AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: Elizabeth Hayley
A Holiday in Pieces
"Shane!" Amanda yelled from her perch on their bed.
"Yes, dear?" Shane answered as he walked slowly down the hall toward their bedroom, the fabric of his gray T-shirt straining against his broad chest and defined biceps.
"This isn't going to work?"
Shane squinted his eyes. "You're going to need to be more specific. Because if you mean the baby, I think it's a little late to be reconsidering."
Amanda's hand unconsciously drifted to her round belly and began rubbing it. "No, not the baby. Though it does have to do with the baby."
Shane widened his eyes when she didn't continue speaking. "You going to fill me in or are we playing some kind of weird charades where you sit completely still and I have to read your mind?"
"We don't have a family tradition."
"A what now?"
"A tradition. Something we can do every year with our kids that'll be special for us."
Shane pushed a hand through his short blond hair.
Amanda knew what he was thinking. This wasn't the first time she'd gotten sentimental over the past eight months. But since her hormones shifted on a dime, they hadn't actually seen anything through. This was different. Amanda had never pictured herself as particularly maternal. And God knew her mother wasn't much of a role model in that respect. When Amanda had told her mom about the baby, Angela had shown up the next day with a Happy First Birthday balloon and a cigar, which she promptly lit and smoked herself. No, Amanda was going to have to navigate the twisting path of motherhood on her own, and she was determined to get it right.
"What did you have in mind?" Shane asked.
Amanda was proud of him for keeping the frustration he was probably feeling out of his voice. Dealing with her normally wasn't an easy feat, but trying to handle her while pregnant had to make Shane eligible for sainthood. Which was why she thought he'd like her suggestion. "Maybe we could start going to church every Christmas Eve."
"Why would we do that?"
Amanda pulled her head back in surprise. "Why wouldn't we do that?"
"When was the last time you were in a church?"
Amanda pursed her lips and looked at the ceiling as she thought back. It couldn't have been that long ago, for Christ's sake. Why can't I remember? After a few moments, she looked back to Shane. "I have pregnancy brain. I can barely remember what I did this morning."
Shane raised his eyebrows, a smirk toying at the fringes of his lips. "Fine. What religion are you?"
"You asking me or telling me?"
Amanda scowled at him. "Telling you."
"What kind of Christian?"
"There are types?" she screeched.
"Yes," he said as though he were speaking to a small child. "Catholic, Protestant, Episcopalian-- any of those ring a bell?"
Amanda stared at him for a second before muttering, "Okay, maybe church is a bad idea."
Shane thrust his hands into his pockets, a look of self-satisfaction plain on his face. Amanda wanted to rip off his head and feed it to a flock of seagulls. Then she suddenly perked up. "I'll Google some other ideas." She scooped up her phone from the bedspread and typed in family Christmas traditions. "Ooh ooh, we can make cookie decorations."
"Can we make it a tradition not to do that?"
"Why?" Amanda's shoulders drooped.
Shane laughed. "Because I don't need you in there destroying my kitchen every year."
Amanda narrowed her eyes. "It's our kitchen."
"Not the way you cook it's not. That kitchen wants nothing to do with you." Shane walked over and rubbed Amanda's belly. "It's okay, Fiona. Daddy will feed you."
Amanda smacked his hand away. "Like she wants to live on organic grass and tree bark."
Shane burst out laughing. "What the hell is organic grass?"
Amanda tried and failed to suppress a smile. "Who knows. But I bet it exists."
Shane sat next to her and wrapped an arm around her. "What's all this tradition stuff about?"
Amanda shrugged. "I don't know." She let out a long sigh. "I guess I just don't want Fiona to grow up the way I did. I mean, I know my mom loved me and stuff. It's not that. But we never did much together. There was never anything that was unique to me and her."
Shane leaned down and kissed her shoulder. "Then we'll keep looking and find a tradition that fits us. But I don't think church and baking are it."
Amanda turned her head toward him before pressing her lips softly to his. "Okay."
"I know. We could make up a family workout. We could get up Christmas morning, and--"
Amanda put her hand over his mouth. Only a CrossFit coach would ruin a holiday with exercise. "Don't even finish that thought."
She saw Shane's lips widen into a smile right before he licked her palm. "You're gross," she said as she wiped her hand on her sweatpants.
