Pepa and Silvia looked at each other, then at Charlie. In an instant Pepa was gone, her long legs picking up the pace as she ran after Joey. Charlie was speechless, a thousand thoughts invaded her mind. Her only one that she could keep track of was Joey. How were they to make it if this business with Brax evolved into something more.

As if reading her mind, Morag reached out to her step-daughter reassuring her everything would be okay. "You don't understand Morag. From day one I've looked after her. We've been each others rock of support. I can't do this without her by my side." Charlie replied tearfully.

"Perhaps this is why both of you have to do this separately." Morags blunt reply came back like a thud to Charlie's thoughts.

Anger had boiled within Charlie and she retaliated quickly "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"Put simply, maybe it would be good for you to have some alone time. Joey probably needs a dose of reality where she can figure out who she is, without anyone by her side. She can make a name for herself. Who knows, maybe this whole experience could give her a new sense of independence" Morag replied, matter of factly. Her voice void of emotion.

"How can you say that?" spat Charlie, unable to how her step-mother could be so cold. Morag had her lawyer hat on and spoke to Charlie like as if they were in court in that very minute

"Charlie, you have had this girl move in. She's had your shoulder and two others to cry on. She has had three women to help guide her since moving out of her brothers house. How could she possibly be independent and free minded if she has had someone else think for her and support her. She needs to stand on her own two feet and you know it".

Charlie was dumbfounded. There was no way she would have anyone speak to her like that, nor would she tolerate anyone bringing Joey down. "How dare you Morag? You've barely known Joey for 5 minutes and you're accusing her of not being strong and independent. You ask anyone in this house. You ask anyone at Will's school. She is a caring, giving, selfless wonderful woman who would stop at nothing to ensure everyone else's happiness before her own. How can you stand there and tell me that it would do us both good to stand alone and that any good will come from that!" Charlie was angry, any tears shed at thought of being apart from Joey were long gone, now replaced by an inner motivation to get to Summer Bay with Joey that weekend, regardless of how many trips would have to be done back down for the trial if there was one.

Morag took in Charlie's rant, but didn't let it bother her. The words slid off her and despite all that was said, she didn't hold Charlie's words to heart. She knew she was angry but she needed everyone to see the bigger picture which was simply that Brax wasn't giving up without a fight. Silvia for the most part, was quiet but seeing the escalation in heated words being exchanged decided to step in before it got any worse. Stroking Charlie's back she gently tried to reassure her that Morag had both of their best interests at heart and despite everything it would help to see it from her point of view.

Charlie shook her head "you're going to use every mistake I ever made against me now aren't you Morag. Somewhere in that legal twisted process of thought you will think making light of my past mistakes will help you in your quest."

Morag looked at Charlie knowing the following comment was going to unleash further angst but she had to do it. "If you're referring to that free spirit, wild daughter you have in boarding school then yes. I'm going to make sure your parental responsibilities are highlighted"

"and lack their of right?" Charlie snapped.

"Well truth be told, you have made some serious mistakes when it came to Ruby" Silvia was dumbstruck. Out of nowhere the mention of a second child that to this day for all the months they had lived in Charlie's house, there was not a mention of a daughter.

Ross finally stepped in, mindful of the loyalty to both women he adored. "Come Morag, something tells me Charlie hasn't opened up to her FAMILY about Ruby. We should give her some time. You have work to do in relation to Brax. Let's just focus on that for now shall we. Perhaps we don't even need it to get to court."

Morag listened to her husband allowing him to guide her back up and towards the door to leave. She stopped for a moment and turned back to Charlie who was slumped over on the sofa "Charlie I know you may never think of me as your mother, and I would never want to try and replace her but you know that telling the people you love the truth is paramount. You can't go on living in this little bubble of happiness when you know its not the whole truth. Who knows, maybe the truth will finally set you free. I'll be in touch with regards to Brax". Like that she was gone.

Charlie broke down for what seemed the millionth time that week. Morag had told of a secret that she wanted to tell her family in her own time, when she believed the time was right. It was not to be in this mess, not like this. Silvia wasn't sure what to say, in the end she spoke no more. Instead opting to provide a shoulder to cry on and an ear that would listen.

