Author's Note: The first couple chapters of this are uploaded on Deviantart as well, under my username pseudocide335. FP likes to eat half the links I put on here, so if you go to the search box and type in "king and the courtesan", the third or fourth deviation should be mine. I have drawn pictures for the title and for each of the chapters. It'll give you an idea of what Melissa looks like :) Other than that, enjoy!!!

Chapter One

Oh God, where did I put it?

My hands shook as they clawed through my bag, sweeping through all the pockets hastily before ripping out all the age-old wrappers and tissues that had collected at the bottom of the purse. Where . . .? No, I needed that now!

My hands were still sticky. Trying to give myself time to calm down, I rushed to the bathroom and thrust them under the faucet. I enjoyed the hot water that burned my skin. It kept me alert and my mind off of my missing supplies.

I counted the bills in my back pocket again, just to make sure they were all there. I'd done it four times before, but I was always worried a twenty would slip out. No, it was all here. A hundred dollars.

Damn, what did I do with it? Was it stolen off of me? I would blame my sister, but I was in my own hotel room right now. There was no one here but me. My customer had left twenty minutes ago, and he didn't look like the robbing type. He'd been the shifty, businessman type, the one petrified by the fact that desperation and lust had led him here, to this rotting room in the bad part of town. He'd been nothing. A quick get-in-get-out sort of job.

"Fuck," I muttered. Suddenly I spotted a little baggie that was peaking out from underneath the bed skirt. I dived and picked it up in shaking fingers. I nearly cried in relief. This should at least last me until tomorrow, when the sun chased away most of the criminals who seemed to breed rapidly as the months progressed.

I grabbed my candle from inside the nightstand drawer and lit it. I grabbed the syringe that sat next to it and placed the needle in the flame. After a good minute, I threw the syringe in the tiny basin of water by the foot of the bed. Then I grabbed my spoon and dumped the contents of the package into the bowl of the utensil. I bit my lip impatiently and tapped my fingers against my knees.

It was all routine from here on.

I went home the next morning, arriving in the apartment just before lunch.

"Where the hell have you been?" my sister Mimi asked, stashing one skelatal hand on her hip. She looked worse than usual. From her scalp crawled a few gray hairs. There were dark bags under her eyes and a bruise blossoming along her jaw. There were probably more marks on the rest of her, but she was wearing a turtleneck and jeans, which hid most of the proof.

"The usual," I muttered.

"Why so late in the morning, I meant?" Mimi asked. The macaroni she was heating up in the microwave popped.

I shrugged. "I got up too late. Sorry. I didn't know you were in charge of keeping tabs on me. I am twenty, you know. No need to pull the mama shit."

"You know I worry about you," Mimi retorted. Her voice reflected no such maternal warmth.

"Yeah, sure. You just worry about my ability to bring in the rent," I muttered.

"Don't talk to me like that! I'm your sister!"

"Look, are you going to actually cook? Because if not, I have somewhere to be."

"Like where?" Mimi asked.

"None of your business." I dug deep into the pocket of my jeans and pulled out the five twenty-dollar bills. "Here. This should help with the rent."

Mimi only stared at the money. "Ever wonder why we bother surviving at all? How much more can we sacrifice?"

When she didn't take the money, I slapped it down on the counter. I didn't want to see it again. I wouldn't cry if she threw those bills in the trash. I hated them. They were contaminated. Dirty. Proof I had failed.

"I still got a beating heart. I'd like to keep that," I muttered, kicking aside Mimi's shit and heading for my room. What was it with Mimi and her hoarding? It had once been an annoying habit, but now it had become an obsession. She bought little trinkets and things and then never let them go. They were all ugly and cheap, yet she always seemed to think they were endearing. Perhaps in the best circumstances they were tolerable, but not in this groaning, leaking, stained shithole. They just took up space and covered the groovy orange carpet in the living room.

I slipped into my room, sighing when I was removed from the clutter. My room was strangely bare; I didn't like to keep a lot of things. I lived with the bare necessities. I couldn't afford anything anyway, except that old antennae TV at the pawn shop, which I never watched anyway. My bed was stripped to the bare minimum. My clothes were tucked neatly into that small dresser in the corner. My essentials—shampoo, toothpaste, tampons, a hair brush, and my few tubes of make-up—were all piled on top of the dresser. I had no decorations, no form of expression whatsoever. I didn't think there was much of a point.

