COMING AUGUST 23
Love On The Brain
Like an avenging, purple-haired Jedi bringing balance to the mansplained universe, 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 after years scraping by on the crumbs of academia—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. And sure, he caught her in his powerfully corded arms like a romance novel hero when she accidentally damseled in distress on her first day in the lab. But Levi made his feelings toward Bee very clear in grad school—archenemies work best employed in their own galaxies far, far away.
Now, her equipment is missing, the staff is ignoring her, and Bee finds her floundering career in somewhat of a pickle. Perhaps it’s her occipital cortex playing tricks on her, but Bee could swear she can see Levi softening into an ally, backing her plays, seconding her ideas…devouring her with those eyes. And 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?
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Exclusive Sneak Peek
I listen to my sister’s maniacal, gleeful cackling while I toss the empty can. “You know, you could at least pretend not to enjoy this so much.”
“Oh, I could. But will I?”
“Did you cry when you found out?”
“Did you head desk?”
“Don’t lie to me. Do you have a bump on your forehead?”
“ . . . Maybe a small one.”
“Oh, Bee. Bee, thank you for waking me up to share this outstanding piece of news. Isn’t The Wardass the guy who said that you were fugly?”
He never did, at least not in those terms, but I laugh so loud, Finneas gives me a startled glance. “I can’t believe you remember that.”
“Hey, I resented it a lot. You’re hot AF.”
“You only say so because I look exactly like you.”
“Why, I hadn’t even noticed.”
It’s not completely true, anyway. Yes, Reike and I are both short and slight. We have the same symmetrical features and blue eyes, the same straight dark hair. Still, we’ve long outgrown our Parent Trap stage, and at twenty-eight no one would struggle to tell us apart. Not when my hair has been different shades of pastel colors for the past decade, or with my love for piercings and the occasional tattoo. Reike, with her wanderlust and artistic inclinations, is the true free spirit of the family, but she can never be bothered to make free-spirit fashion statements. That’s where I, the supposedly boring scientist, come in to pick up the slack.
“So, was he? The one who insulted me by proxy?”
“Yep. Levi Ward. The one and only.”
I pour water into a bowl for Finneas. It didn’t go quite that way. Levi never explicitly insulted me. Implicitly, though . . .
I gave my first academic talk in my second semester of grad school, and I took it very seriously. I memorized the entire speech, re-did the PowerPoint six times, even agonized over the perfect outfit. I ended up dressing nicer than usual, and Annie, my grad school best friend, had the well-meaning but unfortunate idea to rope Levi in to complimenting me.
“Doesn’t Bee look extra pretty today?”
It was probably the only topic of conversation she could think of. Annie was always going on about how mysteriously handsome he was after all, with the dark hair and the broad shoulders and that interesting, unusual face of his; how she wished he’d stop being so reserved and ask her out. Except that Levi didn’t seem interested in conversation. He studied me intensely, with those piercing green eyes of his. He stared at me from head to toe for several moments. And then he said . . .
Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
He just made what Tim, my ex-fiancé, later referred to as an “aghast expression,” and walked out of the lab with a wooden nod and zero compliments—not even a stilted, fake one. After that, grad school—the ultimate cesspool of gossip—did its thing, and the story took a life of its own. Students said that he’d puked all over my dress; that he’d begged me on his knees to put a paper bag over my head; that he’d been so horrified, he’d tried to cleanse his brain by drinking bleach and suffered irreparable neurological damage as a consequence. I try not to take myself too seriously, and being part of a meme of sorts was amusing, but the rumors were so wild, I started to wonder if I really was revolting.
Still, I never blamed Levi. I never resented him for refusing to be strong-armed into pretending that he found me attractive. Or . . . well, not-repulsive. He always seemed like such a man’s man, after all. Different from the boys that surrounded me. Serious, disciplined, a little broody. Intense and gifted. Alpha, whatever that even means. A girl with a septum piercing and a blue ombré wouldn’t conform to his ideals of what pretty ladies should look like, and that’s fine.
