Well this is it. Thanks to you all for your patience. It's been a long 5-years with this story, and for taking the time to read and respond. I really appreciate your thoughts:

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Epilogue

Paris, France

December 1899

The view was a dream. Snow flowing from the gray skies, lights bright across the city as far as the eye could see with the Eiffel Tower in clear view. Marita stood gazing out the large arched picture window at the stunning view, her heart a mix of sadness and contentment. It had been 6 years since she and Sean had made the move to France, and still she sometimes found it to be surreal. Things had gone as planned. Ned had recovered as expected. The ranch had steadily regained strong business. Any lingering threats from Jeb's vengeful plot were negated with Asa's capture in New York. Apparently one of his "loyal" friends confessed to the authories his planned escape on a boat to Europe. The man was eventually returned to Lexington and later convicted of felony fraud, theft by taking and conspiracy to commit murder, which resulted in him receiving ten years in prison. Sean and Marita had left Lexington in early March (1893) without incident. They'd managed to live as husband and wife in the Jim Crow south for eight months undetected. It could almost be deemed a miracle. Save for the fact that they'd taken great care to remain discreet with their interactions. For their night together after the barbeque in October was the last night they shared a bed, slept under the same roof until they were in route to Europe. They'd even reduced the time they shared, only eating together twice a week and meeting in the dandelion field the last Saturday in the month when there were fewer workers around the property. They spent weeks living off limited, yet quality conversations and sizzling stolen moments. It had been tough, but it kept everyone safe. Furthermore, it drove them to reconnect with their families. Sean and Ned grew close once more as they successfully steered the ranch back on track and gradually moved beyond the hurt and the lies to build trust again. Clay grudgingly accepted the many important things he learned in shadowing Sean and his father on business deals, had even reluctantly asked his brother for more details on business best practices. He'd eventually ceased his reproach of Sean's marriage and became more cordial to them both, but still never totally comfortable with them together. Alice was quick to join Lexy in supporting their marriage when she saw how determined they were to keep it secret, keep them all safe and in effect occasionally assisted them in finding a moment to get away beyond the reach of prying eyes to have some romantic time alone. Even Isaac began to thaw, for he engaged Marita more, and was fairly respectful to Sean. Perhaps he thought, what his daughter and Sean shared would soon lose its novelty, and as a result they'd find their futures lay on separate paths. But to his grave disappointment that did not happen. For they did leave the country, but not before spending a few days in New York, waiting for their ship to leave port. It was then that Marita had met Sean's Grandpa Cab, who somehow received word about his grandson's plan to flee to Europe with his Negro bride. The man had come to the Inn where they'd been staying, in a shoddy part of Harlem, and fiercely rebuked him for his destructive choice when Sean had asked him to leave. Thomas had also come by, promising his Grandpa that he'd talk some sense into Sean when in reality he was desperately curious to meet this Negro woman who'd shifted his cousin's world on its axis and caused him to make such insane choices. From the minute Thomas laid eyes on Marita he was completely enthralled to the point of almost rudely ignoring Sean. As a result, Sean often wondered if his cousin had fell hopelessly in love with his wife at first sight, since he strangely never reproached their marriage again and seemed to be a little too fond of Marita. After encountering the unwelcoming people in New York and on the ship to Europe, Marita was concerned that the tolerance she and Sean sought in this new world might not be obtainable for an unconventional couple such as them, but her fears were unfounded. Just as Sean had described, France was a place where Negroes were viewed with fascination rather than contempt. For she and Sean could stroll the streets of Paris, their arms linked or their hands clasped and not fear the wrath of those around them. As a Negro she could shop with the French Whites and wasn't pushed to the back of the line so that they could be served first. She could eat with them and have an open friendship with them without the world demanding it be nothing more than a master/servant relationship. It truly was a different world. One that was thrilling, nonetheless frightening to experience. Though she relished the progressive culture, she struggled for months before fully learning the language, which hindered her ease amongst the French people. Moreover, she terribly missed her family and the Logans, and things had sometimes been difficult between her and Sean. Sean's family had rejected their marriage and thus had excluded him from the business. However, when one of their biggest clients, who'd worked very closely with Sean in the past, demanded that he oversee a new deal they were negotiating, his Uncle Charles, who worked exclusively out of Europe, begged him to come back to the company to work the deal. Sean had reluctantly agreed to return, but only with Marita's blessing. She'd supported the choice, knowing how much he enjoyed his work and thinking he'd be on the project no more than a few weeks. Unfortunately that was not the case. He was on the project for months which led to bigger projects with the same client and required him to travel extensively, which often left Marita alone in a country she was still getting to know with no one but the elderly couple next door as company. Marita had took the unwanted change in stride. She had after all encouraged him to take on this project. However when his absence came to be too much, she began to express her displeasure over him never being home. They'd argued about it for weeks, until he suggested that she travel with him. Initially, Marita had rejected this suggestion, citing she'd only be in the way with him trying to do business. It would just be Paris all over again. She argued. The only difference being he'd be out working while she'd be stuck in a hotel not knowing a soul in town. She'd also thought that though Paris was tolerant of her - a Negro and their marriage, other countries might not be so accepting. Nevertheless, Sean had pled with her to give it a chance and after much thought she'd conceded, finding at that point it was the only plausible solution to their problem. Different from what she'd expected she'd actually been able to join him on many of his missions to find exotic goods to export to England and the U.S., and they'd found that some countries did take issue with their marriage -Spain and Italy, some it depended on what part of the country/city they were visiting as to whether they encountered hostility -England and Ireland, and some where similar to France - North Africa. It had been an interesting journey that had spurred the time of their lives. Marita never imagined their life together would take them to so many amazing places. They'd gazed upon the lovely greenery of the Wicklow Mountains of Ireland, the exquisite architecture in Seville and explored the marvels of Rome. They'd watched the sunset over the Nile, the moon rise above the Pyramids of Giza and made love beneath the stars in the Sahara. They'd encountered the most wondrous people she'd likely ever meet in her life, in the various tribes of West Africa and had seen animals she'd only read about in books, while also discovering the many horrors bestowed on Africa by European rule. They'd had an amazing six years, not just due to the four years they'd spent traveling and experiencing so many life changing things, but because they were together, and they were happy. Marita had written to her pa, her aunt Jessie Mae and her relatives in Toronto, telling them about her experiences, how great things were, how tolerant Europe was; she'd even confessed (to Jessie Mae and her pa) to some of the problems she and Sean had, but she'd received only one response -Jessie Mae. The woman always wrote back and expressed joy at her being safe and happy and sometimes provided a little womanly advice on how to handle the disagreements she had with her husband, but her father never wrote and neither did her aunt in Toronto. He'd been angry and devastated when she and Sean left, but she never thought he'd shun her this way. She only knew of his well-being along with that of the rest of the family because of Jessie Mae and the Logans. From what she'd been told he (her father) was doing well, in health and heart without her. Marita brushed away a tear that escaped down her cheek as she listened to the talk and laughter from the parlor below, sadden that her pa wasn't there. Ned, Alice and Lexy were amongst the guests. They'd been in town for the past month, visiting for the holidays while Isaac and Clay, who'd become a more competent and trusted businessman, remained in Lexington - they claimed to run the ranch with Ned away. The visit, so far, had gone extremely well with the highlights being Sean and Ned reconnecting over archery and golf (until it began to snow) which Ned was surprisingly good at considering his injury from years before, while Marita, Alice and Lexy caught up while shopping, specifically for a gown for Lexy's 'Coming Out' party in the spring. Most importantly they'd bonded with the new addition to the family -Shane, who was born nine months earlier. They all adored him and thus spoiled him rotten, Ned most especially, who excused his constant doting with the justification that Shane was his first grandchild. Marita swallowed back tears that were now more sweet than somber. She had a great life here. She mused, a happy life. She had a husband who she loved deeply, passionately and who worshipped the ground she walked on. She had true friends - not many, but a selected group that cared about her and Sean's well-being. She had a gorgeous home - a three-story, four bedroom townhouse that overlooked the streets of Paris and provided a charming view of the Eiffel Tower. She had an extended family in Jessie Mae, Ned, Alice, Lexy and even Thomas, And she had a beautiful son, who was all Sean, and the center of her life - their lives and made everyday more fulfilling. But her father would never see this. The sorrow again spiked within. He would never see how great her life had turned out. He'd never see his grandson who lay peacefully sleeping in the adjoining room, or any other children she may bring into this world, because he would never accepted her choice. And on some level she never accepted his, for she was certain that when he learned that she'd given birth to his first grandchild he'd want to reconnect, that maybe he'd even accept Sean and Ned's offer to pay for him to come to France for a visit, but he'd refused. However, in spite of his response, she wasn't going turn her back on him. She vowed. She would continue to write him letters and send him pictures of her family in hopes that one day he'd let go of his anger and embrace her as his daughter again.

