Taylor Armstrong is one happy Housewife.
A year and a half after the tragic death of her estranged husband, Russell, the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star tells E! News exclusively that she feels "safe" and "at peace" in her relationship with her boyfriend, lawyer John Bluher.
"I am so much happier than I have ever been. I never thought I would feel this way," Armstrong says. "John and I have an equal respect for one another. We have a real friendship and partnership."
She adds, "He is a beautiful man. I didn't think I would ever be able to trust someone completely. But somehow, he opened my heart and I let him in."
The couple is currently living in Vail, Colo., for the winter with Armstrong's 6-year-old daughter, Kennedy.
"We're enjoying life everyday and together with John, we are starting to become a family. Our extended vacation has given me the opportunity to spend quality time with Kennedy each day in a relaxed environment," the reality star says. "This mountain retreat has given me time to let go of the past and the space to refocus my attention on the future."
Armstrong goes on to recall how she and Bluher eventually became an item.
"We knew one another through mutual friends. John helped guide me through all the legal and financial challenges with which I was confronted," Armstrong says. "From that, a deeper friendship grew, and I remember one day last summer when were in a business meeting and we both looked up at each other and suddenly realized we were looking at each other in a different light. There's been no turning back since that day."
Meanwhile, Armstrong says she hopes her story "can become an inspiration to people who have been through unhealthy relationships or who have suffered loss. I never thought I would allow myself to feel again. The lesson is, don't settle for less than what you want and deserve. There really is someone out there for each of us who will love, cherish and respect us. Love born out of real friendship brought those things into my life for the first time."
As for a possible return to The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Armstrong insists she would love to go back.
"I want people to see that I am in a solid place now. They have seen me through my pain and anger," she says. "I would love for them to get to see the real me and for the viewers to know my life has come full circle."