Noah Fleck sat in a comfortable chair, an open book in his lap. His feet were crowded by young children, seven-year-olds whose mothers had brought them to the house of a host and invited Noah to speak to them.
He was a charming speaker, something he’d worked on most of the ten years he’d been traveling across the United States, teaching history to anyone who would listen. He’d also been offered several jobs when adventurers sought a treasure and needed more information about the past.
Noah was the one they sought out. He was extremely intelligent, and though he knew it, it was definitely not something he flaunted. He was often mistaken for a traveling preacher, but that wasn’t his vocation. He’d never heard the call to serve God in that manner, and since he had a wandering spirit, the only thing to do was to teach about what he loved – history.
It wasn’t the history of America that he spoke about, though the subject was included. His specialties were ancient Egypt and Africa. He dreamed of someday visiting those places but doubted it would ever happen. He would never be that wealthy. Something like that would be a miracle straight from God.
Regardless, Noah had read every single book he’d been able to get his hands on, listened to scholars who knew more than he did, attended their lectures, and wrote out lists of questions he had. He had a memory that was unmatched and could remember everything he’d ever written or been told about history.
He leaned forward, catching the eyes of one of the little boys who sat in front of him.
“Did you know there are huge pyramids in Egypt?” he asked. The boy’s eyes widened, though Noah suspected the child had no idea what a pyramid was. Lucky for them all, he had pictures. He lifted one from his lap, where he’d been holding it face down. He leaned to the side and looked around, not turning the picture to himself. He pointed at three pyramids in turn. “These are the pyramids of Giza. And do you know what’s so fascinating about these objects? They were built so many years ago you can’t even imagine how many years it has been.” He held up one hand with his fingers splayed out. “Five thousand years … give or take a few hundred years.”
He appreciated when the mothers sitting behind the children on couches and comfortable chairs, or just large cushions put on the hardwood floor, smiled at him.
“There are leaders of the land buried there. Those rulers were called pharaohs.”
“Did the pharaohs have wives?” one child spoke up.
Noah was delighted to hear the question. Whenever a child had an inquiring mind, he tried to bring it out as much as possible.
“I would say they did, yes.”
“Were there a lot of pharaohs?” the boy continued, raising his eyebrows in curiosity.
Noah nodded. “There were a few, yes. And most of them had all of their treasures buried with them in their tombs, which are deep inside these pyramids. These particular pyramids were built by three separate pharaohs. This one …” He pointed to the tallest in the picture. “This was built by the Pharaoh Khufu. This one back here in the back was built by Pharaoh Khafre. And that one there in the front is the pyramid of Menkaure.”
“Those are real big, aren’t they?” the same little boy spoke up.
“Jimmy, don’t ask so many questions.”
Noah assumed the woman who spoke was the child’s mother. He smiled at the woman and shook his head slightly. He made sure to use a gentle voice when he spoke.
“It’s perfectly fine, ma’am. I enjoy and encourage questions. Especially when they come from young minds, such as this inquisitive little master. What’s your name, sir?”
The boy beamed at him. “My name is Kyle James Dawson,” he announced proudly. “And I’m seven years old. My ma brought me here because she said you are very handsome and very smart.”
“Jimmy!” Mrs. Dawson looked mortified, dropping her head and blocking her reddened face with one hand.
Noah pressed his lips together to keep from smiling too widely.
“That was a very nice thing for your mother to say,” he said, turning his eyes back to the boy. “If you’d like to talk some more about these pyramids, I’m here to take any questions you want to ask. Really. It’s all right.”
Two hours later, he was standing just outside the host’s half-open door, listening to the women chatter inside. The children were playing in a bedroom in the back of the house, and he was preparing to leave. He’d come out on the porch to smoke his pipe and gaze out at the setting sun.
Noah didn’t know where his next destination would be. He thought about the map he’d looked at while sitting on the bed in his boarding house room. He could go to Longmont or Burnt Branch. One was to the east and the other to the west.
