The Happiest Place
Series: Alaskan Hearts, Book 6

Memories are especially sweet, when you have so few of them left…

Kate can’t believe she’s losing her mother. For as long as she can remember, it’s been the two of them against the world. That is, until early-onset Alzheimer’s robbed them both of the relationship that had always been so special.

Kate accepted a job at Memory Ranch to keep an eye on her mom, but is left wonder whether she’s the one who really needs to heal. Especially as a certain handsome therapist named Jack keeps finding more and more reasons for them to spend time together.

What will be left of Kate when her mother leaves her behind? And can she justify spending time with Jack when she knows her mom’s time left on earth is limited?

Join Kate and Liz at this healing Anchorage horse ranch in an unforgettable tale of new beginnings, second chances, and finding where you belong from a New York Times bestselling author.

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Kate Griffin leaned her head against the cool glass window and watched the horses in the pen as they frolicked in the fresh snowfall. They playfully kicked the white powder over their backs and tossed their manes in delight as it sprinkled down onto their necks. Even from where she was sitting, Kate could practically feel the pure joy emanating from the animals.

Smiling to herself, she wrapped her arms around her shivering body, all the while wishing she could be out there with them. Unfortunately, her work in the stables had been cut short for the day when her mother’s health took another sudden turn for the worse.

Kate lifted her head from the glass and glanced toward the back of the cabin where she could see her mother sleeping on the bed. She’d left the door to the small bedroom open so she could keep an eye on her mom just in case.

For the past few months, they’d been living together in one of the guest cabins at Memory Ranch, a memory care and therapy center outside of Anchorage. Here, Kate worked as a stable hand, and her mother underwent treatment for early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Initially, Kate had obtained the job as a way of checking out the facilities firsthand to see if they’d be a good fit for her mother’s increasingly heavy needs. It didn’t take long to realize it was exactly what they both needed.

The disease had snuck up on both of them. One day her mother was fine, and the next she was forgetting increasingly big details of their lives. Kate didn’t have time to adapt to the news, and her mom didn’t have the capacity to fully understand it. Always a sharp-witted woman, the sudden memory decline frustrated her to tears most days. For her part, Kate prayed that the day would come soon when her mother didn’t remember enough to know she was forgetting.

Of course, that would mean she’d lost the last remnants of herself, too, but at least she wouldn’t be afraid or in pain any longer.

Now that they had settled into the life at the ranch, Kate saw how her mother was receiving the care she needed from the special therapists who were trained to work with people who suffered from memory trauma. And hopefully they could help her, too, as she came to terms with what was happening with her mom.

Turning back to watch the horses playing in the snow, Kate sighed, her breath fogging the window. She let her mind wander back to before everything in her world had fallen apart. Before they’d ever heard the diagnosis.

All her life, it had just been Kate and her mom. Her father had run out when she was just a baby and hadn’t been seen since. Truthfully, Kate didn’t even care. Anyone who could abandon their family wasn’t anyone she wanted to know.

Her mom stepped up to play the role of both parents and had done a phenomenal job. They’d never had much, but her mom had worked hard to make sure they had enough to get by. For many years, her mother had worked as part of the cleaning staff at a ranch in Palmer, Alaska, and Kate had spent many of her earliest days watching the horses and wishing she might someday have one of her own.

Of course, they’d never had enough money to buy one for her—or the space to put one up in their modest apartment. Still, Kate had been content to claim the horses on the ranch as her pets, her friends, and her confidantes.

To this day, she still dreamed of having a horse to call her own, but for now she counted working at this ranch, where she could be around horses all day and still be able to care for her mom, as a massive blessing.

Kate felt blessed for the opportunity, but her heart still cried out in pain at the unfairness of what her mother’s life had become. After everything her mom had been through—being left to care for and raise a child on her own, struggling to make ends meet and never taking time for herself—now the very essence of who she was slowly being stolen from her.

And her disease was moving fast, leaving a shell in place of the woman who’d given Kate her everything—the strong, beautiful woman who had always been her best friend, her cheerleader, and her rock.

The doctors had road-mapped how the disease was most likely to progress and the corresponding issues they would face at each stage. However, none of it had prepared Kate for the emotional strain that came with watching her mother forget even the simplest of things or witness her personality changing practically overnight.

At least through it all, so far, she still remembered Kate.

That awful day would come, though. And soon.

Kate’s stomach churned in agony from the mere thought of becoming a stranger to the person she loved most in this entire world. She would never be ready.

How was she going to live without the one person who loved her beyond reason and who she loved in turn with her whole heart, too? How could she go on with life when so many of her formative memories—the moments that made her her—were rapidly being erased from memory?

Kate reached up to wipe away the tear that slid down her cheek. So many tears had been shed, but the well hadn’t yet dried up.

In the pen, Buddy, the beautiful, kind-hearted tan horse, stopped running and looked over toward the cabin window where she sat, seeming to feel her emotions himself. How she wished she could go hop on his back and ride away from everything that was happening in her life.

But her mom needed her, and this was where she had to be. She would give all of herself until there was nothing left to give, and no one left to give it to.

“Kate? Are you there?” came her mother’s small and scared voice.

Kate quickly turned and walked to the room. “I’m here, Mom. I was just watching the horses playing outside. Did you have a good rest?” she asked as she knelt down at her mom’s bedside.

Her mom sat up, pushing the warm quilt away. Her quiet smile was filled with warmth, and her eyes sparkled with an untold joy. Briefly, Kate wondered how long until that was gone, too.

She nodded. “I did.”

They each sighed and then laughed at this unexpected synchronicity. It had been a joke they’d shared growing up, that their minds were telepathically linked—so similar they were then. Did this mean it was only a matter of time before Kate’s memories began to fade, too?

Her mother was the first to sober from this rare bout of laughter. She frowned as she traced the wrinkles in her night dress with a shaky finger. “I’m sorry for yelling at you earlier. It wasn’t fair. I know you’re only doing what’s best for me. It’s just hard for me to accept sometimes.”

When Kate had been called away from work earlier, it had been to collect her mother who’d wandered outside and was yelling at one of the other guests, wanting to know what he was doing in “her” yard. Mother and daughter had fought as Kate brought her back into their cabin and struggled to explain their situation yet again.

Although Kate had remained calm and kind, her mother’s barbs stung deep. She tried to remind herself that the cruel accusations weren’t coming from her mom, but from the disease that had taken over her mom’s body.

Now that they were both more rested, everything seemed to revert to their old normal. But Kate knew it wouldn’t last long. Already the time between bad spells had shrunk at a shocking pace. Eventually the lucid periods would disappear altogether.

Kate sat down beside her mom on the bed and reached a hand toward hers. Her mother, who had always seemed so big and strong, was now sitting there looking incredibly frail—as if her memories weren’t the only part of her fading into oblivion.

Even with her reduced capacity, she still loved Kate as best she could. And she tried so hard to protect her from what was coming and what had already arrived.

Even in her worst, she wanted Kate to be taken care of.

“It’s okay, Mom. Don’t worry about it. All I want is for you to know how much I love you,” she said, squeezing her mother’s hand and offering a beleaguered smile. “If there’s something you should never ever forget, it’s that.” The words threatened to crack as they left Kate’s lips. There would come a time when even this indisputable fact would no longer be remembered.

Kate sat there for a long time, holding her mom tightly as each woman did her best to not let the other know she was crying, both wishing they could keep holding on to each other forever. Of course, Kate knew that someday she would have to let go. But for now, she was going to enjoy every precious moment she could wrapped tight in her mother’s arms.