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Literature / Fiery Secrets

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Fiery Secrets is a romantic suspense novel by American author Stephanie McCall. It concerns the inspirational romance between Grace Taylor, a divorced pediatrician and single mom, and Christopher (Chris) Anderson, an elementary teacher with a dark past. They meet when Grace moves from Boston to Chris' fictional Tennessee hometown after her divorce from a cheating husband. Both are convinced they are undeserving of either divine or human love because of past mistakes, but help each other find the truth inside each other.

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In the course of the book, readers meet Chris and Grace's families as well, giving the work a "Hallmark with an edge" tone, especially when Grace's ex invades her life again, threatening to take Jacob. Themes include religious faith, depression, divorce, addiction, and family dynamics.

Associated tropes include:

  • Academic Athlete: Chris eventually became one, having embraced cross country and fencing in high school. Jacob shows shades of this as well.
  • Adults Are Useless: Averted. Jacob initially believes this because of his parents' divorce; in his view, grown-ups don't care what kids think and do whatever they want with and to said kids. Grace, Chris, and his grandma all help him see that adults can be quite attentive.
  • Abusive Parents: Grace Taylor's ex-husband, Kyle, is both emotionally and physically abusive toward their 9-year-old son Jacob, a major character in the book.
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  • Addiction Displacement: Grace displaces a former alcohol addiction with chewing gum and grinding her teeth.
  • Adorkable: Chris manages to be both this and a kick-butt masculine hero at the same time, owing to his academic prowess and introverted nature.
  • Adult Fear: Grace fears she will lose custody of Jacob to her abusive ex. Also, Chris has experienced this Imagine being an elementary teacher and having three of your students gunned down in a school shooting.
  • Affectionate Nickname: Chris' dad gave his boys these when they were little. Chris was the Owl, because of his love of learning. Youngest Josh was the Cub because he was babied, and also because he was the mischief-maker. Oldest Micah was the Buck, always athletic and determined to win any competition.
    • One of the things that separates Chris from Kyle is that he regularly uses these with Jacob (stuff like "buddy" or "sport") which Jacob outright says he appreciates.
  • Babies Make Everything Better: Once Grace got pregnant, both she and Kyle harbored degrees of hope that the baby would get them back on track. Of course, this didn't happen.
  • Bad Butt Teacher: Chris is definitely this. He knows both fencing and mixed martial arts, and will kick your butt if you mess with any kid in his guardianship. However, this being a Christian work, he would be referred to as a Bad Butt.
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  • Battle Couple: Chris and Grace become this when Kyle takes them and Jacob hostage at the end.
  • Berserk Button: Chris Anderson comes off as a nerdy Non-Action Guy who wouldn't hurt a fly. Mess with a child, however, and you'll see he's really a force to be reckoned with.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Being Christians, and a respective teacher and pediatrician, Chris and Grace are nice people. Yet woe be unto you if you harm their families or friends.
  • The Bible: Read in church; verses are quoted at pertinent points during the novel.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Chris' older brother Micah has this toward him. Initially, it comes across as Big Brother Bully behavior, because Micah believes berating Chris will help him "snap out of" his depression and withdrawal from others. Micah eventually comes around, revealing Chris wasn't the one with whom he was angry. In fact, his Big Brother Instinct is so sharp that he says he wanted to kill the doctor who got Chris addicted to a trauma drug and stuff his body parts in a freezer. He doesn't try to actually do it, though.
  • Big Darn Kiss Chris and Grace, twice. Once when they declare their love, and once after the climax.
  • Book Worm: Chris was this as a kid, and it's implied he also had a few of the stereotypes that go along with that. As an adult, he still loves to read but is far less stereotypical than many bookworms in fiction. Jacob is this to an extent, but prefers math and science, and is also reasonably athletic.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Grace and Chris both have these moments, as telling their respective "fiery secrets" is tough. Later, Chris has one when he proposes to Grace.
  • Can't Kill You, Still Need You: Kyle gets to the point that he wants to kill Chris for moving in on his turf, and also for exposing him when he tries to kidnap Jacob. But when given the opportunity, Kyle realizes he can use Chris and Grace as leverage against each other.
  • Character Tics: McCall likes to use these to make her characters relatable. Grace chews gum and grinds her teeth. Jacob bites his thumbnail when nervous. When he's nervous or upset, Chris' normally light Southern accent crosses into Deep South territory.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Chris' fencing talent and MMA moves.
  • Clueless Chick Magnet: Discussed; Grace's nurse says Chris is one.
  • Cool Old Lady: Grace's mother/Jacob's grandma, who lives with them. She plays table hockey, rides bikes with her grandson, loves pizza, and isn't afraid to say what she thinks.
