A/N: I want to thank Sky for one particular review that I've found helpful in writing this story. Just a couple minor notes before I go onto the next chapter:

(1) Women DID get divorces in the 1800s, despite the fact that is was looked down upon. True, most women probably would not, but to stay in- character Marietta would have to, she's not the type of woman to put up with such abuse.

(2) By saying "it" was a real ranch owned by your great-great-uncle I assume you mean the Pecos River Ranch. Well, actually, no it wasn't. Because my ranch is fictional, and the ranch you're talking about obviously is not.

Anyway, onto the story . . . this is the last chapter of Part II. The next one-Part III: The Next Generation-will be up soon, but I'm planning on posting it as a separate story.

***

Chapter 40-September 9th, 1889

Three days had passed since Jeremy and Liz left home, since then Michael had remained almost completely silent, struggling to accept what had happened. His little princess, his first child, had run away with a man years older than her after getting pregnant by him.

And now she was out there . . . somewhere.

Michael poured some coffee as Marietta came in with the youngest children, he looked over at them and she immediately noticed the fatigue lines on his rugged face. She knew he had searched all day once again for Liz, just as she knew he had no luck in doing so.

"She'll come back," she murmured.

"No, she won't." Michael shook is head. "She's a Bandit. She's got 'er pride, an' she won't come back to have the people look at 'er like they would."

"I don't think you give these people enough credit, Michael," Marietta scolded, "remember how they accepted me even after my divorce? They're certainly more understanding than . . . wherever it is Liz went, I'm sure."

Michael smiled slightly. "Even still," he said, "besides, I don't think my daughter's too anxious to have to face me."

"She knows you'd never turn your back on her."

"Of course not!" Michael rubbed his chin thoughtfully, how far could she have gotten anyway? "That don't mean I can't be disappointed in 'er. An' that was always Liz's worst fear. Disappointin' me."

Marietta watched him head out to the barn, Luke joining him halfway there, as he always did; Adrienne entered from the back door with the laundry. The young girl had suffered perhaps more than her father when her older sister left, they had always been close, most likely because of the time spent in the Comanche village.

"How's Pa?" she asked.

"He's okay," Marietta answered.

"How could Liz do this?" Adrienne demanded, "she's smarter than this!" Her expression was one of complete disgust as he next words came out: "An' that Jeremy . . . who does he think he is anyway? He's the cause of all this!"

"Shh, Adrienne." Marietta glanced at the other children, who were beginning to notice as Adrienne's voice rose. "Remember this-your sister is only a girl. A very young girl. I know you've always looked up to her, an' well you should, she-usually-sets a good example for all of you. But nobody's perfect, Adrienne, not even Liz."

"Not the easiest thing to find out," Adrienne sighed, "or the easiest way to find out."

***

"Merry Christmas, sweetheart." Michael placed a kiss on Adrienne's forehead as the "family" gathered in the living room of the main house; Jesse Cox and his family, Michael and his, Kelly and Jules, and-of course-Tim, Elise, and Keith.

"You too, Pa," Adrienne said softly.

Michael felt his wife's hand on his shoulder and looked up to see her smiling face, just as beautiful as years ago when they saw one another for the first time since childhood . . . or when they said their wedding vows. Her chocolate brown waves of hair was thick and still dark, her sea-green eyes still bright; her complexion wasn't nearly as white and smooth as before, her hands were calloused, her skin tanned.

"You're a real Texas woman now, ain't ya'," Michael whispered, echoing words used what felt like an eternity ago.

"I guess so."

"Let's dance, pretty lady."

"All right, handsome."

They played a slow waltz as the couples made their way onto the floor; Jesse and Martha, Tim and a lady his age named Mary Ann, Michael and Marietta. Michael took her tiny hand and rested his on her waist, smiling down at her lovingly; her smile was directed up at him as she put her hand on his broad shoulder.

"Where do ya' see us in five years, love?" Michael asked.

"Oh, I don't know . . . happy, safe, bored." She laughed a little. "What a wouldn't give to have a boring year!"

"Hmm, can't imagine. Not that I wouldn't like it."

"You think you would?"

"Oh yes."

He kissed her quickly, causing her cheeks to turn slightly pink with embarrassment, knowing they were being watched by a few people. He chuckled quietly at her discomfort and held her closer, pleased when she moved into him.

"Ten years," Michael said, "we've been married ten years."

Marietta's eyes sparkled as she looked into his, reliving every moment of their ten-year marriage, it seemed; she tightened her grip on his hand.

"It feels like only a day," she sighed.

Their lips locked, both ignoring the other couples dancing around them; time seemed to stand still for the moment, and they lost all their worries in each others embrace. Both silently wished they could stay in that moment forever, but time would always go on, and all things must change . . .

The children grew up . . . the ranch prospered . . . the country changed . . . and time marched on . . .

**************************************************************************** *************

"Get up now-atta' boy."

Michael walked over slowly and watched in silence as his son lunged his new stallion; Luke's broad-brimmed hat was pulled low over his brown face, he wore thick leather gloves to protect his hands from the rough rope. He was tall now, over six feet, broad-shouldered with a lean waist; his black hair hung down just below his ears and was usually tied back, his face had sharp features-a firm jaw, pointed nose, wide eyes.

"How's he doin'?" Michael asked.

"He's lookin' good, Pa."

Michael smirked, Luke was never startled, he wasn't sure if it was because he always heard people coming up behind him, or he simply had no fear. He walked up to the 16-year-old and watched the horse run around the paddock, studying its strides carefully.

"He's a good runner," he commented.

"I'm gonna race 'im for the the Fourth."

"Good."