"You're the one who loves me. That makes you grosser."
"I hate you." She pushed him away from her before grabbing his shirt and pulling him back. "But I love you too," she whispered against his lips before kissing the hell out of him.
Amanda walked through the mall with Lily, staring into all of the different stores hoping for inspiration "What did you get that husband of yours?"
"One of those fancy cameras. The man insists on documenting every moment of Maddie's life with a picture." She said it as though the thought annoyed her, but her smile that lit up her face revealed otherwise. "What did you get Shane?"
"The fruit of my loins." Amanda and Lily looked at each other a moment before bursting out laughing. "I don't know yet. I can't think of anything good."
"Well time's ticking. You only have four more days."
"I know, I know." Amanda shifted her purse to her other shoulder. "Do you guys have any traditions you do with Maddie's?"
Lily cocked an eyebrow. "She's one. What kind of traditions could we do with her?"
"I don't know, smartass. That's why I'm asking." Amanda stopped to look at the window display of a watch shop before moving on. "Did you have any traditions growing up?"
Lily was silent for a minute. "I used to open one present on Christmas Eve. It was always pajamas. I thought I had really lousy luck until I realized my parents chose to give me that on purpose. I'd wear them to bed that night. Why are you asking?"
"I want to start a tradition with Fiona."
"Maybe this year's tradition can just be leaving her alone until she's born."
"Why am I friends with you? You're so unpleasant to be around."
Lily laughed. "Because you're even worse so I'm your only option."
Amanda shook her head. "Such a sad state of affairs."
They walked and shopped a little for small gifts for friends and family before heading toward the food court. It was mobbed with no available tables until Amanda saw a family get up in the middle of the room. She started toward it only to see a group of teenagers moving in the same direction. "Don't even think about it," she yelled. "Don't let the belly fool you. I will throw down if you take my table."
The teenagers stopped in their tracks before hastily retreating from the direction they'd come.
Lily plopped her bags down on a chair and looked at her. "I have to say, Amanda, pregnancy is doing wonders for your people skills."
"Please. Pregnancy is a great excuse to behave badly."
"What excuse did you use before?"
Amanda thought for a second. "Troubled childhood."
Lily laughed before asking, "What do you feel like?"
"Sure. I'll get it. You guard our bags. Do you want the salad with chicken like usual?"
Lily went off to get their food while Amanda sat and contemplated potential traditions. When Lily returned and got settled, Amanda shared what she'd come up with. "What about caroling?"
"What about it?" Lily asked before biting into her taco.
"For a tradition. We could go Christmas caroling."
"Around our neighborhood."
Lily put her food down. "I thought you were getting along better with your neighbors."
Amanda dropped her fork into her salad. "I always got along with the neighbors."
Lily raised her eyebrows.
"What? I did." Amanda defended.
"Weren't you specifically asked not to attend your block party last year."
Amanda looked down and inspected her nails. "It may have been implied that it'd be wise for me not to go. But that was before."
"Before I stopped wearing skimpy bathing suits, which is what pissed them all off to begin with."
"That was big of you."
"Literally. I only stopped because I was pregnant this last summer."
Lily shook her head.
"What does me caroling have to do with me getting along with my neighbors?" Amanda brought the conversation back to where it had began.
"Because you'll just be giving them a new reason to hate you."
"What are you talking about? No wonder you left teaching. You're confusing as hell. Those kids probably never learned anything."
"No shit." Lily laughed. "And I'm talking about you singing."
"What's wrong with me singing?"
"Amanda, come on."
"No. What's wrong with me singing?"
"You mean other than the fact that you're totally tone deaf?"
Amanda gasped. "I am not."
"You are too. Why do you think Kyle told you to just mouth the hymns at his wedding?"
Amanda snapped her fingers. "I knew I'd been to church recently."
Amanda waved a hand. "Nevermind. Okay so maybe caroling is a bad idea. Not because of my voice, but because I just realized that Fiona won't be able to sing for a few years."
"Whatever excuse you need to use that prevents you from knocking on some poor soul's door and screeching a Christmas Carol at them is good enough for me."
Amanda picked up her fork. "Maybe my tradition can be to find better friends."
"You better not."
"Why?" Amanda asked, waiting for another sarcastic remark.