  • Cool Teacher: Chris is this in his teaching days; he's also this in the book, when he functions as Jacob's tutor. Working with Jacob and falling for Grace eventually helps Chris face his demons. He takes a substitute teaching job in public school at the end, and the principal promises him a permanent job pending a successful semester.
  • Cool Uncle: Chris is this to his older brother Micah's kids, a ten-year-old nephew and six-year-old niece, though he briefly lost the label while experiencing depression and addiction.
  • Curse Cut Short: During the last chapters, Grace goes to court for a final custody hearing about Jacob and invites Chris for moral support. In the course of this, Chris learns that Kyle expected Jacob to keep his extramarital activities from Grace, on pain of punishment, and also implied Jacob enjoyed watching his dad's actions. Chris responds with, "That son of a..." but Grace cuts him short.
  • Damsel in Distress: Grace downplays it, but considering her divorce and fight to regain permanent custody of Jacob, she does fall into the category at times. Chris sees her as such, though he also openly admires her strength and intelligence.
  • Declaration of Protection: Chris to Grace and by extension, to Jacob. Grace also gives a mild one to Chris once she learns what he's been through.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Chris to Grace. It doesn't take much, though.
  • Destructive Romance: Kyle and Grace. Chris is revealed to have had one with his ex-fiancée, a woman who dumped him because she couldn't handle his depression after the school shooting and was emotionally abusive before that.
  • Dirty Coward: Chris thinks he is this because he couldn't save his students from a pair of school shooters. Funnily enough, he spends the whole book proving just the opposite.
  • Distressed Dude: Like Grace, Chris tries to hide this tendency, but because of his PTSD and brief drug addiction, he shows shades of this at times. When challenged to save those he loves, he more or less becomes a Bad Butt In Distress.
  • Do Not Call Me Sir: Because he's a private tutor rather than a teacher, Chris allows his students to call him by his first name, as long as they use the honorific "Mr." out of respect.
    • Some of Grace's patients call her "Dr. Grace."
  • Everyone Can See It: Grace and Chris' family and friends know they're in love before they do.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: The first thing Chris' dog does upon hearing Kyle at the door is to bark frantically. Bear in mind she'd never met him to that point.
  • Forced to Watch: Kyle threatens Chris with this when he takes the adults hostage. He also threatens to make Chris watch him hurt Jacob.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: Chris' dad has a brief discussion with him that shows the three Anderson sons and their father are this.
    • Chris: Melancholic
    • Micah: (oldest brother): Choleric
  • Josh (youngest brother): Sanguine
  • Dad: Leukine
  • Freudian Excuse: Kyle is implied to have one of these; his dad ran off when he was eight and his mother had anger issues. In addition, Dad was an overbearing teacher, which led Kyle to hate teachers.
  • Friend to All Children: Grace and Chris are both this, owing to their occupations, though Grace has to be a bit more objective than Chris since she's treating sick kids.
  • Gentleman and a Scholar: Chris. He's very smart, but never stuck-up about it, and unfailingly genial. Hit his Berserk Button however...
  • Get Out!: During the last fourth of the book, Chris and Grace have a big fight because she doesn't believe Chris' attending physician caused his trauma drug addiction. Grace was at Chris' house at the time, prompting him to deliver one of these.
  • Good Is Not Nice: Chris once had a teacher, Mr. Landry, who'd sometimes fall into this. His friend/ halfway house counselor Paul Marcello also fits this trope. Paul's a good guy, but he does not hesitate to tell Chris when he's out of line, or to man up, when necessary.
    • A lot of Grace's colleagues see her this way. Justified since she can be pretty blunt and hard-charging, more so with patients' families than the kids themselves.
  • Good Girls Avoid Divorce: Grace believes that the Bible Belt Christians she encounters in her new home will ostracize her based on this belief. A few do, but most don't.
    • The actual trope is used with Natalie, who averts it. She got pregnant by another guy after she and Chris broke up, then aborted the baby.
  • Heroes Love Dogs: Chris has an Irish setter named Cinnamon. During a crisis near the end, his first instinct after making sure the humans around him are okay is to protect her.
  • Hospital Hottie: Grace, Grace, and Grace again. She mentions several male doctors have tried to hit on her since she moved to Tennessee. Because Chris comes to Grace's hospital to tutor ill children, he's a non-medical version of the trope; even the nurses think he's hot.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: One of Chris' quirks is that he coughs when stressed. It's from smoke inhalation from the fire set to lure him and his students from the school during the shooting, but Grace fears it's one of these. He eventually loses the quirk.
  • If I Can't Have You...: Grace's ex Kyle has this attitude. To a lesser degree, so does Chris' ex-fiancée Natalie Crenshaw.
  • If I Wanted You Dead...: Inverted when Kyle tries to kill Chris. He's already attempted it a couple times, and Chris' response is, "If you really wanted to, you'd have done it already."
