"You're late."

"So?"

"You're never here."

"So?"

"You don't do anything."

"So?"

"Are you going to keep saying, so?" A tall, dirty-blonde man asked, his voice rising to emphasize his annoyance. "Because if you are, I might as well just strip you of your title here and now. I'm trying to give you a chance, Duke, but quite frankly, you're making it very difficult for me to do so."

Dark magenta hair curled around the edges of Duke's brown skin, his hazel eyes darkening. "You don't want to give me any chance, Lucien. I knew from the moment you stepped in my pack, you were ready to take that title and give it to some other worthless wolf out there in your pathetic pack."

Lucien's golden eyes narrowed, and he rose from his seat, towering over the young, upstart Alpha who had the audacity to talk back to him. "Well, did I say anything false? You never show up to Alpha meetings, you're always late for every private meeting we have, and whenever anyone asks you for help with anything, you refuse!"

"I have a right to," Duke sniffed, his lip curling. "How else am I supposed to secure strong alliances for my pack?"

"That may be so, but refusing every Alpha and Luna? Honestly, Duke, I don't know if you're patient, or just plain stupid," Lucien scoffed, crossing his bulky arms over his chest.

"I like to think that I'm a very patient man," Duke snarled, attempting to size up to Lucien's towering height. "But you make me test my patience very much, Alpha King."

"I should. I put up with your shit every year, Duke. When are things going to change? Where's the Alpha I promoted years ago?" Lucien asked, his voice not harsh, but questioning.

"That Alpha has long been gone, your highness," Duke sneered, adding extra poison onto Lucien's title. "You have your pretty little pack, with your pretty little family, and your pretty little life. You don't worry about anyone else, do you?"

"If I didn't, I wouldn't be here," Lucien said, swallowing to keep his rising anger at bay. He clenched his jaw. "Duke, this is the last chance I'm giving you. Fuck up again, and I won't be as lenient as I am now."

"This is how you be lenient?" Duke scoffed. "You look ready to kick me out of my own office!"

"I'm getting close," Lucien snarled. "But this is your final warning. I'm sick and tired of babysitting you. Hell, pups are better than you are!"

"Then make your precious pups Alpha," Duke retorted. "See how long this pack would last compared to my lead."

"Lead to what? The last time you led anything, it was a raid at a bar!" Lucien said. "Duke, your behavior has to change!"

"Look who's talking," Duke challenged. If it had registered as to who exactly he was talking back to, Duke didn't show any fear over it. He wasn't afraid of the Alpha King, not like the other wimpy Alpha's were.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Lucien asked, his shackles rising. Now, Duke was really pulling the string of his temper. "Do you want to say anything else to me, Duke?"

Duke wouldn't admit it, but the glare that Lucien was leveling with him was piercing, like a predator ready to pounce. He didn't falter, though, raising his head high.

"No, I don't have anything else to say to you, your highness," he hissed, baring his fangs.

Lucien rolled his eyes, unperturbed. "Good. See to it that you work on your pack, and your manners, or else..."

He didn't say anything after that, rising from his chair and leaving silently, but Duke wasn't an idiot. He could see the threat lying underneath Lucien's faded words.

A dangerous threat.

"Is he gone?" As if on cue, Duke's Beta, Lionel, poked his head through the door, glancing between the broken desk and Duke's reddening face. "Ah, I see he did."

"I don't understand him, Lionel," Duke said, growling. "It was only one measly hook-up. I mean, hasn't he slept with women that weren't his wife?!"

"Well, yes, but that was years ago, Alpha," Lionel replied hesitantly, meekly wandering into the room. Duke watched him out the corner of his eye, scowling. "He's married now, and he has only slept with his wife, as far as anyone knows."

"Bullshit," Duke sneered. "I'm positive that he's slept with other women before, even after marrying his wife. I mean—have you seen her? Who wouldn't want a better woman?"

"The Alpha King, apparently," Lionel mumbled, collecting the bigger pieces of wood. "But what are you going to do now, Alpha?"