"It's a beautiful view." Sean uttered as he came up behind his wife and slid his hands around her waist before burying his face in her neck, then nuzzling it softly. "But you're missed in the parlor." He said, turning his eyes to the lovely scene outside.

"I just needed a few moments, after checking on Shane." She sighed, loving the feel of his strength and the heat it stirred within her.

"You're thinking about your pa?"

"I am." She quietly conceded, briefly lowering her eyes after turning to face him.

"I'm sorry. I know that you were hoping this Christmas would be different." Sean stated as he gently brushed a stray hair from her face.

"It is different. Your pa and sisters are here. Thomas is here. Our friends are here." She softly voiced. "I'm not saying that it doesn't hurt, being completely…cut off from my pa, but I'm not sorry for my life with you." She expressed with earnest. "I thank God every day for blessing me with you and Shane, and for giving us this life that's better than anything we could've ever hoped for."

"As do I." Sean concurred, then took her lips caressing them with his before drawing her close, holding her for a long while, deepening the peace within her.

"We should get back to the parlor." Marita stated as she gradually ended their embrace.

"You sure you ready to go back?" Sean asked in a quiet tone. "Cause we could stay here a little longer, watching the snow blanket the city."

"Thank you, but no. I'm ready to return to our guests." She replied with a small smile, then kissed his lips with slow fervor as her hand came to rest upon cheek, filling him with tenderness and fire. "Sounds like we're missing all the fun." She lightly declared, noting the raised voices and genuine laughter from downstairs.

"Hey." Sean asserted, stopping her as she moved to rejoin the festivities. "I love you." He passionately uttered, his gaze intensely seizing hers.

"I love you too." She said, then kissed him once more, before he slipped his hands in hers, intimately intertwining their fingers and led her towards the merriments that awaited them downstairs.

THE END