The Volunteer's Suspicion

The Volunteer's Suspicion

Can the reporter and the firefighter solve an arson case and a mystery that has torn their families apart?
Danielle Reid hiked up the muddy loop trail of Frontenac Provincial Park. Sweat poured down her back, and her legs hurt from the steep inclines, but she pressed on. She was moving from Kingston to Toronto, and it might be weeks or even months until she could hike this trail again.

Three days of heavy rain had left the ground soggy and thick with mud. Swarms of mosquitoes came out in force, and the songbirds chirped cheerful tunes.

Lined with tall pines and elms and flanked by vibrant ferns, with splashes of colour from numerous wildflowers, the trail was perfect.

She stepped on a rock and hopped over a patch of thick mud.

A smooth male voice came up from over a hill followed by a rough woman’s voice. His voice was calm, but hers was cranky.

Danielle hauled in a deep breath, then took a series of small steps, focusing on where she put her feet. Mud squished from under her hiking boots, and she slipped forward, catching herself with her hand. She wiped her hand against her trousers, then pressed on. The steeper the incline, the smaller her steps, the heavier her backpack and the faster her sweat poured.

One more step, and she was at the top of the hill.

A brown-haired man was helping a woman down the hill and over a log. He was wearing hiking clothes and boots, and she, yoga clothes and running shoes.

“There’s so many bugs.” The woman swatted the air.

“Want more DEET?” the man asked.

“No. I want to get out of here.”

Danielle sipped water from her CamelBak water bottle, then started downhill. Baby steps down, stepping over a series of knotted roots and around a large boulder. Her foot caught in a divot, and she slipped, but caught her balance and continued.

“Why did you pick this trail?” the woman at the bottom of the hill said, hands on her hips. “It’s muddy.”

“It rained,” the man said. His voice was even a little sad. “There’s some nice views from here.”

“How much farther is it to the parking lot?”

“We can make it in ten.”

“That long?”

Danielle continued her descent, hoping she could skirt the quarrelling couple. She stepped over a large root, but her toes caught over a bump, and she fell forward. Her arms pinwheeled, and she tried to run down the hill to maintain her balance, but she stumbled and kept going.

She hit her head, her shoulder, and her knee. She reached for a root to steady herself but fell farther down. The muck was slicker than a thousand-dollar-an-hour criminal defence lawyer, and she kept falling.

The man turned towards her, and Danielle crashed into him, knocking him to the ground. She groaned, and he let out a loud ugh.

The woman shrieked.

Stunned, Danielle lay on top of him, nose to nose. She forced a breath into her lungs, and her sides throbbed in pain.

Strong hands held her against a very firm, very masculine body.

“Danielle?” The man’s voice was comforting and familiar, and he smelled of spice and machine oil. His arms wrapped around her in a giant but tender bear hug, and they rolled twice, but he stopped their roll by grabbing onto something, protecting her from rolling farther down the hill.