Print ISBN: 978-1-61188-055-7
E-book ISBN: 978-1-936558-79-7
Publication Date: October 2, 2012 -- 328 pages
“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 of Reckless and Don’t Look Twice
“The Shepherd will not lead you astray but down a path of horror, chills, suspense, great characters and an equally fantastic story line! I plan to keep a very close watch on Mr. Cross and what he comes out with next.”
– Cheryl’s Book Nook
“If you like a scary thriller with lots of action, check it out.”
– My Book Retreat
“Silence of the Lambs meets The Bourne Identity”
– Brian S. Wheeler, author of Mr. Hancock’s Signature
“The Shepherd is a superbly crafted thriller skillfully delving into the twisted mind of a psychopath and the tormented soul of the man destined to bring him down. Ethan Cross weaves a tale so chilling, I was afraid to turn out the lights. Highly recommended!”
– D.B. Henson, bestselling author of Deed to Death
“In The Shepherd, Ethan Cross has penned a taut, violent and relentless nightmare designed to prey on a reader’s darkest fears. Not for the faint of heart!”
– A.J. Hartley, bestselling author of What Time Devours and Act of Will.
“The Shepherd is a thrill ride that takes off from page one, with plenty of twists and turns that do not come to a halt until the final page. Once I started reading, I really couldn't put this book down. I found myself reading it while doing everyday things like sitting at my kitchen table having my breakfast or sitting in my car waiting for my kids to get out of school.”
– The Bookworm
“The twists and turns of this intricately plotted novel will keep readers on their toes and flipping pages furiously.”
– RT Book Reviews
“The Shepherd is a nice twist on the familiar serial killer genre, bringing loads of surprises and twists around every corner…. All in all, this a solid debut for Ethan Cross, an author who looks to have a bright future in the thriller genre.”
– Fiction Addict
“This was a great book that had me on the edge of my seat. Many times I was in complete shock as to what was happening…. You don’t want to miss this book!!”
– Wakela Runen’s World
“This powerful thriller keeps the pace at a rapid fire. Once I started reading, it was difficult to put the book down…. It is a must-have for the action and thriller fan, and a great addition to any library. The Shepherd is full of surprises to the very end — you won’t be disappointed and you won’t see it coming.”
“I VERY highly recommend this book! It is very well written and the story is unique and full of fabulous twists! The characters are really great. I hated and feared the villain, and I rooted for the hero and loved his character! I was truly amazed by all the twists and I couldn’t help but think about the wonderful author. Fabulous story and fantastic writing, but dude, seriously twisted! LOL! I supposed that’s why this book was right up my alley because I love a good dark & twisty novel! I absolutely cannot wait to see what’s next from this author! I certainly hope we can look forward to more! This fan will be standing in line for more!”
– Life in Review
“I highly recommend reading this book if you are looking for a fast-paced thriller with lots of twists and turns and a truly terrifying villain with perverse perversions.”
– Paranormal and Romantic Suspense Reviews
“There's something for everyone in The Shepherd and it is the perfect read for anyone who likes murder, mayhem and mischief and the occasional bend of the rules.”
– The Phantom Paragrapher
“If you are a fan of suspense you should definitely pick this up.”
– Donna’s Blog Home
Marcus is the main protagonist of the Shepherd series. He’s a tortured soul with the frightening ability to get inside the head of a killer, a memory that’s both a blessing and a curse, and a gift for hurting people. He’s a bit of a lone wolf that doesn’t play well with others and doesn’t possess the best leadership skills. His biggest fear is failing those he cares about.
One of the most infamous serial killers in the world, he’s been described as a less-cultured Hannibal Lecter. He’s cunning, ruthless, extremely intelligent, charming, handsome, and completely insane. As a boy, he was the subject of twisted experiments conducted by his own father. He possesses a subconscious need to live up to the expectations of how the world views him. Despite all this, he wants to transcend his own violent nature and be more than just a killer.
