This is what I initially wrote:
It was a first for them, and it felt just as nice as he'd pretended he'd never imagined it would.
Which I then changed into:
It was a first for them, and felt just as nice as he'd been pretending he had never imagined it would.
But that sounds even worse -- which is quite a feat, considering that the first sounded utterly confusing! Help, please? I really don't know how to salvage this sentence, and I don't want to scrap it altogether.