Richards says she trusted Sheen when he told her his bad-boy days were over

Denise Richards knew about Charlie Sheen’s wild ways before she married him – but says in a new interview that she was shocked by the reality of his lifestyle.

“Like everyone else, I’d heard about his past, but I couldn’t comprehend it,” Richards, 35, says in the September issue of Harper’s Bazaar. “I’ve never done drugs, never been around a prostitute, never known any porn stars. I couldn’t even fathom that lifestyle. I grew up in Illinois, not L.A. He told me that was in the past, and I believed him.”

In a court filing in April, Richards requested a restraining order against her husband, and alleged that Sheen, 40, had abused prescription drugs, visited porn Web sites, gambled compulsively and threatened to kill her.

Of the filing, Richards tells Bazaar, “I wasn’t trying to be vindictive and to bring him down. It was humiliating for me to have a lot of that out there. I didn’t give the document to the press. It was a court document that (by law) is public. It was very unfortunate.”

Richards also says she regrets rushing into marriage. “We knew each other for two years before we got married. But we didn’t date long, and that was a big mistake,” she says. “The process of getting divorced is so hard. It should be the other way around: It should be harder to get married.”

Still, Richards, who has two daughters with Sheen – Sam, 2, and Lola, 1 – thinks she did the right thing by leaving an unfulfilling relationship. “The dynamic of Charlie and me just didn’t work. We weren’t married very long, and thank God, we’re able to end it now instead of spending 10 years together being unhappy.”

Now, Richards is happy with a new man: Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora, 47, whose wife – and Richards’s former pal – Heather Locklear filed for divorce early this year.

“I know what everyone’s saying: ‘She stole her best friend’s husband,’ ” Richards says. “She and I were extremely close. I would never, ever pursue my girlfriend’s soon-to-be-ex-husband.” But, she insists, “My friendship with Heather had ended. It ended before Richie and I were together.”

Her romance with Sambora, Richards says, began after they ran into each other at a restaurant. “If I was still friends with Heather, I wouldn’t have crossed that line. With everything going on in my life, I wasn’t looking to fall in love with anyone. But at the same time, when Richie and I got together, I couldn’t pass it up. I know how hard it is to meet that great guy.”

Looking to the future, Richards says she isn’t planning to go back to work soon – her ABC pilot, Secrets of a Small Town, was not picked up for the fall – but will instead focus on being a mom.

And her new relationship makes that future look even sunnier. “People come into your life for a reason,” she says. “Life is full of surprises. Some good. Some not so good. (Richie) is so much fun. And right now, we’re having fun. We’re laughing. I’m not predicting my future right now.”