Andrew is the glue that holds the group together. He’s Marcus’s partner and best friend, but he often feels more like Marcus’s babysitter. While Marcus is hot-headed and blunt, Andrew is calm and diplomatic.
Maggie is Marcus’s primary love interest and a member of the Shepherd team. She’s strong, but not tough. She’s beautiful, but not girly. She also has deep-rooted personal reasons for being part of the team and suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder.
The Director is the enigmatic head of the Shepherd Organization. He’s a former member of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit whose wife was murdered by a serial murderer he was profiling. Not much else is known about him, not even his real name.
Marcus Williams and Francis Ackerman Jr. both have a talent for hurting people. Marcus, a former New York City homicide detective, uses his abilities to protect others, while Ackerman uses his gifts to inflict pain and suffering. When both men become unwilling pawns in a conspiracy that reaches to the highest levels of our government, Marcus finds himself in a deadly game of cat and mouse trapped between a twisted psychopath and a vigilante with seemingly unlimited resources. Aided by a rogue FBI agent and the vigilante’s beautiful daughter -a woman with whom he’s quickly falling in love- Marcus must expose the deadly political conspiracy and confront his past while hunting down one of the most cunning and ruthless killers in the world.
“The Shepherd is an intense novel that will have you locking your windows and doors, installing a safe room and taking Ambien so you can sleep through the night after finishing. Ethan Cross opens up the mind of a serial killer, exposes you to it, and leaves you with years of therapy bills. But this thrill-ride is worth every penny.”– Jeremy Robinson, author of Pulse and Instinct
Bestselling author Steven James says, "Ethan Cross is one of the sharpest emerging writers on the thriller fiction scene today.” Bestselling author Anthony J. Franze concurs, saying, "Ethan Cross is one of the best damn writers in the genre.” They're not alone. Others have compared this international bestselling author to James Patterson and Thomas Harris. Ethan Cross's work is an unforgettable combination of high-intensity thrills, memorable characters, and complex scenarios. The Bookworm called his first bestseller, The Shepherd, “a thrill ride that takes off from page one,” and that’s the experience you can expect from everything Ethan Cross writes.
“This is a excellent example of the action-thriller genre! Ethan Cross is very adept at creating interesting characters that make you think and want to keep reading…. I definitely recommend this book!” – Must Read Faster
From The Shepherd:
“Marcus Williams cocked his head to the side, cracking his neck and getting into fight mode. “Listen,” he said. “I’m sorry if she prefers the company of someone who can speak to her with actual words instead of a series of grunts.”
“Don’t get smart with me, boy,” the cowboy said, nostrils flaring like a bull about to charge.
“You’re right. I should get dumb with you. That way, we’re on the same wavelength.”
He watched two men join the cowboy, Glenn, at one end of the alley, and he heard footsteps approaching from behind. He reached out and pulled Maggie behind him. Morons always travel in packs. The alley was long and narrow with no windows or doors to provide a means of escape.
He heard one of the men behind them rhythmically slapping what sounded like a baseball bat into an open hand. Another man standing to the right of Glenn held a tire iron at his side. He counted two others with Glenn, for a total of five. He knew that at least two of the group carried weapons, and the others could possess knives, fist-packs, brass knuckles, or worse.
“You big-city boys think you’re so damn smart. I’m sick to death of people like you comin’ here and thinking that we’re all just a bunch of stupid hicks who can’t read or write or tie our damn shoes. Well, I’ve got some news for ya. We’ve got a few things we’d like to teach you, and class is now in session.”
Marcus had to think fast. He only had a few seconds before the men were upon him. He knew that, even if their intention was only to rough him up, the confrontation could easily escalate from assault to manslaughter. He also realized that, once they were finished with him, they wouldn’t just let Maggie walk away unscathed. The angry mob mentality could be a powerful force.
