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Undisclosed Secrets Prologue


I absently spun the expensive fountain pen around on my desk as I read over the letter in my hand. It had been a great run. I hadn’t been so unsure yet excited about a move since I left Tennessee at twenty-two. A lot had changed in over twenty years.

My legs were restless and my skin felt too tight. No longer able to sit at my desk, I stood and paced toward the window overlooking the San Francisco skyline. Everything was sleek, modern, clean: in one word, expensive. From the three-hundred-dollar fountain pen on my desk, to the custom leather desk chair, to my Italian leather shoes and custom-made suit. The floor-to-ceiling windows in my corner office—no, it was no longer going to be my office—afforded me views from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Transamerica Pyramid and beyond.

The life I’d become so accustomed to in the last decade was so far removed from where I’d started out that I hardly recognized myself anymore. I’d made more money in the last handful of years than I could spend in a lifetime. Sterling Enterprises now had headquarters on every inhabited continent. I’d traveled the world and dined with some of the most influential people in the process. I’d had dinner with the Queen at Windsor Castle and somehow ended up attending mass with the Royal Family at Westminster Abbey. A bit awkward for the atheist with parents who practiced Buddhism, but overall a fascinating experience that I knew most people would never have.

The week before, I’d been in India meeting with the National Security Advisor’s staff. My little three-person start-up security venture had turned into a global standard of military and private safety. Sterling Enterprises now employed nearly fifty thousand people across the globe. I’d been the CEO of a Fortune 500 company for close to fifteen years, in the Fortune 100 for a decade, and we’d been hovering in the top ten for the last three years. The latest projections put us in line to be top five for the fiscal year-end, but I wouldn’t be here to see that happen.

I’d been voted Most Eligible Bachelor for three years and had been approached by dating shows a number of times in the last handful of years. There had never been a point in pursuing those shows. It wasn’t like I was going to find the man of my dreams from a list of men a network picked for me. At the rate I was going, I wasn’t going to find the man of my dreams on my own, either. It was one of the reasons I’d decided to step not only back, but down. After two decades working my way to the top, putting my business, my employees, and ultimately my career ahead of everything else, it was time for me to live for myself.

No one would look at me and think, He grew up in rural Tennessee. Just like no one would believe that I was ten minutes away from walking into the boardroom, handing in my resignation, and leaving this life to go home.

Could Tennessee even be considered home now?

I shook my head at myself. I had to be insane. I was voluntarily—willingly—leaving the eight-figure yearly salary, spacious row house, private driver, chef, and jet lifestyle for middle Tennessee. I knew I hadn’t completely lost my mind because I wasn’t moving back to my parents’ farm in what really did amount to the middle of nowhere to do yoga with my mom at the crack of dawn. Or to work for my dad’s herbal remedy store. I wanted a change, yes, but I didn’t hate myself.

“Mr. Murphy?”

I turned to see my secretary, a woman a few years younger than me, standing in my doorway. She fit the image of Sterling Enterprises: crisp, clean, put together.

I almost laughed at the absurdity of it all. My company, my little venture, had become this huge entity that I hardly recognized. My jeans and T-shirt days at the office had been replaced with expensive suits and ties. The leaky office space I’d rented a year after moving to the Bay Area had been all but forgotten. Nothing in this gleaming highrise looked like the guy I was. This was all bows and glitter, glitz and prestige.

This wasn’t me.

I forced a smile at my secretary. “Hi, Holly.”

She sent me a blinding smile, her whitened teeth gleaming behind her red lipstick. “The board has all arrived and is in conference room eight. Coffee, tea, and sandwiches will be delivered in five minutes. Mr. Murdoch will be calling in today. His plane was stuck in Canada due to blizzard conditions.”

“Thank you, Holly.”

I took one last glance at the view from my office, picked up my phone, laptop, and the letter from my desk, and headed toward the conference room my current board was assembled in.

The frosted, tempered glass door opened as I approached and the hushed conversations quieted as it slid closed behind me. I straightened my jacket and took a seat at the head of the table, smiling across the room of fifteen individuals. “Good afternoon.”