What I do resent Levi for are his other behaviors during the year we overlapped. Like the fact that he never bothered to meet my eyes when I talked to him, or that he always found excuses not to come to journal club when it was my turn to present. I reserve the right to be angry for how he’d slip out of a group conversation the moment I joined, for considering me so beneath his notice that he never even said hi when I walked into the lab, for the way I caught him staring at me with an intense, displeased expression, as though I was some eldritch abomination. I reserve the right to feel bitter that after Tim and I got engaged, Levi pulled him aside and told him that he could do much better than me. Come on, who does that?
Most of all, I reserve the right to detest him for making it clear that he believed me to be a mediocre scientist. The rest I could have overlooked easily enough, but the lack of respect for my work . . . I’ll forever grind my axe for that.
That is, until I wedge it in his groin.
Levi became my sworn archenemy on a Tuesday in April, in my Ph.D. advisor’s office. Samantha Lee was—and still is—the bomb when it comes to neuroimaging. If there’s a way to study a living human’s brains without cracking their skull open, Sam either came up with it or mastered it. Her research is brilliant, well-funded, and highly interdisciplinary—hence the variety of Ph.D. students she mentored: cognitive neuroscientists like me, interested in studying the neural bases of behavior, but also computer scientists, biologists, psychologists. Engineers.
Even in the crowded chaos of Sam’s lab, Levi stood out. He had a knack for the type of problem-solving Sam liked—the one that elevates neuroimaging to an art. In his first year, he figured out a way to build a portable infra-red spectroscopy machine that had been puzzling post-docs for a decade. By his third, he’d revolutionized the lab’s data analysis pipeline. In his fourth he got a Science publication. And in his fifth, when I joined the lab, Sam called us together into her office.
“There is this amazing project I’ve been wanting to kickstart,” she said with her usual enthusiasm. “If we manage to make it work, it’s going to change the entire landscape of the field. And that’s why I need my best neuroscientist and my best engineer to collaborate on it.”
It was a breezy, early spring afternoon. I remember it well, because that morning had been unforgettable: Tim on one knee, in the middle of the lab, proposing. A bit theatrical, not really my thing, but I wasn’t going to complain, not when it meant someone wanted to stand by me for good. So I looked him in the eyes, choked back the tears, and said yes.
A few hours later, I felt my engagement ring bite painfully into my clenched fist. “I don’t have time for a collaboration, Sam,” Levi said. He was standing as far away from me as he could, and yet he still managed to fill the small office and become its center of gravity. He didn’t bother to glance at me. He never did.
Sam frowned. “The other day you said you’d be on board.”
“I misspoke.” His expression was unreadable. Uncompromising. “Sorry, Sam. I’m just too busy.”
I cleared my throat and took a few steps toward him. “I know I’m just a first-year student,” I started, appeasingly, “but I can do my part, I promise. And—”
“That’s not it,” he said. His eyes briefly caught mine, green and black stormy cold, and for a brief moment he seemed stuck, as though he couldn’t look away. My heart stumbled. “Like I said, I don’t have time right now to take on new projects.”
I don’t remember why I walked out of the office alone, nor why I decided to linger right outside. I told myself that it was fine. Levi was just busy. Everyone was busy. Academia was nothing but a bunch of busy people running around busily. I myself was super busy, because Sam was right: I was one of the best neuroscientists in the lab. I had plenty of my own work going on.
Until I overheard Sam’s concerned question: “Why did you change your mind? You said that the project was going to be a slam dunk.”
“I know. But I can’t. I’m sorry.”
“Work with Bee.”
Sam asked him why, but I didn’t stop to listen. Pursuing any kind of graduate education requires a healthy dose of masochism, but I drew the line at sticking around while someone trash-talked me to my boss. I stormed off, and by the following week, when I heard Annie chattering happily about the fact that Levi had agreed to help her on her thesis project, I’d long stopped lying to myself.
Levi Ward, His Wardness, Dr. Wardass, despised me.
Yes, he was a taciturn, somber, brooding mountain of a man. He was private, an introvert. His temperament was reserved and aloof. I couldn’t demand that he like me, and had no intention of doing so. Still, if he could be civil, polite, even friendly with everyone else, he could have made an effort with me too. But no—Levi Ward clearly despised me, and in the face of such hatred . . .
Well. I had no choice but to hate him back.
Praise For Love On The Brain
“With her sophomore novel, Ali Hazelwood proves that she is the perfect writer to show that science is sexy as hell, and that love can ‘STEM’ from the most unlikely places. She’s my newest must-buy author.”