How Not to Fall

How Not to Fall

by Emily Foster

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An “extremely intelligent, witty, nerdy, and oh-my-god over-the-top sexy” debut novel—first in a New Adult romance series (Fresh Fiction).

Data, research, scientific formulae—Annabelle Coffey is completely at ease with all of them. Men, not so much. But that’s all going to change after she asks Dr. Charles Douglas, the postdoctoral fellow in her lab, to have sex with her. Charles is not only beautiful, he is also adorably awkward, British, brilliant, and nice. What are the odds he’d turn her down?

Very high, as it happens. Something to do with that whole student/teacher/ethics thing. But in a few weeks, Annie will graduate. As soon as she does, the unlikely friendship that’s developing between them can turn physical—just until Annie leaves for graduate school. Yet nothing could have prepared either Annie or Charles for chemistry like this, or for what happens when a simple exercise in mutual pleasure turns into something as exhilarating and infernally complicated as love.

“The smart characters and Annie’s earnestness as a heroine are so refreshing.” —Smart Bitches, Trashy Books

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781496704191
Publisher: Kensington
Publication date: 01/01/1949
Series: The Belhaven Series , #1
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 388,284
File size: 974 KB

About the Author

EMILY FOSTER is a professional sex educator with a Ph.D. and a New York Times bestselling nonfiction sex science book (under a different name) to her credit. Writing popular nonfiction taught her that, if you want to change how people see the world, storytelling is better than all the research, statistics, and logic in the world. She lives in western Massachusetts with two dogs, two cats, and a cartoonist. Emily is funnier in real life (and hardly ever speaks in the third person). Visit her online at, or follow her on Twitter @TheEmilyFoster.

Read an Excerpt

Hoff Not To Fall

By Emily Foster


Copyright © 2016 Emily Nagoski
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4967-0419-1


Go with Your Gut, Girl

My lips are dry and my heart is racing and he's not even here yet.

This guy. He's the postdoctoral fellow in my psychophysiology lab. Tall. Blond. English. A rock climber, for crying out loud. And he graduated from Cambridge University's MB/PhD program when he was only twenty-three. Translation for civilians: he's a fucking genius.

The man is a dreamboat. We're all kind of crazy for him, all us undergrads in the lab — even Margaret, and she's a lesbian. And I'm the craziest of us all. In fact, this is how crazy I've gotten: I've asked him to meet me for coffee.

The coffee isn't crazy. We've had coffee before, he and I, to talk through papers or data or research projects. And the dry lips and racing heart are nothing new either — pretty much every time I see him (or, in this case, fail to see him), I feel this way.

But ... I may have slightly led him to believe I'm struggling with some data, and that's why I want to talk with him. (The data are fine. My senior thesis is practically done, and it has gone more smoothly than I ever expected.) In fact, what I'm going to tell him is — and see, I've got it all scripted in my head, so I don't screw it up — "Charles: you know this is my last semester in college, and then I'm leaving for grad school. I think you and I have A Thing and so I would like to engage in a physical relationship with you before I leave Indiana. What do you say?" This is as straightforward as it gets, right? I for one would love it if people approached me this unambiguously.

As I sit waiting for him, I consider including in my proposal a list of attributes I think make me a highly promising sex partner — the way you would in a cover letter for a job. Those attributes are, in descending order:

(1) My brain. An asset for every other complex task I've undertaken, and I see no reason why it won't come in handy for this one.

(2) My athleticism. I don't know exactly how this will help me either, but I'm sure I've heard the phrase "athletic sex," and I'm sure I would like to try some.

(3) My enthusiasm. I feel confident it's better to have sex with someone who's really, really glad to be there with you than with someone who isn't.

And possibly also (4), my unblinking willingness to look like an idiot in public.

Am I a beauty queen? I am not. My nose has a great deal of character. My hair has some interesting ideas about its place in the world. My body is built more along the lines of a wristwatch than an hourglass — flat yet bendy. It works for me — I am my body's biggest fangirl — but I recognize where it falls short of the culturally constructed ideal. Specifically, right around the place where my breasts aren't.

Still, having talked this through with Margaret, my labmate and roommate, we've concluded I should lead with my strengths.

I've just told you a slight lie. I said "we" concluded I should lead with my strengths. In fact, the conversation went more like this:

ME: I'm going to do it for real. I'm going to ask Charles to have sex with me.

MARGARET: laughs uproariously.

ME: completely straight face.