  • Ill Girl: One of Chris' students is this. Eight-year-old Fiona has cancer and must be tutored at the hospital. She dies mid-book, though it's a minor event.
  • Insistent Terminology: Chris has a couple moments. Whenever someone refers to him as a teacher, he corrects them—it's tutor.
  • Intertwined Fingers: Chris and Grace do this on a date.
  • Jade-Colored Glasses: Chris and Grace both have these. They break each other's glasses.
  • Jock Dad, Nerd Son: Kyle and Jacob are this, which doesn't bode well for Jacob.
  • Kirk Summation: Chris gives one to Kyle and gets a Shut Up, Kirk! for his trouble.
  • Lean and Mean: Chris is a rare heroic example, especially when paired against Kyle who is both taller and heavier, though not a fat villain. There are several references to his reliance on speed and agility rather than force to win athletic competitions or defend himself.
  • Leave the Two Lovebirds Alone: Chris' family pulls this on our couple once. Grace's mom also does it a couple times.
  • Legend Of Chekhov: One of the book's major plot points is a legend that says the ghost of a Union-sympathizing Confederate soldier/Underground Railroad conductor haunts Chris' house.
  • Locked Out of the Loop: Chris and Grace do this to each other, each believing that if the other knew his or her secrets, he or she would leave.
  • Mama Bear: Grace where Jacob is concerned; Grandma where Grace is concerned.
  • Mama Didn't Raise No Criminal: Averted with Grace; her family wholly accepted that her alcoholism was her fault, and helped her get through it. Subverted with Chris; his prescription drug addiction was justly blamed on the attending physician using him as a guinea pig. But the Andersons were willing to accept that the consequences were devastating, and went along with it when Chris voluntarily got help.
  • Manly Men Can Hunt: Discussed. Chris tells Grace he can do it, but prefers not to—he used to go on hunting trips with his brothers and dad and pretend to like it. Somewhat subverted in that he's an excellent fisherman.
  • Manly Tears: Chris has a brief scene with these when he tells Grace about the school shooting that killed three of his students. Arguably more justified/dignified than usual because as Chris explains, it has been two years since the event happened and he hasn't allowed himself to show significant grief since then.
  • Master Swordsman: Chris; he was a fencing team star in high school and has kept it up. His best friend Walker is implied to be one; they're shown fencing together in at least two scenes.
  • Mean Brit: Chris' favorite high school teacher Mr. Landry is a subversion. He's more the Stuffy Brit, but wouldn't tolerate Chris hiding in his shell (i.e., not answering questions in class because he was afraid his accent was too thick). To that end, Landry would sometimes cross into Good Is Not Nice territory, such as when he wrote Chris' semester algebra grade as A/F (A for great classwork, but failure for nonparticipation).
  • Middle Child Syndrome: Chris is a middle child; Micah is his older brother by three years while Josh is three years younger. However, he pretty much averts the trope.
  • Nailed to the Wagon: A subversion; Chris checks himself into prescription drug treatment without prompting from anyone.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Chris has a kind of inversion, in that whenever he's upset, his light Southern accent actually gets thicker and harder to understand. This carries shades of Poirot Speak too, because even during an accent-heavy moment, Chris never has trouble saying complicated words or otherwise speaking like an educated adult. However, he does indulge in a lot of "ain't," dropping the "g's" off gerunds, double negatives, and things of that ilk.
  • Only Child Syndrome: Grace is an only child and carries some stereotypical characteristics, such as being bossy and a perfectionist.
  • Papa Wolf: Chris' dad is this to Chris and his two other sons. Chris becomes this to Jacob as he falls in love with Grace.
  • Please Dump Me: Chris and Grace pull this on each other. Neither one buys it.
  • PreButtKickingOneLiner: During the climax, Kyle pushes Susie, Chris' little niece, down, after threatening to cut her repeatedly with a switchblade, as he's done to Grace. Chris, who has already gotten in several good punches at this point, says, "Nobody, but nobody, treats children like that around me and gets away with it." He then proceeds to hand Kyle's butt to him, culminating with stabbing him with a handy fencing foil.
  • Real Men Cook: Discussed. Chris' parents are well-rounded folks who are fairly modern when it comes to gender roles. His mother insisted all three of her sons learn to cook before leaving for college because, "No way are you living on frozen dinners." Elsewhere, we learn Chris' best friend Walker Bentley wants to open a restaurant.
  • Right Man in the Wrong Place: Chris became this when two of his school's older students decided to commit a shooting, using a fire to lure everyone out. Rather than cowering in fear, his first instinct was to run up to the students and try to wrestle away the guns. He got injured in the process and sustained a healthy case of PTSD, but man!
