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EXCLUSIVE
Books

Ali Hazelwood says new romance is heavy on ‘angst.’ Read an excerpt: EXCLUSIVE

Hazelwood says "Not In Love" will press pause on the humor and lean into the angst of a forbidden romance.
Courtesy Justin Murphy / Out of the Attic Photography
/ Source: TODAY

Ali Hazelwood is back with another "STEMinist" romance novel, following in the footsteps of her hit 2021 book, "The Love Hypothesis."

Out June 11, "Not In Love" follows Rue, a biotech engineer at a food science start-up, and Eli, who works at the private equity firm trying to take control of the company Rue works for. What ensues is a messy affair that promises forbidden romance tropes and for the first time in Hazelwood's canon, a relationship from two perspectives.

"It was all about exploring the tension between two people who develop an attraction to each other, but find out that it would be 'wrong' to give in to it," Hazelwood tells TODAY.com. "'Oh no, I want him/her, but I really shouldn’t' was a really fun dynamic to explore!"

Teasing the characters that readers will meet in the novel, Hazelwood describes Rue as "someone who struggles with all facets of human relationships and masks these difficulties by coming across as cold and unemotional." Eli, meanwhile, "is a people-person who’s universally liked but is convinced that he is incapable of falling in love." This combination leads to sparks. But neither is prepared to fall in love.

"'Not In Love' is the story of how Eli and Rue overcome their emotional unavailability, as well as the fact that their friends and coworkers are adamantly against their relationships," she says.

"Not In Love" by Ali Hazelwood.
"Not In Love" by Ali Hazelwood.

"Not In Love" will mark Hazelwood's fourth novel that interweaves romance with the drama, intrigue and politics of the science world, inspired by her background as a neuroscience professor. In addition to "The Love Hypothesis," she's written "Love on the Brain" (2022) and "Love, Theoretically" (2023). Her latest novel, though, will lean more into the "romantic," less on the "comedy."

When she started writing "Not In Love," Hazelwood says she was feeling "a bit rom-commed out."

"I knew that the book was going to lean more toward angst," she says. "I think you can tell from the result: this is my most introspective and serious book, and Rue is my most complicated and least 'likable' main character. And yet, I think I might love her best?"

Part of finding that angst meant leaving the world of academia and entering "an environment in which the stakes are fairly high."

"The world of science startups can be very cutthroat and high drama. When lots of money and big ideas are involved, people can do terrible things," she says.

"Not In Love" will be the second book Hazelwood publishes this year. In February, she released "Bride," a paranormal romance about an arranged marriage between a vampire and werewolf, that quickly became a BookTok — the bookish side of TikTok — favorite.

So, while waiting for your next Hazelwood fix after finishing "Bride," here's a sneak peek at "Not In Love."

'Not In Love' by Ali Hazelwood excerpt

This cannot be a coincidence.

Except, it could be. It had to be, because I had been the one to message him. I had chosen not to reveal my real name. I had given him my phone number. It put a real damper on all the conspiracy theories my mind wanted to craft.

“No. I didn’t know Harkness existed until this morning. And I didn’t ...” I hesitated. “I didn’t look up your full name. Not even last night, after.” It had felt wrong, when he hadn’t known mine. Plus, I wasn’t used to this. Wanting to know things, about a man.

“Okay,” he muttered, running one hand through his hair and leaving it no more mussed. Some kind of ceiling effect, clearly. “I didn’t know, either,” he said, clearly aware that I’d contemplated the possibility, as ridiculous as it was. If Eli had been inclined toward corporate espionage, I’d have been a terrible choice. I was utterly, fantastically irrelevant in the grand scheme of Kline.

And yet, here he was. Looking at me like nothing else existed in the world.

“It’s okay. It doesn’t matter.” He made a gesture with his hand, and I noticed the number I’d scribbled last night on his palm. Just the faint, illegible shadow of it, like he’d washed his hands several times in the interim, purposefully avoiding to scrub hard enough to erase all traces. “It changes nothing,” he added.

