chalk without experiencing agonizing pain. You'll have to hold it between your teeth, and all that hydrous magnesium silicate will fuck up your bowel movements forever."
My blood drains. I'm planning to flee to a remote Latvian village, alter my fingertips with a cheese grater, dye my hair black, then blond, then back to brown again just to throw people off - when George bursts out laughing.
George: "Oh my God, your face."
I blink at her.
George: "I'm sorry, that was so inappropriate. I just couldn't pass it up."
I blink again.
Elsie: "So you didn't want to meet because -"
George: "Nope, nothing to do with Jack. You can pull his heart out of his chest, grill it, and eat it with a side of creamed corn if you want. I mean, I am fond of him, but relationships are like assholes. Shouldn't go around and smell other people's, yada, yada."
Her smiles is mischievous.
I sip on my ayran.
Elsie: "It's okay. Just ... Nancy Kerrigan is my cousin. And my father was diagnosed with chalk-induced lung disease."
George: "Oh my God, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to ... I feel horrible about -"
She notices my small smile.
George: "You just made that up, didn't you?"
I shrug, stealing one of her dolmas.
George: "Not only are you perfect for Jack, I think I might like you more than he does, and that's a lot."
Elsie: "And Jack, in all of this ...?"
George: "Is a nonentity. Don't get me wrong. I'm happy for you guys. Well, for him. He was starting to look miserable. All that broody, horny, guilty pining."
Something hard pushes against my stomach through his jeans.
Jack: "Is this okay? Do you -"
Jack: "Thank fuck."
He groans softly and thumbs the pebble back and forth. Pinches it just this side of too much, making me gasp.
Jack: "I'm not going to fuck you, but God, I could."
Jack: "If you were any other woman ..."
His palms stroke my knees, spreading my legs apart.
Jack: "If you were anyone but you, I would take you to bed. And I'd fuck you everywhere you let me."
His fingers like electricity, climbing up my inner thighs, lighting up nerve endings.
Jack: "I would go down on you, maybe while you're going down on me. And because your tits ook like something I'll be dreaming about for decades, I'd ask permission to come on them. Paint a picture."
He reaches the elastic of my panties. I inhale, sharp.
Jack: "I'd clean you up and feed you before taking you home, if you wanted me to."
His thumb pushes the wet cotton to the side. Slides underneath.
Jack: "But you wouldn't be you. And afterwards I wouldn't think of you very much."
Jack: "Somewhere along the way your wires got crossed. Your brain decided that you're not worth people's time and effort, and t hat if you ask for anything, they won't just say no, they'll also leave you."
He says it matter-of-factly, like he's Archimedes of Syracuse repeating his findings about upward buoyant forces to the acropolis for the tenth time.
Jack: "That's not how love works, Elsie. But don't worry for now. I'll show you."
Elsie: "But I -"
Jack: "Go to sleep."
Elsie: "What? Why? No!"
I try to move up, but his arms cage me tighter.
Elsie: "We should be having all the sex."
Jack: "In a minute. For now, just close your eyes and be silent for twenty seconds."
Jack: "It's a kink I have."
Elsie: "You perv."
Elsie: "What happened to anal play and bondage?"
Jack: "We'll get there. Are your eyes closed?"
I nod into his chest.
Jack: "You could be my entire world,"
he whispers in my ear before moving to my collarbone.
Jack: "If you let me."
I stroke his hair.
Elsie: "I think I will."
Jack: "Then I'm sorry."
Elsie: "What are you - ah, what are you sorry for?"
He's making room for himself between my legs , spreading them open, touching me there purposely, exploring, urgently like he's looking for answers. Do I want this? Am I ready? Am I wet enough? Yes. Yes. I don't know.
Jack: "Because I'm never going to let you go."
Jack: "I'm going to fuck you everywhere."
He licks the hollow of my throat.
Jack: "Between today and the day we die, I'm going to fuck you everywhere."
Jack: "I want you, Elsie. All the time. I think of you. All. The. Fucking. Time. I'm distracted. I'm shit at work. And my first instinct, the very first time I saw you, was to run away. Because I knew that if we'd start doing this, we would never stop. And that's exactly how it is. There is no universe in which I'm going to let you go. I want to be with you, on you, every second of every day. I think - I dream of crazy things. I want you to marry me tomorrow so you can go on my health insurance. I want to lock you in my room for a couple weeks. I want to buy groceries based on what you like. I want to play it cool, like I'm attracted to you and not obsessed out of my mind, but that's not where I'm at. Not at all. And I need you to keep us in check. I need you to pace us, because wherever it is that we're going ... I'm here. I'm already right here."
Elsie: "You're not going to suddenly realize that you don't really like me, right?"
He dips his chin to look at me.
Jack: "If my feelings for you haven't changed after reading that Bella and Alice alphaverse fan fiction, I'm pretty sure we're golden."
Elsie: "It's called omegaverse - and you said it was good!"
Jack: "I said it was hot."