Lily looked at Amanda and smiled. "Because you're the best friend I've ever had. And I don't share well."
Speechless for the first time in a long time, Amanda simply returned the smile, reached across to squeeze Lily's hand, and resumed her lunch.
**Section contains spoilers for Pieces of Perfect and Picking Up the Pieces
Amanda and Shane arrived a little after eight thirty to Lily's and Max's Christmas Eve party. Even though they were only about forty minutes late, the party was already pumping. Amanda took in the scene in front of her: Tina and her husband--Amanda could never remember his freaking name--were chatting with Kyle and Kate. Max's best friend Trevor was walking around with mistletoe, kissing all of the women. Amanda also noticed the parents of the hosts laughing in a corner. Who she didn't see were Lily and Max.
"Don't even bother looking. You know what they're doing."
Amanda turned to see that Trevor had snuck up on them. He shook Shane's hand before holding the mistletoe over Amanda's head and kissing her cheek. She scrubbed a hand over the skin his lips had just touched. "Great. Shane, hand me some sanitizer. God only knows what's breeding on those lips."
"Very funny, Mandy." Trevor smirked at her.
She smacked his chest. "Don't call me Mandy, roid boy."
"Roid boy? What? Are you doubting your man's skills? These muscles came from his gym."
"Yeah, his gym and a syringe in your ass." Amanda couldn't contain the smile spreading across her face. Trevor had become her new favorite insult partner since it was virtually impossible to offend him. They got along perfectly, despite the fact that most people were convinced they hated one another. "So where are the Samsons?"
Trevor let his eyes drift up the stairs.
"They're not," Amanda gasped wide-eyed.
"Who are you to judge? Like we don't all know what you two are doing when you close the office door at the gym."
"Well that's different. We all know that I'm of questionable morals."
"Hey," Shane interjected. "What does that say about me?"
Amanda patted his shoulder. "That you're an atrocious judge of character." She turned back to Trevor. "Their parents are here." Amanda found the prospect of her best friend upstairs fucking while they had guests milling around positively scandalous. She'd never been prouder.
Trevor shrugged. "You want a drink? There's virgin punch over there."
Shane snorted, causing Amanda to slowly pan toward him and glare. "What?" she asked.
"Just you and anything virgin...it's just...funny."
Amanda raised her eyebrows. "You're no monk, you know."
Shane laughed again and put his arm around her shoulder, pressing a kiss to her temple as he pulled her close. "Thanks, Trev. We'll wander over toward the drinks and get something in a bit."
"Okay. I'm going to go bother Trish. That chick is totally insane."
Amanda smiled and shook her head as she watched him approach Lily's former mentee. Amanda was surprised Lily and Trish had stayed in touch, though she supposed the two of them had a lot in common--what with both being former teachers who'd been having illicit affairs on school property. The difference was, Lily had married her partner in crime while Trish and the band director hadn't lasted more than a month. Supposedly he was heinously bossy in public, but surprisingly submissive in private and had a penchant for floggers and anal beads.
"Should we mingle?" Shane asked.
"Yup," she replied as she steered them toward the parents.
Max's dad Bill was the first to see them. "Amanda, look at you." He drew her into a hug. "You look beautiful. Look, doll," Bill said to his wife Marjory. "Amanda's here." He stepped back and slipped his arm around Marjory as he continued to look at Amanda. "Doesn't it make you want to try for another?"
Amanda let it an inelegant snort as she tried and failed to stifle a laugh.
Marjory leveled a stern look at Bill. "Don't start."
"But you said you liked it when I started. It's when I stop that you complain." Bill waggled his eyebrows at his wife.
"Amanda is going through enough. Don't make her ill," Marjory scolded.
"Wow. I haven't been this uncomfortable since...maybe ever. And I'm married to Amanda so that's really saying something," Shane said. He smiled as he extended a hand toward Bill and then Lily's dad Howard. He quickly hugged Marjory and Lily's mom Lynn, and Amanda followed suit.
"Where's your mom?" Howard asked.
Amanda shrugged. "She said she was coming."
"Are your parents coming tonight, Shane?" Lynn asked.
"No, they're spending the night with my brother since he's going to his in-law's tomorrow."
"Oh, I'm sorry I won't get to see them," Marjory said. "How's your nephew doing?"
"As ghetto as ever," Amanda answered.
