His Larkville Cinderella - By Melissa McClone

CHAPTER ONE

MALIBU, California, was a long way from her family’s ranch in Larkville, Texas.

Tension bunched Megan Calhoun’s shoulder muscles. She would be impressed with the exclusive gated beach community if she weren’t under so much pressure. She exited her car, parked on the driveway of a beachfront mansion. The breathtaking Mediterranean-inspired villa belonged to an award-winning film producer.

A breeze rustled the palm tree fronds. Gray clouds made it look more like winter than springtime, but the temperature was warm. Or maybe she was working so hard she didn’t have time to feel cold.

Interning for a film costume designer in Hollywood was supposed to be a dream come true. So far this first week on the job had been nothing but sixteen-hour-long days filled with driving, picking up and delivering things and running countless other “errands.”

Intern and indentured servant seemed to mean the same thing with production to begin next week. Sleep was now considered optional. If this was life before filming, she couldn’t imagine what working on an actual movie set would be like.

She jammed her car keys into the front pocket of her jeans, then grabbed the large leather portfolio from the backseat of her car. Eva Redding, the woman who held the fate of Megan’s internship and possibly her future career, had left the studio this morning with the wrong portfolio. That delayed a meeting with a couple of Hollywood’s heavy hitters. Now everyone was waiting for Megan to arrive with the correct designs so they could continue discussing costume concerns with the proper visuals.

Hurrying toward the villa’s entryway, her comfortable tennis shoes felt more like cement blocks encasing her feet.

No way would she let her nervousness about coming face-to-face with the producer and director get the best of her.

Failure wasn’t an option. She was not returning to Larkville. Her family might be there, but no one else. Not even Rob Hollis, her best friend for as long as she could remember; he had taken an engineering job in Austin, Texas. Her fingers tightened around the portfolio.

She stepped onto a large, tiled entryway. In the corner, a green leafy potted plant stood as tall as her. A hanging vine with fuchsia flowers scented the air. A wrought-iron tiered shelf held terra-cotta pots filled with various flowering plants.

What if film costume design wasn’t where she belonged, either? Her stomach churned as uncertainty threatened to get the best of her.

No. She had a job to do. Megan’s father had always told her to do the best job possible no matter what.

She felt a pang of grief. If only her dad were here so he could give her a much needed confidence boost. She took a deep breath to calm herself and jabbed her finger against the doorbell.

As melodic, multitoned chimes rang inside the villa, she remembered the instructions given to her by the costume supervisor.

“Hand Eva the portfolio and get out of there without saying a word.”

That would be no problem. Megan excelled at being silent and fading into the background. She’d been doing it most of her life. She’d never fit in at the ranch. Her dad had been the only one who seemed to get her and really care, but he was...gone.

A lump burned in her throat. Her dad, the larger than life Clay Calhoun, had died of pneumonia in October, seven months ago. She was on her own in more ways than one now.

The ten-foot-tall wooden door opened.

“About time.” Eva snatched the portfolio away. In her early forties with a flawless ivory complexion and jet-black hair styled into a French twist, the woman wore a black tunic, pants and heels. African-inspired jewelry added a funky and unexpected twist to the stylish and elegant clothing. “What took you so long?”

On Megan’s second day in Tinseltown, she’d learned one of the only acceptable answers for being late. “Traffic.”

Her boss’s hard, assessing gaze ran the length of Megan. Eva’s red-glossed lips pursed with disapproval. “You’re slouching. Stand straight.”

Megan did.

“Is this how you dress on the ranch?”

A plain pink T-shirt, faded capri jeans and comfy tennis shoes weren’t going to put Megan on any of Hollywood’s best-dressed lists. But her clothing wouldn’t draw any attention to her, either. Well, except for now. But she imagined nothing she wore would live up to Eva’s exacting expectations. “Yes.”

The word ma’am sat on the tip of Megan’s tongue. She’d used the term with Eva on Monday, the first day of the internship. Megan wouldn’t make that mistake again.

“I don’t suppose you have any other clothes