Duke hummed thoughtfully, regarding the quiet fields outside his window. The roses that swayed in the wind reminded him of wine, the taste rich and the scent intoxicating.

He grinned, displaying the rows of pearly, deadly teeth. "Call Daryl, Lionel. I'm going drinking."

"Rough day?" Turquoise haired, green-eyed Daryl questioned as he and Duke took up bar stools.

Duke groaned, wiping his hand over his eyes. "You wouldn't believe it. I got my ass whipped by the Alpha King."

Daryl chortled into his drink. "Literally, or figuratively?"

Duke frowned. "Figuratively, obviously. He's too in love with his cripple of a wife to care about anyone else."

Daryl raised his eyebrow, nursing his drink slowly. "I would be careful if I were you, bro. You know how the Alpha King has eyes and ears everywhere. Someone could easily hear you and report to him. You know how bad that would be for your already crumbling record."

"I could care less," Duke breezed. "He acts as though he hasn't hooked-up with strippers before."

"Well," Daryl regarded his drink. "I can't really say. I don't remember the Alpha King much from his old days. We were sparring buddies in the Collesium, but that's about it. We don't talk much, apart from the Alpha meetings." He smiled. "And don't judge his wife so much. She's a really sweet gal when you get to know her."

"Still a cripple," Duke grumbled, swishing the orange liquor. "How's Henry?"

Daryl shrugged. "Doing okay, I guess. Finn's been keeping him up all night."

"Finn?"

"Finnegan," Daryl elaborated. "My son."

"Son?" Duke looked up. "Since when did you have a son? With whom?"

Daryl's cheeks flushed. "With my husband, obviously. The witches from the Rogue Coven helped, obviously."

"We're allies with witches?"

"Well, Lucien is, really," Daryl said. "I pulled in a favor, and boom: baby." He sipped on his drink. "I'm actually not supposed to be drinking. Henry forbade me after Finn's birth."

"Who listens to mates, though?" Duke asked. "They're just liabilities. Easy prey, that's it."

"I wouldn't say so," Daryl countered. "Mates are important, and they don't all swoon for you. Sure, most of them are pretty easy to claim, but they're equally as powerful. Have you seen Krishna? Or Raleigh? Siddharth and Lucien's mates?" When Duke shook his head, Daryl chuckled, leaning back in his seat. "Shit, you should have seen it. Those two are deadly."

"Whatever you say," Duke grumbled, eager to end their conversation on mates. Daryl, just like the entirety of his family, had been bothering him for years to find a mate, a useless liability. He gave them the deaf ear, though. He wasn't interested, why couldn't they understand that?

"Anyway, I left Finn with Henry today," Daryl continued. "He doesn't like to show it, but I know deep down that Henry loves Finn. It was his idea to have a baby, after all."

"Children are even worse," Duke sneered. "All they do is poop, eat, cry, sleep, and waste your money. They're just a waste of time."

Daryl smiled. "You may say that now, but trust me, Duke, there's no greater joy than becoming a parent. Seeing Finn's smile every day, that's what makes my days go by. He gives me a reason to work hard, you know?"

"He'll be immortal one day," Duke grumbled. "You're from the fucking Alpha King's pack, right?"

Daryl nodded. "Yes, but Henry isn't. I've offered to make him immortal several times, but he keeps refusing. I don't know why."

"He's wasting a good opportunity," Duke commented, a clicking sound drawing his eyes away from Daryl and towards the bar. "I know if I had immortality, I'd definitely give Lucien the boot."

"Ha, you wish," Daryl scoffed, following Duke's eyes. "The only person who can ever give Lucien the boot is his own wife, and I doubt she'd ever do that to him...yet."

"Yeah..." Duke mumbled, trailing off as a young, beautiful barista approached him. She was a blonde woman with dark blue eyes and pale skin. Her hair was tucked into a bun, her red lips drawn together. She was slim too, a perfect and ideal woman, in Duke's mind.

"Would you like anything else to drink?" She asked politely, her voice gentle and soft, her long nails tapping against the tray she carried.

"I'm fine, thank you," Daryl replied, equally polite. He nudged Duke, who looked like he had frozen on a Zoom call. "Duke?"

