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LadySharkey1 rocks my world by being the most amazing, kick-ass beta I could ever imagine.

Nobody is safe. Time will tell who will get out alive. No guarantees will be given beforehand.

Broadway, New York, 1941.

"Newton!" The name echoed through the bowels of Henderson's Theatre; one of the grandest and most renowned theaters on Broadway. Carlisle was pissed, and he was right to be. With only a few minutes on the clock before curtain call, one of his stars was missing.

Bella sighed, shooting a tense smile at her dresser. "At least he is finally here," she whispered, the nerves that had been out in full force diminishing slightly though her reluctance to leave her dressing room was still very much present.

Through a crack in the door, she could see Michael flashing by; a look of pure loathing on his face—although she wasn't sure whether it was directed at himself or at the tormentors that had pulled yet another disgusting prank on him.

She'd worried about him all afternoon.

Like her, he had always been out of place in the theatre. He had talent, that was for sure—they all did—but just like her, his character wasn't up to dealing with the jealous scheming and general lack of any kind of morals that seemed to dictate the acting world.

And just like her, his heart had been crushed and his soul broken by the people she'd once longed to call her friends.

One, even more so.

Her heart throbbed painfully, the she'd put in place to hold it together, straining to do their job as the awful memories of the previous night started to flood her mind again.

She sighed, trying to rid her head of the image of a man and a woman, locked in an intimate embrace. It was her eyes, Alice's cold, ice-blue triumphant stare that had been the straw that broke the camel's back. There was no doubt that Alice had set out to hurt Bella…the woman she saw as her competition. And in doing so, she'd used the man she had trapped in her web as a way to further her own advancement.

Bella wanted nothing more of it; the whole world she'd reluctantly been thrown into and all the people in it. She wanted to get as fast and as far away from all of them as possible.

By accepting her spot on the playlist, she had fulfilled her promise to her father; she had paid her pound of flesh. After that night, she would be free and at liberty to go back home. A home, where she felt safe and loved.

"Newton, get back here, damn you!" In all the years she'd known him, Bella had never seen Carlisle Cullen as angry as when he stormed passed her dressing room, his voice thundering through the backstage area as he yelled, "Where the hell have you been? Curtain's going up in fifteen minutes and you're not even dressed!"

Like Bella, a few other members of the crew were drawn out of their dressing rooms and office, watching with rapt fascination as the scene unfolded in front of them. As used to emotions flying high as most of the crew were (after all, when dealing with a bunch of high strung actors on a daily basis, tantrums were bound to happen), explosions like the one detonating right there and then were slightly more rare.

"Get off my back, Carlisle!" Newton roared, rounding on the one person he should have treated with respect as Carlisle Cullen, a renowned and very powerful stage director, held the keys to his future as an actor. "Thank God tonight's the last night I have to listen to your bullshit, because I'm so damn through with this place and every single person in it it's not even funny anymore!"

His rage, caused by the umpteenth mean prank that had been played on him that night by his fellow cast mates, had made Michael courageous. Unfortunately for him, however, his muscles had not grown at the same rate.

"Shut up before I smash your face into a wall and ruin tonight's performance!" Carlisle roared, his much stronger arms slamming the young actor against the wall. "You will listen to me now, you ungrateful idiot: you will head over to your dressing room, get your ass together and on that stage. Or I'm telling you…" His threat made young Newton tremble as all his former courage deflated from his frame. "If the audience so much as picks up on something strange, you will never work in this city again."

"Like I want another job in this hell hole anyway!" Newton chuckled bitterly as he dusted himself off and obediently went as he was directed.

Looking back on that night, Bella would forever regret the fact that she hadn't reached out to him then. With only fifteen minutes before curtain went up, she had justified her own reluctance to act by telling herself she had to focus on getting in character and preparing herself for her final night.

But even as she crept through the hallways of the theatre, she already knew it had been a lie.

"Watch it!" An angry sneer and a jab to her ribcage were all Bella saw as Alice Brandon flew by on her way to the stage; unkind and unapologetic.

Bella had gotten used to it over the weeks.