MARGARET: abruptly stops laughing. You're serious?

ME: As a hemorrhage. (NB: I didn't really say this. It's the kind of thing I imagine myself saying. I think I actually said something pithy, like, "Yes." Also, don't be fooled into thinking I actually know how to spell hemorrhage. That baby is all spell check.)

MARGARET: But why not just ask him on a date?

ME: I don't have time to date! I'm only here for three more months, and I've got a thesis to write!

MARGARET: staring mutely, in stunned disbelief. And ... when are you going to do this?

ME: Right before spring break. I figure if it doesn't go well, we can avoid each other for two weeks and then come back and pretend it never happened.

MARGARET: Dude. What are you going to say?

ME: Dude, I have no fucking clue. (NB: This is word for word what I said.)

We tried googling "how to ask a guy if he'd like to have sex with you," but we found little of value. There was a lot of "how to tell if he likes you," but I already know he likes me — he just thinks of me as his duckling. Professor Smith is the Poppa Duck, Charles is the Momma Duck, and all of us undergrads are the ducklings, quacking and waddling our way through the lab, with somewhere between a third and a half a clue what we're doing.

I did not attempt a search for "how to convince your academic Momma Duck that you're not a duckling after all — you're a sexytimes lady who wants sexytimes with him."

Margaret's conclusion, having thought it through, was that I should not say anything.

"I wouldn't do it," she said. "It'll be awkward."

"I'd rather be awkward than never try," I said. "I really think he and I have A Thing."

And she said, "But maybe trying will actually make it less likely to happen, you know?"

I didn't know. I don't know. All I know how to do is try and keep on trying until I succeed, and then I usually try some more until I get good at whatever it is. That's how it works, isn't it?

So here I am, complete with dry lips, racing heart, and a coffee going cold in front of me. Because I decided it's fine, either way. It's no big deal. If he says no, he says no. We finish the semester, we go our separate ways; no harm, no foul. It won't change anything. Whatever happens today, I'll still graduate in May, wrap up my dance classes, go to the World Congress on Psychophysiology conference, and then go home to New York City to accept free food and lodging from my parents for one blissful month.

And then I'm off to Boston, to begin what can only be described as the Harvard/MIT MD-PhD program.

(I know, right? I kind of impress me too.)

And nothing Charles might say or do will change any of that.

I just want to pause for a minute and say, for the record, I applied to the Harvard program basically as a joke. Like, doesn't everyone apply to Harvard? Isn't that just what you do? I applied for undergrad and didn't get in, but last year I was looking at graduate programs and I thought , Do it. It's not like you have to take a whole separate MCAT; it's just one extra program to apply to, one extra essay to write. And the program is a-fucking-mazing, which is why everyone applies. But nobody gets in. You get rejected by Harvard, you go wherever you're accepted, it's fine.

Besides which, I spent my entire life expecting to go to Columbia University for med school — apart from a few lost years when I thought I'd be a dancer, but let's not talk about that. My parents both got their medical degrees at Columbia. They met there. They fell in love there. I'm a Columbia baby. It was my destiny. Until I got the letter from Harvard.

It's an embarrassment of riches, I know, and I am genuinely appreciative of all the opportunities I've had. It goes to show how little I have to lose right now. The day the letter came, I sat on my bed, surrounded by my various acceptance letters, and did the only thing I know to do under these circumstances: I Skyped my parents.

I pressed my palm into my forehead and told them, "It's Columbia... or Harvard. I don't know."

My dad was like, "You gotta make the choice that's right for you, Anniebellie." (My name is Annabelle. Dad calls me Anniebellie sometimes. He's been doing it since I was born. I have no expectation that he'll ever stop, no matter how often I roll my eyes at him.)

And Mom was like, "Go with your gut, girl."

In other words, they were no help. So I went for a run through Bryan Park, and when I got back to the apartment, all sweaty and panting, I Skyped them again.

"It's Harvard," I told them. And then for no apparent reason, I burst into tears.

My dad sighed and said, "We're so proud of you. But you know what?" And he stopped for a second and sniffed. "We'd be proud of you if you lived in the basement apartment and worked at Starbucks for the rest of your life, because who you are is what matters, and you are a kind, beautiful person, Anniebee. You deserve it."

This next part is embarrassing, but I want you to understand my state of mind. All I could say in that moment was, "Daddy," as I sobbed in the direction of my laptop.

