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Make Me Stay: The Panic Series by Sidney Halston (1)

Prologue

After a two-hour jog, I head to Café Havana on Lincoln Road for my café con leche fix, just like I’ve been doing every day for nearly a year. My daily routine is what’s been keeping me focused after all the shit that went down. Wiping my face with the shirt that is dangling from my shoulder, I walk the last block in order to cool down.

It’s a relatively small and unknown establishment—one that caters more to the locals, which is precisely why I love it.

“The usual, Matt?” the familiar server asks from the walk-up window.

“Extra strong, por favor.”

“You got it.” She turns and begins to work on the espresso machine as other guests walk to the window and throw out their coffee orders. The two servers work in tandem making espresso, café con leche, and cortaditos, all while chatting with the regulars and taking payments; it’s like an orchestrated dance they’ve perfected. She places my coffee and a basket containing a guava pastelito down and slides them to me. I drop a five-dollar bill on the counter and take my order.

Normally I sit outside and people-watch, what with all the weirdos walking down the famous Miami Beach street. But it’s just too hot today, so instead I take my order inside, where it’s a little bit cooler.

Luckily, they’re relaxed on the dress code, since most of their customers come in from the beach, so I fit right in without my shirt. The two old table fans working tirelessly side by side are pointing toward the scattered tables, and I see the servers pat the sweat on their foreheads with napkins every once in a while. I’m sitting back, enjoying my order, when I hear a familiar voice.

A voice I haven’t heard in a year.

It’s the kind of voice that should belong to a sultry phone sex operator. It’s raspy and thick, and it reverberates through my entire body. It’s one of the things that drew me to her over a year ago. The second thing was that short straight black hair, and the third those blue eyes. Blue eyes like I’ve never seen before. So blue they are almost transparent, contrasting severely with the dark hair and pale, almost white skin.

June Simpson.

The woman I was in love with.

The woman who disappeared off the face of the earth.

I sit up and look around, trying to find where the voice is coming from. The coffee shop is mostly empty except for the few employees behind the counter.

“I said I was sorry.” I hear her voice again, almost at a yell. I stand up abruptly. I have to find her. She vanished—literally—a year ago during the worst time of my life. I searched everywhere for her, and there were days I thought I had imagined her.

The five months we were together were the most intense months of my life. Then she was gone. Poof! When I Googled her name, it came up empty. I even went as far as hiring a PI, worried something had happened to her, but the PI found nothing. Her phone number disconnected, all her clothes gone, and her furnished apartment empty. All a big fucking mystery.

“Fine. I’ll see you tonight,” she says, her back to me as I’m walking out of the café, and I see her pull her arm away from a man and walk briskly away. The man chuckles before he goes in the opposite direction. He’s about as tall as me, six foot one, but his skin tone is lighter. He’s wearing board shorts, a tank top, and flip flops. I can’t be bothered with him because that voice—that voice has to be June’s. I need to see her face.

I run toward her, but as I get closer, I stop. This can’t be June. This woman has wavy red hair that falls to the middle of her back. But I guess she could’ve grown it and dyed it…?

Plus my June didn’t dress this way. My June wore formfitting clothes, mostly dresses, and high heels. Always high heels. Always put together. Always elegant. The lady I’m following is wearing a long, flowing, almost hippie-looking skirt, flip-flops, half an armful of bracelets that clink as she walks, and a T-shirt. She looks messy and unkempt.

“June!” I call out, and her steps falter for a second, but she doesn’t turn around; instead, she keeps walking, moving faster now. “Miss, excuse me. Please stop,” I say when I finally catch up to her. My hand goes to her forearm to halt her. “Miss, please, can you wait a second?”

Slowly, with closed eyes, the woman turns, and I gasp, shocked.

“June?” I whisper, and when she opens her eyes, her blue eyes, I know for a fact it’s her. My eyebrows furrow and I step back to take in her features. I’m completely shell-shocked. She is thinner, her cheeks are hollow, and she doesn’t have any makeup on. But it’s still June.

Anxiously she looks over my shoulder, her eyes narrowing.

“June? Holy shit. What the fuck happened? I’ve been looking—”

She shakes her head slightly. “I’m not—you have the wrong person.” Her voice raspy, just like I remember it.

“What? No. It’s you.”

“I’m Zara. You have the wrong—”

“June?”

She looks over my shoulder again. I follow her gaze back to the man she was speaking with moments ago, who is watching our interaction “Shit. Are you…Is everything okay?” My protective instinct surges up, and I want to help her.

“Zara. My name is Zara,” she repeats, then, a little more quietly, says, “You have the wrong person,” before turning around and running off. I consider running after her, but there are alarm bells ringing in my head. I turn around again, and the man is still watching me. Is she in trouble? She must be. And this man, he has something to do with it.

I’m left speechless and confused as I watch the woman I once loved run off.