Adrenaline surged through his veins, the same kind of adrenaline that allowed a mother to lift a car off her trapped child. He grabbed a corner of a nearby dumpster and threw all of his weight into it. The dumpster was almost empty, and the wheels were unobstructed. This allowed him to spin it into the path of the two men coming at him from one end of the alley, blocking their approach.
He gently pushed Maggie toward one wall and moved to the opposite side. He wanted to draw the attackers away and shield her from the fight as much as possible.
He turned back to face the two men coming from the other direction. He figured Glenn for a coward and had theorized that the big talker would let his friends do his dirty work. He saw that he had been right.
The first man landed flat on the pavement as Marcus’s foot struck him in the chest, knocking him off his feet and sending him plummeting toward the earth, dazed but not unconscious. The second man attacked and landed a hard blow with the tire iron into Marcus’s side.
He stumbled and almost fell to his knees. The pain shot up his spine, but he willed it away. He didn’t have time to feel pain.
He swung back around on the second attacker and threw the entire weight of his body into a massive, locomotive punch aimed dead center of the man’s pudgy face. The heavyset man also landed on his back, but he wouldn’t be getting up without the aid of smelling salts.
The first man attempted to pull himself off the ground, but hopes of rejoining the battle crumbled away as a foot hammered into the side of his head.
Glenn hung back, shuffling from one side of the alleyway to the other. Marcus wondered whether the big talker was waiting for him to lie down on the ground and take his beating with quiet dignity.
By now, the thugs from the other side of the alley had bypassed their obstacle. He grabbed the tire iron lying beside the unconscious attacker. Knowing that its reach wouldn’t compare to that of the baseball bat, he hurled it at the man holding the wooden weapon.
The iron found its mark but didn’t deal a crushing blow. The momentary distraction served its purpose, however, and allowed him to overtake the bat-wielding aggressor before the man could swing. He grabbed the fat end of the bat with his left hand and sent his right cutting through the air and into the man’s face.
The dazed attacker released the bat but still landed a blow into Marcus’s side.
He tensed, and the man quickly landed another punch into the side of his head. He stumbled back but retaliated with a hard jab of his newly acquired Kirby Puckett-signed Louisville Slugger.
The blow knocked the man cold.
In his mind, since Glenn seemed to be more of a spectator than an attacker, only one opponent remained. The last man eyed him warily, looking for an opening.
He tightened his grip on the bat. “Better be sure.”
The man hesitated for a moment. Then, the final aggressor ran toward the end of the alley with a speed that he wouldn’t have thought possible for a man of that size. But then again, he had learned that a person never knew how fast they could run until they were being chased.
He, however, had no intentions of chasing the man. Instead, he decided that it was time to deal with the instigator of the brawl, a certain beer-gutted gorilla. He turned and walked to where Glenn shuffled. He threw down the bat, knowing that he wouldn’t need it.
Glenn stared at him for a few long seconds. He wondered if Glenn was psyching himself up for an attack, or if the tough-looking cowboy was about to piss his pants and run away. With a trembling voice, Glenn said, “I guess I’m going to have to teach you a lesson myself.”
The cowboy reached into a pocket and revealed a switchblade knife.
This is going to be fun.
Glenn charged with the knife. The cowboy made a quick stab but sliced only air as he moved clear. Glenn countered with an arcing slash that nearly sliced him across the abdomen, but he was able to jump backward and arch his back enough to avoid the blade.
Glenn attempted two more quick stabs, both unsuccessful. On the third thrust, he grabbed Glenn by the wrist and pulled as hard as he could. Propelled by his own weight, Glenn rocketed forward.
He caught Glenn with an outstretched arm, clotheslining the burly cowboy and slamming him to the ground. Glenn lost his grip on the knife, and it clattered down the alley. Glenn’s head thudded against the pavement, and he wheezed as the impact expelled all the air from his lungs.
Marcus looked down on his opponent. He had always been a huge fan of action movies and great one-liners. Although this wasn’t a movie and it would never go down in history with the catch phrases of Dirty Harry or The Terminator, he filled with great pride as he said, “Class dismissed.”
