Authors: Janice Thompson
That Lucky Old Sun
The Bella Novella Collection, Book Four
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That Lucky Old Sun
Copyright © 2016 by Janice Thompson. All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, is forbidden without the permission of the author.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, new International Version ©, NIV©, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
All of the characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events is purely coincidental.
Cover art by Crystal Barnes
Bella Rossi is one of my all-time favorite characters in a contemporary romantic comedy, and Janice Thompson is at the top of my list when it comes to must read fiction! When I found out she was writing a series of stories called The Bella Novella Collection, I had them on my wish list before you could say Dean Martin!”
—Deena Peterson, Reader
I'm pretty sure Bella is my favorite book character of all time, and I was more than excited to find out Janice Thompson has brought us back into her life. We also get to connect with DJ and the rest of Bella's crazy family.”
Bella never fails to capture the reader's attention and pull you in to the chaos of the Rossi family all the while leading you to the One who makes order out of our chaos. Can't wait to read the next installment.”
—McKinsey Jones, Reader
Bella and the Rossi clan are back and I couldn't be happier! Bella is, once again, planning a fabulous wedding to top all weddings. If you haven't read the other Bella books by Janice Thompson, go grab them right now and get to reading them. They are ALL wonderful. Janice is one of my very favorite authors because I love Christian fiction and she knows how to write it.”
“Mama Mia, let’s escape! Let’s fall in love! Let’s eat Chicken Parmesan, Fettuccine Alfredo, and Bubba’s down-home barbecue without gaining a pound. It’s all possible when we hang out with Bella Rossi! You’ll root for the Rossi and Neeley families as they break down cultural barriers and rush toward each other, arms wide open.”
—Trish Perry, author,
The Guy I’m Not Dating
To Maddy and Peyton. Thanks for spending time with your old Nina for some fun in the sun. Our Bermuda trip was tops!
Table of Contents
Don’t Worry, Baby
“Wait. Darian and Ling want to get married. . .where?” My husband D.J. stared at me, concern etched on that handsome face of his.
I did my best to sound positive in my response as I fluffed the new pillows on our king-sized bed: “On West Beach. At sunset. The area behind the Pappas’s new home. It’s so pretty back there—the pier, the tall grasses between the house and the shoreline, the white sand. Perfect!
“Hmm.” He did not look convinced.
“C’mon, D.J. Doesn’t a ceremony at the shore sound
-vine?” I stressed the word divine, using my very best Texas accent. If my husband appreciated anything, it was a gal with southern flair.
“Well, yes, but. . .in July?” D.J. raked his fingers through his wavy hair, never losing that piercing gaze. “In Galveston? Bella, you’ve coordinated hundreds of weddings in Galveston but the beach ones are always so. . .so . . .”
“I know, I know. I tried to tell them it would be too hot at the end of July, but they’re getting married in the evening, so maybe it won’t be as rough as some of the others I’ve coordinated on the beach.”
“Like the one last summer where the bride fainted?”
“Use your imagination, D.J.”
“I am. I’m imagining Ling Nguyen in a heap in the sand, her veil ripped off by hurricane-force winds and her groom-to-be doing CPR.”
“Puh-leeze. It won’t be that bad.”
He quirked a brow.
I tossed one of our new pillows his way and bopped him upside the head. “Lots of people get married at sunset. You rarely hear horror stories.”
“Rarely?” He laughed and then his expression grew more serious again. “Really, Bella?”
“Okay, okay. The idea is not without its risks, but try to play along. I need your support.” I pulled the covers down on our bed and climbed in, then gestured for D.J. to do the same. Unfortunately, he continued to stand like a statue in the middle of our bedroom floor, arms folded across his chest in that stubborn way of his. Not that I minded looking at his rippled abs and muscular arms. No, a girl could get used to this, even learn to see past the look of discernment on his face.