Shane shot a hard stare her way before turning back to Marjory. "They're hoping he can return to school for the next semester. He insists that it was another kid's idea to Saran Wrap the principal's car, and he was just an innocent bystander, but he won't tell who it was. Something about snitches getting stitches. It was a fairly harmless prank though, so they hopefully won't keep the expulsion going for the entire year."
"That's good. Sounds like it was probably just a big misunderstanding," Marjory said with a sincere smile.
"Yeah, a misunderstanding about just how warped that kid is," Amanda couldn't resist adding.
"Did we ever tell you about the time Max--"
Bill was interrupted by Max's loud voice. "No stories about me, old man."
Amanda felt an arm on her shoulder and looked over to see Max with his other arm draped over Shane. Lily quickly appeared on her other side. "And where were you?" Amanda whispered to her friend.
"Wardrobe malfunction," Lily whispered back.
"It's hard for clothes you aren't wearing to malfunction."
"Shut up," Lily shot back.
Amanda chuckled and turned to Max. "Where have you been?" she asked loud enough for everyone to hear. She thought she heard Lily groan beside her but she didn't care enough to make sure.
Max grinned widely. "I had to give Lily her Christmas present." He winked at Amanda.
"Oh, what was it?" Lynn asked.
"A, um, a...paper shredder." Lily looked as surprised by her words as everyone else.
Bill nodded. "A paper shredder. Very sensible gift. Which makes it completely unconvincing. Marrying you was the only sensible thing Max has ever done. Try again, Lily. And make me proud this time."
"A necklace?" Lily tried.
"Nope. Then you'd have to show it to us. Try again," Bill encouraged.
"A new laptop," Lily said more confidently.
"Thatta girl." Bill chuckled as he pulled Lily into a hug.
"What are you going to do with your old one," Angela asked.
Amanda's head whipped around. "When did you get here?"
"A few minutes ago. I would've come over sooner but I was busy running away from that odd boy with the mistletoe. I don't kiss strangers unless they look like they need one."
"That's just Trevor...wait...what? You kiss strangers?" Amanda hoped she'd misheard.
"Yeah. You know what they say: everyone can use a hug now and then."
"Everyone doesn't say that. And a hug is a lot different than a kiss," Amanda argued.
Angela batted a hand at her. "No it isn't. It's just a hug with your lips instead of your arms."
Lily elbowed Amanda softly. "Weren't you looking for a new tradition? You and little Fiona can take up macking with strangers."
Bill smiled widely. "Oh, you want to start a tradition with your little one? What a great idea. We used to have one. Remember, Doll?"
Marjory squinted as though she were trying to remember. "We used to leave cookies and a note for Santa."
"No, not that. Remember when we used to 'rock the bed' so Max thought it was Santa's reindeer landing on our roof."
Marjory's face grew red. "I don't think they want to hear about that, Bill."
"Oh I think we do," Max answered, his eyes twinkling with mischief.
"It wasn't an intentional tradition. One night, Marjory and I were, how should I put this, well we were doing what you and Lily are trying to pretend you weren't just doing upstairs. You were maybe four at the time. We must've been particularly noisy that night."
"Bill, please stop," Marjory begged.
"Yeah, now that I'm actually hearing it, I think I'm with mom. Please stop," Max begged.
"Suit yourselves," Bill said.
There was an awkward silence for what felt like multiple minutes before Angela broke it.
"So, about that laptop."
Amanda opened her mouth wide, yawning as she took in the bright outdoors beyond their bedroom curtains. “We really need to get darker shades.”
“Hmm?” Shane’s voice vibrated against her neck as his lips pressed against it.
“I said we really need to get curtains that keep the room dark. I'm sick of getting woken up before I'm ready to.”
Shane's muscular hand slipped under her shirt and over the skin of her stomach. “Then you probably should've thought twice before...this happened. Because I'm pretty sure Fiona’s idea of a fun morning won't involve you sleeping until ten.”
She glanced at the clock. “It's not even nine thirty.” She felt Shane’s smile spread against her skin as he laughed softly. “You hungry?”
“Not really. But I'm guessing your question means you are?”
“Well yeah, but I always am.”
Shane’s hands slid higher up her shirt to toy with her nipples. “Shaaaane,” she said, dragging out his name so it sounded as much like a moan as it did a complaint. It was a talent she secretly prided herself on.
