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Cotillion

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Frank Underwood adjusted his cuffs, admiring the cut of his new suit, the most expensive he’d ever purchased; not bespoke – he couldn’t afford that yet, but well-tailored, nonetheless. It cost more than that semester’s room and board at the slightly threadbare dormitory for Harvard’s law students. The well off students, most of whom were milling around the ballroom with him, lived off-campus. Frank didn’t care. He’d rather be studying right now; he had his eye on becoming the editor of the Harvard Law Review next year. But it never hurt to make connections, even if he had to attend this cotillion, a formal dance thrown after final exams were concluded. His eyes darted around the room as he made small talk with one of his more connected classmates. His eyes stopped and he muffled a gasp as he spied a blond head of hair across the room; her hair was just the color of Tim's – sun bleached wheat, he thought fancifully. The young woman’s hair was long, not a flat top but there was something about her posture, the way she held her small, square shoulders back that reminded him again of his devoted ‘friend’.

“Excuse me,” he muttered, stalking his way across the dance floor to meet this bewitching creature. “You are the most beautiful woman here,” he blurted out, almost blushing, his hand extended. “Hello, I’m Frank!”

She took his hand. “Yes. Yes, you are!”

Underwood goggled, just a second, then laughed. She joined him and it thrilled him. Pushing back her long bangs, she grinned. “I’m sorry. You just stepped into that didn’t you? I’m Claire.”

“Francis Underwood, at your service. May I have this dance?” “So, you’re Francis now. I like that! Yes, Francis, I’d like to dance,” she said and he extended his arm and led her to the dance floor.

 

One thing the Sentinel had done for him, besides honing his wits and muscles, was to teach him ballroom dancing, something he’d missed as the son of poor peach farmers. The military college imported local girls of high standing to drum manners and refinement and ease on the dance floor into the junior warriors. When the girls couldn’t come, they still danced, with each other. Frank, despite his modest height, was always the lead and sometimes, on moonlit nights while the others slept, he danced with Tim.

It was a slow waltz, something that allowed him to concentrate on his lovely partner. “What’s your major?” 

"Double major - Sociology and philosophy,” she said over the music. “I’m interested in how people act in groups. Individuals are so random but groups take on a will of their own. I’m doing a paper on mass panics. Did you know that almost one hundred spectators at a British football match died as the result of a panic? Crushed underfoot or suffocated against each other as they tried to push through a small opening in a fence. People are idiots.”

The song had ended and they stood, faces inches apart. She smiled. “This is when you tell me you’ve got to go meet a friend,” she prompted.

“Why ever would I do that?” he asked, his lips close to her ear, close enough to feel her shiver against the warmth of his breath. “I think you’re fascinating! Unless you want me to leave – is that why you chose to discuss mass deaths?”

She nodded. “I am writing that a paper on that topic but... that’s normally a perfect way to discourage guys. You, Francis, are exceptional!”

He grinned. “Well, I knew that. I’m glad you do, too!” He guided her to the punch table and handed her a drink. “But why are you here if you don’t want to mingle? And are you seeing anyone?”

Frowning, Claire sipped. “It’s a condition my mother set. I have to attend at least one of these a semester or she’ll cut me off. This is the final dance of the season…I kept putting it off.” She sighed, staring at his bright, intelligent eyes. “I have a girlfriend, sort of. My roommate, Susan. I’m not gay or even bi, but I had a bad experience last year and I’d given up on men. She’s in love with me and I have a high sex drive. It’s worked out but honestly, I’m breaking it off. I think I’m ready to climb back on the horse, so to speak.” "Good," replied Frank as they began to dance again.  "There’s nothing like sinking into the flesh of your own gender,” he confided, guiding her through yet another waltz.

“Are you?” she laughed, following his every cue as though they’d danced together for years.

“Gay? No. But I am…hmmm…flexible.”

“I like that in a man,” she replied, brushing against him. “I’ve had…fantasies about watching two men…even being in the middle...”

The song ended. “I’ve got just one thing to ask before I take you to the nearest hotel,” Francis said, his voice filled with enticing confidence. “But it's a deal breaker.  Are you a Democrat?”

She blushed. “I get so much crap from these Yankees, all damned Republicans. They are so rude! I come from a long line of diehard Democrats, Mr. Underwood!” Francis grinned, leaning forward to kiss her thoroughly.  “Let’s go!”