Try Not to Breathe

Try Not to Breathe

by David Bell
Try Not to Breathe

Try Not to Breathe

by David Bell


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An ex-cop sets out to find her missing sister and discovers the shocking truth about her family...

A traumatic experience in the line of duty forces thirty-year-old Avery Rogers to abandon both her relationship and her position as a Kentucky State Police officer. She retreats to a college town where she works an unfulfilling job as a security guard, breaking up fights between drunken frat boys. 

But a frantic phone call turns Avery’s life upside down. Her father—a retired cop who never fails to convey his disappointment in Avery—says her half sister is missing and in danger. Avery is sure Anna’s just crashing with friends, but her father strong-arms her into searching for the sister she barely knows.

Anna Rogers is fed up with her family—a half sister who resents her existence and a domineering father who thinks it’s okay for cops to shoot unarmed civilians. She hits the road to attend a protest against police brutality, unaware of the danger that awaits her there. 

Just after catching a glimpse of Avery at the protest, Anna receives a shocking text. Now she’s no longer road-tripping; she’s running, pursued by an older sister she doesn’t trust and a violent stranger who has been stalking her for weeks. 

When Avery discovers Anna’s hiding place near a remote cave system, she risks everything to save her. Little do the sisters know that a secret is catching up to them—a secret at the very heart of their family history.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593549964
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/27/2023
Pages: 464
Sales rank: 76,981
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

David Bell is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling, award-winning author whose work has been translated into multiple languages. He’s currently a professor of English at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Read an Excerpt


Anna stepped out of the Uber.

Correction-she stumbled out of the Uber.

She steadied herself in the parking lot, waiting for the world to stop tilting. The driver, relieved to have deposited his drunk passenger, drove off into the night, red taillights glowing.

"Thanks, man," Anna said.

The steps to her apartment rose ahead of her. One flight, but it might as well have been fifty. Why had she and Kayla signed a lease for a second-floor unit?

The night sky was clear, a million stars like glowing dots. No wind, but it was cold. Anna shivered, tugged her jean jacket tighter. Her body shook. Just go inside, into your warm bed.

The world stopped spinning. Anna mouthed a silent prayer of thanks. She told herself she'd never drink tequila again. She amended the statement right away-she would never drink anything again. She'd been partying too much, staying out too late. Failing out of school. Everything spiraling-

She shook her head, stopped the out-of-control thoughts. Just get your ass inside.

Anna started forward, stepping cautiously. Don't rush, don't fall. She dug in her purse, reaching for her keys. She knew Kayla would have locked the door. Dependable, reliable Kayla. Asleep at eleven, homework finished. Dishes washed and put away. The next day's clothes ready to go.

Anna lived with her opposite. She loved Kayla dearly, but how had they become and stayed such good friends?

Anna grabbed the keys. Score. She hated to have to ring the bell, get Kayla out of bed to let her in. That had happened a few times. Missing keys, lost phone. Forgotten credit card. But not tonight-Anna had made it home, and she gripped the keys as her foot hit the bottom step.

Something moved on her left. From the corner of her eye, she saw it.

The breath caught in her throat.

A figure coming from the direction of the building next door. A dark blur. A neighbor? Another drunk student?

It couldn't be the Midnight Rambler, could it?

The Midnight Rambler. The town pervert. A guy who'd been creeping around outside girls' apartments, peeking in windows, watching girls sleep. But he hadn't been spotted in their complex, and Anna thought he'd get caught soon or go away, some loser who didn't know how to get laid on his own-

Then the guy said something, called out a word in the dark.

Did he really just say that? Her name?


She froze, looked his way. His face remained obscured. He wore dark clothes, walked with his hands in his pants pockets. What was the name of the guy next door? The one who had helped her get her car started the day she left her lights on? Was that him?

Why was he slinking around outside the building at . . . It was after two. Anna had stayed out until last call, slamming back one more shot before summoning a ride.

And did the dude next door even know her name?

Maybe he'd said something else. Maybe he'd just said hello. Or maybe he'd said nothing, and Anna had just heard a branch scraping, or the tequila was causing auditory hallucinations. Her stomach turned when she thought of the number of shots she'd consumed. Why do I do this to myself? Inside. She needed to get inside. Bathroom, Tylenol, water, bed-

She started up the stairs, turning away from the shadowy figure. She dismissed him. He wasn't the Rambler. Just another drunken student, one of her brethren in late-night debauchery. He needed to get into his apartment, sleep off his drunk while vowing never to do it again-


Anna stopped again, halfway up. She looked back into the gloom. The man stood five feet back from the lowest step, his face still obscured. How did he know her name?