“Bella, South Texas is going through its hottest summer in years.” He picked the pillow up from the floor and tossed it back onto the bed. “And we’re smack-dab in the middle of hurricane season.
season. One hundred mile per hour winds. Heavy rains. Flooding. You’re seriously telling me that the police chief’s daughter wants to get married on the beach when she’s liable to be swept out to sea? And Darian’s going along with that idea? I can’t imagine his family would agree.”
I paused to think through my response before blurting out something that might give my husband more fodder for debate. Darian Pappas happened to be the younger brother of one of my best friends, after all. I didn’t want to incriminate anyone in the Pappas family.
“They’re perfectly responsible people, D.J. and I know they will be tickled to show off that new house of theirs.” I patted his side of the bed with my hand. “Now, come to bed, honey. I’m tired. It’s been a long day and we’re meeting with both families tomorrow.”
“Yes. The Pappases have invited the Nguyens to Saturday brunch at their new house and Darian wants our family to come along. Just for fun, of course.”
“Fun?” His eyes narrowed to slits. “By ‘our family’ are you referring to you, me and the kids. . .or the whole Rossi-Neeley clan? Because I’m not picturing all thirty of us as being much fun for the bride and groom-to-be.”
“Just us and the kids.”
“Okay. I guess that sounds doable. I’m always up for a free lunch.” His gaze narrowed. “Though, I seem to remember an old saying that there’s no such thing as a free lunch, so I’d imagine I’m being tricked into something. Not sure what. . .but something.”
“Would I do that to you?”
D.J.’s eyebrows arched.
“I promise, honey. No strings attached.” I gave him a Girl Scout salute. “It’ll be a chance for the Pappases and Nguyens to get to know each another before the big day. It’s coming quickly, you know. And you already know both families really well, so. . .”
“So, I’m the middle-man in this proposition? Is that how it is?”
“No, baby. You just have a calming effect on people, that’s all. You’re so good and kind and compassionate to all.”
“I’m not running for president.”
“I kind of wish you were. But you get my point. You always seem to ground everyone, and right now I need them to be grounded.”
“Sure. Flattery will get you everywhere.” My handsome hubby slipped into place alongside me in our king-sized bed. “But just for the record, I think this whole idea needs to be grounded.”
“Whatever. Not my decision.” Another tiny yawn escaped. I needed to get some sleep if I wanted to corral the crowd tomorrow.
I snuggled up close to him and placed a little kiss on his cheek. “Thanks, D.J.. I think the kids will have fun at the brunch. The Pappases have got that great play set in the side yard, the one with the fort. And we’ll have a chance to talk through the wedding plans with all interested parties. Relaxed. Fun. Good food. You know. . .just an ordinary day.”
“Okay, okay.” D.J. reached over and snapped off the bedside lamp. “Just please tell me that Ling and Darian are getting married on the beach and then heading back to Club Wed for the reception. That would make more sense to me.”
“That’s not the plan?”
“No. The Pappas’s new house has that glorious deck. It’s fabulously big and—”
“Bella, I helped build that house. You don’t have to sell me on its features.”
“Oh, right.” I giggled. “Guess that little detail slipped my mind. But you know how huge it is. And it looks out onto the water. Even has its own little pier so people can walk back and forth to the beach.”
“So, you’re telling me that they’re getting married on the beach and then coming back to the Pappas’s new home for the reception?”
“Bingo. You should’ve been a detective.” I gave my hubby a gentle kiss on the lips, then startled to attention. “Then again, if you were a true detective you would’ve already figured out that I really, really need you.”
“To. . .”
“To convince Ling’s parents that this is the very best plan for their daughter. She wants it so badly, but her dad. . .well, you know how he is.”
“Yes. Strict. Stern. Unbending. The toughest Police Chief Galveston has ever seen.”
“But he loves his daughter,” I countered. “So I know he’ll bend to her will. . .with your help.”
“Mm-hmm.” D.J. groaned. “So
why I’m invited tomorrow. There goes my free lunch.” He went off on a tangent about how he had no desire to intervene in Darian and Ling’s wedding plans, but I knew better. Tomorrow the Neeleys, Nguyens and Pappases would come together for a fun brunch. We’d get this seaside ceremony planned out in all of its glorious detail.
