Dawn was breaking as they returned to her apartment where an exhausted Smith cooked pancakes and eggs for her captor.
"I just was making him feel normal, because I wanted to be treated normal," she said. "I was going to let him know all the bad things that I did and let him know, 'hey look, I gave my daughter up for drugs.' "
Sitting at the table, Nichols told Smith he wished they had met under different circumstances, because he thought they could have been friends.
Finally, at 9:30 a.m., Smith slowly headed for the door to pick up her daughter. Nichols offered no resistance.
"He said, 'Will you tell Paige hello for me?' I was like, 'sure,' " Smith said. "When I got in the car I was shaking profusely and immediately called 911."
SWAT teams soon surrounded Smith's apartment. Nichols could have escaped earlier; he could have kept on running and possibly never have been found. Instead, touched by the humanity of a recovering drug addict, he walked out without a fight.
"It was a miracle that I made it out of there alive. It was a miracle that no one else got hurt," Smith said.
Six months after her ordeal, Smith is living with her aunt, Kim Rogers, and daughter. The drugs are gone, replaced with newfound optimism. Authorities are not pursuing drug charges against Smith, but Nichols is awaiting trial on four murder charges and a rape charge and has pleaded not guilty. The prosecutor is asking for the death penalty.
For her efforts in the capture of Smith, Nichols received $72,500 worth of reward money from several Georgia law enforcement and government agencies. She says now she is taking life slowly -- savoring her days until she is healed. But this time, she says mother and daughter will face the world together.
"I'm blessed to still be here," Smith said. "I think about what if I had died, what that poor child would be going through. She goes up to people in the grocery store and says, 'My mommy's a hero.' And I'm like, 'Stop, don't do that. Don't tell anybody that. Mommy's not a hero, she's just mommy, OK.'
"And she smiles and that is -- I wouldn't trade it. I wouldn't trade it for anything."