Monday, August 18, 2014

Featured Author: Ethan Cross

About the book:

A father returns home to find that his family has been kidnapped and the only way to save their 
lives is for him to kill another innocent person ... 

So begins a journey that will force Special Agent Marcus Williams of the Shepherd Organization to question all that he believes, unearth his family's dark legacy, and sacrifice everything to save those he loves. In order to stop the serial murderer whom the media has dubbed the Coercion Killer, Williams must enlist the help of one of the world`s most infamous and wanted men ... the serial killer Francis Ackerman Jr.

Rippling with intensity, charged with tension, and brimming with a relentless spirit of humanity, Father of Fear is the latest evidence that Ethan Cross is one of the finest suspense novelists on the planet.

Excerpt from Father of Fear

Her real name was Rhonda Haynie, but her clients called her Scarlet. None of them had ever asked her about a last name or inquired if “Scarlet” actually appeared on her birth certificate. The kind of men who hired her didn’t care about who she was as a person. They paid for the fantasy, and that was what they got. And some of those fantasies tested the boundaries of what even she would do for money; they exposed the dark and depraved inner workings of people who seemed perfectly normal by all outward appearances.

When she opened the door of the motel room, Rhonda knew that tonight’s job would push those boundaries once again.

The paint on the walls had most likely started its life cycle as a flat white but had now aged into a dull yellow. Only one lamp lit the space from the far corner, leaving most of the room in shadow. No lights overhead. All the better to hide the filth-ridden sheets and floors that were probably swept once every six months. Generic prints of babbling brooks and nature scenes had once covered repairs in the drywall that hid holes placed there by inebriated former occupants. For some reason, the pictures had all been removed and stacked in the corner. The bed hadn’t been slept in or touched, and a blanket and pillow lay crumpled along the floor against the far wall. The place smelled like the carpet had been left out in the rain.

It was no surprise that none of the motel’s other rooms seemed to be occupied and that the parking lot was free of cars.

The client had pulled an old wooden desk chair into the center of the room and handcuffed himself to it. He just sat there, shirtless and staring at the wall, clothed in darkness. Trepidation clawed at the corners of Rhonda’s mind, but the rent needed to be paid, and so she stepped cautiously into the room and closed the door behind her.

“Hello, darling. It looks like you’re all ready for me.” She stepped toward the dresser and flipped on another small lamp. She gasped at what the light revealed.

Scars covered the man’s chest and arms. She had seen plenty in her time on the streets, but never anything like this. Burns, knife wounds, bullet holes. More damaged tissue than healthy skin. His body was a road map of pain and suffering.

“Is something wrong?” he said in a deep and confident voice.

Rhonda forced her gaze up to his face for the first time. It didn’t match the rest of the man. Handsome. Youthful. Strong features and bright, intelligent eyes. She often wondered what led her clients to seek her services. With this man, the reasons were self-evident. Anyone would be self-conscious about scars like this.

She offered her best smile. “No, baby. Everything’s fine. Just give me a minute to freshen up, and we’ll get started.”

She moved toward the bathroom, but his next words stopped her. “There’s no need for that. We won’t be engaging in any sexual activity.”

“Then what kind of activities did you have in mind?”

“There’s a knife on the dresser. I want you to cut me. Just stick in the tip and run a nice long slice. Along a tricep, to start.”

Rhonda had received more than her fair share of crazy requests. Some guys wanted to be beaten or whipped or to dress her up in all manner of crazy outfits and live out their sick fantasies. But she’d never had a client ask her to mutilate his body. The thought of it nearly made her sick.

“I was told that you were the most adventurous companion that the service offered. The money’s there on the dresser beside the knife. It’s three times the fee that I was quoted.”

She looked at the dresser and the money. Judging by the thickness of the wad of bills, he was telling the truth. Still, she knew her limits all too well. She couldn’t go through with this, and she didn’t want to spend too much time in the company of any man who would make such a request.

Then an idea took shape. “Are these real handcuffs?” Rhonda asked. An edge of fear caused her voice to tremble.

