From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
Getting Ready: Some 40 hours after their top secret Sept. 18 ceremony in Studio City, Calif., newlyweds Britney Spears and Kevin Federline are acting like, well, blissed-out newlyweds: Gazing into each other's eyes. Locking bare toes. Exchanging "Oh babys" and "I love yous." So it's safe to say they're feeling pretty good? "Awesome. Elated," says Spears, lounging with her new husband near the hot tub in the presidential suite of the Hotel Bel-Air. Tying the knot "couldn't have been better," says Federline. Adds Spears: "I'm just kind of happy that we pulled off the whole thing."

This was not the way it was supposed to happen—as anyone who received one of 100 invitations to the couple's Oct. 16 wedding can vouch. But three weeks ago, amid growing paparazzi attention and mounting stress. Spears, 22, and Federline, 26, scrapped their original plans for a lavish to-do at Santa Barbara's Bacara resort in favor of a ceremony for just 27 friends and relatives—all of whom were kept in the dark until minutes before the ceremony. (Moving up the date prevented the couple from filing their marriage license prior to the wedding; see box on page 67.) "I just thought it would be too much if we had done it when we were supposed to," says Spears. "It became this huge thing and I was like, 'What are we waiting for? We know this is the real thing, why not just do it now?' That's why I wanted to sneak and do it our little way."

They did it their way, indeed—complete with a rose-scented ceremony, during which both the bride and groom cried, followed by a night of clubbing. The entire event "was all about them, which is exactly the way it should have been," says Spears's longtime assistant Felicia Culotta, who helped plan the wedding and served as a bridesmaid. "It was about Britney and Kevin and that's it." Adds Spears: "It was perfect."

It was also a 10-hanky affair, with the groom proving especially emotional throughout the evening. At the reception, "we were dancing and I remember her dad sitting in the doorway," says Federline, tearing up at the memory. "The way he was looking at me, he was just letting me know that everything was okay. I was worried, because you want your wife's father to be okay with you. But when I saw him, it was great."

So ecstatic are the pair that they are already discussing starting a family. "I want to be a young mom," says Spears. Asked whether she is pregnant now, she pauses for a long moment and looks intently into Federline's eyes. "No, not that I know of." But "I can see us as parents," she adds. "I can see myself as a mom. Next year at 23, I am so there."

In the meantime, the couple are content to relive the memories of their wedding weekend, which kicked off Friday night with a bachelorette bash at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel. (Federline and the fellas opted for dinner at nearby Houston's restaurant.) The next day, the guys hit the links while Spears and her group dodged paparazzi during a trip to the Burke Williams spa. On the ride from the spa to the wedding locale—a private home in Studio City—Spears got a call from her soon-to-be-husband. "She said, 'I'm not supposed to talk to him before the wedding!' And we said, 'No, you're not supposed to see him,' " recalls Culotta. "She just died laughing. She said, 'I didn't want to jinx it!' Then they had one last conversation, and she was saying, 'No, don't cry; if you cry, I'm going to cry.' "

With even Spears's mom, Lynne, and the bridal party kept out of the loop, the impending wedding tested the bride's ability to stay mum—a challenge, considering she struggles just to keep her family's Christmas presents a surprise every year. When the word was finally out, "That was one of the first things she said to me: 'Mama, I kept a secret!'" recalls Lynne.

In fact, friends and relatives had flown in for what they were told was an engagement party. Upon arriving at the private home, they were handed invites that read "Surprise! It is with much love that we welcome you to our wedding ceremony tonight." The message didn't quite sink in with Spears's dad, Jamie. "My dad said, 'Why is everyone congratulating Kevin?' " recalls Spears's brother Bryan. "I said, 'Daddy, did you read the invitation?' He said yup. I said, 'You might want to read it again.' " Adds Lynne: "He went into shock. 'Oh my God,' he said,'I don't have my tuxedo!' "

No problem: The couple had arranged for everyone's tuxes and gowns—which had been fitted earlier in anticipation of the October wedding—to be secretly delivered to the house. Upstairs the bridal party were readying themselves when Lynne walked in. "Britney was just smiling, waiting for my reaction," says Lynne. She said, 'Well, Mama, is it okay?' And I said, 'Of course, this is probably the smartest thing ever.' "

The couple's friends were stunned as well. "Their hands were shaking and they were crying," Spears says of her girlfriends. Recalls Federline: "[My friends] had no idea. Even the guy that was taking pictures said, 'You just got Punk'd!' And they still didn't get it! Finally I had to spell it out for them. When they did get it, they just lost it."

As for the newly brunette bride—she returned to her natural brown locks two days prior to the wedding because "there are so many blondes out there right now, I wanted to be a little different"—some of her behavior that day might have been a tip-off. "Britney was acting really weird Saturday—she was really nervous," recalls maid of honor Laura Lynne Covington. "I was like, 'Why are you so fidgety today?' And she was like, 'I don't know, I don't know.' " Just before the ceremony, "She was like, 'Are people supposed to cry on their wedding day? Even when they're saying their vows? Is it okay if I cry?' " says Covington. "When she put the veil on, it just all came together. She turned the corner and everyone just said, 'Awww.' " Says Lynne: "She looked so absolutely beautiful. She looked like an angel."