And if he knew her name-if he was a friend-why did he linger in the dark? Why not come right out and speak to her in the light?

Anna started up the stairs again. She missed the next step. Her foot came down on nothing but air, and her knees pounded against the concrete. Her eyes watered with pain.

"Shit. Fuck."

She regained her footing, started up. Moving quickly, stepping carefully. She didn't look back.

She drew the keys out, eyed the lock. She prayed Kayla-who worried more about the Rambler than Anna ever had-hadn't put the chain up as well.

Anna's key hit the lock, and she tried to turn it. The lock stuck, as it sometimes did.

"Shit. No."

The guy behind her started up the steps, heavy shoes against the concrete. Sweat popped out on Anna's forehead. She jiggled the key, turned it again. Mercifully, it turned. Anna pushed, almost fell into the living room, then spun and slammed the door shut, shaking the walls. Her hands trembled as she turned the lock, grabbed the chain, and put it in place. Her heart jumped against her ribs like a bucking horse, and she collapsed against the door, holding herself up.

Tears sprang to her eyes, and she wiped them away.

She risked a look. She pressed her eye to the peephole. With a fish-eye view, she saw the dude on the landing, hands still stuffed in his pockets. He looked down, his face still obscured. He didn't reach for the knob, but Anna worried he might. Maybe he'd try to kick the door in.


She jumped a foot, almost screamed.

Anna turned around, saw Kayla behind her in the living room. Her roommate wore sweats and a Titans T-shirt. Her eyes were puffy from sleep.

"What's going on?" she said. "I heard the door-"

"Look outside. Look. It's the Rambler-or it's . . . I don't know."

Kayla came over, rubbing her upper arms. "I was dead asleep. Are you okay?"


Kayla pressed her face to the door, turned her head from one side to the other. "I don't see anything."

"Kayla, there was a dude. He was out there in the dark. He came toward me-and-and-I think he said my name."

"Do you know him?"

"No. I mean, I didn't get a good look at his face. Oh, God, Kayla. I think I'm going to be sick." She dropped her keys and purse on the floor, clutched her stomach. The tequila roiled like a stormy sea. "He scared the shit out of me." She had to wipe more tears away.

"Anna, I've never seen you like this." Kayla covered the distance between them, reached out, and took Anna in her arms. "My God, you're shaking. Let's call the police. Okay? Right now. That could be the Rambler. Or if he said your name-"

"I don't know. Maybe I imagined it. I don't know. . . ."

"Let's call the police, okay?"

"No, no. I feel . . . I had too much to drink. I need to go to bed."

"But, Anna, if you're so scared . . ."

"Just, just . . ." Anna moved back, out of Kayla's arms. "I can't involve the cops. My dad- It's just too complicated."

"Anna, are you sure? You look terrified."

"I'm just going to go to bed. I need to sleep this off, okay? I'm sorry I woke you."

"It's not about that, Anna. It's about you-"

"I'm fine. Really." Anna started for the bathroom, but she looked back once, studied the door.

She wanted to make sure-really sure-that the lock and chain were in place.


Morning light leaked through the blinds, assaulting Anna's eyes.

She pulled the pillow over her head, burrowed into the warm sheets. She willed the world away.

Until the bedroom door swooshed open. Kayla. Always on time, always prepared.

"Anna? Hey, Anna? Are your ready to talk about last night?"

Anna spoke into the pillow.

"Anna, I can't hear you." Kayla yanked the blinds open. More light poured in-bright, stinging light.

"Damn it, Kayla."

"This is serious, okay?" Kayla came to the side of the bed, tugged at the comforter. "Someone may be stalking you. We need to call the police now."

Anna pictured Kayla without seeing her. Hands on hips, frowning mouth. Frustrated by her roommate. Eager to help and protect her. Light pouring over her shoulder, illuminating her rosy complexion, her bright eyes. Kayla was sickeningly healthy. And competent.

"I've tried to get you to go back to class and stop this academic spiral, but we've moved past that now. This is much more serious. And dangerous."

Anna remained still. She couldn't outlast Kayla, who was too good a friend, too loyal. Too determined. Anna pushed the pillow down, squinted against the burning light. Her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth, and a rhythmic pain beat time in her temple. "Oh, God . . . I think I'm dead."

"There she is," Kayla said. "Swing your legs onto the floor and then we'll call the police. We can worry about class later."