And, I prayed, no one would be mortally wounded in the process.
The following morning at 10:30 D.J. and I pulled up to the Pappas home in our messy mini-van. The children squabbled in their car seats. Little Tres argued with Rosie about something—I couldn’t quite make out what—and the twins fussed and cried. Lovely.
“Sure you’re up for this?” D.J. glanced my way from his spot in the driver’s seat as he turned off the vehicle.
“Of course. It’s going to be fun.” I offered an exaggerated smile and then opened my van door. “Who’s ready to have fun playing with their friends?”
“Me, me, me!” the kids all squealed in unison.
Seconds later, after opening the side door of the van, I realized the kids had already experienced a little fun of their own. Somehow Rosie had managed to bring a tiny bottle of shampoo from home, which she’d squeezed into Tres’ hair. No wonder the poor kid was having it out with her on the drive over. He looked like a sticky mess.
“Are we having fun yet?” D.J.’s brows arched as he pulled Holly from her car seat, which she’d somehow covered in cookie crumbs. “Hey, who gave Holly a cookie?”
Tres ducked his head. “I found it in the seat, Daddy.”
Ugh. Must be from our trip to Splendora a couple of weeks ago. Lovely. At least she hadn’t eaten much of it. Most of the bit and pieces were now firmly wedged along the edges of her car seat.
I unbuckled Ivy—the only one of our children who still remained clean—and turned my full attention to Tres. I gave his hair a second glance. Hmm. The shampoo had started to set. Lovely. Oh well, maybe no one would notice.
We made our way to the front door of the Pappas’s new home—a gorgeous three-story beachfront beauty—and was greeted at the door by my good friend, Cassia.
“Well, hello Neeley family!” She clapped her hands together. “We’re so glad you could—” Her gaze traveled to my son’s hair. “What in the
happened to him?”
So much for thinking no one would notice.
“Oh, nothing a little water won’t fix.” I nudged him through the open door, though he balked and tried to hide behind me.
“Well, come on in. Mama won’t care if you toss him in the shower. She’s so busy cooking that she’ll never even notice. While you do that, maybe D.J. can clean Rosie’s hands? They’re covered.”
We followed behind Cassia as she led the way into her parents’ new house. I still couldn’t get over their change in lifestyle. Not so long ago the Pappas family was living in a cramped apartment above their restaurant, Super Gyros. Now they’d moved on up. Er, moved on west. West Beach, to be precise, in one of the island’s most luxurious neighborhoods.
Before we could make it to the bathroom, Cassia’s husband Alex greeted us. “Hey, Neeleys. Glad you could join us. Should prove to be an interesting—” He stared at Tres, who cowered behind me. “What happened to him?”
“Nothing a little water won’t fix,” Cassia said again, and then led us to the upstairs bathroom, where she pointed out the shower.
She, D.J. and Alex took charge of the other kids while I wrestled Tres out of his clothes and into the shower. He finally relented and we worked his head into a lather, then rinsed. . .and rinsed again.
Turned out, my son’s head wasn’t the only thing in a lather. Just about the time I got Tres dressed and into the hallway, I heard arguing. Ack. I rounded the corner into the spacious kitchen to find Ling Nguyen standing next to her mother, father and grandfather—face to face with Mr. and Mrs. Pappas.
, please!” Ling put her hands on her hips. “You heard Mrs. Pappas. She is not trying to exclude you by not letting you help with the cooking.”
“Of course not, Mrs.
.” Mrs. Pappas untied her apron and set it aside. “The food is cooked. It was my pleasure to prepare it.”
.” Mr. Nguyen, a formidable fellow, if only five foot five, stepped into the spot between his wife and Mrs. Pappas. There’s no
in our name.”
“Oh my. Well.” Mrs. Pappas looked flustered. “Breakfast is served, everyone! We’ll eat on the back deck, if you please.”
