From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
As a cast member on VH1's hit series Basketball Wives, Evelyn Lozada had what it took to be a reality diva. The ex-fiancee of former NBA player Antoine Walker tossed drinks, attacked costars and hurled insults with the best of them. But once she tied the knot with NFL wide receiver Chad Johnson (formerly Ochocinco) on July 4, she says she was ready to settle down outside Miami, play house and put that kind of drama behind her. On Aug. 11 "I was going to cook dinner: salmon, mashed potatoes and a tomato mozzarella salad," Lozada recalls. While unloading the grocery bags, she was stunned to discover a receipt for a box of condoms purchased after they were married. "I'm not naive," says Lozada, who claims Johnson cheated throughout their relationship. "I didn't think he was going to be perfect," she says. "But three weeks after we got married? I felt like he was not even trying."

Disheartened by the discovery, Lozada decided to take a drastic step and demand a divorce. That evening she confronted Johnson, 34. According to Lozada, he flew into a rage, grabbed her face and head-butted her in the forehead. Bloodied and stunned, Lozada, 36, fled to the home of a neighbor, who called 911. Then she went to the hospital for "five or six" stitches. "I had blood in my eyes, I was tasting it," says Lozada. "I remember realizing, oh my God, the news is going to get out. I was so humiliated."

The consequences for Johnson have been swift. Charged with simple domestic battery (the football star was ordered to attend anger-management classes stemming from a domestic battery episode in 2000), he spent the night in jail and is scheduled to be arraigned Sept. 13. The Miami Dolphins cut him from the team, Lozada has filed for divorce, and the couple's reality series, Ev & Ocho, already filmed for VH1, has been shelved. "I would like to apologize to everyone for the recent events that have occurred," he said in a statement. "I wish Evelyn well and will never say anything bad about her." (A spokesperson for Johnson declined further comment.)

While their romance played out before the cameras, Lozada insists it was real. Most of the time "he was happy, uplifting and spontaneous," says Lozada, who met Johnson via Twitter in 2010 and accepted his proposal-and a 10-carat diamond ring-just four months later. "One day we took a helicopter ride to Key Largo for breakfast. He was a very romantic and sweet guy."

But Lozada says Johnson-who thrilled audiences on Dancing with the Stars in 2010 and starred in his own VH1 dating show, The Ultimate Catch, that same year-had a dark side. The couple fought over his Twitter flirtations and female admirers. "I always knew [to back down] when he got that look in his eye," Lozada says. "It was scary."

Lozada also alludes to past "situations," but won't elaborate out of respect for Johnson's four young children. (Lozada, who "loves being a stepmother," says that she and his oldest daughter, Jicyra, are "besties.") As for critics who assume the on-screen firecracker physically provoked Johnson: "I never once lifted a finger to Chad, not that day, not prior. I never attempted to do anything to him." Still covering up a scar on her forehead, Lozada hopes to inspire domestic-abuse victims to seek help and regrets her own aggressive behavior on TV. "You learn from it," she says. As for Johnson, "I got to start life over," he tweeted Aug. 29, "and create a new one."

Though Lozada says she hasn't spoken to Johnson since that night, "I'll always have love for him," she admits. But that's as far as it goes. "I don't care what the argument is, or who the man is, this should never be tolerated," she says. "Chad is not a bad person, but he made a bad choice."