Heart Hacked

Bonnie Martin


Cyber threat analyst Esther Rakowski stretched her arms over her head. After two weeks of investigation, her final report to hospital administrators was complete. It took a rare brand of evil to seek to cripple a children’s hospital with ransomware. The criminals operated out of a country with no motivation to help the United States stop hackers from targeting American businesses. Thankfully, no one died.

This attack felt personal. Metro Children’s Hospital was where Esther’s brother, Michael, was a pediatric neurosurgeon.


Past tense.

Esther and Michael always celebrated their birthdays by trying a new restaurant together, but a drunk driver put an end to that tradition six months ago. Michael’s absence was a raw wound.

“Another victory for Team Barracuda of Swift-Seven Cyber-Security!” her office mate Isaac congratulated her.

Esther turned toward him. Her ultra-deluxe-AAA ergonomic chair with ten adjustment points squeaked. It seemed eight of those ten points squawked whenever she moved. 

“Your chair is maddening. I brought in 3-in-1 oil today to fix it.”

Isaac dug into his backpack, extracted an oil can, then nudged his glasses further up his nose. 

Adorkable was a word coined for men like Isaac. If office gossip was to be believed, Isaac wanted to be more than friends with her. But he was shy and socially awkward. They worked well together, but she doubted Isaac would ever ask her out on a date. Were an office romance to blossom between them, she’d have to make the first move. Maybe someday. But not today.

“I can’t oil it while it’s chained to your desk. You’ll need to cut the ties.”

Her very expensive, very comfortable, personalized chair regularly disappeared from their office because of night-shift pranksters. To stop them, Esther lashed her chair to her desk with a chain of zip ties.

“The guys from overnight will take it. Last time they hid it in the janitorial closet.”

“I have a solution.” Isaac handed her a small box wrapped in colorful striped paper with a frilly pink bow. “Happy birthday.”

He remembered.

She unwrapped the box.

“It’s a micro-GPS tracker for easily lost things like keys, phones, and chairs,” he explained unnecessarily.

She smiled. A perfectly practical present. Those were always the best gifts.

“Attach it to the chair and download the app. No matter where your chair goes, you can find it.”

“Thank you!”

Isaac’s brow furrowed as he concentrated on securing the tracker and oiling every adjustment point. Everything Isaac did received his undivided attention.

Esther sat, spun around, and leaned in every direction. There were no squeaks.

“Hurray!” Isaac cheered. “Silence!”

After spending the past five hours completing the ransomware investigation report, Esther needed a break. She left to get coffee and stretch her legs. When she returned, her chair was gone.

“Where’s my chair?”

Isaac smiled. “Did you download the app?”


She glared. Her phone was on the opposite side of her desk from where she had left it. Isaac had downloaded the app onto her phone and falsified a text conversation between them. 

Esther: “Sounds wonderful! I’d love to!”

She huffed. “I don’t use exclamation points in texts.”

He grinned. “Maybe you should.”

Best Co-Worker Ever: “Is 6:00 okay?”

“You changed my contact information for you.”

“You shouldn’t leave your phone lying around unlocked. That’s dangerous. You never know who’ll pick it up. Especially around here.” He grinned. “I thought you’d know better than that.”

She shook her head. Mischief was a good look on him.

Esther: “That would be perfect!”

Again, with the exclamation points. She narrowed her eyes. “What did I agree to?”

He stood. “Before I answer, let’s find your chair.”

He followed her as she tracked her chair to the conference room. There was a flower arrangement on it. Red, blue, and yellow blossoms.

She read the card.

“Roses are red.
Morning Glories are blue.
Please let me buy
A birthday dinner for you. Isaac.”

Another card confirmed a 6:00 p.m. reservation for two at the new Thai restaurant she wanted to try. It was two blocks from work.

“I know you used to go out to dinner with your brother for your birthday…to try new restaurants…”

The ache of missing Michael was as searing that day as when she first received the life-crushing news.

Isaac held out his phone screen. “You already agreed.”

Heat built behind her eyes. Tears rimmed her eyelids.

 Isaac’s smile fell. “But if you’d rather not. If I’ve overstepped…”

He misunderstood. These weren’t tears of grief. This was an answer to a prayer she hadn’t thought to pray. To not be alone for dinner on her birthday.

She sniffed. “No—I mean, yes—I’d love to have dinner with you. That’s a restaurant I would’ve wanted to go to with Michael. Thank you.”


She ordered Pad Thai.

He ordered Pad Ka-Prao.

They shared a chive dumpling appetizer and drank jasmine green tea. The fragrance of ginger and garlic wafted around them.

Michael would’ve loved it.

“Tell me about Michael,” Isaac said.

He listened earnestly as Esther reminisced about her brilliant brother’s childhood antics. When she cried, Isaac held his hand out across the table. She put her hand in his. Warmth traveled up her arm and into her chest.

Hand-in-hand, he walked her home. She lived in the apartments across the parking lot from Swift-Seven Security.

Standing outside her apartment door, he brushed a lock of hair out of her face. “I hated the thought of you being alone tonight. I wanted to make today special for you. To give you a reason to smile.”

She smiled. “Mission accomplished.”

Isaac’s perceived awkwardness vanished when he kissed her. He cradled the back of her head, his fingers threaded through her hair. He smelled like Jasmine tea, cedar, and comfort. Isaac gave kissing the same undivided attention as everything else he did.

As a skilled cyber threat analyst, Isaac discovered Esther’s vulnerabilities and hacked her heart.

Bonnie Martin
Bonnie Martin writes romance where faith and family are integral to the stories. She is a 2022 Maggie Awards of Excellence finalist and a 2023 Florida West Cost Writers winner.

She lives in Maryland with her husband, college-attending son, and two German Shepherds. Bonnie is currently studying to become certified as an American Sign Language interpreter.

You can find her online at her website, and on Facebook and Twitter.