Sneak Peek of Never Letting Go, A Town Called Forgotten Book 5

Never Letting Go by Rachel BrantonWelcome to the small town of Forgotten, where people are more concerned about who you are now than what you might have left behind. Never Letting Go (A Town Called Forgotten Book 5) under the name Rachel Branton is finished. This is a peek of Ronica’s story! I am also tying up some side plots that I’ve been building through the previous stories, so expect that as well.

Each of the novels in this series are stand-alone books, and you can read them in any order. However, the characters are like an extended family and often appear in many of the books, so by reading all of them, you can catch up with what your favorite characters are doing now. (Oh, and there are actually THREE weddings that happen or are planned in this book.)

See links here. The release date is August 25, 2023. Thanks, and be sure to leave me a comment!

Chapter 1

Chapter 1

Ronica Wilson stared at the empty bed where her husband normally slept, worry pushing through the comforting numbness in her heart. “Fletcher?” she called. “Where are you?” He’d been here when she checked this morning before she began straining the milk their son Jeremy had brought in from the barn.

She peered under the double bed, hoping he was investigating some treasure his mind had remembered from his youth. This was the same room he’d slept in as a child, used in the interim by the four children they’d raised in the three-bedroom farmhouse. Fletcher hadn’t shared her bed for the past year because even if he remembered her when they went to bed, often by morning he wouldn’t, and the person who opened his eyes to the world would be confused and sometimes even angry to find a stranger in his bed. This full-size bed in his childhood room meant she could stay with him on evenings he needed her until he slept, though that hadn’t happened in a long time. Even on good days, he didn’t retain many memories past their courting days, and Fletcher had always been a man of principle.

Ronica hurried to the bathroom to see if he was there, and then to the third bedroom she now thought of as the guest room, where her daughter stayed with her husband when they visited from nearby Panna Creek. Her sons and their families usually stayed with Jeremy in his larger new house across the field, which was okay with Ronica because Jeremy invited her to come over too. He was the one son she could always depend on.

“Fletcher, where are you?” she out called again. Still no answer, and Mars, their old Irish setter, didn’t come running either. Or limping, the way he mostly moved these days.

Panic was beginning to work its way into her chest. She searched under the guest bed and in the closet. Nothing. Next was the master bath she shared with Fletcher because he loved the jetted tub in all of his personalities, but he wasn’t there either, and the rest of the house was equally unrevealing. She’d put locks on the doors, difficult ones that Fletcher’s increasingly clumsy hands couldn’t easily work, but when he was lucid, or even semi-lucid, he could still figure them out. He’d always been intelligent. It was entirely possible that he’d left the house, locking the door after him. She checked for his coat and boots. Both were missing.

Should she call Jeremy or search the barn? The farm was under a layer of snow now in mid-January, so it wouldn’t be likely that Fletcher would try to lie down in the barren alfalfa fields, and he wouldn’t be able to let her beloved Moona Lisa into the wrong field and cause her bloat again.

I’ll search, she decided.

She didn’t want to bother Jeremy, who already had more than his share of the work on the farm—his farm now, as she had come to think of it. Jeremy had taken the fresh milk and the butter she’d made yesterday to Maggie at the Butter Cake Café, and he’d likely make a stop to see Laina, his girlfriend, who worked at the hardware store. He’d be back soon enough, and someone from the Ladies Auxiliary would be coming soon to sit with Fletcher while Ronica did housework or ran errands. The ladies had been her lifeline, as had her involvement in planning the town events. With Thanksgiving and Christmas behind them, though, she was running out of things to occupy her time.

Time. When she married Fletcher, she hadn’t thought the thirteen years between them would be important, but now that space was nothing more than a silent thief, stealing him from her long before his time. If he’d been younger, they would have more good years together.

How could she ever be ready to say goodbye?

Although, that wasn’t quite true. They had said goodbye many times in the past five years, and she’d accepted his fate. Their fate.

