He wasn’t ready to say goodbye. In an exclusive interview with Life & Style, Shep Rose opens up about the dramatic conclusion of his search for love on his Southern Charm spinoff, RelationShep. According to the handsome South Carolina native, 37, he never expected to see frontrunner Bella Clark make an early exit.

As viewers witnessed on the Monday, Jan. 8, episode of the dating docuseries, Bella broke Shep’s heart by letting him know that her employer needed her back home in NYC. “It was disastrous. At the time, it felt that way. Production tried everything to get it to work out so that she could stay, but it was truly a case of her work being like, ‘We need you back here. I’m sorry, but you need to come back,’” Shep tells Life & Style of the tense moment. “But what could I do?”

Rather than harp on Bella’s sudden departure, Shep made a pointed effort to get to know each of the remaining women a bit better. “The other women were like, ‘So, Bella left. Are you bummed?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, I enjoyed her company. But I owe it to you guys to give you my absolute earnest best and get to know each of you better. Let’s go!’ That’s the game,” Shep says. “I hate to be clinical about the whole thing, but I had to keep pressing forward. And there were really some beautiful things about the remaining girls, so you know, onward and upward. That was my attitude about it all.”

Still, the Bravolebrity admits that Bella would have made it to the final round if she never left. “I would say with relative certainty that Bella would be in my top two if she didn’t leave,” Shep says, adding that he and the brunette beauty have been able to maintain a friendship despite their failed romance.

“There’s a funny picture that I put on Instagram where I’m sitting in between Bella and [Southern Charm co-star] Landon [Clements], and I have a look on my face like, ‘What the hell?’ And she’s in it and I just sent it to her and she was laughing,” Shep tells Life & Style. “She was like, ‘That is the most priceless picture I’ve ever seen.’ So yeah, we’re in touch and it’s all good.”

In fact, Shep has kept in touch with every woman who appeared on RelationShep since filming wrapped — and can’t wait to see them again in the near future. “I don’t have a bad relationship with any girl that I’ve been out with, honestly — or at least I’d like to think. Nothing but positive vibes for me. I’m a pretty positive person and I try to be congenial as possible,” he says. “And I think the girls understood the position that I was in and somewhat empathized, which I appreciate. Again, when I see them, I’ll be very pleased and it’ll be nothing but big hugs!”

relationshep contestants - instagram

RelationShep contestants Bella Clark, Priscilla Montemor, Kylie Boyd, and Peyton Pritchard.

With Bella out of the picture, it’s now down to Priscilla Montemor and Peyton Pritchard — two ladies who definitely got Shep’s attention, but in very different ways. “With Peyton, our first date in LA was just amazing. It was an all-star date. And she had some bumps in the road after that,” Shep says of the 27-year-old dog groomer and aspiring actress. “But that initial feeling I had stuck with me, and helped overcome some of the episodes that we had together.”

As for Priscilla, Shep originally found her bold personality a bit jarring. However, he eventually warmed up to the TV producer, 34. “Priscilla was just the opposite [of Peyton]. She came out of the gate, in my mind, a little bit caustic and non-complementary, but sort of a pistol. And I didn’t know how to take that. But as our relationship progressed, she really showed me a great side of her. She was still caustic, but more defensive of me and she took care of me on a certain level,” Shep explains. “And gosh, I think that’s what most guys need — is someone to take care of them.”

To see who Shep picks, tune in to the Season 1 finale of RelationShep tonight, Monday, Jan. 15, at 10 p.m. EST on Bravo.