"Wha—!" Duke looked from Daryl's unreadable expression to the barista, her piercing eyes following his movements. It made Duke warm, considering how much he varied from the other, well-built, and considerably handsome Alphas.

"Um, no, I'm fine, thanks," he answered after a few beats of silence, shamelessly surveying the girl up and down. He caught a glimpse of her name-tag: ALYSSA

"You have a gorgeous name, you know?" He asked, catching her arm before she could leave. Her sky blue eyes flickered back to his, startled.

"I-I do?" She repeated, raising her eyebrow.

Duke nodded, a glint that Daryl knew all too well sparkling in his eye. "You do...you're very beautiful..."

Alyssa blushed, and Daryl kicked Duke under the table.

"What are you doing?" He hissed.

"Getting a lady. Watch and learn, dude," Duke whispered, winking at him. Then, he turned to Alyssa. "Are you free now?"

Alyssa bit her lip, studying the crowd around them. "Well, yes, technically. This is supposed to be my break..."

"Excellent!"

Sending a smug smile in Daryl's direction, Duke led the poor, slightly confused girl towards the back rooms, where the real action happened. Daryl could only watch, sipping on whatever was left of his drink, and Alyssa's life was about to change, and not for the better.

"I see things have changed around here," Lucien mused, regarding the glistening photo frames and the fresh coat of paint on the walls of the office where he sat.

Duke grinned, sitting straighter in his seat with pride. "And you thought I wouldn't be able to do it."

"I never said that," Lucien said, a tentative smile forming on his lips. "But yes, things have changed drastically here. I suppose it is safe to say that my visit here hasn't been a waste of my time."

"Suppose? Come one, be real, Alpha King," Duke joked freely. "You know that it wasn't."

Lucien shrugged. "Let's see if you can keep proving me wrong then, Duke."

"Excuse me?"

Both Lucien and Duke turned just as a brunette, heavily pregnant woman peeked through the door, assessing both men.

"Ah, I apologize for interrupting. I just needed to grab Arjun's toy real quick," she said. A young boy with spikey magenta hair poked his head from the lady's skirts, frowning.

"It's no problem," Lucien answered, looking at Duke questioningly.

Duke waited for the lady and the boy to leave to answer. "She's my wife, Cara. Arjun is our first son."

Lucien nodded. "Congratulations. I see that you really have turned your life around, Duke."

Duke shrugged. "I suppose I have," he smirked. "How have you been? Your family?"

"Alright. Everything's the same."

"No plans of having a family?"

"Not as of right now. Probably in the future."

"Well, that's—!"

"Duke,"

Again, the woman appeared, but she looked slightly rattled, if her unfocused eyes and her shaking body amounted for anything. This time, the boy wasn't with her.

"Cara? What's wrong? Where's Arjun? Is everything alright?" Duke was quick to question, rising from his seat.

"No, Arjun is fine," Cara replied. "It's just—there's a blonde woman outside holding a baby...she says she wants to speak to you...?"

"Who is she, Duke?" Lucien asked, rising from his chair. Duke didn't answer, though. Instead, his insides grew cold, and his heartbeat increased.

He knew who she was.

Silently, he walked outside to where Lionel was standing with her, avoiding her blazing blue eyes. She wasn't the same, not anymore. She was plumper, her hips wide, and her stomach wider. Her eyes had bags underneath them, her once sparkling blue eyes now dull and empty.

Cradled in her arms, swaddled in a hot pink blanket, was a baby with wisps of magenta hair and beautiful, doe eyes. She gurgled when she saw Duke, and the lady looked up, her eyes icy and cold.

"Duke," She acknowledged, her words slicing through Duke's mind.

"...Alyssa," he croaked, aware of Lucien's burning stare and Cara's confused gaze.

"Duke? Who is she?" Cara asked, stepping forward and taking her husband's hand.

"Nothing. She's...nobody," Duke said heavily, clenching his jaw.

"That's not what you said at the bar, and when we slept together," Alyssa snapped.

"Bar?" Lucien growled.