A murmur of greetings passed across the room and my chief financial officer’s tinny voice crackled over the conference line. “Afternoon. Sorry I’m not able to be there in person.”

I had to force myself to not roll my eyes as I waved my hand despite his not being able to see me. “Don’t worry about it, Andre. Weather happens, especially in March.” A grin broke across my face that I hoped my no-nonsense CFO couldn’t hear, though I knew the others in the room knew how much I was enjoying his discomfort. “Especially in Canada.”

His grumbles said my humor at the situation hadn’t been masked well. I smirked again, a perverse pleasure at his annoyance making it hard not to laugh. It was fun to get under his skin. It wasn’t a secret I didn’t love the guy, no matter how good he was with money. No, I actually really disliked him and I knew neither of us would be saddened by no longer working together.

I once again questioned how we’d come to hire the man. I’d made my dislike of him abundantly clear from the beginning. The vote to make him CFO had been the day my love for the company I’d poured my life into began to wane. I knew at that moment that Sterling was no longer mine.

While I might have been the CEO, the founder, the visionary who’d begged and pleaded for people to loan us money in the beginning, this was now bigger than me. CEO was an impressive title, my salary even more so, my life was perfect from the outside. The inside was something different, and each time I had to address the man I couldn’t stand, didn’t agree with, and ultimately didn’t trust, more of the love and passion I’d always had for this company faded away.

I cleared my throat, buying myself an extra moment to get my thoughts in order. “Alright, I know we’re all busy and would like to leave here at some point, and I’m sure Andre wants to get on his plane as soon as humanly possible. Let’s get down to business.”

The next three hours were spent crunching numbers and discussing contracts, bids, technical issues, and project updates as well as placing phone calls to headquarters around the world for information. Projections and information were thrown out from every direction and keeping track of everything going on pushed my resignation to the side.

As we were concluding our meeting, my fingers brushed against the small stack of papers under my laptop—my resignation letter. The letter I’d spent the better part of a month writing, rewriting, and writing again for good measure. I’d made sure to thank each and every member of the board, each headquarters around the world, and to express my true love of Sterling Enterprises and its employees.

My heart rate picked up as my fingers grasped the stack. “Before we adjourn for the weekend, I’d like to discuss one more order of business. I hope it will be quick. Andre, I’m forwarding this to you now.”

Yeah, right. Like the resignation of the CEO and founder of one of the largest corporations in the world would be quick or easy. I took the stack of papers, split it in two, and handed them down either side of the table. Then I sat back and studied their faces as the fifteen men and women around the table read through the one-page letter. I watched their eyes widen as they processed the words.

Seconds of uncomfortable silence stretched to minutes as they took in the information before my information security officer gasped. “You’re leaving?”

Blaine had been with me from the start. He’d been the first person I’d recruited when I’d finally had some venture capital. A year or so older than me, Blaine was a computer genius who had hacked into more government and private agencies than I was comfortable with. I had long ago made him promise to keep his habits to his home and far away from Sterling. He’d become so well-known in the hacking world that he was often hired by companies to expose vulnerabilities in their systems. There had yet to be a system that could withstand Blaine.

I nodded slowly as emotions I knew were coming began to surface. “It’s time. I’ve been thinking about it for years. I’ve taken Sterling further than I ever imagined, but in the process, I’ve lost a bit of myself.”

I thought of friends I’d long ago lost contact with, my parents who were aging. I wanted to be there for them if they should need me… even if they drove me insane most of the time. And there were indulgences I hadn’t been able to enjoy nearly enough over the last number of years, always concerned with my image, my company, the impact that my personal life could have on international deals if I were photographed at Leather Week or exposed as part of the BDSM community. While it was all normal in San Francisco, many other nations were not as open to alternative lifestyles.

“It’s time I focus on my own life.” One where I was no longer Cane Murphy, President and CEO of Sterling Enterprises, but Canyon River Murphy, retired CEO.

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