"You're overreacting, Kayla."

"I'm not." Kayla studied Anna for a moment, her eyes intense. "I heard from your parents too. We can deal with them after the police." She reached into her back pocket and brought out her phone. She held the screen toward Anna, pushed it closer to her face. "See this?"

"No, no." Anna shut her eyes. "I can't read that. It's too bright and hurts my head. Please, no."

Kayla pulled the phone back. "That was a dangerous situation last night in the parking lot. It could have ended up a lot worse."

"Let's just take a deep breath. We're not sure it's a stalker. And why are you bringing up my parents?"

Kayla's cheeks flushed. She shook her head, ponytail swinging like an ax. "I'll read you this text I received earlier." She cleared her throat. "'Dear Kayla. We've been trying to reach our Anna for several days now, and she won't answer. Her mother and I are both very worried. Also, we are both struggling with health-related issues and don't need the additional stress. The world is dangerous for young girls. And I know there have been a series of unsolved break-ins in your area. I know these things because of my-'"

Anna groaned. "'Because of my long career in law enforcement.'"

"Exactly. 'Please tell us if Anna is okay and ask her to call or text us soon. If there is no response, I will contact the authorities in your town, many of whom I know personally. Yours, Russell Rogers.' It's annoying that you've put me in the position of getting worried texts from your parents, but I'm kind of glad, because I've never received a message with a salutation and a closing before. It's like he sent this text from the 1950s."

"Ignore it. He'll go away."

"I can't just ignore it. And you know he's not going to go away. Besides, I think it's sweet he cares this much about his baby girl. Did you know my dad forgot my birthday? And I'm an only child."

"Kayla, do you ever just look at your family and wonder where you came from? Like, how did these freaks produce me? We have nothing in common."

"Anna, everybody does. That's why I went away to college. So I didn't have to be around my parents all the time."

"Okay, okay." Anna sat up, the covers spilling around her waist. The movement caused more pain in her head. She winced. Her dad's words stabbed her heart, almost made her forget she didn't want to speak to him. "I'll call . . . or something. I'm on it."

"But that's not item number one. We have to call the police, so we can file a report about last night-"

"No, no. No police."

"Anna, you scared me last night. When you came in the door, you looked terrified. And you never look terrified. That guy could have meant to hurt you."

"He's just a creep. A Peeping Tom or whatever. The Midnight Rambler who's been all over town."

"You said he knew your name. That's a stalker. That's dangerous. And another woman could be targeted next. Or he could come back here. You were crying when you came inside."

"He just- He startled me."

Kayla looked at the time and put her phone away. "I don't want to give you a lecture, but I think we need to take care of this. I'm going to skip class, okay?"


"We'll call the police, and then you can tell your parents you're okay. If you don't, your dad is going to flip out. And maybe he should after last night. I can't leave you alone here."

"I can't talk to my dad. About anything."

Kayla's hands returned to her slender hips. She moved with grace, like the high school basketball star she was, the one who had given up the sport to focus exclusively on school. "What's the deal, anyway? You went home a few weeks ago, and you haven't been the same since. No more class. No contact with the parents. What happened?"

Anna sat back against her pillows. Her eyes trailed across the room to the manila folder on her desk. She made a vague gesture toward it, let her hand drop back to the bed. "We fought about school. I told them I wanted to take time off. Travel or just . . . do something different. My dad can't deal. He's pissed about the scholarship. Always the scholarship, never me. He thinks it's an affront to his service if I don't take advantage of it. Like I asked him to get his leg shattered by a psycho's bullet so I could go to college for less."

Anna's heart clenched. She pictured her dad hobbling around the house, dulling his pain with daily pills and more frequent pulls from his bottle of Jim Beam. How could anyone be so fearsome and so pathetic at the same time? Like a wounded lion in a nature documentary.

"I fight with my parents all the time," Kayla said. "It's par for the course. It will blow over. But they're going to worry if you don't call them-"

"It came up."

Kayla's right eyelid flickered. "It?"

"Tanya Burns."

"Why did you bring that up?" Kayla spoke to Anna like she was two years old.

"It was my dad who kept talking about it." Anna felt herself pouting. The gesture struck her as childish, but she couldn't help it. "He defended the shooting. Of course. I knew he'd do that. And he trashed the protestors. No surprise." Anna took a deep breath. She almost couldn't bring herself to say it, to form the words and push them out. "Shit, Kayla, do you know what he told me? He trained Officer Shaw. He trained him. He trained the cop who killed Tanya Burns."

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