“Nothing?”

“Between us.” He smiled. That knockout, nice-guy, grown-up-surrounded-by-love-and-confidence-and-the-certainty-of-his-worth smile. “I’ll talk to HR, but I don’t think this causes any conflict of interest. We . . .”

He paused, so I cocked my head and took a curious step toward him, entering a new gravitational field. His body was not the reason I’d chosen to message him, but I couldn’t deny that it was beautiful. Big frame. Full biceps. More what I’d expect from a pro athlete than from someone who sat behind a desk for a living. “We?” I asked.

He looked down at me, eyelashes fluttering. “You seemed interested in we, last night.”

“I was.” I bit the side of my cheek. “But last night I had no idea you were trying to steal the company I work for.”

Abruptly, the temperature in the room dropped. Tension pulled, instantly hostile.

Eli’s jaw twitched, and he took a step forward. His expression was outwardly amused, but his muscles were taut. “Steal the company.” He nodded, making a show of considering my words. “That’s a big accusation.”

“If the shoe fits.”

“Remarkably poor fit for a shoe.” He held my eyes. “Did Harkness barge in wearing ski masks? Because that is what thieves do.”

I didn’t reply.

“Did we take the property of someone else without offering compensation? Did we obtain something through subterfuge?” He shrugged. With ease. “I don’t think so. But if you suspect foul play, by all means. There are several authorities to which you can report us.”

I thought of myself as a rational person, and rationally I knew that he was right. And yet, Eli being part of Harkness felt like a personal betrayal. Even though we’d barely spent an hour together. Maybe the problem was that I’d shared about Vince with Eli, shared more than I should because . . . because I’d liked him. I’d liked Eli, and that was the crux of it. Now that I’d finally admitted it to myself, I could let go of it. Of him.

How liberating.

“We didn’t steal anything, Rue,” he told me, voice low. “What we did was buy a loan. And what we’re doing is making sure that our investment pays off. That’s it.”

“I see. And tell me, is it normal for the highest-ranking members of a private equity firm to be on-site interviewing employees?”

His mouth twitched. “Are you an expert on financial law, Dr. Siebert?”

“It seems like you already know the answer to that.”

“As do you.”

We regarded each other in silence. When I couldn’t bear it any longer, I nodded once, silent, and turned around so that—

His hand closed around my wrist, and I hated, hated the scorch of electricity that traveled up my nerve endings at the contact. Even more, I hated how he instantly let go, as if he, too, had been burned.

What I felt was bad enough. The thought of Eli experiencing the same was a recipe for disaster.

“Rue. We should talk,” he said earnestly, any pretense or hostility dropped. His fingers returned to my wrist. “Not here.”

“Talk about what?”

“About what happened last night.”

“We didn’t even hold hands. Not much to discuss.”

“Come on, Rue, you know that we—”

“Eli?”

We both turned. Conor Harkness was leaning in, palms against the doorframe, watching us with the air of a shark who could smell blood from miles away. His gaze focused on our closeness, on the way Eli’s eyes seemed unable to let go of me, on his hand, still circling my wrist.

“A moment,” Eli said.

“I need you in the—”

“A moment,” he repeated, impatient, and after another raised eyebrow and infinitesimal hesitation, Conor Harkness was gone, and I remembered myself.

I stepped back from Eli, taking in the strong set of his brow, his beautiful blue eyes, the tension in his jaw. Someone had to put an end to this. Me—I had to put an end to this, because he clearly would not. “Goodbye, Eli.”

“Rue, wait. Can we—”

“My number.” At the door, I spun on my heels. “Do you still have it?”

He nodded. Eagerly. Hopeful.

“It might be better if you got rid of it.”

Eli dipped his head and let out an exhaled, silent laugh. I left the room, not quite sure where his disappointment ended and mine began.

Excerpted from NOT IN LOVE by Ali Hazelwood published by Berkley, an imprint of The Penguin Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2024 by Ali Hazelwood.