"No." I hold in my amusement as the next words fly out of my mouth. "But hold your breath or you'll get a mouthful of lake water."

Before she can ask why, I dunk us both. She tries pushing away from me as soon as we come up completely drenched a second later, but I hold onto her tight. I may be pissed at her, but I don't want her drowning from shock, or weighted down because she's wearing long pants.

Maggie comes up sputtering, but not from lake water getting in her mouth. The girl is mad as hell. "How ... could ... you!"

"It was pretty easy, actually," I tell her, still holding her tight while she tries to push me away.

She splashes my face.

"Don't do that," I tell her.

She does it again, so I let her go. She maneuvers to stand a few feet in front of me, her hands already underneath the water. She's definitely ready for a splash war. I play dirty, though, and splashing is a kids' game. We're not kids anymore.

Maggie is about to get a dose of what it's like to play in the big leagues.

I wade closer to her. She starts splashing, but I don't reciprocate. I'm soaking wet, but I ignore the water hitting in my face and stinging my eyes. I just keep moving closer until I'm close enough to reach out and grab her wrists so she can't splash me anymore.

I hold her hands behind her back and pull her snugly against my body. She's so close I feel her breasts pressed against my bare chest. When she looks up at me, our lips are inches apart. Her hair is dripping wet, her face has droplets of water glistening from the sun reflecting on them, and her lips are shiny and wet.

I don't know how I ever could have thought of this girl as plain.

"What are you gonna do now that I'm helpless?" she asks.

I lean down and whisper in her ear, "You've got it all wrong, Maggie. I'm the helpless one here."

"Oh," she says, eyes wide.

I loosen my hold on her wrists while I slide my lips across her cheek. The sensation of her soft skin against my lips combined with her body still pressed against mine is driving me insane. Oh, hell. I don't want to want her. It would be so much easier to hate Maggie and ban her from my thoughts and my life. But Julio's words echo in my head: no regrets.

When my lips reach the corner of her mouth, I let go of her arms and move my hands to her waist. At the same time, I lightly glide my lips across hers. She sighs and breathes faster as our wet lips slide ever so slowly back and forth, back and forth.

It's erotic. Painfully erotic.

I'm not gonna deepen the kiss, that's her move. I'm gonna make her want it so damn bad she'd rather die than not feel my tongue sliding against hers. She's gotta want this even more than me.

There's one problem here. My body is betraying me, big time. I'm glad we're under water so the evidence of my arousal is hidden from view.

When her hands reach up and sneak around my neck, I know I've got the upper hand. She wants this. I'm gonna make her beg for it and make out with her like there's no tomorrow. Then I'll walk away as if I don't give a shit.

Cruel, yes. But I've got to prove to her once and for all that I'm a badass ex-con. Yesterday at the DOC, seeing Julio and the other inmates reminded me where I came from. Who I really am. Doesn't matter if I didn't hit Maggie and went to jail for my sister.

I'll always be an ex-con. It's branded on me like an invisible tattoo. But I need to live each day like it's my last ... with no regrets.

I hold back a groan as Maggie opens her lips and tilts her head. Her lips slant, slightly open, against mine. This is it. Finally. I'm waiting impatiently for her tongue to snake out and reach mine. It's gonna happen any second. It's gotta happen, 'cause this is fucking torture. I know she's no stranger to French kissing. Hell, we did it back at the dorm and it was earth-shattering.

I'm ready. Damn, I'm more than ready. My entire body is screaming of readiness. She's got to be ready for this, too.

She opens her mouth wider and moans, a moan that makes me fantasize about what it would be like to witness her having an orgasm. I'm so turned on I know I'm gonna pay for it later.

But that doesn't matter.

I swallow a triumphant smile. Here it comes. That moan of hers was a clue that she's dying to take this to the next level. I wish my body wasn't ready to take this to the next three levels.

She moans against my lips again, and my tongue is twitching in my mouth ready to be unleashed like a fucking caged animal. I'm usually a patient kisser, but ...

Still nothing.

What the-

I lean back. "What the hell are you doing?"

"What do you mean?" she asks, innocently batting her eyelashes against the hot sun beaming down on us.

Is she kidding me?

"Where's your tongue?" I ask stupidly.

Her wet little eyebrows furrow. "In my mouth. Why, where's it supposed to be?"

I let go of her, step back and rub my hands through my soaked hair to get a handle on reality. "You're fucking with me, right?"

She shrugs. The movement creates ripples around her body that move across the water. "Maybe."

Oh. No. She. Didn't.

My tongue is unleashed now, but it's to argue not to kiss. "You were trying to get me all hot and bothered to get back at me for dumping you in the water, weren't you? Admit it. You're not the innocent little Maggie you want everyone to think you are. You're a damn tease, that's what you are.

"And what were you doing, Caleb? Weren't you trying to get me all hot and bothered on purpose? You're the tease."

"You have no clue," I bark back. This lying bit can go both ways, sweetheart.

Maggie starts wading toward shore.