I couldn’t help but gasp when I saw the work that had gone into making this morning’s event special. Four picnic tables, spread with beautiful, colorful cloths, filled the back deck. Each had its own centerpiece—all Greek, of course. The Pappases wouldn’t have it any other way. Their culture meant everything to them, as always, and it showed in everything they did. And said. And ate.
I managed to get the kids situated and then turned my attention to the bride and groom. D.J., God bless him, took the spot next to Darian, the anxious groom-to-be. I sat by Ling, though I noticed the glare from her mother as I took my spot.
,” Ling said. She reverted to Vietnamese and moments later her mother took a seat next to Mrs. Pappas, who offered a strained smile.
“Well then. . .” Mr. Pappas stood and faced us all. “We would like to welcome you all to the brand new Pappas home. You are our very first guests and we’re honored to have you. We are here to celebrate the engagement of our son, Darian, to Ling
“Nguyen,” Darian echoed. “No
.” Mr. Pappas smiled and raised his glass of orange juice. “I offer a toast to the happy couple, whose nuptials we will soon be celebrating. Now, let’s give thanks to the One who made it all possible.”
Mr. Pappas bowed his head and began to pray, first in English and then in Greek. Thick, rich Greek. I didn’t understand a word he said, but about half the crowd did. All of the Pappases offered a hearty, “Amen!” at the end of the prayer, but the Nguyen family still looked a bit, well, shell-shocked.
Terrific. We were off to a great start.
We all somehow made it through the meal, and what a meal it turned out to be. Mrs. Pappas had really outdone herself this time. She passed around a tray with a variety of breads and pastries on it—all homemade, of course. I wouldn’t expect any less from her.
Ling’s grandfather gushed over her offerings, but Mrs. Nguyen was having none of it. Apparently sweets weren’t her thing for breakfast. Neither was yogurt, from the horrified look on her face when the fruit and yogurt tray was passed. She did take a boiled egg, but turned her nose up at the sesame bars with honey.
Mr. Nguyen took a little of each thing offered, but remained relatively quiet as they ate. No problem there. Mr. Pappas, as always, filled the time and space with his boisterous and overly zealous conversations about Greek life. I watched as Darian tried to shoot signals with his eyes, but Mr. Pappas either didn’t see or didn’t care. He just kept going, his voice growing more animated as we ate. And though it was only eleven in the morning, I found beads of sweat trickling down my back.
Apparently Mr. Pappas was having trouble with the heat, as well. He soaked his napkin in his water glass and then wrapped it around the back of his neck. Peachy.
I turned my attention to the bride. She nibbled on the sesame bar, drenched with honey, and the loveliest smile turned up the edges of her lips. “Mmm. I love this. And I love the pastries, too. It’s going to be so nice to learn how to cook these new foods.” She licked her fingers and nearly swooned.
Behind me, I heard Mrs. Nguyen clear her throat. Clearly, she didn’t care for this notion.
“And I’ll teach you how to make Vietnamese foods, too, Darian,” Ling added, her gaze shifting back and forth between her mother and her husband-to-be. “We’ll be multi-cultural eaters.” She shoved the rest of the sesame bar in her mouth and chased it down with orange juice.
“Speaking of multi-cultural. . .” I brushed my palms against my skirt and rose, grateful for the breeze that greeted me. “Are we nearly ready to start talking about the wedding plans?”
“Oh, yes.” Ling clasped her hands together at her chest in childlike glee. “Please. We’re so excited.”
Her parents didn’t look as excited, but I did my best to ignore that.
Darian’s sister Eva gathered all of the kiddos and took them to the swing-set to play while we talked. I trusted the teens to manage them while we took care of business.
“By now, I’m sure you all know that Ling and Darian have decided to get married right here, on the beach.” I gestured beyond the reefs and the pier to the white sand on the other side. “The whole thing will be beautiful. Ling and I have talked it through and I can hardly wait to see how it all comes together.” I slapped at a fly that landed on my arm.
how it’s going to come together.” Mr. Pappas grunted. “We’re having the heat wave of the century and my son and his new fiancé want to get married outdoors. On July 30
. In the middle of the hottest summer ever.”