She tried to examine them without raising too much suspicion, running her fingers over the edges of the cuffs and feeling for releases or anything to indicate that they were fakes.

“They’re standard police-issue.”

“How did you plan on getting those off when our business was completed? Are you a magician?”

Rhonda tried to laugh, but it didn’t sound convincing even to her own ears.

The man smiled, but the expression didn’t reach his eyes. “I assumed you would be kind enough to remove them. The key’s also on the dresser.”

“Good. That’s what I hoped.”

She patted him on the shoulder, grabbed the money and the key, and headed for the door. Her fingers wrapped around the knob—but then something struck her from behind. Strong hands squeezed her shoulders and spun her around, slamming her back against the door.

He pressed the edge of the blade against her neck with just enough force to hold her in place without breaking the skin. His breath was hot on her exposed flesh. “I apologize if I gave the impression that I was secured to the chair. Because of all the scarring that runs up my forearms, my wrists are much larger than my hands. It comes in handy when I want to slip out of a pair of cuffs. The restraints were to keep me from lashing out involuntarily when you began to make the incisions. They were for your protection.”

Tears ran down Rhonda’s cheeks, streaking the layers of make-up. “Please ... don’t ... ”

The man lowered the knife from her throat and leaned closer. “I suppose that I shouldn’t judge you too harshly. I do admire a woman who shows initiative, and you can’t blame a girl for trying. But you see, we had a verbal contract, and you’ve yet to hold up your end of things.”

Her fingers clawed at her thigh, pulling up the black fabric of the skirt. She kept a small switchblade concealed there for moments such as this. “You want me to cut you?” She felt the metal handle of the knife, pulled it free, and pushed the button to expose the blade. “How’s this for a start?”

Rhonda jammed the knife into his leg and shoved him away. She expected him to drop, but he remained on his feet and fell against the room’s door, blocking her escape. Screaming for help, she bolted for the bathroom, nearly falling over the chair resting in the middle of the floor. Once inside, she slammed the door behind her and engaged the lock.

Lime green tile-covered the walls, and the room smelled of mildew and urine. A blow shook the doorframe. “You’re trying my patience,” the man said calmly from the other side.

Her whole body trembled. She wiped the man’s blood from her hand onto her dress as she scanned the room for a way out. The shower curtain was thin and white, and light shone through it. She ripped it back, snapping the rings in the process. They fell to the tile with small metallic clinks.

A window occupied the back wall. She scrambled into the tub and pushed up on the window’s frame. It wouldn’t move. She checked for a lock. Flipped the latch. Pushed again. But the window still wouldn’t budge. It must have been painted shut.

The bathroom door flew open. The wood splintering, and the knob striking the tile on the opposite wall. The old green ceramics cracked and shattered and fell to the floor.

Rhonda screamed, but he was already on top of her. His grip was like a vise. It crushed her airway and cut off her cries. He pressed her against the window and lifted her from the floor of the tub.

She clawed at his hand and kicked at him with her legs, but he was so strong and refused to relent. A wave of dizziness swept over her, and she realized that this was her last moment on Earth. She would never see her baby girl again. She would never have the chance to tell her grandma that she was sorry for running away after her parents died.

She wondered what he would do with her body. Would he mutilate her? Bury her in some shallow grave, a feast for the bugs? She imagined the worms crawling through her veins.

The man raised the knife and admired the blade. Light from the translucent window danced across its surface.

This was it. Rhonda tried not to think of the pain to come. Would he bury the knife in her stomach, stabbing her over and over, savoring each thrust in some twisted sexual way? Or would he slice her throat and let her bleed out quickly? She prayed for a quick death.

The knife came toward her. She wanted to close her eyes, didn’t want to see the sight of her own blood. But, for some reason, her eyelids refused to obey the signal that her brain was sending.

She watched as the blade swiped across his forearm just in front of her face, opening three long gashes in his flesh. The blood flowed quickly and dripped down into the bathtub. He closed his eyes as if savoring the moment and licked the blade clean.

Then he relinquished his grip. She dropped to her knees, and he backed away. She gasped in greedy mouthfuls of air, and violent sobbing seized her whole body.