Fletcher had felt well enough to help her with the butter last evening, and though he didn’t remember their life together, he had remembered Ronica. He’d gone down on one knee and asked her to marry him for the fifteenth time in three months, which was far better than asking who she was and when his mother would return. His grin had been wide, his blue eyes sparkled, and it had been easy to reach beyond the thirty-three years of marriage and see the handsome, older farmer who’d courted her so gallantly when she was just nineteen.

When she’d first come to Forgotten to visit her aunt, she had never imagined living on a farm, but she didn’t hesitate in saying yes to marrying Fletcher so young. The regrets, however, did come later when she’d had a houseful of babies in five short years. But they’d made it through, laughing more than they struggled, and he’d become her best friend.

Then he’d become ill. Well, there were a lot of years between the two, but sometimes it was best not to dwell on because those were the good times, the years where she loved him madly and deeply and completely.

After his proposal last night, Fletcher had disappeared into his mind before she gathered herself enough to tell him yes yet again.

Ronica bent over as pain arched through her chest like a bolt of lightning, tearing through the comforting numbness, ravaging everything in its path before vanishing. She gasped for breath. It felt like a heart attack or something worse.

Much worse.

But it wasn’t a heart attack—or anything else that was physically serious. She’d been to Doc Sayer’s clinic at least three times in the past two years to check, and she was grateful both for his reassurance and for keeping her secret.

“Oh, Fletcher,” she whispered as the pain subsided, and she could breathe again. “You said it was forever.” Or at least until death. But Fletcher had already left her as surely as if he’d climbed into their silver truck and driven away forever.

Or died. A death without a funeral. A living death.

Not his fault, she reminded herself for the millionth time.

Breathing in and out through her mouth in long, steady, calming streams, she took a moment to center herself, one hand splayed on her kitchen table for support. The panic receded, and her practical nature reasserted itself. She hurried to the kitchen door, dragged on her boots, and slipped her coat from the hook by the door.

Fletcher wasn’t in the barn. She walked into the barnyard area, scanning the fields. No sign of her husband or the dog, who had become his inseparable shadow over the past year. There were grain silos, however, another barn, and other outbuildings, ones she’d need help searching. There were also many trees that a confused man might sit against to rest and fall asleep, numb in the snow.

She patted her pockets for her phone, only to realize she’d left it in the house. Sobs caught in her throat as she ran back down the snowy path, holding her unzipped coat around her to stave off the cold. Tears blurring her eyes, she nearly ran into Josiah Campbell near her back door.

“Ronica,” he said, arms reaching out to steady her. “What’s wrong?” His voice was deep, melodious, and authoritative as was apropos for the mayor of Forgotten.

Her eyes lifted to his dark face, topped by black hair that was too short to be kinky or frizzy. As usual, he was the picture of calm, though his brown eyes betrayed their concern.

For her.

And for Fletcher, of course. Kind, careful, supporting Josiah, who had once been their friend and was now her friend and often Fletcher’s caretaker. Josiah had saved her sanity when Fletcher was diagnosed with dementia over five years ago, and she owed him more than he probably knew.

Relief pounded through her, and she allowed herself the rare luxury of falling into Josiah’s arms. Pushing her face against the soft wool of his long coat, she struggled to hide her tears. She wanted to stay there forever, protected from the stark truth of her life—and from the longing in her heart. But she would never leave Fletcher, and Josiah would never let her.

Josiah tightened his hold. “Is it Fletcher?” he asked in his beautiful voice.

She nodded. “He was in his room before I strained the milk, but he’s not anymore. The dog is gone too. I need to call Jeremy. I need to search the farm.”

Josiah turned to the house, one arm around her, the other reaching for his phone. “Come inside. We’ll find him.”

For a stark, horrid moment, Ronica wished they wouldn’t. She wished Fletcher would vanish permanently to wherever he’d gone in his mind. He’d left her, essentially breaking the promise of their marriage vows. She hadn’t left him in any way. Not when his love for the farm had threatened their marriage, or when the babies had taken all her strength. She’d never been unfaithful, not even when her heart believed she’d made a mistake. Instead, she’d rededicated herself and loved him with her whole heart, mind, and body. But this day in and day out of dementia was killing her spirit. How much more could she take?