He was leaning toward Burnt Branch. He’d spent the last ten years wandering his way over from the east coast. He might as well keep going until he got to the west coast. He considered Wyoming his home while traveling for the past two months, staying within state lines.
He enjoyed his life on the road. He liked teaching children and adults who were willing to listen. He’d found more rapt audiences than he’d expected.
As a child growing up in Tannerville, Oklahoma, he hadn’t dreamed of becoming a traveling historian, that was certain. But his heart had been torn from his chest at the tender age of seventeen. The woman he’d loved, his lovely Elenore, had run off with a mutual friend. Noah didn’t allow himself to think the man’s name. He hardly ever let Elenore’s name pass through his mind, either.
As soon as she had gone, leaving him two weeks before they were to marry, he’d thrown himself into books and began to learn. He’d left Tannerville and began to trek across America.
Twenty-one-year-old Kitty Daley was relaxing, stretched out on her favorite couch, an open book in front of her. She was pressed against the back of the couch to give the book enough room. She flipped the pages, fascinated by the pictures of other countries, deserts, forests, and landscapes she absolutely loved to gaze at whenever she had a free moment.
She’d covered the walls in her room (to a respectable amount for her father, of course) with huge renditions of the landscapes she saw painted with perfect strokes to bring out their beauty. She was proud of the painter she’d stumbled upon while traveling through India the year before. Her father, Mr. Fabian Daley, Esq. was an attorney and the owner of the Double K Ranch in Burnt Branch, Wyoming. The Double K was turning in money hand over fist. Fabian invested his profits back into the business, funneling them through his law practice as well as back through the ranch. He hadn’t seen a red year for as long as Kitty could remember.
And she should know. Since her early years, her father taught her the business, growing her interest year by year. She knew everything it took to run the ranch, though knowing far less about the law practice Fabian ran. The only help she provided was accounting.
Kitty and her father were close, not just father and daughter, but friends, as well. Fabian gave her leeway to make her own decisions, treating her as most fathers treated their sons.
Kitty didn’t have a brother. Her mother had died giving birth to her, and Fabian had never loved another woman, despite Kitty’s encouragement. She’d grown up under her father’s wing. He didn’t have a nanny for her, having had her in his office, playing on the floor in front of his desk. He took her everywhere he went, whether to foreign countries or the nearest town to his ranch, Burnt Branch.
The book before her had a chapter focused on a place she hadn’t been and was fascinated with. She couldn’t really go there. Ancient Egypt. Yes, she could go to modern Egypt.
But would it really be the same?
She stared at a picture of the three pyramids of Giza. On the page opposite the pyramids was a pencil sketch of the Sphinx. She read through the information on the page written under the Sphinx and sighed. Someday, if she had her way, she would travel there.
The door pushed open all the way, and her father sauntered through, his face excited and satisfied at the same time.
Kitty sat up, swinging her legs, so her feet were on the ground. He came over to her and leaned to give her a kiss on the forehead.
“There’s my beautiful daughter. How are you, my dear?”
“I’m feeling very well today, Pa. How about you?”
“I’m always happy on a bright sunny day like today. You should be outside, enjoying the light and sunshine.”
Kitty nodded. “I have been enjoying it. Just in the pages of these books.” She grinned at him. “It’s a little hot for me out there. I went for a walk earlier and tired myself out. I came inside and have been in here ever since. And where have you been? Prowling around the woods for critters to bring home?”
Kitty was teasing her father. She was the one who brought home the very critters she spoke of.
Fabian laughed, lifting his large head, his voice echoing through the high-ceilinged room.
“I have just come from the deal of a lifetime, my girl. And I think you will be very pleased with what has been decided.”
Kitty raised her eyebrows. The first thought to go through her mind was that her father would give her a permanent position in the ranching business. Or maybe he was planning a trip for her to somewhere new and different, somewhere to justify the excited look on his face.
Her father plopped down on the couch next to her, turning sideways to her and taking both her hands. “I have something wonderful planned for you. Something that will make your future better than any other girl’s in Wyoming. Maybe even all of America!”