Unlike Spears's quickie Vegas wedding to childhood pal Jason Alexander in January—the marriage was annulled after 55 hours—the bride made sure her family and close friends were in attendance. Still, not everything went exactly as planned: Spears's sister Jamie Lynn, 13, burst into tears thinking that she had been the only one kept in the dark. But "when I hugged her and she put her dress on, she started feeling really good," says Spears. And Federline's 2-year-old daughter Kori (with ex-girlfriend Shar Jackson, 28, with whom he also has a 3-month-old son, Kaleb) was slated to serve as flower girl but ended up missing the wedding altogether. "[Shar, Kori and Kaleb] were doing the whole Disneyland thing, and I couldn't say, 'Look, [the kids] need to be here because I am getting married,'" says Federline. "So I just left things as they were."

During the emotional 15-minute ceremony, Britney and Kevin "just gazed into each other's eyes, and he kept touching her face," says Culotta. "As she was standing there, tears were falling. When her daddy lifted up her veil and kissed her on the cheek and shook hands with Kevin, it was so sweet. That started all the tears." Adds Lynne: "At the point when the ceremony said that your spouse is the one that makes you a better person, I just cried because I think it sort of hit me that she is a woman now. It hurts when they grow up."

Among the other ceremony highlights: When Covington handed the groom's platinum wedding band to Spears, "She dropped it and I was like, 'Oh no!'" recalls Covington. "The preacher was like, 'It's okay. It's a good sign!'" At one point during Federline's vows, "he said, 'I'm so proud to be your husband,' and everyone just smiled," says Covington. And when the couple shared their first married kiss, "I just wanted to holler, 'Get a room!' "jokes Culotta. "It was such a big kiss. It was like that was the second they were waiting for."

With the wedding behind them, Spears and Federline—who are keeping their honeymoon plans under wraps—are now looking ahead to what's next, beginning with a late fall bash for friends who missed the actual nuptials ("We filmed the wedding so they can resee it at the party," says Spears). "It is great that this [wedding] has happened, because it has made me realize that I am growing up, becoming a woman, and things just need to be different," Spears says. "I feel like it's a beginning." With that in mind, the bride is also pondering a name change: "Britney Federline," she says, "I like that."

Michelle Tauber. Todd Gold, Julie Jordan, Ulrica Wihlborg, Margi Blash, Kwala Mandel, Pamela Warrick and Brenda Rodriguez in L.A.

MORE WEDDING DETAILS

The Reception

RED HOT
Spears outfitted her bridesmaids in $3,000 gowns by Monique Lhuillier and ruby jewelry by Cynthia Wolff. From left: Fitzgerald, sister Jamie Lynn, Covington, Culotta and Brabham, The maids' bouquets featured roses; Spears's lace-trimmed bouquet "had a southern feel," says florist Mark Held.

A FEW WORDS FROM MOM
"I said, 'Baby, you've got more responsibilities than ever now,'" says Lynne. "'You are a grown woman, and this is the marker.'"

PERSONAL TOUCHES
"The two of them wanted to plan everything together," says Alyson Fox, who coordinated the wedding along with her mom, Diane Levine. Guests—who tossed rose petals (right) after the ceremony—received a photo frame and a keychain (above) along with a candle from Niven Morgan.

Brit's Style
When designer Monique Lhuillier presented Spears with 40 wedding gowns to choose from, "she zeroed in on what she wanted," says Lhuillier—a $26,000 strapless silk gown with an ornate hand-sewn train. Spears, who herself came up with the idea of the matching half-gloves (right), also donned a cathedral-length veil and Sergio Rossi sandals. Completing the look (left): a 2.5-carat diamond "lace" bracelet by Cynthia Wolff. (She later wore the Lizzie Scheck infinity necklace with baby pink pearls codesigned by Federline as his wedding present to her.) Spears carried her bouquet wrapped in a coordinating Swarovski crystal-and-lace trimmed handle.

The Afterparty
A paparazzi chase. A dance-off. How could Britney's post-wedding throw-down be anything else? Just after midnight on Sept. 19, the newlyweds and pals headed to Club Dublin's @ XES in L.A. Once inside, the group sipped champagne and stormed the dance floor. "I've seen him dance, but not battle," Spears says of Federline. "All of his friends are really great dancers, so we formed this little circle." The bride also went for a spin with Kevin's dad, Mike ("She's a hell of a lot better dancer than I am!" he says), and took a twirl on the club's dance poles. "The crowd just started cheering and clapping—it was like a big party," says XES co-owner Kat Johnson. Shortly after 2 a.m., Spears, who had forgotten her Prada shoes, made her exit in her husband's arms. "Instead of carrying her into the bedroom," he says, "I carried her out of the club."

  • Contributors:
  • Todd Gold,
  • Julie Jordan,
  • Ulrica Wihlborg,
  • Margi Blash,
  • Kwala Mandel,
  • Pamela Warrick,
  • Brenda Rodriguez.