The scent of burned microwavable macaroni touched my nostrils. I nearly gagged. I had to get out of this place.

Satisfied that I'd done my civic duty and let my sister see me safe and sound, I left the apartment again, despite Mimi's protests. I caught a bus at the curb, which was filled with other such plebians as me, all looking disheveled and worn down. No one spoke. That was what I found odd when I rode the inner city buses. Girls chatted, boys guffawed, adults conversed. What made them talk to each other? What made us so down trodden and broken-looking?

I took the seat by an old fat woman. She huffed and stared at me for a good ten seconds.

"What are you looking at?" I grumbled.

"My, girl, you've got the longest legs I've ever seen on a beanpole."

This wasn't a compliment. I'd heard it before. I didn't know why this random fatty decided that my legs needed comment, but it pissed me off. It was a nicer way of saying I was too tall and too thin. I didn't fit into most jeans because they were either too short in the leg or too wide in the waist. Mimi had been blessed with the breasts at least. She'd stayed a nice five-foot-four while I erupted into a daunting five-foot-eight. Well, not daunting, really. I was still really skinny and non-threatening. Men often mistaked me for someone as much as six years younger.

I just ignored her.

Luckily my stop was before hers, because I couldn't imagine her fat ass trying to slip past me. I sauntered off the bus and onto the sidwalk, relishing the feel of my sneakers. I was so sick of heels. They really did a toll on my feet.

I was a little shaky, but I could handle this. Hiking my purse higher up my shoulder, I headed to the crumbling brick apartment building on the corner. A few men with chains looped through their belts and hard core tattoos stood smoking on the stair railing that led to the front door. They all knew me, but they didn't know my name. I managed to keep that a secret, even though they asked every day.

"Hey, Beanie," one called when he saw me. "How's a day in the life of a fourteen-year-old?" He pulled his lips back to reveal his yellowing teeth. He'd already gotten two golden caps for two bottom teeth. They winked in the weak sunlight.

"I'm not fourteen. Let me through," I ordered. Their legs were so stretched out that they blocked my way.

"So, hey, I'm free tonight if you'd like me to take you for a ride. And did I mention I don't have a car?"

The boys around him howled and guffawed, clapping each other on the back and blowing smoke around, as if they were all scaly dragons waiting to belch fire.

I wasn't the least amused. They should have realized in eighth grade that such jokes weren't funny.

"Let me pass."

"Or what?" another asked, smirking.

I hated to use this card, but I had no choice. "Or I'll tell Blade you've been harassing me."

The guys all looked at each other. Wordlessly, they straightened and let me pass.

There was a pounding behind my temple as I slowly walked up the stairs. The more time spent between my bus stop and my destination, the better. I really wasn't eager to come crawling back to Blade. We'd gotten in a fight two days ago. He told me to get the fuck out. I'd managed to cling to my pride for awhile, but it always went this way. I needed his connections to get what I needed. And technically, he was my boyfriend.

I got to the fourth floor and knocked on his door. The foggy, dirty window down the hall stared at me. I stared back. Graffiti was sprayed over the cracked plaster, and the railing was sticky. With what, I didn't care to know.

The door was thrown open.

"Hi, Osric," I murmured softly.

Osric stared down at me with those intense bluish-violet eyes. His hair was black as midnight and mussed to perfection. His well-toned muscles strained at the seams of his tank top, which stopped just a few inches short of his belt, revealing an inch of darkened man flesh. Girls loved Osric. I didn't. He was always unctuous, too confident in those looks. He was of foreign origin. I'd come upon him with fellow purple-eyed natives, speaking in low tones that I didn't understand. I never trusted him. One look from him and I cowered.

A girl slithered up behind him, sliding a pale arm across his shoulder and latching her bright red nails onto the collar of his shirt. Etana, of course. She had quite a reputation in this neighborhood. She was the envy of everyone; if you had Etana, you were important. You were hot. You were someone. It seemed sometimes that she was equivalent to that big screen TV or those nice wheels. Only the wealthy could afford her and only the dangerous and wily could keep her. She seemed to hang onto Osric a lot. That didn't shock me. The two were oily enough to grease up an engine.

