Black Lace and Betrayal
Hannah Winstead’s life is rudely interrupted at age seventeen when her guardians attempt to force her to marry their friend Lord Earling. Unsure of her right to refuse, she runs away.
A handsome, intriguing young sea captain, Aaron Clarke, is shocked to find Hannah nearly frozen in a barn. He abets her escape by taking her on board his ship bound for America.
Hannah adjusts to her new life and develops her skill and passion for dress design, while assisting Captain Clarke in the care of his wards, two young boys. All is well until Lord Earling arrives on the scene. After an angry confrontation with Hannah, Lord Earling returns to the local inn, where the sheriff discovers him a few days later—brutally murdered. The prime suspect: Miss Hannah Winstead!
The chairman awaited the judge’s nod to proceed and then cleared his throat.
“Judge Watson, we find the defendant guilty of the crime.”
Aaron cried out, his pain more than he could bear. He attempted to rise but was held firmly by the Carnes. The judge banged his gavel and demanded silence. In the dock, Hannah laid her head gently on her arms. Her slender back shook with muffled coughs.
Judge Watson glared at Aaron. “Interruptions to this proceeding will not be tolerated.” He turned his attention to Mr. Brockton. “Sir, your client will rise to receive her sentence.”
Brockton tried to get Hannah to her feet, but she fell forward and would have dropped to the floor if he hadn’t caught her. The clerk assisted, and between them they held her upright facing the judge.
“Hannah Winstead, a jury of your peers has found you guilty of murder. What say you before I pass sentence upon you?”
Hannah said nothing. Her head drooped forward, and coughs racked her emaciated body.
The judge paused, regarding her, but then seemed to resign himself to his duty and continued. “For the crime of murder, I sentence you to death by hanging.”
Brockton awkwardly raised one arm, holding Hannah with the other. “Judge, I object to the sentencing of Miss Winstead at this time.”
“Mr. Brockton, you cannot object to a judge’s order.”
“With all due respect, Honorable, it would be wrong to hang this woman at this time. She is severely ill and isn’t able to beg forgiveness and make peace with her God.”
The judge stared at Brockton. The courtroom was silent as the two men looked at each other, with Brockton struggling to support the weight of the limp body at his side.
The judge turned to Sheriff Madison, who was standing at the side of the room.
“Madison, I order this woman to be placed under the care of a physician. I will not set a date for her execution until she’s recovered. The county won’t hang her until she’s had the opportunity to declare she’s sorry for what she’s done and ask the forgiveness of God.”
Judge Watson then turned to Elijah Crow, the county prosecutor. “Mr. Crow, you will make regular inquiries as to the defendant’s condition. When you’ve determined she has recovered sufficiently to receive her sentence, you will inform me.”
The judge banged the gavel, and the court was adjourned. Aaron watched as Hannah was half carried from the room by Madison. He wanted to bless Judge Watson, who had listened to Brockton’s desperate plea and in the process perhaps given Brockton and himself time to find a way to discredit the testimony of Maria Compton.
The next day Aaron received a letter from Gabriel.