Elizabeth Chapman is saved from an armed robber by a giant Kodiak bear who shifts into a large, well-muscled, and fully naked human male. But when it's revealed that the robber is the brother of a dangerous criminal, Elizabeth finds herself the target of a vendetta.
Ronan, the Bear Shifter, takes her to Shiftertown for safety, where Elizabeth learns that the mateless Ronan, alone in the world, takes care of Shifters who have also been left on their own. Having grown up in foster care, Elizabeth can only admire how protective Ronan is.
But Ronan will only let Elizabeth leave the confines of Shiftertown if he becomes her 24/7 bodyguard. Elizabeth chafes at her restriction, but agrees. The trouble is, the sassy human Elizabeth is triggering Ronan's long-buried need to find himself a mate.
I waffle between enjoying shifter romances and needing as many as I can read at once to becoming rather tired of them with their "mate" this and "mate" that talk. I read this as part of a large omnibus of stories, though Ashley has yet to really let me down in the romance department.
Elizabeth is a tough, solid sort of woman who is just trying to carve out an existence for her and her younger sister. Its not her fault that after standing up to a robber it turns out the kid is the younger brother of the local gang leader. Or that Ronan gets involved and now all of Shiftertown feels compelled to help protect her because she stood up for him.
Shifters in this world came out only a few decades ago and the world, as you can expect, reacted with fear. Now Shifters are restricted to their own little zones, aren't allowed to attack a human (even in defense!) and in general are treated little better then dirt. Its a time honored tradition of the one group looking down on another group and treating them horribly. Shifters don't, as a rule, share the same rights as humans. They're forced into housing with others of their clan type, get to deal with law enforcement that at best may let them state their side of a story and have to wear collars to zap them if they start to feel dangerous.
As I understand this is a novella set between books 2 and 3 of the series, but Ashley does a good job getting all the necessary info out there for new readers to not feel lost without sacrificing the story's pacing.
While the story goes through familiar beats - Ronan feels protective, everyone teases him about it, Elizabeth is both interested, but worried about what his growing attentions mean - I found Ashley's somewhat more sympathetic portrayal of the gang leader to be the most interesting. The guy's a drug dealer, kills people without remorse and is violent. He's not a good guy. However the parallels to him trying to protect his younger brother from his antics to Elizabeth protecting her younger sister drove a lot of my interest. And he did have a certain code. I think my favorite part though was the end and this is a spoiler so read at your own risk:
[spoiler start]His brother had called in the guy who had been hunting Elizabeth for so many years. Eventually things lead to the guy threatening Elizabeth and Ronan wanting to tear his head off for it. However before he can the gang leader shoots the guy in the head. Ronan angrily snaps at him for taking his "right", but the gang leader just says "You're not the cold blooded killer, I am" and walks away.[/end spoiler]
I kind of felt for him. Family is family after all. But sometimes there's only so much you can do for them. The divergent paths he and Elizabeth took to protect the only family left to them both all was for the same purpose.
As for the actual romance - it was cute and warm. Elizabeth is skittish, but eventually comes around while Ronan is pretty steadfast in his determination. His main problem is figuring out how to get her to understand more then anything else.