By Megan Hauserman
February 22, 2010 12:00 PM

It wasn’t supposed to turn out like this. Last August Megan Hauserman’s life seemed perfect: The University of Illinois at Chicago accounting graduate, who’d appeared on a string of reality TV shows, was finally the star of her own series VH1’s Megan Wants a Millionaire. The show featured a bikini-clad Hauserman searching for a mate among a pool of 17 financially qualified suitors, eliminating one guy each week. After filming was completed in March, Megan sat back and got ready for fame. By August “the show had aired three episodes,” recalls Hauserman, 28. “I was traveling, having parties. I thought, ‘Things couldn’t be better.'”

But then things went horribly wrong. Ryan Jenkins, a handsome, 32-year-old Calgary real estate developer who had captured Hauserman’s heart as a contestant on her show, was accused of the grisly murder of his wife, Las Vegas swimsuit model Jasmine Fiore, 28. Jenkins had married Fiore in mid-March, 48 hours after meeting her and just several days after Hauserman had reportedly eliminated him as one of the final contestants on her show. Despite his quickie nuptials to another woman, Hauserman stayed in touch with Jenkins over the summer, watching helplessly as his marriage crumbled and he slowly lost his grip on reality. After Fiore’s butchered body was found stuffed into a suitcase, Jenkins spent the next eight days eluding police, leaving Hauserman panicked. “I was terrified he was going to come looking for me,” she says. By the time it was all over, Jenkins had hanged himself in a motel room, VH1 pulled the plug on her show, and a shell-shocked Hauserman was left wondering how she could have become so close to a killer. She sat down with PEOPLE’s Johnny Dodd to recall the romance that still haunts her.

The first thing I noticed about Ryan when we met were his intense-looking eyes. I thought he was cute. He seemed like he was ready to settle down. He just needed to find the right person.

Hauserman was charmed by Jenkins; her friends and family were not.

I really liked him. But no one else did. My parents met him in March, but they didn’t like him either. We talked about him a lot on the phone, and my mother just kept saying she had a bad feeling about him, which wasn’t like her. She likes everyone. It shocked me to hear that. I was smitten, which isn’t like me because I never like anybody.

Citing contractual obligations to VH1, Hauserman can’t discuss why Jenkins left the show in March, but sources insist he was one of the top three finalists.

I cried a lot after he left. We’d gotten close, and I felt so comfortable with him. He was also really upset. He thought we were going to get married, move to Beverly Hills and have two kids. So he drove to Las Vegas, devastated. Five days later he phoned me. We were planning on getting together that night, but over the next few minutes, I listened to what he told me, and my mouth was hanging open.

During that phone call, Jenkins explained he’d finally met the woman of his dreams, Jasmine Fiore.

He kept saying Jasmine was his soulmate, how it was a sign from God that they’d met. I thought he’d lost his mind, because a week earlier he was saying that same thing to me. But he was really into “signs,” always trying to find meaning in things. He thought the fact that he and Jasmine had the same birthday meant they were soulmates.

Jenkins and Fiore married two days after meeting, but it wasn’t long before Hauserman began hearing reports that their relationship had soured.

He kept texting me, trying to explain things. One day in June, I got a text that said, “I made a mistake. She’s not who I thought she was.” I agreed to have dinner with him, as a friend, thinking I could give him some advice about [his plans for a TV career]. But when I got there, he was a different person: worn out, skinny and pale—a real mess. During dinner he started crying hysterically, saying Jasmine was driving him crazy, that he couldn’t make her happy no matter how hard he tried. I think back to that dinner a lot, wondering if some little thing could have changed the outcome of all this.

After their dinner, Hauserman says, she began receiving countless phone calls from Jenkins—and his wife.

Jasmine had gone through his phone and thought there was something going on between us. She called me several times, leaving threatening messages, telling me to stay away from him. I tried to talk some sense into Ryan, asking him why he was so obsessed with trying to make it work? But he just kept saying, “I love her so much. I have to get back together with her.”

On the afternoon of Aug. 15, Hauserman was showering when her roommate burst into the bathroom, sobbing that Fiore had been murdered and police were looking for Jenkins.

I couldn’t believe it. I thought it must be a mistake. During those days they searched for him, I was so afraid I never left my apartment. Most of the time, I just cried, feeling terrible for Jasmine and her family, thinking how the two of us could have been interchangeable. When VH1 called to say my show had been canceled, I understood why. Because of all this, people have a negative association with me. Now I’m rethinking my whole life, trying to figure out where to go from here.