  • Safety in Indifference: Both romantic protagonists start the story here to some degree, because Hope Is Scary. They help each other out of it.
  • Second Love: Chris for Grace, who's a divorcee. You might say it's mutual, since Chris was originally engaged to marry Natalie Crenshaw, but got unceremoniously dumped before the book begins, only for Natalie to use blackmail to get him back.
  • Separated by a Common Language: Some brief examples. Although Grace was born in Tennessee and her mother spent many years there, the family moved to Boston when she was little because of her dad's job. Thus, when Grace returns to the South, she sometimes finds Southern terms confusing. For example, Chris once offers to buy her a Coke and asks what kind she wants. Grace thinks Coke automatically = Coca-Cola Classic, so Chris has to explain that to Southerners, everything carbonated is a Coke regardless of brand or flavor. Jacob also has a bit of this; for example, he doesn't recognize the somewhat Southern word "salve," which means "ointment."
  • She Is Not My Girlfriend: Chris pulls this a couple times when talking about Grace. No one buys it. Grace does the same thing with the same results.
    • Chris' ex, Natalie, continues to insist they should get back together, although Chris refuses several times.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Chris exhibits enough symptoms of PTSD to qualify.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Initially, Chris tries to get Kyle to see the error of his ways; it doesn't work. Later, he goes into this, largely because Kyle physically harmed his own son Jacob, and Chris' little niece.
  • Shut Up, Kirk!: Kyle seems fond of this trope.
  • Sickeningly Sweethearts: Grace's son Jacob and Chris' nephew Aaron think their mom/uncle are this. Justified in that they're prepubescent boys.
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man: Grace, of course. You could argue this for Natalie as well.
  • Southern-Fried Genius: Chris is from Tennessee, but fits none of the redneck stereotypes. In fact, he has advanced teaching degrees and prides himself on using correct grammar, unless he gets upset, which causes his accent to thicken and his grammar to cross into Deep South speech.
  • Southern Gentleman: Chris is not only one, but comes from a family of them—his dad and two brothers. None of them have the race-based nostalgia sometimes associated with this trope, however.
  • Stern Teacher: Chris had a couple of these. The first, Ms. Fisher, was his fourth grade teacher, a Midwesterner who mocked and belittled her Southern students' speech. The other was closer to a Cool Teacher—Chris' high school algebra teacher and fencing coach, who helped him craft an identity beyond that of an introvert with shades of Middle Child Syndrome.
  • Stop Being Stereotypical: Chris sometimes berates himself when his accent gets out of control, believing that it makes him look like a hick. Grace helps him to see his Southern culture as a unique and desirable part of himself.
  • Sugar-and-Ice Personality: Grace is like this at first.
  • Teach Him Anger: Chris' older brother Micah enacts this on him. At first it comes across as Micah being a Big Brother Bully, but it actually works quite well, as Kyle finds out the hard way.
  • Teachers out of School: Necessarily averted. Jacob not only knows Chris has a life outside of school, but is excited about the fact that it eventually includes dating Jacob's mother. Jacob also gets to see inside his teacher's house when Grace, who's in a bind, calls on him to baby-sit.
  • That Old-Time Prescription: One of the secondary conflicts between Chris and Grace is that he prefers herbal remedies over modern medicine. Over time, they get each other to try each other's ways of curing illnesses.
  • Took a Level in BadButt Chris. He was always a masculine guy, but it's hinted he was skinny and only a so-so athlete as a kid. His trials inspired him to do this.
  • Tsundere: Chris' ex Natalie is this, almost to the point of Psycho Ex Girl Friend.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Jacob is like this sometimes. Justified because he grew up as an only child, and with a parent that caused a lot of turmoil in the home. Chris lampshades it once by telling him he's too smart for his own good.
  • Would Hit a Girl: It's not Kyle's usual M.O., but Grace mentions he has hit her on occasion. He also grabs her, pinches her hard enough to leave bruises, and in the climactic scene slashes her skin with a switchblade multiple times to get Chris to do what he wants.
    • Because of Kyle, Grace initially thinks Chris is capable of hurting women, especially when she sees his martial arts talent. He has to win her trust to prove he would not hurt her.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Kyle pulls this with Jacob and with Chris' little niece. The results are not pretty.
  • Working with the Ex: Chris must briefly undergo this, as he and his ex are both tutors at the same learning center. He's able to resist her advances.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: All over the book:
    • Chris to Grace and vice versa
    • Chris to Jacob
    • Grandma to Grace
    • Paul Marcello, Chris' friend and halfway house counselor to him and to the other men he works with
    • Chris' dad to him

  • Your Cheating Heart: This is the stated reason Grace filed for divorce, because in the Christian circle Mc Call writes for, adultery is considered one of the only Scriptural grounds for this action. Abuse is the other.

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