...

Joey was distraught. She had no strength left to fight. She wanted time to stop so she could think what to do next. Everything was happening much too fast. Sitting down in the corner of the backyard, with her back to the house, she burst into tears. Pepa had followed Joey out. She wanted to put Brax behind bars, where he belonged. She wanted Morag to do her job and get them all up to Summer Bay this weekend together. She wanted to take the pain away from Joey but in an instant she realized there was nothing she could do. Not in that moment. Instead she slowly sat down next to Joey, and wrapped her arm around her pulling her in close. Joey needed reassurance and it came in the strength of Pepa. "Let it out Baby Girl" she gently coaxed. "Let it out".

They sat there for who knows how long. To Joey it seemed like forever. She felt safe in Pepa's arms. She could understand why Silvia wanted to always have her wife by her side. Pepa oozed confidence, and an assertiveness of knowledge as to what she wanted. She was the strongest woman Joey knew. Silvia on the other hand, was like more of a mother figure to Joey. They would talk about all sorts of things and if ever there was a problem Silvia took a scientific approach to work out the answer. She was the opposite to Pepa who was like a stray bullet. Pepa was unpredictable but moments like this when everything looks like it's going to go wrong it's always Pepa who knows how to make Joey see the light at the end of tunnel. It's Pepa who is the protective one. Neither of them spoke for ages until Pepa finally broke the silence. "Baby Girl, you know if this thing goes to court its only a couple of weeks apart. Silvia and I can come up with you if you like, you know get everything settled like the house and Wills school paperwork. All you have to do is focus on work. Nothing else."

Joey looked up at Pepa. She could see where Pepa was coming from but she didn't want to do it. Not without her son and girlfriend by her side. "Thankyou Pepa but I honestly don't know if I want this job. Not if its this much heartbreak".

"Now look at me" Pepa replied assertively, lifting joey's chin "you're going to take this job. We are all going to move up to Summer Bay with you. If we need to come after you start then we'll move heaven and earth to make it happen sooner than later, you got that Missy". Joey laughed for the first time in ages. It felt good to laugh. She loved how Pepa could be so bossy and so funny at the same time.

"I know you mean well Pepa, but I'm scared. Honestly I don't want to be apart from Charlie and Will a day longer than I have to. Brax is going to everything he can to keep Will down here. If he gets his way then all the plans we made are down the drain."

"No" Pepa replied optimistally "No, your plans are just temporarily delayed that's all. Eveything you want like a family will all come in time. Look at me and Silvia, we were thrown apart at 18 years old because neither of our families would accept us and then ten years later I came back like an elephant into her life. I wanted her back from day one and I didn't stop loving her even when she told me it was over. Look at us now."

"Yeah, look at you now. You're on the run from some crazy menace and you're living with a lunatic or maybe two".

"No, I'm married to the woman I love. I'm protecting her from a crazy menace yes, but we're together and despite all odds we have set up a home with a beautiful young couple who have the whole world at their feet. They just don't realize it yet."

Joey took in Pepa's optimistic words. They hadn't sunked in completely but for a minute she had faith everything would be ok. Pepa guided them both back inside reassuring her along the way that no matter what curveballs were thrown at them, Silvia and Pepa were going to be always there helping and supporting in any way they could. They came inside to find Charlie slumped over on the sofa and Silvia unable to find the words any longer to make things right. Seeing the troubled look on her wifes face Pepa sat down and asked what was wrong. "You both need to sit down, Charlie has something important to tell you. Just don't be angry with her ok. I'm sure she'll tell us her reasons."

Joey was confused and troubled at the same time. "Where's Will?" she asked.

"He didn't want to be around for this, he's in his room" Silvia replied sadly.

Sitting down opposite Charlie, Joey reached out to her. She raised her chin up and looked into eyes that had their life taken out of them. "Charlz, talk to me" she gently coaxed.