And my mom said, "Oh, eHug, honey. Hugs on electrons." Which is the kind of thing she says. She's maybe a little awkward.

So I laughed through my sobs and said, "I love you too, Mom."

Right? I'm lucky. I'll need to grow up eventually, I know; one day when I have a tough decision to make, I'll have to call someone other than my parents. But you know what? That day isn't here yet, and I'm not in a hurry.

Anyway, that was last week. And now here I am, still in undergrad, still at Indiana University. And even though, just at the moment, the idea of living in my parents' basement and working at Starbucks is sounding pretty attractive, I know that in actual fact there are no consequences of rejection I can't cope with. I've been rejected plenty, and accepted plenty too, and I'll be fine.

And oh fuck. There he is.


Put It on the Table

He sees me right away when he comes in the door. I wave. He puts a hand up in return while he pulls off his hat — it's still cold for March — then he points between me and the counter, eyebrows raised. Do I want a coffee? I raise my cup and mouth, I'm good.

See, he's thoughtful, as well as a dreamboat.

I try not to watch him too closely as he orders his usual flat white — steamed milk and four shots of espresso! How is that healthy? He is totally unaware of me, though, so I kind of stare. I stare at the line of his jaw, the curve of his bottom lip, the movement of his larynx when he orders. There are laugh lines just beginning to be visible around his eyes — I can't really see them from here, but I imagine I can, behind his glasses. He's wearing his shitty beige duffle coat, his hat stuffed halfway into the pocket. The ducklings have decided among ourselves that his coat used to be the color of baby puke, but years of neglect have left it somewhere between the color of baby puke and rainwater in a ditch.

But I'm telling you, it is a mercy to the world that the man doesn't try to look good, because even with his shitty beige duffle coat, eyes are turning to watch him. It happens every time. Does he know this goes on? Does he hide it on purpose?

We ducklings have speculated that under the shitty beige duffle coat and inevitable — and inevitably wrinkled — blue Oxford shirt is the body of a Greek god. We're pretty sure this is true. We have no evidence, but we're pretty sure.

When he gets to my table, he puts his stuff down, hangs his coat over the back of his chair (revealing the wrinkled blue Oxford shirt — it's the stripy one today), and sits down opposite me.

"Sorry I'm late. You know how Diana gets. How are you, Annie?"

Of course I know it's just polite to ask someone, "How are you?" at the start of a conversation. I do know that. It's just, when Charles asks you how you are, he's really asking. My pulse accelerates by about fifty beats per minute, I fight off a stupid grin, and I debate just spilling my guts right then. As a matter of fact, Charles, lustbucket of my loins, I have been masturbating to fantasies of you for a year and a half, and if I graduate without at least trying to actually be naked in a bed with you, I will live with that regret for the rest of my life.

But with my heart now pounding audibly in my head, I opt for the slightly more conventional, "I'm good. How are you?"

I am a conversational goddess, weaving a magical spell. No, I'm not. Headdesk.

"Good, good," he answers. "You're having difficulty with your data?"

So we're getting right to it, are we, Charles? No gentle buildup, just straight to the data I don't need to talk about?

And this is the moment. This is when ... I chicken out completely.

Instead of confidently propositioning him, I pull out my laptop and mumble something about variance to cover the awkwardness as I open a spreadsheet full of correlations.

"Uhhhh ..." I say persuasively. "Not so much difficulty as I'm just feeling uncertain about whether I saw everything there was to see. I'd just like another pair of eyes to go over it and see if maybe there was something I missed." I'm making this up as I go.

"Sure, glad to." He pulls my laptop to his side of the table and runs his eyes down the columns. "Not like you, eh? Usually you dot every i and cross every t and never look back to consider whether one might have slipped past you."

"Well" — I shrug into my coffee — "they kinda never do slip past." This is not arrogance; it's just true. I am detail-oriented. Even Professor Smith says so.

What a shame that skill is of no help to me in asking a man to have sex with me.

He grins. "True enough. The pink cells are the .001 significance?"

"And the yellow are .01, yep." I nod. I am an abject coward. I am a groveling little troll. Ass balls fuck.

He says, "Hm. This is interesting. ... How much time have you got?"

"I have class at three," I say.

"Well, it won't take that long, but let me ..." He's copying an array from the raw data and pasting it into a new spreadsheet. He saves it to our shared Dropbox (we share a Dropbox, he and I. No big deal), then pulls out his own computer and opens the file there with the statistical software. "This'll take a moment," he says. As he labels variables, he says, "Feeling a little unsure about the thesis?"

