“Miss Morland,” the soft voice murmured, as if from the midst of a dream.
“Mm.” Still half-asleep and cocooned as she was within a warm nest of pillows, sheets and a very fluffy duvet, Catherine Tilney responded with a short, soft moan of refusal. As mistress of a rectory with ten children, most of whom were still at home, Mrs. Tilney was rarely afforded the luxury of sleeping until she was truly ready to wake up.
“Miss Morland,” the voice continued, a bit more insistently, now recognizable and much closer to her ear. The name was familiar yet strange, for while it had been hers for the first eighteen years of her life, she’d rarely heard it spoken during the intervening twenty-seven years of marriage.
Rarely, but not never, for there were times like this when her husband would privately invoke her old name in intimacy. The title combined just the right measure of sweetness - memories of falling in love during their youth - with the forbidden thrill of the hungry activities that always followed its use. They were, of course, very improper things for a Miss and a clergyman to indulge together, the thought of which naturally drove them both a little mad.
While this somewhat mortified Mrs. Tilney, it was a point of amusement and pride for her husband. After twenty-seven years, Henry Tilney knew precisely how to seduce his wife and he wasn’t going to apologize for it.
Mrs. Tilney protested softly once again, screwing her eyes shut as she arched and stretched against the conspiracy between the morning sun and her husband to sabotage her rest. She’d hoped to use the relative schedulelessness of Bath to her advantage now that they were here for a fortnight with their married daughter and her ailing in-laws, but things weren’t working out quite as she’d planned.
“I used to know a Miss Morland, I think,” she mumbled, curling back into place on her side, without opening her eyes. “Or perhaps she was a character in one of our novels. It’s been so long I hardly remember her and I am too tired at present to try.”
That earned a snort of amusement from her husband. “Poor Catherine Morland. She was never quite heroine enough for you.” Mr. Tilney gently ran a hand through the long tangles of dark hair, now streaked slightly with white, piled atop the pillows and flowing down his wife’s back. “But she was always my favorite.”
Mrs. Tilney murmured wordlessly in response, momentarily disarmed by his touch. She loved it when he played with her hair. It was the primary reason she tended to leave it down at night, even though putting it to right again in the morning was a horrible trial. No matter, for that too became an excuse for her to engage him in brushing it for her.
“Should I be jealous?” she finally responded, taking her husband’s bait. “She’s nearly three decades younger than I.”
Mr. Tilney appreciatively squeezed his wife’s ample hip. He adored the softness that age and childbearing gave her.
“As I remember,” he challenged, “you fancied yourself very much in love with Miss Morland’s hero, that brilliant, virile clergyman she met in the Lower Rooms. He gave her, what, ten children? Perhaps I should be the jealous one.” His fingers moved from her hip to graze her neck and the back of her shoulder, exposed by the wide neckline of the lightweight shift in which she’d slept.
“Eleven,” Mrs. Tilney corrected her husband with an almost unsettlingly girlish giggle, rolling over onto her back as she took one of his hands and placed it gently on her swelling midsection. As she was forty-five, it was likely to be their last. She was grateful for this final opportunity for so many reasons, not the least of which being that it made them a little less precisely like her parents. Knowing firsthand how ten children were made - in a rectory, no less - she didn’t like dwelling on the fact that her parsonage-dwelling parents had ten, too.
“And he was prepared to be disinherited for her,” she continued, sighing dreamily. “Tall, intelligent, and very near handsome, too.”
He was about to correct her about the disinheritance - it would have been a partial disinheritance; there was, after all, nothing his father could have done to alter his living or his mother’s settlements - until she got to the “very near handsome” part.
“Very near!” Mr. Tilney sputtered, now hovering over her. His wife took his bemused - and amused - face in her hands and pulled it closer to hers. He was a bit grayer and stouter than he’d been at five-and-twenty, but he was still very much her Henry.
“No, now that I think of it, he was quite handsome,” she amended, her voice and expression softening to something more akin to seriousness than jest. “To her…to me…he has always been the best of men. She and I were instantly smitten, and I am not afraid to be thought uncommonly silly for it.”
His playful expression darkened as he lowered his lips to hers. They kissed for several very long minutes, Catherine wrapping her legs around Henry’s hips as his hands gently grasped her hair near the scalp and squeezed.
“I love you, Miss Morland…Mrs. Tilney…oh, Catherine…” he whispered breathlessly into her ear, eliciting another soft, though rather earnest, moan from his wife.