"I've lied to you, to all of you" Charlie began. She couldn't bare to look into the three sets of eyes that were seeking answers. She could feel them all looking at her demanding answers which she really didn't want to give. Joey moved closer to her girlfriend, believing that she needed to offer more support. Charlie continued "Morag spilt the beans and threatened that my past, and its secrets will not remain safe any longer. Brax will have everything come to light in court."

"Charlie, what secrets in your past, please tell us what you mean" Joey implored.

Taking a deep breath, Charlie unleashed the secret she had managed to keep under wraps for so long. "I have a daughter, Ruby. She's in boarding school. She's 16 years old." Three gasps were heard and then the question she didn't want to ever answer

"How?"

"we've lived with you for almost 12 months now Charlie. We haven't seen a photo or a letter, or a sms. Not even a phonecall." Pepa questioned.

Charlie just shook her head "She wants nothing to do with me. She asked to be sent to boarding school so she could escape me and Brax. Even after we divorced she didn't want to come back".

Joey was speechless. How could she not have known. How could she have not told of her child? The thoughts ferociously invaded her mind. "Is she Brax's?" she asked.

"No" Charlie sighed, knowing she had to tell them the truth imminently.

"What do you mean no?" "I was 16 when I gave birth. I had a boyfriend, Grant. We were like typical teenagers, but one day we were out at a party. He wanted it. I didn't. He didn't like the fact that I said no, so he got his way by raping me." Charlie honestly recalled and then broke into tears as the final truth was revealed. All three women were in shock.

"Did Brax know?" Silvia finally summoned the stremgth to ask.

"I told him, yes. He raised Ruby like she was his own daughter but one day when we were arguing she found out the truth about her paternity and like that she walked out of the house, telling me never to contact her again. She chose the school she would attend and that was it. I haven't seen or heard from her since." Charlie had now broken down. She shed tears for all the memories that had been bought up and for a life with Joey, that she felt was slipping further and further away.

Joey couldn't say anything. She was frozen in one spot. Charlie words repeating themselves in her head over and over. Finally she stepped away from Charlie. With her back turned to the group and arms crossed she dared to ask the question no one had asked. "how could you not tell us Charlz. This is such a big part of your life. How could you not share it with us? Sure, not in the beginning. I mean you wouldn't tell someone you've just met. But the three of us, we have lived with you for months and you never said a word. How can you honestly sleep at night knowing this huge part of your life is just sitting there like a shadow in the dark."

Charlie looked at Pepa and Silvia. Neither one of them knew how to respond but in their eyes, Charlie could see they were thinking the same thing. Slowly rising, Charlie made her way over to Joey, gently kissing her neck begging her "Please don't let this separate us Jo. I love you. I'm so sorry". Joey felt Charlie's body up against hers. The spark was still there.

Joey wanted nothing more than to forgive her girlfriend but as long as there were doubts she felt like she wouldn't be able to trust, not completely anyway. "Are there any more secrets you want to tell us Charlie?"

"No, nothing honestly" she replied.

Realising Joey wasn't rejecting her advances, she slowly wrapped her arms around her girlfriend, hopeful that they could overcome recent hurdles together. Joey felt her body go rigid as she felt arms envelope her, but despite her head telling her to run away from Charlie as fast as she could. Her heart wanted to be close, to do things, anything to overcome the pain that had been thrust on both of them in recent days. She wanted all the troubles with Brax to go away and now the new revelation of a daughter there was so much more to overcome.

Breathing in Joey finally relaxed into Charlie's arms "I meant it when I said I was in it for the long haul Charlz, but now is your chance to speak up and tell me of any demons in your closet. Don't let me regret this" Joey replied assertively. Charlie was relieved when she heard Joey give her another chance. She hugged her closer and made many promises over and over again that she would spend the rest of her life making it up to her and truth be told there were no more skeletons, demons or anything else nasty in her closet.

A knock on the door broke all four women out of their thoughts. Pepa followed her wife as she opened the door and was greeted by a smiling young girl with wild curly hair "Hi, I'm looking for Charlotte Buckton".

The voice she had not heard in three years, bought Charlie to a stand still "Ruby?"