10/04/2004 at 04:00 PM EDT
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.) "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."