“Are you okay?” Maggie said, taking a cell phone from her purse and placing it against her ear. “You’re bleeding.”
Marcus reached up and wiped a trail of blood from his lip. He rubbed it between his fingers. “I’m—”
Maggie held up a finger to him, and he guessed that her call had connected. He had always found that you could tell a lot about a person by the way they reacted to a stressful or dangerous situation. As she spoke into the cell phone, he watched her mannerisms, cadence, pitch, tone, breathing, eyes. The words she spoke could have just as easily been issued from the mouth of a valley girl, but he looked beyond the words at the person underneath. Her voice was calm. Her tone was insistent yet professional. Her breathing was steady, and her body language exuded confidence. Her eyes scanned their unconscious attackers. At the edge of his perception, he detected a slight tremble, but that was to be expected. She reminded him of a cop calling in for backup.
“Glenn and some of his buddies just tried to jump me and a friend . . . We’re fine . . . My friend took care of them . . . Yes, Father, it’s a guy friend . . . No, you don’t know him. Now’s not the time. Just get over here. We’re in an alley next to the
bar . . . Okay. Hurry.”
She closed the phone and placed it back in her purse.
Marcus watched as Glenn tried to get up but then fell back down and lay still. “Don’t you think we should call the cops?”
Maggie smiled. “My dad is the cops. He’s the Sheriff.”
“That’s not a problem, is it? Lotta guys head for the hills when they hear my father’s the Sheriff. Guess they’re a little intimidated.”
“Not me. I’ve got a lot of respect for anyone who carries a badge. I’m a third-generation cop myself. Or . . . I was anyway.”
“But not anymore?”
For the first time, it occurred to him that maybe he could be a cop again. Maybe I can get a job as one of the Sheriff’s deputies, sitting next to the highway, issuing the occasional citation? It would be a far cry from the world he had left behind. But calling his previous employer for a reference would pose a problem.
Not pressing the issue, Maggie sighed and brushed a strand of blonde hair from her face. A dark, bronze tan made her hair seem lighter than it actually was. She wasn’t wearing any make-up and didn’t need any. Her pink t-shirt bore the name of The Asherton Tap, the bar where she worked as a waitress and where they had met earlier in the evening. He had offered to walk her home.
“Sorry about all this,” she said. “I knew Glenn had a thing for me, but I never thought that he would take it this far.”
He smiled. He couldn’t believe that he had met someone like her on his first day in town. Although in his experience, things that seemed too good to be true usually were. “Don’t worry about it. I can take care of myself.”
He shrugged. “Chuck Norris movies.”
Maggie chuckled. “Don’t get me wrong, you look like a man who can take care of himself, but that usually doesn’t mean anything.”
“I had some martial arts training and did some boxing when I was on the force. Plus, I was a pretty tough kid growing up. But to be honest, what happened here was one part ability and three parts luck.”
He had been lucky. Then again, he had always been lucky in similar situations. He always seemed to come out on top in a fight. When did luck become skill? When did a skill become a talent? In the end, he knew that he had a gift for hurting people, and it scared him. He wished it was only luck, but deep down, he knew better. He knew what he was capable of.
He saw flashing lights coming from around the corner. A moment later, a patrol car stopped in front of them. A middle-aged man with silver hair and goatee stepped out of the vehicle. Maggie relayed the situation to the man who Marcus assumed to be her father.
A crowd from the bar had gathered at one end of the alley. The sounds of a top-forty cover band echoed out of the Asherton Tap as more patrons walked from the bar to see what was happening. Many of the spectators looked disappointed that they had missed the action.
People always seemed to be in awe of the infliction of pain. Why do we find it so interesting to see people beat each other’s brains in? He wasn’t judging. He liked to watch a fight as much as anyone, but he wondered what it was in the nature of human beings that caused a fascination with violence and suffering.