“See?” D.J. whispered. “Told you they wouldn’t go for it.”
I shot him a warning look.
Mr. Pappas swiped at his brow with the back of his hand and then turned to face Mr. Nguyen. “
, does that make a lick of sense to you? Getting married in the heat, I mean. On a Saturday night, no less?”
,” Mr. Nguyen responded.
“Babbas, calm down.” Darian rolled his eyes. “It’s not as bad as all that. Use your imagination.”
“Imagination? What’s that?” Mr. Pappas snorted and shoved another pastry into his mouth.
“Yes, please calm down, honey.” Mrs. Pappas fanned herself with her napkin and then used it to swat a fly on the table. “It’s a romantic setting for a wedding. If only you and I had married on the beach.”
“You’d still be single today, woman.” He gave her a knowing look. “I would never have agreed to that.”
“Is it too late to go back and demand it?” She put her hands on her hips and glared at him.
“Aw, now calm down. I didn’t mean that. I would’ve married you if you’d asked me to hold the ceremony on the moon. But you didn’t. We had a proper ceremony. In a Greek orthodox church, like all good Greek couples.” His expression soured as he looked Darian’s way. “Times have changed, I guess.”
Mr. Nguyen cleared his throat. “We had hoped to see our daughter married at the Vietnamese church, of course. All of our friends and family will expect it.”
“And our home on Broadway is perfect for the reception,” Mrs. Nguyen added. “We just had the foyer redone. I’ve always pictured holding my daughter’s reception in our home. The idea brought me great joy.” She dabbed at her eyes with her napkin, then used it to wipe the beads of perspiration from her forehead.
, I want a beach wedding.” Ling’s lower lip quivered. “Don’t you see?”
“What’s this ‘cha’ business?” Mr. Pappas asked. “Is someone sneezing?”
“No.” Darian shook his head. “It’s the Vietnamese word for dad. Like we call you Babbas. Ling calls her dad
“And the mother?”
,” Ling explained.
Mr. Pappas gave her a little wink. “Well,
one’s a little easier. Pretty sure I can remember it.”
“What about your grandfather?” I asked. “Do you have a special name for him?”
Ling smiled and gave her grandfather a loving glance. “Yes, he’s my paternal grandfather, so we call him
I did my best to follow her lead with the pronunciation but didn’t do it justice. Still, her grandfather’s eyes lit up the moment she spoke his name.
“Anyway, back to what we were talking about.” Ling paused, as if trying to remember. “Oh, yes. The reason we chose a beach themed wedding.
I’ve always loved the beach at sunset. And besides, I don’t even go to the Vietnamese church anymore. Pastor Lindsey from my new church will be happy to come here to perform the ceremony. And it just makes sense, because we want to hold the reception outdoors, too.”
They lit into Vietnamese once more. The Pappases, not to be outdone, began to argue with one another in Greek. From across the table, D.J. gave me a knowing look.
“Don’t. Say. It.” I kept my voice low to avoid being overheard.
“No. Free. Lunch.” He took another bite of his yogurt and leaned back in his chair to watch the show. After a couple of minutes, three large flies landed in the middle of his yogurt. He sat it down, a disgusted look on his face.
“I’m sorry?” Mrs. Pappas stared at D.J.. “What did you say?”
“Bugs!” Mr. Nguyen called out. “He’s saying you Pappases have bugs. We’ll have to tell all of our daughter’s wedding guests to bring their insect repellent.”
“They. Have. Bugs?” Mrs. Nguyen fanned herself and then said something in Vietnamese to her husband.
“Not the kind you’re thinking of,” Mrs. Pappas explained. “D.J.’s talking about flies. Right, D.J.?”
“Yeah.” My husband swatted his arm. “And mosquitos.” He gestured to the beach. “And plenty of sand fleas out there. You know. . .bugs. They’ll have to be dealt with before this shindig kicks off. But don’t worry. I have some extermination ideas. Hopefully the pesticides won’t make the guests sick.”