"No, not really," I say, and it's true.

He raises an eyebrow at me, skeptical. "You're looking a little rough around the edges, if you'll forgive me for mentioning it. It's normal to feel anxious about a big project. I was a wreck when I was writing my senior thesis."

He's being so nice, I can hardly stand it.

"Dude, you were, like, twelve when you were writing your senior thesis."

"Eighteen," he grins at his screen.

"Same difference! Everything causes anxiety when you're eighteen."

"As opposed to the confident, striding age of twenty-two. So, not the thesis then. Personal? Should I not ask? Boy troubles?"

"Um, not as such," I say.

"Girl troubles, then?"

That makes me laugh. And then I decide to tell the truth — most of it. "It's a man, not a boy, and it's not so much trouble as ... a profound lack of trouble, when I would like very much for there to be trouble."

"You're not going to tell me you've got a crush on a professor, are you?" he says, teasing.

And there it is. My window of opportunity. I can let it pass, or I can step through into possibility.

With my throat thick and my heart racing, I step through.

I look right at him, lick my dry lips, and say, "Not a professor."

He looks up from his screen and blinks. As my meaning settles into his brain, he flushes pink, the way he does when anyone compliments him or thanks him for anything.

"I ..." he says.

"You ... er," he continues.

"That is ..." he concludes.

Oh, this is way worse than I expected. So. Much. Worse. But what did I expect? Was there any point at which I really imagined him saying no? Saying yes? Saying anything? Or did I only think as far as the asking?

I shake my head and wave the subject away. "Don't worry about it. Forget it."

"Okay," he says with immediate and mortifying relief, and he looks back down at the screen, where new analyses are running.

And I think to myself, But ... just ask and let him say no. You'll never regret asking, and you'll always regret not knowing for sure what could have happened.

So I say, "It's just ..."

He looks up again with the expression of a man facing a firing squad.

"You don't want to hear this, so I'll just say it fast and get it over with and then we can forget it. The thing is, I think you and I have A Thing, and I know if I don't at least put it on the table, I'll always wonder 'what if,' and so I'm just ... putting it on the table, you know, and leaving it there. Like bread. For sharing."

"Bread?" he asks, looking no happier.

I give him some side eye and say tentatively, "I'm talking about sex?"

He's nearly fuchsia now. "Jesus," he says weakly.

"Feel free to say no! Honestly! I won't take it personally — I mean, even if you mean it personally, I'll just chalk it up to a boss-student thing."

"Exactly," he agrees. "A boss-student thing. So. No. Er. Thanks."

And that was my window.

It has closed.

It is officially time to let go.

But instead I say, "If it's a boss-student thing, once I'm not a student, that's not a thing anymore, and I'll be in Bloomington until early June...." But his eyes are on his screen.


Excerpted from Hoff Not To Fall by Emily Foster. Copyright © 2016 Emily Nagoski. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Chapter 1 - Go with Your Gut, Girl,
Chapter 2 - Put It on the Table,
Chapter 3 - My Sort Is Still in the Lab,
Chapter 4 - Brace Yourself, Bridget,
Chapter 5 - Burritos and Trauma,
Chapter 6 - I'm Not Wrong,
Chapter 7 - The Thing Is Super Sexy,
Chapter 8 - Definitively Off the Payroll,
Chapter 9 - Second Base,
Chapter 10 - I'm Not Very Pretty,
Chapter 11 - My Skinned Knee,
Chapter 12 - Gurflugblurgh. And you?,
Chapter 13 - An Honor and a Privilege,
Chapter 14 - Gangnam Style,
Chapter 15 - The Mechanoreceptors,
Chapter 16 - You Must Answer Me,
Chapter 17 - Charles Won't Let Me Fall,
Chapter 18 - The Cranial Nerves,
Chapter 19 - Hump the Rock,
Chapter 20 - I Have Never Actually Read the Thing,
Chapter 21 - It'll Be Like in Frozen,
Chapter 22 - Done with the Talking Part,
Chapter 23 - His Bloody Elbow,
Chapter 24 - Feeling Like Shit About Feeling Like Shit,
Chapter 25 - The Things That Need Saying,
Chapter 26 - I Fucking Hate You,
Chapter 27 - The Fundamental Unreliability of the Universe,
Chapter 28 - It Hurts,
Teaser chapter,
Teaser chapter,
Teaser chapter,
Copyright Page,

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