Shame followed quickly on the heels of these thoughts. She would do what she had to do because she loved Fletcher and the family they had built together.

None of this is his fault! Her silent cry steadied her turmoil.

“Thank you,” she said to Josiah. “I’ll call the Ladies Auxiliary. We’ll get a search party going.”

Josiah smiled at her. “There you go. I’ll call Jeremy.”

While Josiah talked to Jeremy, she called the hardware store to talk to Pamela Cox, longtime friend and mother to her son’s girlfriend. Then she called Maggie Tremblay, who owned the Butter Cake Café and would be able to rally additional volunteers as they showed up to eat.

Josiah finished his call to Jeremy long before she hung up with Maggie, and he also called the police chief, husband to Ronica’s good friend, Natalie McColl. “Jeremy’s on his way back to check the outbuildings,” he told her. “And the chief is getting word to his officers and volunteers. They’ll send out a Silver Alert, and I’ll text Penny to send out a citywide email. Then I’d like to look around here again, if that’s okay.”

“Yeah, sure.” Ronica had a bright flash of memory of one afternoon when she’d searched for her daughter, her firstborn, who’d disappeared while she had been occupied bathing the twins, both rambunctious little boys, who’d found a puddle of mud to play in. Her daughter had been found sleeping peacefully under the heirloom settee, which Ronica had promptly given away in favor of one that didn’t have enough space underneath to fit a curious child.

It would be embarrassing to find Fletcher in the house, but it would also be a relief. She closed her eyes, hoping, praying, and believing him to be there.

Of course, he wasn’t. She knew her house inside and out, and though Josiah also searched in the attic and opened storage chests too small to hold even Fletcher’s frail body, he wasn’t in the house.

“Let’s go to Jeremy’s and search,” Josiah said grimly. “You have a key?”

She nodded, unable to trust her voice.

They went outside and hadn’t yet made it across the field to Jeremy’s when Laina Cox’s pink Beetle sped down the paved drive, barely pausing near Ronica’s house as she spied them. She pulled up in front of Jeremy’s garage and opened the door so quickly that Ronica heard her pull the emergency brake.

“Oh, Ronica!” Laina exclaimed, sprinting across the field to meet them, her wild, blond curls streaming out behind her petite figure. “Jeremy just texted me. I’m here to help.” She threw her arms around Ronica, and that terrible knot in her stomach loosened just a bit. She already loved Laina like a daughter, and she’d kept hinting at Jeremy to propose since they began dating last October, but he’d told her that Laina wanted to get past Christmas first. Ronica couldn’t blame her, but they were well into January now.

Her mind caught on that thought. It was January, and Fletcher was out there somewhere in the cold, where snow heaped in dirty piles even after the past few days of unexpected warmth.

“Thanks for coming,” Josiah said. “We’re going to check Jeremy’s.”

Laina released her crushing hold on Ronica. She was surprisingly strong for such a slight woman, thanks in part to her training at her family’s hardware store. She was a good person to lean on.

“Jeremy had the same idea,” she said. “Remember at Christmastime when Fletcher went downstairs and started the fire in the wood stove?”

Ronica did, and it had been a good day. They’d roasted marshmallows indoors, and the smell of the fire hadn’t permeated the entire house as Jeremy worried it might. That had to be where Fletcher was now. He’d probably found the bag of marshmallows she bought for the gelatin pudding for Sunday dinner.

They searched the house but didn’t find Fletcher or any sign that he’d been there. Ronica could see her worry echoed on Josiah and Laina’s faces. They’d stopped reassuring her, and that in itself was concerning.

“Where else should we look?” Determination etched Laina’s face. “Where would he go?”

Ronica shrugged. “We have a few outbuildings, but he couldn’t have gotten far. My truck is still here.” She’d learned to hide the keys. Hope flared again.