I'm left here, all alone. Not how I thought this scenario would go down. "So you're just gonna walk away?"

"Yes," she calls out, her back to me. "You were the one who said we needed to break things off until this trip was over. I'm just following your rules."

I wish I could follow her, but I need to stay waist-deep for at least another minute until my body cools down.

"I said we needed to cool it."

"I'm cool," she says over her shoulder.

"I'm not." I'm all hot and bothered. Being in the cool lake should help, but doesn't.

Maggie one-upped me. My ego is busted, big time. But I manage to forget it for the time being and get out of the water. I lie on the beach and wonder if I need to try a different tactic.

A half hour later, we all head into our little canoes with our fishing gear. None of the girls know how to put a worm on a hook, so each guy has to go with one of the girls.

"I'm going with Matt," Maggie declares up front. Matt is all too eager to accommodate her.

In the end, I'm stuck with Trish, because she says she's afraid Lenny will tip the boat on purpose.

Lenny and poor Erin are paired up, and she looks like she's about to puke. She looks that way most of the time lately. I'm starting to think she's either got a case of the flu or a case of pregnancy.

"So what's the real story with you and Maggie?" Trish asks as we row out to the middle of the lake. "It looks like you two are a couple again."

"We're not."

Trish rolls her eyes. "Oh, puh-lease. It's obvious you guys having something hot and heavy going on. Just spill the beans already so the rest of us don't have to speculate about it anymore."

I laugh. "What've you speculated?"

"That you're still in love with her." She hands me the worm container and her fishing pole. "You want to know what I think?"

"Not really. Why don't we talk about you and Lenny?"

"What about me and Lenny?" she asks, her face scrunched up like I'm nuts.

"Admit you've got a thing for him."

"Eww. Don't make me throw up, Caleb." I put the worm on the hook and Trish winces. "How can you do that? It's inhumane."

"Think of it as feeding the fish."

Trish folds her arms across her chest. "Yeah, right. Feeding them, then sticking a hole in their face as punishment for wanting a little food."

I hand the pole back to her, all ready to go. "You want to fish, or not?" I ask her as I notice Matt and Maggie across the way with their poles in the water. They're talking. I wonder if she's complaining about me.

"She's scared, you know," Trish says. "She thinks you'll leave her again."

"She's probably right."

"Then let her go, Caleb. Stop confusing her and giving her mixed signals. She deserves a guy who'll stick around and be there when she needs him."

"Like Matt?" I say harshly.

Trish holds her hands up. "Don't get all pissed off. I'm just saying what I think."

"I think you should keep your opinions to yourself."

Trish puts her fishing pole into the water and says with certainty, "And I think you know I'm right."



or the rest of the Re-START trip, Caleb keeps his distance. He acts like we're mere acquaintances. He only interacts with me when he has to. When we talk to groups around Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin, Caleb shares how he was arrested and how he'd do anything to avoid jail in the future.

He doesn't talk about going to jail for Leah. I think he wants to forget that part of the story, although in my opinion the reality of what he did for his sister looms over him every day. I wish I could get him to talk about it, but at this point he doesn't trust me at all.

I'm not sure he trusts anyone.

It's the day before the end of the trip, and we're staying in a big rented cabin in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. The cabin has nine bedrooms, so we each get our own. But I can't sleep with the thought of losing Caleb again pressing on me. I peek into his room at two in the morning, but his bed is empty. My heart is panicking, thinking he's skipped out early.

Relief washes over me as I spot Caleb from my window. He's skipping rocks by the lake.

My brain tells me it will be better to just let him go.

My heart ... not so much.

I still want to convince him to go back to Paradise. I haven't done a great job of doing what I set out to do. Tonight is my last chance. Thinking about what Vanessa said, I brace myself to confront Caleb once and for all.

I slip through the sliding glass door. The melodic sound of the crickets chirping follows in my wake as I walk down the gravel path to the lake.

"I guess this is good-bye ... again."

He doesn't look at me. Instead, he skips another rock. "I guess so. Have fun in Spain."

I haven't thought about my impending year abroad for a few weeks now. This Re-START trip has been exhausting both physically and mentally. I've learned a lot about myself this past month. I've also become good friends with Trish and Erin, who are now like sisters. Trish thinks she's Erin's protector, and the three of us have spent most nights talking until the early morning hours.

I sit on a big boulder and watch him. "Where are you headed?"

He shrugs. "Arizona, I think."

Arizona? That's too far. There are so many loose ends he needs to tie up before he goes away. "Come back to Paradise, Caleb."

"This conversation is over."

I stand and step right in front of him. He's about to skip another rock, but I take his hand and open it up so the rock falls to the ground. "Go back to Paradise," I say again.

He lowers his gaze to the ground, and I feel his defeat as if it's my own. "I can't. When I came back home, my entire family wanted me to pretend the Beckers were this picture-perfect family. In reality, each one of us was fucked up. I couldn't fake it before. I still can't, so don't even ask me to. I'm living with so many regrets, I can't add another one to the roster."