Kitty’s heart rate tripled. She squeezed his hands, a tingling sensation sliding over her skin, making her shiver.
“Oh, Papa, you have to tell me what it is! Am I going to another country? Am I being given more responsibilities here at the ranch? Please tell me before I jump out of my skin!”
His smile widened, and Kitty knew it was going to be something astounding.
“I’ve arranged for you to marry Lewis Truman, the son of the Triple T ranch owner, Walter Truman. The expansion will bring tremendous assets to our ranch business, and we will never have to worry about being shorthanded again! They are successful and very, very smart. There couldn’t be a better match. He’s twenty-two, so only a year older than you.”
Kitty was stunned into silence. She didn’t hear anything he said after the first sentence. She stared at him, wondering who this strange man was and what he was saying. It might as well have been a foreign language to her. Her blood ran cold, and her heart plummeted to her stomach. It was as though she could hear her future imploding in her brain. She pictured herself in a house she’d never been in before, responsible for the housekeepers, maids, and staff. Holding a baby. And pregnant.
She wanted to cry.
Fabian had stopped talking and was gazing into her hazel eyes. “Well, I do think you are stunned, speechless. It is wonderful news, isn’t it? You don’t have to worry at all about your future.”
Kitty blinked at him, slowly regaining her senses. She withdrew her hands from his, unsure how to react to this. Normally, her father made excellent decisions when it came to her. But this one … this one wasn’t acceptable to her.
She didn’t want to get married as a business arrangement. She had always pictured falling in love and getting married. How could her father possibly think she’d want anything less? She hadn’t heard of arranged marriages in her entire life. Why was he even thinking of the option? It felt like he was selling her off like a business asset.
“No, no,” she said, shaking her head vigorously. “Papa, tell me you didn’t sell me off to the highest bidder.”
Fabian looked shocked. She could tell this was not the reaction he’d been expecting.
“I … I didn’t sell you off, my dear. This is a wonderful arrangement. Lewis and his father have good reputations as gentlemen and–”
Kitty had continued shaking her head. “You keep saying this word ‘wonderful’, but maybe I don’t feel that way about you making such a … such a long-term decision for me. I don’t want to marry for business purposes. I want to marry for love!” Kitty heard the pleading tone and hoped that it had an effect on her father. She was nearly breathless, thinking how her future had just been stripped from her control.
Fabian was beginning to look irritated. Kitty didn’t want him angry with her, but she just couldn’t fathom giving up her life to a stranger, having his children, and trying to fall in love with him.
“You will see. We will have a meeting with them where you will be introduced to Lewis and have a little time to get to know each other. You will see that he’s the best option you’re going to find here in Burnt Branch.”
“But that is what I am saying, Papa. I don’t need to be restricted to Burnt Branch or even Wyoming! I can go to other countries and visit other towns in America and–”
Fabian’s eyebrows shot up, and he cut her off. “Wait a minute, child. Are you saying you want to marry a foreigner? What has brought such an insane idea to your mind!”
Kitty tried desperately to keep her thoughts straight. She shook her head. “That’s not what I said. I am merely pointing out that an arrangement doesn’t have to be made. I think I can attract a man on my own merits.”
“I’m sure you will attract Lewis with those merits, my dear,” her father insisted. “We will meet them, and you will see. It’s the best way to provide for your future. I won’t be around forever, you know. I was an older man when I met your mother and you were born. I’m an even older man now. We must be certain that you are provided for the rest of your life, that any children you bear are taken care of with little burden and are given all the luxuries you’ve been given as a child. Do you want your future to be uncertain?”
Kitty let out an exasperated breath, feeling hopeless. “Believe it or not, Papa, I might just want that.”
Kitty had to get out of the house. As soon as her father left (after giving her a long lecture on being responsible), she hurried to the mudroom and grabbed a shawl from the hook. Throwing it around her shoulders, she went through the front door and jogged down the stairs. She crossed the long compound to the stable and yanked on the door.
Bert, the groom, jumped to his feet. She could tell by the way he scanned her face he could see she was unhappy.