“Laina and I will organize volunteers to start walking the fields,” Josiah said.

“They should begin arriving any minute,” Laina added. “Come on. Let’s go back to your house.”

“I can help,” Ronica insisted.

“Of course.” Laina took her hand and held it tightly. “You know the land better than anyone besides Jeremy. We’ll make a grid and assign sections.”

They were in the kitchen still finalizing the drawings when the first volunteers arrived. Ronica sent them to the north field. She was about to send out the second group when Jeremy arrived at the back door, out of breath, his boots muddy and his blond hair mussed. She could tell by his expression that something was very, very wrong.

“The old tractor is gone,” he said, tears glittering in his eyes.

Breath fled from Ronica’s chest, and her heartbeat echoed loudly in her ears as she processed what that meant.

Jeremy had refurbished the ancient tractor that had belonged to Fletcher’s father more because of nostalgia than anything else. Fletcher had “helped” him in his more lucid moments, though that no longer meant being his adult self. The tractor didn’t require a key to start, and Fletcher had been driving it since childhood. There was no doubt Fletcher knew how to operate it, even in his worst moments.

“We’ll need to expand the search.” Ronica’s words were calm, but she clenched her hands, trying to stifle the tightness gripping her heart.

“I’m going to the reservoir.” Jeremy was turning as he spoke. “He might be at the cabin.”

“I’m going with you.” Ronica looked at Laina. “Will you send out the volunteers?”

She nodded. “Of course. I’ll take care of it. Go!”

Josiah went with them, calling Chief McColl on the way to give him the update.

They found the tractor at their family property at the Forgotten Reservoir, and Ronica mentally kicked herself that she’d wasted so much time searching the farm while her husband had been here instead. She sat with numb disbelief in the cabin as all of Forgotten, or so it seemed, converged to help search the heavily forested grounds around the water. Laina, having moved the volunteers to the reservoir, sat with her.

Natalie McColl appeared and hugged Ronica tightly. “Have you called your other children?” she asked, sounding a lot like her police chief husband. She was blond and shorter than even Laina, though her chest under her tight ski jacket was decidedly buxom.

Ronica nodded. “Violet and her husband are on their way from Panna Creek. Sam and Silas are away on business, but they’re staying in touch.”

“That’s good.” Natalie thumbed over her shoulder. “I’m going to join the search, but I’ll keep checking with Caleb and his officers and let you know the minute they hear anything.”

Jeremy was already out searching the grounds with Josiah, and he returned to the cabin only when his cheeks were flushed with cold and his fingers so clumsy that he could barely hold a drink. “He’s not in the forest,” Jeremy told her.

“The water?” she asked, dread in her heart.

“They’re getting sonar equipment from Panna Creek now, and they’re breaking the ice. It’s not that thick. There’s a lot of thinner spots where people have been fishing.” His face was pained. “He and I . . . we cut through the ice ourselves last week before it started to melt. He wouldn’t know . . .”

“It’s not your fault,” she said automatically. “Whatever happened.” Fletcher was her responsibility. Till death did they part.

“It’s no one’s fault.” Josiah’s voice compelled her to look at his dark, beautiful face and understood that he was talking to her guilty heart.

“Right.” She took a breath. Logically, she knew it wasn’t her fault either. So why did her mind jump there?

The sun was beginning to set over the valley when they found Mars, the Irish setter, floating in a half-frozen hole in the ice, faithful until the end. Two more hours passed before they located Fletcher, brought his body up, and carried him back to the cabin where he was officially pronounced dead. There would be no final words of love, no chance of recognition. Ronica wondered why she didn’t cry.


“He looks peaceful,” Laina whispered, leaning into Jeremy, whose face was stricken. He turned his face into Laina’s hair, his body shaking with grief.

Ronica’s daughter agreed. “I’d say happy, even.” Violet hesitated, her eyes glistening with unshead tears. “I texted Silas and Sam. They’re on their way.”

