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Britney's Big Day

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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.”

“I was like, ‘What are we waiting for? We know this is the real thing, why not just do it now?’ ” says Spears.<br />
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.”

Spears gave her bridesmaids Juicy Couture sweats personalized with “The Maids” on the back (mom Lynne, left, with daughter Jamie Lynn, was dubbed “Hot Mama”) and custom-made Bolsa bags with the Kabbalah word in Hebrew that means “the power to heal.”
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!’ ”

“This is the happiest I have seen him,” dad Mike says of Federline. Adds best man Jimmy Federico: “He’s gone through so many ups and downs the past year. It was great to see my best friend is with someone who truly cares about him.”
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.”

The guys swapped Vestimenta tuxes for Juicy sweats, with Kevin’s father, Mike, and stepdad, Coby Bleak, donning “Pimp Daddy” versions. The five groomsmen also received Tiffany money clips and black Swarovski crystal cufflinks.
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.”

Two days before the wedding, Spears returned to her natural brown locks: “There are so many blondes out there right now, I wanted to be a little different.”
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.”

Days after Spears and Federline were pronounced husband and wife, a report surfaced that they aren’t legally wed because they hadn’t filed a marriage license. According to Spears and Federline, they have gone by the California book: Prior to getting married, they secured a license, which they have 90 days to file. But, says Federline, “we’ll file our license next week.” His explanation? “Everybody knows our wedding date was set on Oct. 16,” he says. “But then