“Miss Kitty,” he greeted her. “You need your horse?”
Kitty nodded. “I do, Bert. If you don’t mind getting Thunder ready for me.”
“Of course not.” He jumped to the task and had Thunder saddled and ready for her in minutes. He pulled the reins, leading the horse from the stall. “Here you are, Miss Kitty.”
“Thank you, Bert.” Kitty gazed at the man so long Bert looked uncomfortable.
“You’re welcome,” he said softly as if he thought that’s what she was waiting for.
She blinked at him. “Can I ask you a question, Bert?”
He paused, licked his lips, and pulled a handkerchief from his pocket to wipe across his forehead. “Well, I reckon so, Miss. What do you need to know?”
“Do you know Lewis Truman or his father, Walter?”
Bert looked relieved, moving his eyes to the floor, a thoughtful expression replacing the relief. “Well, let me think here. I do believe he is the son of the architect who built many large tall buildings in New York, made a great deal of money, and bought a ranch down here about eight or nine years ago. You may have seen them around town. Don’t know as you’d notice ’em, though. They’ve never been here for a meal or business consultation.”
“But you know them? Personally? Or just through talk?”
“Oh, I’ve had a couple of conversations with one or the other, I reckon. Can’t say as they had much to talk to me about, though. Not like they’d need me for anything.”
“Well, what did you think of them? I know you didn’t talk to them much but … well, did they seem like regular men or a bit snobbish to you?”
An uneasy look came across his face. “Well, I’ll tell ya, Miss … well … let me say they make it obvious they’ve got quite a lot of money.” He lifted his hand and twirled his thumb in a circle against his fingers.
Kitty frowned, sighed, and took the reins from him. “Thank you, Bert. I appreciate it.”
He nodded. “Anytime, Miss. Anytime.” He tipped his hat to her before she turned around with Thunder’s reins in her hand. Once she outside the stable, she pulled herself up in the saddle. Sometimes she enjoyed a walk to town.
She was going to her favorite spot, a place she often went when she was upset. The bookstore. It was only a few years ago Sebastian Montascu had bought the land and built a unique building that looked almost like a little castle. Sometimes he would offer her new books on loan that she could return after she read them. She never took the offer. She had money. She didn’t mind giving it to him in exchange for the amazing books she found in his shop.
Lately, she’d been going to the small section on history to see if Sebastian had bought any new books. She was looking for one on Egypt, as modern as she could get, to see how long it would take to get there and what she would need if she ever wanted to run away from this horrible future that had been presented to her.
Kitty giggled. She wasn’t going to run away. She would fight this tooth and nail if she had to, but she wasn’t going to leave Burnt Branch or the Double K Ranch. It was her home.
The sight of the bookstore raised her spirits. By the time she was in front of the shop, she had turned from sullen to excited, the thought of her father’s dismal news forgotten temporarily. She spotted a box through the window, sitting on the counter inside the shop. The top was off, and she could see through the slats on the side of the box – it was more books.
Her skin tingled with anticipation, and she burst through the door with a big smile on her face.
Sebastian, a short, round man with the darkest hair and bushiest brown eyebrows, smiled widely when he saw her. “Miss Kitty!” he exclaimed, holding out both hands. “How delightful to see you! How have you been?”
“Oh, never mind about that,” Kitty replied, still smiling broadly. “I want to know what you got in this box. Have you started putting them out yet? Any interesting stories for me?”
He picked up several books from inside the half-empty box. “Well, my dear, I did get some that you might enjoy. But I think you will be happier with the other books that I’ve already put out. Would you like to guess the section?”
Kitty pulled in an anticipatory breath. “History?”
“Yes, Miss!” Sebastian responded with a laugh. “You know where it is!”
Kitty hopped in place a little, giggling. Sebastian just shook his head, laughing softly.
She turned away from him and moved down the aisle closest to her. There were quite a few shelves in the “little castle” as she liked to call it in her mind. Books lined every shelf. She stopped at the end of the aisle, where it turned to the left, lifted her head, and breathed in deep through her nose. She loved the smell of books and paper and ink. It was her favorite thing in the world. She’d been overjoyed when Sebastian had opened his shop.