"Hello, Melissa," Etana purred. She too shared Osric's blue-violet eyes, though her eyes were bigger, her eyelashes thicker, her face rounder. She was the image of a perfect woman, at least I thought so. She didn't have these horrid gangly limbs like me. She didn't have my rampant freckles, my long nose, my thin lips. Everytime I looked at Etana, I hated her. Even worse, every time I looked at Etana, I hated myself.

"Looking for Blade?" Etana asked, running a pathetically pink tongue over her crimson lips.

"He here?" I asked, trying not to stutter in their intimidating presence.

"He's eating." Etana pushed Osric aside so I could slip past them.

"We were leaving anyway," Etana said, grabbinng Osric's ponytail and playfulling yanking him toward the hallway. He grinned and hooked a thumb in the waist of her jean skirt. Then Etana pulled the door shut, and I was left alone in the apartment with Blade.

Sighing, I headed toward the kitchen. I heard Blade murmuring before I reached it. When I stood in the doorway, I saw Blade gnawing on a sandwich, growling into his phone. His broad back was turned, his muscles slithering in his apparent anger. Almost every inch of his arms was tattooed, giving him dark sleeves. A tattoo spiraled up the back of his neck and licked his hairline. His ears were ringed by piercings of all colors and flavors. His rings tapped and he hit his hand against the table. His jeans fell low on his butt, leaving a small slice of boxers visible. He was successful and rather established, but he still played the part of traditional gangster.

"I don't give a shit," he hissed. "You get that shipment up here before I personally come down and lodge a bullet in your brain."

I held onto the doorway and dropped my eyes to the floor. I accidentally hit the toe of my shoe against the doorframe. Blade whipped around and glared at me.

"I'll call you back," Blade snapped, then clicked the phone shut.

"Hi," I said softly.

"You come up here to apologize to me?" he asked, fumbling for a cigarette in his pocket. "Cuz if you ain't, I'm not wasting my time."

I pushed my pride down, deep, deep down. I was used to doing that. Pride was useless when you were poor and addicted. You had to beg and you had to cling to whatever good things came your way. I didn't particularly care for Blade, but he catered to what I needed most and dating him seemed like the best way to get it. I knew he slept around with other women. I knew he broke the law every day. I knew he got people killed. But in my situation, you had to protect yourself and yourself only. Everyone else was expendable in the race for survival.

"Yes," I whispered. "I'm sorry."

"Sorry for what?" he asked, dark eyes blazing. He liked to draw this out as long as possible. He loved to watch me squirm. He loved to feel powerful and dominating.

"For being a bitch," I said to the floor. It was the answer he'd want.


"A dirty whore," I continued, gulping.

Blade lit his cigarette and sucked on it gratefully. "That's right. You lasted longer this time. You didn't even make it a day before."

I didn't say anything. Blade treasured nothing more than a silent woman. He taught me that early on with the brass knuckles he had resting on his nightstand.

"I guess I can take your skinny bitch ass back," Blade said. "As much as I hate the fights, I do enjoy watching you beg and plead your way back." He smiled, and his teeth flashed.

If I'd had more self-respect, I would have hated him for the way he treated me. But at this point, I didn't give a shit. I'd been treated worse by the tricks I hid from Blade's knowledge. Tricks that paid me less than Blade did. So I took all his crap. He kept me alive. That's all I had to worry about at this point.

"I've got to go down to the dock and make sure my messenger boy doesn't fuck up this new shipment. You stay here and do something useful. Clean up or cook. Though I know you can't cook worth shit." He laughed like he considered himself a comedic genius. His chuckle died seconds later. "And when I come back, you better be ready to swallow more than your pride."

I grasped the doorframe and simply nodded. Blade brushed past me without so much as a glance back. He only looked back when he was at the door.

"And Melissa? Don't you wear them damn sneakers and jeans around this place. They look like shit. No girl of mine is going to walk around looking like a mechanic."

"I didn't bring any other clothes," I replied weakly.

"There should be a dress in my closet. It ain't yours, but you can wear it anyway. And if it don't fit . . ." He shrugged. "Then go naked."

Then he closed the door behind him, shutting me in the apartment alone with my ugly, horrific thoughts.