Sandra Sobieraj Westfall
April 22, 2013 12:00 PM

From opposite ends of the Ping-Pong table, the famously competitive parents of Britain’s future monarch grinned at each other, and then let fly. “Ahem, I think that was 6-2,” William said, declaring victory over Kate during their visit to a Glasgow sports center April 4. But, after his official duties were done, he turned to Lord Lieutenant Sadie Docherty, the couple’s host for the day, and chivalrously fessed up: “The only reason I won today was because Catherine was pregnant,” the prince told Docherty, who recounted the conversation to PEOPLE. “Otherwise she would have taken off her coat and beat me.” That same day, while chatting with homeless youth at a Quarriers shelter, Will praised Kate’s cooking, pointing to his allegedly expanding waistline. “He isn’t very good in the kitchen,” Kate teased. But as the two wordlessly brushed against each other at every stop on their two-day Scottish tour, the affection and tenderness between them spoke volumes. “The eye [contact], their smiles to each other, were very genuine, very caring,” Paul Moore, Quarriers CEO, told PEOPLE. “You know when you’re in a restaurant and see two people obviously in love? That’s what they’re like.”

A first pregnancy can put any marriage to the test—cue the nausea, stressful moments and unforgiving deadline (ready or not …). But well into their second trimester, the royal couple are cruising to parenthood more demonstrably—and demonstratively—in love than ever. “They’re much more touchy-feely than they were,” observes royal photographer Mark Stewart of Will’s now-automatic protective hand to Kate’s back on official outings. Adds royals author Judy Wade, who has watched the couple for a decade: “They’ve always been close, but it is much more pronounced since she has become pregnant. There appears to be a new, deeper bond between them.”

If that’s not enough to make romantics swoon, then consider the prince’s latest move. A Royal Air Force search-and-rescue pilot who has spoken publicly about how much he loves the job, he is widely expected to retire his wings to devote himself more fully to his royal duties, philanthropic work – and Kate. A source close to William confirms to PEOPLE that the prince will soon announce he’s leaving his base in Anglesey, Wales, where he and Kate enjoyed a quiet life in a converted farmhouse with pup Lupo, but where Will had to abandon his princess for up to ten 24-hour shifts per month. With his announcement expected in the next few weeks, William “is ready for the next step,” the source says. Don’t be surprised if it’s another romantic getaway. Even with the pre-baby prep and royal duties, they’re making the most of their still relatively carefree lives, from the February “babymoon” they took with the Middletons in Mustique to a weekend holiday in the Swiss alps in March (Kate stayed off the slopes).

For now, the parents-to-be are focused on nesting. At home in Wales, they’ll curl up inside with a Scrabble game or a notepad, thinking up baby names. “We have a short list for both [boy and girl], but it’s very difficult,” Kate confessed to Quarriers manager Rachel Sawyer. They are also busy renovating Princess Margaret’s former 21-room residence at Kensington Palace in London, where they hope to move by early fall, and Anmer Hall, their country getaway on the Queen’s Sandringham estate (see box). Though Kate, due in mid-July, told a Scottish well-wisher she hasn’t gotten the nursery ready (“No, not yet. I have a lot to do”), she has taken up knitting. Kate’s also expected to announce several new charities she’s taking on. That means more royal outings—and more opportunities for the parents-to-be to step out together, blissfully. “I’ve seen a lot of royal romances over the years,” Wade says, “and this is one of the happiest. It’s a deep, meaningful relationship. She fulfills all his dreams.”

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