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She'd been running the water for the coffee, which was probably why she hadn't heard Leslie come down. When she turned, she jumped and screamed dramatically, staring with wide brown eyes at Leslie.
"I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to startle you," Leslie said.
"Startle me? You scared me out of ten years of life," Melissa replied. She had a death grip on the coffee urn. Probably a good thing. It might have crashed to the floor otherwise.
"But you're not a ghost," Melissa said, still staring.
Leslie shook her head, half smiling, half frowning. "No, I'm Leslie MacIntyre. Didn't they tell you? I'm staying here while I work on the new dig site. You were expecting a ghost?"
"No, they told me. I just forgot. And, well, I think this place has to be haunted."
"I see," Leslie murmured.
"Oh, Lord, I'm so sorry," Melissa said awkwardly. "I meant…ghosts from the Revolutionary War. The gang wars. Old ghosts."
"It's all right," Leslie said. Melissa was trying so hard and seemed so earnest that she almost laughed aloud. "It's a very historic house."
"Incredibly historic," Melissa agreed. "And you-you're an archaeologist," Melissa said, her tone filled with reverence.
"Yes. You'll see lots of them around here."
"Not of your caliber."
"I've had some luck," Leslie admitted.
"Luck? You're a mile above the rest."
"I've just had a few more years at it than some, that's all."
Melissa stared back at her, looking unconvinced.
"How about you finish making that coffee? I'd love a cup. And if you're the one buying the supplies, please let me chip in."
"I'd be happy to pay for your coffee," Melissa told her.
Leslie hesitated, certain the Historical Society wasn't paying the girl much. "Honestly, I'm happy to help out. I mean, you can't be making-"
"Oh, I make pure shit," Melissa said, then added quickly, "Oh, Lord, there I go again. I'm sorry. I should just thank God they pay me enough to live on. I'm not here for the money. I'm here because I want to be. I love this place. I'm fascinated by history, especially New York history."
"Then you should be an archaeologist."
"School," Melissa said, grimacing. "I can't afford it."
"Well…there's got to be a way. You know that old saying. 'Where's there's a will' and all that. I can help you work on it."
"You'd do that for me?" Melissa asked in awe.
"Sure. And lots of the stuff we do, we use volunteers. That is, if you want to do volunteer work, after all the hours you put in."
"I'd die!" Melissa said, then gasped. "I mean…"
"Melissa, it's all right," Leslie said, stepping past the girl as she realized she would have to finish making the coffee herself.
"Greta said that pretty soon she'll let me work one day a week as a guide. Thing is, the guides don't make any more than I do. The other guides are set for money. Tandy's husband makes a fortune. And Jeff Green is retired military, so he's got his pension. But I love the history of this place, and I swear, I'd work here for free if I could afford to."
"I'm sure we can figure things out so you don't have to do that," Leslie promised. "Now, do you use cream and sugar?"
Melissa stopped and flushed. "I guess I'm preaching to the choir," she said.
"It's fine. I think your enthusiasm's wonderful," Leslie assured her truthfully. She liked Melissa, loved her enthusiasm. She just had to get the girl to treat her like any other normal person.
"Can you imagine, though, everything that must have happened in this place? With all the battles, all the fires, can you believe that it never burned to the ground? Even a modern-day explosion…oh, God. Sorry. There I go again."
"Melissa, just relax. Please."
The coffee was finally ready. Leslie poured two cups as Melissa stepped anxiously to her side.
"They're all worried about you, you know."
"And they don't need to be."
"Everyone says you and Matt were like a fairy-tale couple. So in love and-oh, foot in mouth again."
"I love him very much, and I like being here because I can think about him. I'm fine. I'm coming-I've come to terms with losing him. It's okay if you talk about him-it's how we keep those we loved alive."
Melissa was silent for a moment as Leslie added cream to her coffee.
"Do you see him?" Melissa asked then.
"They say that you…well, that you have some kind of ESP," Melissa said gravely.