Rhonda looked up to see him sitting on the toilet, watching her. He took a deep breath and said, “I apologize. I lost my head for a moment. I didn’t want to hurt you. To tell you the truth, this is the first time that I’ve contracted with someone of your profession.”

Her hands found the edge of the tub, and she pushed herself to her feet, preparing to lunge for the door. He must have sensed her intention and moved forward, blocking her way out.

“What’s your name? Your real name.”

“Screw you.” Her throat felt like she’d swallowed sandpaper.

He stepped closer, and his eyes narrowed. “I’ve killed a lot of people. Men, women. Knives, guns, fire, my bare hands. I possess an unnatural talent for extinguishing life. But I’m trying to be a good boy here, and I would appreciate it if you showed me at least some small measure of respect. What’s your name?”

“Rhonda,” she said through the tears.

“Thank you, Rhonda. It’s moments such as these when a person must examine their existence and their place in this world. We all have regrets. Some mistakes can be rectified, and some can never be undone. The trick is realizing the difference and acting upon it. In the past, I would have enjoyed killing you. I would have drawn out the process and extracted every exquisite moment of pain possible. But I’ve come to believe that there are three kinds of people in this world. At our core, we’re all either a creator, a maintainer, or a destroyer.”

He took another step toward her, reached out, and took her hands in his. She didn’t recoil from his touch. She just stood there, oddly transfixed. Hypnotized by the intensity of his gaze.

“Maintainers keep the status quo. They’re the worker bees of our little hive, and they enjoy keeping the cosmic wheels turning. It’s what they were made for, and without them the walls of our reality would crumble. Then there are creators. Those rare individuals who dare to discover new things and think differently, to break the chains of fear and bring into existence something beautiful and new. I fall into the third group. The destroyers. But I want to be better than that. I need to be more. Unfortunately, I’ve found that I only feel alive when I’m inflicting pain or experiencing it myself.”

The man kept hold of Rhonda’s hand as he guided her gently back into the bedroom. “What I’m asking you to do is a kindness to me. I want you to help me be a better person. To transcend my nature as a destroyer and become something more.”

He gestured toward the chair and laid the knife in her palm. She stared down at it in confusion. When her gaze returned to his face, he smiled and said, “Now, are you ready to begin?”

Praise for Ethan Cross and Father of Fear

“Cross pushes the boundaries in this sinisterly clever showdown between one shadowy vigilante justice group and three twisted serial killers. The surprises are fast and furious, and will leave you breathless to read more.”
– Lisa Gardner, #1 New York Times bestselling author, on The Prophet

"A fast paced, all too real thriller with a villain right out of James Patterson and Criminal Minds.”
– Andrew Gross, #1 New York Times bestselling author, on The Shepherd

"The Shepherd is full of surprises to the very end — you won’t be disappointed and you won’t see it coming.”
– Blogcritics

“The best book of its kind since Thomas Harris retired Hannibal Lecter, a cat-and-mouse-game extraordinaire that will leave your knuckles white and your stomach churning.”

– Jon Land, bestselling author of Strong Vengence, on The Prophet

About the author:

When a fireman or a policeman would visit his school, most of his classmates’ heads would swim with aspirations of growing up and catching bad guys or saving someone from a blazing inferno. When these moments came for Ethan Cross, however, his dreams weren’t to someday be a cop or put out fires; he just wanted to write about it.

And his dream of telling stories on a grand scale came to fruition with the release of his first book, The Shepherd, which went on to become an International Bestseller published in several countries and languages. Ethan followed this up with more great titles like The Prophet, The Cage, Callsign: Knight, and Blind Justice. His latest book is the third installment of the Shepherd series coming from the Story Plant in Summer 2014.

In addition to writing and working in the publishing industry, Ethan has also served as the Chief Technology Officer for a national franchise, recorded albums, and opened for national recording artists as lead singer and guitar player in a musical group, and been an active and highly involved member of the International Thriller Writers organization.

Ethan Cross is the pen name of an author who lives and writes in Illinois with his wife, three kids, and two Shih Tzus. 

Website | The Story Plant | Amazon