After hearing the story, the Sheriff walked over to Glenn and hauled him up from the pavement while one of his deputies rounded up the cowboy’s friends. “Do you have anything to say for yourself?”
Still dazed, Glenn said, “Sheriff, I didn’t do nothin’. We were just trying to welcome the new guy, and he got all smart with me. Next thing you know, he’s kickin’ and punchin’ people. It was craziness.”
The Sheriff nodded. “Right. I’ve always thought that you should be head of the welcoming committee. Plus, it was real nice of you and your boys to bring that baseball bat and tire iron as house-warming gifts.” The Sheriff shoved Glenn in the direction of his deputy. “Get him out of here.”
Her father pulled Maggie aside.
After a moment, they returned, and turning in Marcus’s direction, the Sheriff said, “Sorry about Glenn, son. Sharp like a spoon, that one. Anyway, it’s against my better judgment, but Maggie has convinced me to let you walk her home. That doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. I want you to come into my office tomorrow and give a formal statement. I’ll be gone in the morning, but you stop by in the afternoon. That’ll give us a chance to sit down and have a nice visit.”
Marcus didn’t like the sound of a “nice visit.” The con-versation would probably revolve around Maggie and the removal of certain parts of his anatomy if she weren’t shown respect. “I’ll be there, sir.”
“See that you are.”
Maggie gave her father an awkward hug before she and Marcus continued on. After a moment of silence, Maggie spoke. “So why aren’t you a cop anymore?”
A dark alleyway, a scream, the blood, the tears—the memories came rushing back and swirled through his mind like a tornado that leaves a house standing but uninhabitable. What business is it of hers? Why don’t you ask about how my parents died, or maybe if I had a dog that was run over when I was a kid?
But she doesn’t know it’s a painful memory. She’s just trying to get to know you better, idiot. Maybe because she likes you, but now she probably thinks you’re some kind of burned-out psycho, since you’re taking an hour to respond to a simple question.
“Well . . . ”
What do I tell her?
“I think that’s a question we should save for at least our second or third date.”
“How do you know there’ll even be a second or third date?”
“Because you want to learn all my secrets.”
She smiled. As he looked into her eyes, his painful memories slipped to the back of his mind and away from his immediate thoughts. For now, the pain had subsided. For now, his demons were sleeping.
“Thanks for walking with me,” she said. “You’re really a nice guy.”
He grimaced. “The kiss of death.”
She gave him a confused look.
“Nice guys get calls for advice on how to handle bad-boy boyfriends. They drive you to the airport and help you move. Nice guys finish last. And . . . I’m not all that nice.”
“I disagree. I think that you are a nice guy, and I also think that you haven’t been hanging around with the right kind of women. I happen to like nice guys.”
Their eyes met, and he felt a warmth in her gaze that made his heart race and his mind reel with possibilities. They held the connection for a few seconds. When her cheeks began to turn red, she looked away.
The warm smell of cinnamon rolls straight from the oven made his stomach rumble. The lights were on in the bakery. Maggie was so caught up in the moment that she almost passed by the entrance to her apartment, a small place above The Magnolia Bakery. He remembered a place with the same name on Bleecker Street back in New York. He had loved their red velvet cupcakes.
She stopped and removed a key from her purse. She hesitated, giving him the impression that she was waiting for him to make a move.
It had been a long time since he had done anything like this. “Dinner . . . tomorrow night?”
Maggie reached into her purse and produced a small pad of paper and pen. She jotted down her number and handed it to him. “Give me a call tomorrow.”
He took the piece of paper, folded it with care, and placed it in his pocket.
They stared at each other for a moment.
He leaned in.
She closed her eyes and appeared to be awaiting his lips.
He touched her on the shoulder, but instead of kissing her, he whispered in her ear. “I don’t kiss on the first date.”
Her eyes opened and narrowed at him. “You’re an odd man.”
He smiled. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”