He didn't respond, instead using his mouth to nip at the soft flesh on the back of her neck as he pulled her hair out of the way.
This time she couldn't hide the soft moan that escaped her on an exhale as Shane’s erection moved between the cheeks of her ass as he slid against the fabric of her underwear.
Shane let out a low groan. “Now I'm hungry.”
“Yeah?” She heard how desperate she sounded. “What are you in the mood for?”
“Sticky buns,” Shane said with a slap to the side of her ass.
“Again? We just did that the other--”
Shane chuckled loudly.
Amanda flipped over so she was looking at him, his blond hair rumpled in the sexiest way. “What?”
“I'm talking about real sticky buns. Like the kind that you eat after they go in the oven. I got stuff to make them for you.”
Amanda looked like he'd just told her he'd bought her a Ferrari. With stolen money. She didn't know whether to question him about it or sprint downstairs as fast as her waddling legs could take her. She decided the exercise wasn't worth it unless she knew it was for real first. “You, the King of Kale, bought ingredients to make sticky buns? Like the kind with pure sugary goodness glazed on top?”
The corner of Shane’s mouth turned up into a satisfied half-grin. “I did. It's Christmas morning. I figured making them once a year wouldn't kill me.”
“That might be the sexiest thing you've said to me in the last...eight and a half months.”
Shane put a light kiss on her forehead. “Oh good. Maybe that’ll make up for the fact that I didn't get you any gifts.”
Though she knew he was kidding, Amanda gave him a look that hopefully let him know it would not make up for a lack of presents.
Shane followed her downstairs and preheated the oven while he prepared the sticky buns. They were actually just cinnamon rolls from a tube that got drenched in icing after baking. But it was the thought that counted.
The two ate in near silence until Amanda got up to get more orange juice and another cinnamon roll. “You want another one?”
Shane looked down at his empty plate and Amanda was sure that he’d refuse. The thought that he'd already eaten one was probably enough to make him run an extra two miles. “Sure,” he replied, sounding nearly as surprised at his response as Amanda was.
She placed two more rolls on her plate and slipped one onto Shane’s when she got back to the table. Then she licked the extra icing off her fingers and took a sip of her juice. “What?” She asked when she noticed Shane staring at her with a small smile.
“I think this is it.”
“Our tradition,” he said. “I don't think we need any organized activity or special gift or anything.” He reached out and took Amanda’s hand in his before leaning over to kiss her belly. “I think just being together is enough.”
Amanda popped a small piece of a cinnamon roll in her mouth, a smile creeping over her lips as she chewed. “I think so too.”
They live with their husbands and kids in a suburb of Philadelphia. Thankfully, their children are still too young to read.
Elizabeth Hayley's writing motto is best captured by the words of Patrick Dennis: "I always start with a clean piece of paper and a dirty mind."
We split the time on Goodreads, so those of you who have been communicating with us get "pieces" of each of us. We appreciate all of your support!
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1. If money was no object what would take out the number one spot on your Christmas list?
Hayley: I would want a new four door Jeep Wrangler to drive around in the summer.
Elizabeth: A trip to an island where I could relax in the sun and read.
2. What was the first book you read that made you think “wow this is what I want to do, I want to be an author”?
This probably seems cliché, but we read Fifty Shades and thought, “We can totally do this.” The rest is history.
3. What does Christmas mean for you?
Hayley: Christmas in my house means cinnamon rolls, a big dinner, and getting to spend time with family. Now that we have a son who is almost two, we've been reading books about Santa (who he calls “ho, ho”).
Elizabeth: It means watching my daughter smile for an entire day and getting to spend time eating and being merry with family.
4. What’s your guilty pleasure, the one thing you hate admitting out loud?
Elizabeth: I think we've admitted to almost everything out loud by this point haha. I actually don't like telling people that I exclusively read m/m. I feel like people who aren't into romance think it's bizarre.
Hayley: Ummm...I've admitted this too, but I read very little. I tend to start books and not finish them. As a writer, it's embarrassing to me.
5. What’s next for you in terms of writing?
We are getting ready to submit a new proposal to our current publisher. It’s contemporary romance with a hint of suspense. We're also finishing up a proposal for a fan fiction project that we hope to work on eventually.