|Mate Claimed, Book 4 in Jennifer Ashley's Shifters Unbound series, is a wonderful story. It definitely continues the series while being a good standalone read that makes the reader want to know what's happened with the other characters before, without being confusing at all.
Eric Warden is a wildcat shifter, a snow leopard, as well as the leader of Shiftertown, a compound-like town in Nevada where the regular people have decided to let shifters live on the outskirts in Shiftertowns, led by their own but collared to keep them well-behaved.
Eric understands this process, and so he plays very nicely with the people in his local area while looking out for the safety of his shifters. He has previously met Iona Duncan in town, a half shifter, half human woman and he immediately knows that she's hiding her nature. He keeps an eye on her from a distance for a while, but decides he needs her for a couple of reasons fairly quickly.
Firstly, Iona works for Duncan Construction and Eric needs her to construct some very special custom Shifter housing. Secondly, she's living without a collar and coming of age which means that her mating hunger is raging. She needs other Shifters to help guide her through her coming of age or she may go feral, unintentionally. Eric invites her to stay with him in Shiftertown to protect her and explain her Shifter nature.
Iona's always lived with her human mother and sister, and has managed to mostly ignore her Shifter side, until lately. When she meets Eric on runs or in town, she's always intrigued and a little intimidated by him. When they discuss the housing bid for Shiftertown, and Eric starts opening her eyes to her own burgeoning Shifter issues that she hasn't been able to understand, she does want to go with him and learn more about her own nature and her absent father's ways. As Iona learns more about the Shifters and herself, she and Eric start to uncover a human plot against Shiftertown, and also face major trouble from within when the wolf shifters' leader, Graham, decides he wants to fight Eric to mate claim Iona from him. Iona's not even sure that she wants to mate with a Shifter, but soon she may not have very many choices left as the plot thickens and the bad guys close in.
Mate Claimed is a great read for many reasons, first of all because Jennifer Ashley is a master storyteller. Her writing is captivating and spins out the drama and attraction effortlessly.
Eric's not your typical hero in the way that he is a widower, a devoted parent and leader with a ton of responsibility he has chosen to undertake. He's not young and idealistic, he's seasoned and experienced and a little gritty. That being said, these things make him intensely real and likeable and it makes the reader just want to fall into his capable arms.
Iona's a feisty woman shifter, though she has been slightly removed from her day to day life, her spirit and charisma follow her to Shiftertown, enabling the reader to experience it first hand and be dazzled through her thorough firsthand account.
Ashley masterfully adds touches of humor throughout the tale, I especially loved when the Bear shifters next door showed up in the story, as well as Graham's bar experience. Without giving away any important details, there is a new character met near the end of the tale who is absolutely fascinating, and reading the teaser for the next installment in Shifters Unbound, I'm thrilled to see that he gets his own story, I'm counting the days for that one already.
Mate Claimed is a fantastic story; head out to the bookstore to get your own copy today.