June of 1894. Michael was now 40-years-old, a few streaks of gray ran through his dark hair, his face was no longer young, but that of a man who had seen much in his life, and had spent most of it working hard. He glanced at his son, who-despite having no relation to him-bore a resemblance to the younger Michael; had it really been twenty-four years since Michael was his age? He sure had a hard time believing it.

"Papa!"

He turned quickly to see Jane and Nathaniel racing toward him, Jane reached him first and wrapped her arms tightly around his waist.

"Well now," he laughed, "what's goin' on here?"

"Adrienne has a beau!" Jane giggled.

Michael spotted his daughter walking up the dirt road with a young man and gave a small smile, saying: "So I see. But we've all met Carl before- what's the fuss?"

"He ain't ne'er asked Addy to a dance 'fore!" Nathaniel cried.

"Did he today?"

"Pa?" Adrienne's voice was hopeful. "Carl asked me to the Independence Day dance-I told 'im I had to ask you first . . . "

"Y'all can go an' have a good time," Michael said, "but the dance ain't for another two weeks . . . kinda' in a rush, ain't ya', Carl?"

Carl Mason started, he seemed surprised when Michael spoke to him; he was a nervous boy of eighteen, sandy brown hair and freckles-reminding Michael of his late father, James.

"Uh, well . . . y'see, sir-" he blushed "-I didn't want anybody to ask 'er 'fore I got the chance."

Michael chuckled again and patted the boy's shoulder, watching Adrienne as she stared up at him adoringly, the sun reflecting off her shoulder-length, almost-blonde hair. She was now a young woman, determined to become a writer; she had a strong build, although still very feminine, she took after Marietta in her character.

"What 'bout you, Luke?" Adrienne asked, "I know you've had yours eyes on Jessica Watson in town."

Luke actually flushed. "She's a pretty gal."

"That she is," Carl admitted, "so . . . are ya' goin' with 'er?"

"Nope."

"Why not?" Michael asked.

Luke shrugged as he pulled his horse in, then mounted him and sat in silence for a moment; then he answered: "She is a pretty gal, but I ain't lookin' for one." He grinned. "I'm a cowboy for now . . . that's all."

As his eldest son rode off, Michael nodded approvingly and started back to the house; Marietta came out with Alexander next to her and greeted her husband of nearly fifteen years with a kiss.

"An' how was your day, love?" Michael asked.

"Just fine, how 'bout yours?"

"'Bout as good as it gets."

Marietta looked passed his shoulder to Luke riding in the field. "He's as good on Texas as you were on Starlight," she said quietly.

"Yeah, he is." Michael fondly remembered the black stallion he had ridden in his youth. "An' Texas is just as loyal."

They watched as Luke let loose his lariat, it flew through the air and wrapped around his intended target-his little sister. Jane laughed as he hopped to the ground and ran over to her, then lifted her and whirled her around; Michael's arm encircled Marietta's waist, still slim after all the years.

Carl and Adrienne walked over, hand-in-hand, smiling shyly at one another as Adrienne asked: "Ma, can Carl stay for dinner?"

"Sure," Marietta answered, "you're more'n welcome, Carl."

"Thankee, ma'am," he said.

A while later, Luke brought Texas and Jane back and washed up as the girls set the table, Carl stuck close to Adrienne-to shy to be away from the girl he adored. Michael sat down and half-listened to Alexander's account of his day; he paid most of his attention to his young daughter and Carl, silently hoping their relationship would continue for years. Carl was a good boy, hard-working and responsible, exactly the type Michael had always hoped his girls would marry.

He felt a twinge of pain as he thought of the young man who was most likely now his son-in-law, Jason Attilla had not been seen in almost five years, as well as Liz. Michael couldn't hold back a little smile when he imagined the four-year-old grandchild he had somewhere.

"Supper is served," Marietta said, bringing over a dish with a chunk of meat on it that made the men of house's mouths water.

"That looks great, Ma," Luke said.

"Pa looks like he wants to eat it all," Nathaniel laughed.

"I do, boy, I do." Michael nodded. "But I reckon I'll save a few bites for the rest of ya'."

They ate and talked for a while, then Marietta got up to wash the dishes and Michael followed her into the kitchen; she felt his warm breath go down her neck and couldn't restrain a quiet giggle.

"What'd ya' make o' Carl?" he asked.

"He's a nice boy."

"Adrienne sure likes 'im."

"An' you . . . ?"

"I like 'im too. I see a son-in-law, I hope."

"Isn't it a bit early for that?"

"Ya' never know."

"What 'bout Jessica Watson?"

"Luke ain't interested."

"Why not?"

"He's 'a cowboy for now . . . that's all'."

"Hmm . . . sounds like someone else I once knew."

"An' who would that be?"

"Oh, let's see." She turned to him, leaning on the counter and smiling up at him mischievously. "He was tall, dark, and very handsome. Never relied on anyone for anythin', very independent-an' stubborn. He loved his horse more'n anythin' in the world, an' I remember thinkin' how strange that was."

"Ain't nothin' strange 'bout that."

"No, I guess not." She laughed a little. "He was a cowboy, just like Luke. An' he loved everythin' about it. Those smelly old cows . . . the flat plains o' the land he worshipped . . . the bland coffee he was forced to drink for six months at a time."

"Sounds like quite a life." Michael's smile broadened. "An' whatever became o' this man, may I ask?"

"Oh, he settled down eventually." Marietta gripped his collar and placed a kiss on his lips. "'Cause, ya' see, he met this lovely Southern belle who just stole his heart! He married 'er, an' she gave 'im quite a few children."

"Where are they now?"

"Right where they belong."

Michael took her in his arms, closing his eyes and feeling her close to him; he spoke softly: "I think we done good, Mrs. Bandit. We done real good."

END OF PART TWO

***

A/N: So, should Part III be separate or still in the same story?