"They're wrong," Leslie said. She wasn't lying, she told herself. It sure as hell wasn't ESP that she lived with every day.
"Really?" Melissa sounded disappointed.
Melissa sighed and sipped her coffee. "Honestly…I'd dreamed of being here with you and finding out that the place is haunted by a soldier from the Revolution, someone who died for his country."
"Tell you what. If I do come across a ghost, I'll be sure to get a good story from him-or her."
"Seriously, I'll look into it. There are some great stories associated with this house. Did you know it was an Underground Railroad stop on the way to Canada during the Civil War? And it doesn't stand all that far from where the slave market was set up in 1711 at the foot of Wall Street."
"It got its name because the Dutch really did build a wall there," Melissa said. "I know that because I'm going to be a guide, but I guess you know it, too, huh?"
"Well…yes," Leslie admitted as diplomatically as she could.
"I'm not scaring you away, am I?" Melissa asked.
"No," Leslie assured her. She glanced at her watch. "But I do have to get over to the site."
"Hey, we'll work on your future, okay? You've got the love and commitment, and those are the most important things."
"I do. But right now I need to get going."
"Don't you eat? Wow. That must be why you look like a twig."
"Doughnuts on the job," Leslie assured her.
"I wish I could eat doughnuts."
Leslie arched a brow, wondering if there was a right thing to say at such a moment. "Um, I had a bad year."
"I gain weight when I get depressed," Melissa said sadly.
"Maybe we can get together and invent special sugar-free doughnuts," Leslie suggested.
"Great. I'll see you tomorrow morning?"
"You bet. Unless you get home early tonight. Honestly, I haven't scared you into avoiding me, have I?" Melissa asked anxiously.
"No, I think you're very nice."
Leslie set down her cup and started out. Halfway along the hall toward the entryway, she stopped and stared. A man and woman in Colonial dress were entering, chatting with each other. They stopped and stared back at her.
"Hi." She strode forward, offering a hand. "I'm Leslie MacIntyre. You must be Tandy and Jeff."
"You got it. Hi," Tandy said. She had bright eyes, appeared to be a very attractive forty or so, and made a perfect Martha Washington. Her wig and hat fit well, and she looked completely authentic in the wide skirt and apron. The man was tall and lean, and also wore his wig naturally. They really could have been George and his missus.
"Miss MacIntyre, a pleasure," Jeff Green said.
"Thanks so much. I'm glad to get to meet you both, but I hope you'll excuse me. I'm running late."
"Of course. Hope we get to see more of you later," Jeff said.
"I hope so, too."
As she escaped, she could hear Jeff asking for coffee and Tandy excitedly asking Melissa what "Miss MacIntyre" was like and had they talked to any ghosts yet?
As she got closer to the site, she realized that hurrying was going to do her little good. Once again, there was a crowd around the gates. She wasn't even sure she wanted to press her way through it.
Reporters were in heavy evidence, and she found herself irritated. In a city like New York, there were a thousand things going on, so why were they all hanging around here? Then again, she supposed she should be glad that so many people seemed to have such an appreciation for the history of the city that history was making the news.
It was just that, despite what she'd told Melissa, she was tired of all the questions about Matt and how she herself was coping.
Well, she had chosen to come back here, so she had no right to complain. She straightened her shoulders and headed straight for the gate, where most of the throng was standing.
"Excuse me, I'm working here and I need to get through," she said, pushing her way past people.
Professor Laymon was standing in the middle of the dig, holding court in front of a group of journalists, with Brad at his side. She didn't want to steal anyone's thunder, but maybe it would be better to get the interest in her over and done with. She strode toward the two of them.
"It's Leslie MacIntyre," someone whispered as she passed, and the sound seemed to grow as others echoed her name.
"Hi," she said cheerfully when she reached the two men. There was a nice police presence, she saw. People were being kept from trampling sacred ground.
"Miss MacIntyre, welcome back to New York," a man called. He had a notebook in his hand.
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