Retired oil geologist Anthony "Skeeter" Lasuzzo has captured the country queen's heart, which has long since healed from a painful and unwanted divorce in 2015

By Nancy Kruh
April 03, 2019 08:00 AM

Reba McEntire‘s new album, Stronger Than the Truth, is filled with heartache, heartbreak and “you done me wrong” songs, but don’t read too much into them. After a painful and unwanted divorce in 2015, the country queen’s heart has long since healed.

If it wasn’t, McEntire, 64, tells PEOPLE exclusively in this week’s issue, “I couldn’t be singing those songs.”

But McEntire’s heart is not just healed, but full. In the past year and a half, she has welcomed a soft-spoken retired oil geologist named Anthony “Skeeter” Lasuzzo into her life, and romance has blossomed. No one is more surprised by this turn of events than McEntire herself.

“I was not looking,” she says of her post-divorce mindset. “Not even interested.”

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Anthony "Skeeter" Lasuzzo and Reba McEntire
Jason Merritt/Radarpics/REX/Shutterstock

When McEntire met Lasuzzo in August 2017, she thought she was just on a vacation tour of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, with a friend of her pal Kix Brooks. Lasuzzo, a 70-year-old widower with homes in Wyoming and Texas, is an accomplished wildlife photographer who knew how to show McEntire’s party the prime locations for animal sightings.

“We just had the best time,” McEntire recalls. “And so two nights later, we all went out to dinner, and he bought my dinner.” McEntire returned to Jackson Hole two months later, and Lasuzzo asked her out on a date. “I was there almost a week and we spent every day together,” she says.

Though sparks may have been flying, McEntire was cautious, getting to know Lasuzzo first as a friend. The relationship became something more serious “just gradually,” she says. Now, she adds, there’s no doubt the way they feel about each other.  “We’re totally in love — absolutely,” she says. “I wouldn’t put up with somebody for two years if I wasn’t in love with ’em!”

And, McEntire says, she’s loving the feeling. “The old heart’s still beating,” she jokes.

For more from Reba McEntire, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

Reba McEntire on the cover of PEOPLE
Paul Costello

The couple now spends stretches of time together at her Nashville home, in Jackson Hole and at his Pottsboro, Texas, home.

“We do a lot of walking,” she says. “He lives right there on the lake [Texoma], got a beautiful home. And then when we go to Jackson Hole, we snowshoe and walk and get into nature.”

Lasuzzo’s Texas home also happens to be located a convenient 90-minute drive from where her family resides in Oklahoma. “Yeah, it’s my back yard,” McEntire says about the happy coincidence.

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Grateful to have found a self-possessed man who can take her stardom in stride, McEntire allows that he’s had to adjust to being out and about with such a recognizable face. “How do you explain my life?” she says, recalling their first few public outings. “How do you explain that some people will run over him to say hi to me?”

Both avid travelers, she and Lasuzzo so far have vacationed in Iceland, South Africa and Italy, with more trips planned. He was also at her side when she won a 2018 Grammy for Sing It Now, her gospel album, and in December when she received her Kennedy Center Honor.

Reba McEntire photographed at her Nashville office on March 5, 2019

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He’ll also be with her in Las Vegas on Sunday for the Academy of Country Music Awards, which she’ll be hosting for the 16th time. The couple has already been making preparations for their red carpet appearance.

“We like to color coordinate a little bit,” McEntire says, “to where we don’t clash.”

To catch country’s biggest stars hitting the red carpet, tune in to Red Carpet Live: 54th Academy of Country Music Awards, kicking off at 6:30 p.m. EST and streaming live on PEOPLE.com, Facebook, Twitter, PeopleTV.com, or download the PeopleTV app on your favorite device.

  • With additional reporting by NICOLE SANDS
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