They had all set out on an equal footing; a bright young cast, hired to bring youthful enthusiasm and a whole new shine to Carlisle Cullen's production of The Merchant of Venice. They were all equally inexperienced and eager to proof that they were worthy of their spot in the production. Thrown into the spotlight, the tentative friendships that had blossomed between the young actors were soon put to the test as jealousy and rivalry flared up as everyone tried to capture their spot in the limelight. Some went about it in more extreme ways than others, though. Where Bella had tried to be nice and work hard, Alice had stopped at nothing to secure her place in the spotlights. Some even said she'd bedded the director himself to get the part of Portia. After what Bella had seen the previous night, she was more inclined than ever to believe the gossip.

"Bella-" Bella rushed past the actor, dressed up to the nines in all of Bassanio's Belmont-bound finery as she got ready to play her part. "Please," he called out after her. "We need to talk about this. It wasn't…what you saw, it wasn't-"

"I have nothing more to say to you, Edward," Bella bit back, trying to fight her tears. She would not let him see how broken her spirit was by his callous behavior. "It seems to me as if you've made your choice."

The lights shone too bright as she stepped into them; her skin perspiring under their warmth as she slipped into Nerissa's skin just as she had done for so many nights, forgetting the hurtful characters that skulked behind the faces of the parts they acted out on stage. Even forgetting that in real life Shylock was her father as she helped Portia to put him in his place.

It was only after the final curtain call and the roar of the jubilant audience had died down, that she came back to her senses.

And with it, came the guilt over turning a blind eye to the abuse Mike had suffered at the hands of their fellow actors.

"You did very well tonight," her father spoke, his costume already gone as he brushed his make-up away with a wet towel. "If only you'd change your mind about your silly, childish homesickness, I'd be sure to get you a bigger part next time. You're at least as big a star as that Brandon girl is."

"I want to go home, Father," Bella spoke, her voice trembling at even the idea of dwelling in New York for longer than absolutely possible. "I want peace…a husband and some children, the steadiness of my own home. I don't belong here."

"Very well, then." Charlie Swan had already lost his interest. As a famous thespian, he too had lost much of his softness along the way. "If you want to go back to your mother and the obscurity that comes with country life, then so be it. But don't blame me when you grow tired of it."

"Don't worry," Bella muttered to the empty spot where her father had just stood. She was most certain that she would never regret the decision she'd made.

On the contrary.

She was counting the hours.

Quickly shoving all of her things into a bag, she walked down the corridor, closing her eyes and ears against the argument that went on to her right, as Emmett—one of the very men who'd damage she was on her way to erase—once again tried to pressure a very reluctant Rosalie into marriage. She hoped Rose would stand firm because as much as she disliked the haughty, naïve woman, she would never wish a scoundrel like Emmett onto any female.

"Mike?" She called out as her knuckled rapped against the closed dressing room door. "Are you in there?" As she knocked a little firmer, the door creaked open against her force, revealing a dark room awash with a heady, ominous smell.

"Mike?" Her voice sounded thin as she walked in, her hands trembling as it felt for the light switch.

When she finally found it, she wished to God that she hadn't because, as the light illuminated the room, her eyes took in a scene so horrid no matter of time would ever erase it from her mind.

There, with a glass of red wine still in his hand, lay the body of the obviously deceased Michael Newton. His eyes wide open and his mouth twisted into a sinister grimace as he looked up at the words he'd inscribed into his dressing mirror with red lipstick.

It was a final two-fingered salute to those who had either tormented him or failed to stand up to those that did.

Bella was the only one to see it, apart from the person who had erased the message. For when she came too from the shock of her horrible discovery, it was as if they had never been there. It was ingrained into her soul, however, where it would remain until the day she died.

In the days following, the police interviewed each and every person present that night and, though many shared the agitation they had seen in Mike as he rushed into his dressing room at the eleventh hour, they remained mum about his reasons for doing so. Each and every person having his or her own reasons for their deceit. As there were no living relatives or other loved ones to plead his case, the police soon closed what appeared to be an obvious case of suicide.

But as slowly and certainly every trace of Michael Newton's earthly existence was erased; the parting words that were seen only by two—but repeated by many through the years—resounded like a warning that was heeded by none.

If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?Everyone will get what they deserve. May my ghost haunt you all, long after the memory of who I used to be has faded.

See you in hell, you miserable bunch of lowlifes!

I will be waiting.

Little did the cast of The Merchant of Venice know, that Michael's parting words held a sinister truth in them.