She got to the history section. There was another person in the aisle, a man who looked not much older than she was. She had never seen him before. His eyes were running along the books with great interest.
Kitty hesitated only a moment. He didn’t look like a dangerous stranger. He was dressed in a dark brown suit, a neat black thin tie with a big gem holding the two pieces together hanging under his neck. It was a style she hadn’t seen before, but it looked good on him. His trousers were neatly pressed, and he looked like a gentleman. He was holding a matching brown hat under his arm.
She went down the aisle toward the history section on the left. He was looking exactly where she wanted to. When he saw that her eyes were on the books he was looking at, he took a few steps to the side to give her room. They nodded at each other but said nothing.
Kitty didn’t know why she didn’t immediately introduce herself. She’d already assessed him to be non-threatening and possibly a gentleman of means. For some reason, she felt a little tongue-tied.
She kept her eyes on the book titles. Almost immediately, she found the new one she’d hoped Sebastian would order. She’d seen it in an advertisement displayed in a ladies’ journal.
She reached up for it at the exact same moment the stranger lifted his hand. Their fingers connected, and both jerked their hands away. They looked at each other. She saw a mischievous look on his face and decided to play along.
“I’m sorry, were you going for that book?”
He raised his eyebrows, though the pleasant look on his face never left. “I was, yes.”
“I do believe most gentlemen would give the lady what she desires instead of selfishly taking something for himself.” Kitty gave him an expectant look.
She was amazed and delighted when he responded in kind.
“I am flattered you think I am a gentleman.”
She wasn’t able to keep it in any longer and laughed. “You may have the book if you choose. I can get Sebastian to order another. You are a stranger to me, so you might not find this book if you do not plan to stay here in Burnt Branch.”
The man gazed at her for a moment. “That is very kind and generous of you, Miss …”
“Kitty Daley.” She held out her hand. “Yes, it is Miss.”
He shook her hand. She liked his firm but gentle hold on her fingers. “Noah Fleck. You are correct. I am a stranger here. A traveler teaching history to anyone who will listen.”
Kitty was immediately intrigued. “How interesting!” she said, trying not to sound too enthusiastic. She wanted to sit with the stranger and talk. “If you’d like, we can share the book. We’ll each pay half, and you can just buy me out when you decide to leave Burnt Branch.”
Noah laughed. “Brilliant idea, Miss Kitty. Let’s do it.”
“Charmed by the Traveler’s Heart” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
After her mother died in childbirth, Kitty’s father tried to raise her in the most loving way possible. As his fatherly love was all she had in life, she feels extremely hurt and betrayed when he arranges for her to marry a vile man behind her back. During these moments of agony, when she fears she will be condemned to a loveless life for the rest of her years, an encounter with a dashing stranger will bring hope back to her fragile soul. Losing her heart to him all too quickly, will she find a way to be with him when she’s betrothed to another? Will he prove to be her knight in shining armor, eager to save her from a miserable fate?
Noah Fleck has been waiting for his chance to travel the world and lecture on ancient history, with a focus on Egypt, for longer than he can remember. When he arrives in Wyoming and discovers a local bookstore, he is thrilled at the thought of exploring new material on his favorite subject. His love of learning, though, conceals an aching wound caused by a painful betrayal. While dusty books are his sole respite, a pure soul will sweep him off his feet. Will his life turn upside down after this unexpected encounter? Can she ever mend his broken heart or will he be left desolate once again?
From the moment Kitty and Noah meet in that bookstore, reaching for the same book, their lives are intertwined forever. While her arranged betrothal hangs over their heads, they will try to maneuver through the challenges it has brought upon them. Kitty knows that the only way to find happiness is in Noah’s arms, but will she find the inner strength to go against her father’s will and confess her love for Noah? Will he overcome his fears and claim her as his bride?
“Charmed by the Traveler’s Heart” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 60,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.