Jed Wyatt was allegedly four months into a relationship with fellow Nashville-based musician Haley Stevens when he left to join the cast of The Bachelorette, vying for the heart of Hannah Brown.
“We spent the night together the night before he headed to L.A.,” Stevens, tells PEOPLE exclusively in this week’s issue (on stands Friday), opening up publicly for the first time about their romance. “He told me [the show] was just an obstacle and we’d be stronger on the other side because of it.”
In fact, Stevens says Wyatt was unequivocal about his motives for going on the reality series, for which he applied before they started dating.
“He told me [early on] that he had applied,” says Stevens, 26. “He said, ‘It’s probably not going to happen, but it’s a huge opportunity. I’m only doing this for my music.’ He only did it for his career.”
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Continues Stevens: “He wanted a platform. He kept telling me, ‘I don’t want my dad to have to help me pay rent anymore.’ He said he only wanted to be top five … to be a major player so that it would be beneficial.”
(This aligns with what fans watched Wyatt, 25, admit to Brown, 24, during a one-on-one date. “When I signed up for the show, I was so clueless,” he said on a recent episode. “I was open to the idea because I love love. I do, I love the idea of it. But my first thought was this is like a huge platform, and I just want you to know the truth. So I came in with that mindset, but every moment that we’ve had has taken that away and shown me that now more than anything I want to be with you.”)
When the notion that Wyatt could potentially be seriously dating another woman came up, Stevens says he was prepared with answers. “He was always so reassuring,” she says. “He told me, it’s not real. It’s acting.”
And so Stevens, who met Wyatt last October in Nashville, stayed in the relationship, and says that even after Wyatt got the call in February that he was officially joining the cast of the show, the two took a romantic trip to the Bahamas, where they said ‘I love you’ for the first time.
The last time Stevens spoke to Wyatt before he began filming The Bachelorette, “He called me when he landed in L.A.,” she says. “He said, ‘I love you, and I’ll call you when I get back.'”
Like all contestants, Wyatt had to surrender his phone during filming, so Stevens had no idea what was happening – and grew increasingly anxious.
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- For more on the Bachelorette bombshell, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on stands Friday
“I was following along on spoiler accounts, trying to figure out when my boyfriend was going to come home,” she says. “I bought a homecoming outfit that I was going to wear to maybe pick him up at the airport.”
But as the series progressed, “I was terrified that he would fall in love with Hannah,” she says. “In the beginning I felt bad [watching the show] because I thought he loved me and was faking dating her. But then I thought, my boyfriend could be engaged to someone else. Seeing him kissing her for the first time was the worst day.”
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Recently, Stevens was “baffled” when she learned that Wyatt had returned home to Nashville without calling her, and finally confronted him when she ran into him at a music venue, this month. She says Wyatt offered little explanation as to what happened.
“He said, ‘Hey how have you been?’ and I said, ‘How do you think I’ve been?'” she recalls. “I asked him, ‘You didn’t think I deserved a phone call?’ And he said, ‘I didn’t know what to say.'” They never spoke again about their relationship.
Now, Stevens says she’s coming out with her story in order to “control the narrative” as she’s been approached by outlets who have gotten wind of a potential relationship with Wyatt.
She’s also still hurt by Wyatt’s confounding behavior.
“As it got closer to the end, I was preparing myself,” she says. “I thought it probably wasn’t going to work out. But the hardest part is that he ghosted me. He loved me, but he didn’t have enough respect for me to have that tough conversation.”
Now, Stevens says she doesn’t know how things turned out with Wyatt and beauty queen Brown.
“Everything in me wants to believe that he meant everything he said and got caught up in [the show],” she says. “I don’t believe he’s a terrible person, but it’s a terrible situation. And part of me thinks I was the backup plan and he wanted me to be here in case it didn’t work out. I feel 100% betrayed.”
A rep for The Bachelorette had no comment from Brown or Wyatt.