For some reason, this surprised Ronica, though it was a logical thing for someone to do when they had just lost their father. But her twin sons, who lived in Panna Creek like their sister, hadn’t shown a lot of concern about Fletcher of late, so maybe she was within her rights to wonder why they’d hurry here now after the fact.

Josiah touched Ronica’s shoulder where she sat on the bed by Fletcher’s body, which lay next to the Irish setter, both cradled now in homemade quilts, though they’d never be warm again in this life. She could feel the pressure of Josiah’s hand but not his heat. She was numb everywhere. It wasn’t that she mourned Fletcher, not really—she’d already done that again and again over these past years. Except for the occasional flashes of pure pain that cut through her like a knife, she’d reached a level of acceptance, but now it was as if her heart had completely shut down.

She raised her head to look at Josiah. “Thank you for being here.”

“Of course.” Yet for the first time in their friendship, he didn’t meet her gaze fully.

What did that mean?

She realized then that he hadn’t been scheduled to sit with Fletcher today. Why had he come to the house? Twisting her neck, Ronica studied his face more carefully. She knew he’d recently sent what he believed to be a last amendment to the divorce papers his wife had filed. If she’d signed, they would be done with their lengthy legal battle. Had he come to tell her it was over?

None of that mattered at the moment because Ronica had to take care of Fletcher. She looked at Doc Sayer, who doubled as the coroner in their small town. “We need to take him to the house. I need to do his hair, and I’d like him to wear his best suit at the funeral.” Her gaze went to Laina and her mother, Pamela. “You think we can pull a funeral together by Sunday after church? He didn’t want to be embalmed, so it has to be quick.”

“Absolutely,” Pamela said. “With all of tomorrow and Saturday, it’ll be plenty of time. Don’t worry about a thing. We know what you want—and what Fletcher wanted.”

“The Ladies Auxiliary will take care of everything,” Laina added.

Relief spread through Ronica. Usually, she was the one to jump in with plans to rescue those who looked to her for help, but in her numbness, she was happy now to let her friends take control.

“Keeping Fletcher here with the heat as low as possible would be better than taking him back to your house,” Doc Sayer said.

“Right.” Ronica was glad Doc didn’t call Fletcher “the body.” He’d never be that to her.

“I think we can go as low as we need.” Jeremy wiped at his face, still wet and a little red. “The plumbing is well-insulated.”

“Yes, but Ronica shouldn’t be here alone, especially in the cold.” This, of course, came from Josiah.

Violet stood, her face set. “My mother will come back to her house with me. We’ll need to get Dad’s suit anyway for Sunday morning.” She looked at Jeremy. “I’m taking her back now.”

He nodded. “I got things here.”

Ronica let Violet lead her out of the house, feeling empty somehow at leaving Fletcher behind. But there was hope because she still had the rest of her life in front of her. Decisions yet to make about her future. About Josiah.

There was time, wasn’t there? Plenty of time.

Then again, she’d once thought she and Fletcher had all the time in the world.

She glanced back over her shoulder as they left the room. Everyone had returned to staring at Fletcher’s lifeless form. Everyone except Josiah, who watched her with concern—and something more that she couldn’t decipher but that frightened her. Strange to feel this from a man who had only ever supported her decisions and had been a good, loyal friend to both her and Fletcher for half a lifetime.

What did he know and hadn’t told her?

Hope you are excited for the book. Love you hear what you have to say below!


Teyla Rachel Branton

Copyright 2023 Teyla Rachel Branton

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4 Responses to “Sneak Peek of Never Letting Go, A Town Called Forgotten Book 5”

  1. Lisa

    Couldn’t stop reading! Can’t wait to read the rest! Best of luck with the release!

  2. Deb Brown

    As usual with you …you have made me very teary . We are going through this with a family member now . Love all your books Teyla … you are amazing .

    • Teyla Rachel Branton

      Thanks for your kind words, Deb. And I’m so sorry to hear this about your family!


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