"Slept together?" Cara repeated, her eyes widening.

"What do you want?" Duke managed to snarl, ignoring his wife's question.

Alyssa hoisted the baby in her arms, smiling briefly. "I just wanted to make you aware of your daughter's presence, Duke." She tilted the baby's face slightly, exposing her glimmering eyes to the four astounded wolves. "This Shraddha, our baby."

"You...you..." Cara's voice broke. She sounded like she was on the verge of crying.

"Who are you, exactly," Lucien cut in, taking command of the situation.

Alyssa regarded him, bowing. "I am a woman, and a mother, your highness," she replied.

"You wouldn't know to call me by my title had you not been part of a group," Lucien noted. "Are you a vampire? Werewolf? Witch?"

"I may be, I may not be. I would not like to share," she said. "The point is, this is your daughter, Duke. We made her that day you came to the bar, and you need to take responsibility for her."

"What?!" Duke exploded. "Absolutely no! She is not my problem, Alyssa. She is a mistake, and she is your being to deal with. I have my own life, my own pack, and my own family to worry about."

"But she's your daughter—!"

"She was an accident!" Cara screamed, attracting the attention of many wolves passing by.

"Don't you fucking call my daughter an accident," Alyssa yelled back.

"Well, she—!"

"Enough!" Lucien's voice shattered through the pack, making everyone stop in their tracks immediately. "How did you find Duke, Alyssa?"

Alyssa shrugged. "Some guy named Daryl told me."

Daryl... Duke felt his heart rip. His best friend, his only ally, had ratted out on him? Why would he do something like that? What had Duke done to him?

"Daryl is my second-in-command," Lucien stated. "Did you know your daughter was Duke's baby?"

Alyssa nodded. "Yes. He was the only man I ever slept with."

"Bullshit!" Duke roared. "How do I know you aren't lying?"

Calmly, Alyssa pulled a packet of papers from her bag, handing them to Lucien. "It's a paternity test. Your blood-type and name are on it."

"No, they aren't." Duke snatched the papers from Lucien, hoping that this whole scenario was only a figment of his nightmare.

Unfortunately for him, it wasn't.

"You are the father..." Cara murmured. Now she sounded devastated, which only made Duke feel even more horrible than he already did.

"W-What! This is absurd!" Duke threw the packet towards Alyssa, who caught it single-handily.

"It's the truth," she said.

"And you have to pay up for it," Lucien added, growling so lowly that Duke's heart froze. "I warned you once, didn't I, Duke? Fuck up again, and you know what's going to happen."

"But...But..." Duke didn't know what to say, his words dying on his tongue before he could say them.

"What are you going to do to him?" Cara cried. "He did nothing wrong!"

"Well, considering he broke pack law, yeah, I can do a lot to him," Lucien said sternly, cutting through Cara with his sizzling glare. "Duke, I'm stripping you of your title as Alpha."

"What!?" Duke reacted immediately, but his anger wasn't at Lucien. "You...you..." he glared at Alyssa. "This is all your fault, you...you slut! You ruined my life! My family!" He looked back at Cara, who had already started to cry.

Alyssa rolled her eyes, and Lucien sighed, his eyes hazing over. In a few mere seconds, a slightly shorter, but equally buff wolf appeared by Lucien's side, his eyes dark with his wolf in control.

"Escort Duke and his family to Breadwinner lane, Alexander," Lucien instructed. "Duke, your pack will be put under Daryl's care until Shraddha turns eighteen. After that, she will become heir to your pack."

"No! Absolutely not!" Duke roared, struggling against Alexander.

"W-What about our son?" Cara questioned, her voice shaking. "Please, Alpha King, think of him too!"

Lucien's eyes narrowed. "I'm sorry, Cara, but Shraddha is the rightful heir to Duke's pack, not Arjun. And until he can accept her as his daughter, you won't be welcome into Alpha life anymore."

"Why you...!" Duke continued to struggle against Alexander's hold, glaring daggers at Lucien, then at Alyssa, who stood silently to the side. He sneered.

"Mark my words, Lucien! That girl will never be my daughter! Ever!"